Earlier this week, Fr. Tony Van Hee, an 83-year-old Catholic priest, was given the summons to appear in court for protesting the free speech restrictions of Ontario’s Safe Access To Abortion Services Act.
The Act, which seeks to increase protections for persons going in and out of abortion clinics, prevents any oral, written, graphic or physical means of dissuading people from utilizing abortion services anywhere from 50 to 150 metres from the edge of the facility’s property.
Van Hee was arrested for carrying a sign in the bubble zone surrounding the Morgentaler clinic on Bank Street in Ottawa. The sign was not an anti-abortion one, however. It simply read “The primacy of free speech, cornerstone of Western civilization” on the front. On the back, it stated, “Without free speech, the State is a corpse.”
As a first time offender, Van Hee will face up to $5000 in fines and/or six months in jail.
Van Hee was charged under section 3 (1) (e) (iii) of the Act which states that while in an access zone (or bubble zone as it is commonly referred to) “no person shall . . . intimidate or attempt to intimidate the person [who is attempting to access abortion services].”
Ontario’s Safe Access To Abortion Services Act is open to interpretation and therefore abuse
This certainly seems like a misguided attempt to enforce this law. To make the claim that an elderly man holding a pro-free speech sign across the street from an abortion clinic is intimidating or attempting to intimidate mothers accessing abortion services is quite a stretch.
However, for the critics of the Safe Access To Abortion Services Act, this may actually be the correct application of the law. Given the law’s leeway in determining what is and is not “intimidation,” the police officer who charged Van Hee with this offence may indeed be in step with the law.
What will a judge think? Well, that remains to be seen.
Van Hee, on the other hand, is not backing down. Speaking to the Catholic news outlet LifeSiteNews, Van Hee said “I will fight it on my own and if they fine me, I will not pay it and go to jail. If they jail me, I will fast.“
Van Hee is expected to make his first court appearance on November 16th.