A constitutional challenge has been filed against the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS) for prohibiting a pro-life group from showing images of aborted fetuses during its news conference on Parliament Hill prior to the National March for Life in May 2023.
Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) is a Canadian non-profit that advocates against abortion and euthanasia. Each year, the group organizes a National March for Life in Ottawa. On May 10, the day before the March was to take place, CLC organized a press conference to which members of the press were invited.
CLC planned to show signs during the press conference which depicted victims of abortion at different stages of development. Prior to the press conference, a PPS officer reviewed the signs. He then prohibited the group from showing the signs on Parliament Hill on the basis that they were too graphic.
The decision to prohibit the signs was later confirmed via email, referring to a policy, the General Rules on the Use of Parliament Hill prohibiting signs on Parliament Hill “that are obscene, offensive, or that promote hatred.” That policy now prohibits “signs or banners that display explicit graphic violence or blood.”
On June 30, 2023, a Notice of Application was filed in the Federal Court on behalf of CLC and a woman who planned to hold one of the signs at the news conference. They challenge the constitutionality of the limits on the freedom of expression on Parliament Hill. The Notice of Application challenges both versions of the General Rules for the Use of Parliament Hill and the action by PPS to prevent the Applicants from using the graphic signs to convey their message. The Applicants ask the Court to make a declaration that the policies and the actions of PPS violated their Charter rights.
“There is a certain irony to the fact that our government is currently spending hundreds of millions of dollars, domestically and abroad, promoting and facilitating a procedure it feels must be censored from the public eye,” says Josie Luetke, a spokesperson with Campaign Life. “We don’t like seeing the images of abortion either, and we hope Canadians do a lot of soul-searching as to why presenting its victims brings them such discomfort.”
“Parliament Hill is historically a public square where people of various viewpoints come to convey a message to the government and other Canadians,” says lawyer Hatim Kheir. “Subjecting political expression on Parliament Hill to literal police censorship based on subjective criteria strikes at the core of Canadians’ democratic right to freedom of expression.”