Organization behind controversial Dartmouth pro-life billboard to face advertising regulator in Ottawa

A British Columbia-based pro-life organization has launched a national billboard campaign. Global Halifax/Alexa MacLean

The organization behind a campaign of controversial pro-life billboards is set to appear before an advertising regulator in Ottawa on Thursday.

Advertising Standards Canada, the nation’s advertising self-regulatory body, is set to adjudicate a series of complaints filed against We Need a Law, a British Columbia based pro-life advocacy group.

The regulator reportedly received more than 30 complaints as a result of the campaign, which displayed billboards reading “Canada has no abortion laws.”

READ MORE: Graphic anti-abortion posters spotted in Toronto

We Need a Law told Global News that they were trying to raise awareness around “the issue of abortion legislation” with the billboards.

One of the controversial billboards was spotted in Dartmouth in August, although We Need a Law says it rolled out their campaign nationally.

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“We appreciate the role of [Advertising Standards Canada] in protecting Canadians from inaccurate or demeaning advertising,” said Tabitha Ewert, legal counsel for We Need a Law, in a press release.

“[Advertising Standards Canada] has a serious responsibility to ensure that they remain objective in their decision making. We anticipate that they will rule that our message is fair and accurate.”

Legal experts in Nova Scotia told Global News that the billboard sends “harmful messaging.”

“It’s disappointing to see a sign like that come up because it’s not true that abortion is unregulated in Canada,” said Sarah Baddeley, the Halifax Chair of Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, in August.

“Fear and stigma can be really significant barriers to access for a lot of people as they make a choice that’s right for them and a billboard like that fosters that fear and stigma by suggesting that abortion somehow exists in a regulatory void, which is not the case.”

WATCH: Anti-abortion billboard raising concerns in Dartmouth

Click to play video: 'Anti-abortion billboard raising concerns in Dartmouth' Anti-abortion billboard raising concerns in Dartmouth
Anti-abortion billboard raising concerns in Dartmouth – Aug 9, 2018

Jennifer Taylor, a research lawyer with Stewart McKelvey, says that it is misleading to say Canada has no laws regarding abortion.

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“In Canada, we have a robust legal framework that protects abortion access as an insured medical service.”

“Abortion is not dealt with as a matter of federal criminal law, it doesn’t have to be and it shouldn’t be.”

Abortion was considered a criminal offence in Canada until 1968 when provisions were added to the Criminal Code saying that doctors could provide abortions with the permission of a three-doctor committee that decided if the procedure was necessary for the well-being of the mother.

Those provisions were later struck down in 1988 by the Supreme Court of Canada, saying they created an unreasonable barrier to abortion access.

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