The Alberta government says it is set to table legislation to establish no-go zones for protesters around abortion clinics.
Kathleen Ganley, deputy house leader, gave official notice to the legislature Wednesday that the government intends to introduce a bill soon that would protect women from harassment.
Earlier Wednesday, Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said intimidation of patients at abortion clinics in Alberta is on the rise. That is something no one should have to tolerate, she said.
“This is not about freedom of speech,” said Hoffman. “This is about deliberate targeting by intimidation, shame, harassment and bullying of women who are often vulnerable.
“That is completely unacceptable. Alberta women should have the right to access the care that’s right for them, including safe access to abortion services.”
She declined to discuss details of the proposed legislation until it is introduced.
If it were to pass, Alberta would join British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador in creating safe zones to keep protesters away from patients.
Two clinics, one in Edmonton and one in Calgary, handle about 75 per cent of abortions in Alberta.
Hoffman said the number of protesters outside the Calgary Kensington clinic has doubled in the last year and there are demonstrators outside the Women’s Health Options centre in Edmonton four or five times a week.
Both clinics have court orders keeping protesters at a distance.
But Celia Posyniak of the Kensington Clinic, who joined Hoffman at a news conference Wednesday, said the order for her facility has become ineffective.
She said protesters have been violating the rule that says they are to stay across the street and have been harassing patients with signs, verbal abuse and occasional attacks. She said the clinic has also been vandalized.
She said staff have to keep calling police to enforce the order, but recognize that officers are stretched to the limit.
“It’s frankly a waste of police resources,” said Posyniak.
“They have told us we’re not a priority and I understand that. However, if we don’t enforce the meagre little order that we have … it would be chaos.”
Ontario legislation keeps protesters 50 metres away. Anyone who breaks the law can face a fine starting at $5,000 or given six months in jail.
Posyniak said the Alberta legislation will only be effective if there are some consequences for law-breakers.
Jason Nixon, house leader for the Opposition United Conservatives, said his caucus will look at the proposed legislation before commenting.
“We’ll see the bill when it comes forward. We’ll evaluate it. We’ll communicate with our constituents, with Albertans, like we would with any other piece of legislation, and then take a position from there,” said Nixon.
Greg Clark, house leader for the Alberta Party, said his colleagues, too, will wait before committing to supporting the bill. But he added they support the government’s overall approach.
“Protecting a woman’s right to choose is a fundamental right,” said Clark.
Liberal MLA David Swann, a medical doctor, agreed.
“Both patients and staff need to feel safe,” said Swann. “They’re doing a legally sanctioned activity.”