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City of Lethbridge taken to court for rejecting pro-life advertisements

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WATCH: The Lethbridge & District Pro-Life Association is taking the City of Lethbridge to court over a rejection of some of its advertisements. Jasmine Bala reports – Oct 10, 2019

Lethbridge & District Pro-Life Association (LPL) and the City of Lethbridge went head-to-head in court Thursday in a dispute over some controversial advertisements.

The five ads, promoting messages of pro-life with the tag line: “Say no to abortion,” were rejected by the city without an opportunity for appeal.

READ MORE: Lethbridge pro-life group seeks review of city decision to reject controversial ads

One of the advertisements featured a healthy newborn baby with the caption: “Life should be the most fundamental human right.” Another had an image of a pregnant women captioned: “Equality should begin in the womb.”

LPL claims the city’s decision infringes on its rights of freedom of expression. The association’s lawyer, Carol Crosson, argued in court the group is looking to be treated equally, and just like anyone else, it has a right to share its message.

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Crosson told court the city was biased in its rejection, citing the removal of a former ad. The previous ad, stating: “Preborn babies feel pain,” was posted on city buses, bus shelters and benches in February 2018.

In April, however, the city announced the ad would be removed due to adverse community reaction — as the city had received more than 100 email complaints about the ad and numerous comments on social media. A petition had also been started to get the ad removed, gathering more than 1,100 signatures.

WATCH (Aired March 19, 2018): Lethbridge transit bench with pro-life ad vandalized

Click to play video: 'Transit bench with prolife ad vandalized in Lethbridge' Transit bench with prolife ad vandalized in Lethbridge
Transit bench with prolife ad vandalized in Lethbridge – Mar 19, 2018

In May 2018, Advertising Standards Canada ruled the advertisement was “inaccurate and misleading,” and breached two sections of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.

Crosson noted in court Thursday the code is not a legally binding set of rules, but a voluntary set of guidelines established by a private regulator.

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Two more petitions were created after the removal of the advertisement — this time in favour of LPL — saying the group had a right to freedom of expression. Combined, these petitions gathered more than 3,000 signatures.

READ MORE: Advertising Standards Canada finds Lethbridge anti-abortion bus bench ad ‘inaccurate and misleading’

However, the city upheld its decision.

The city’s lawyer told court although the group’s rights may have been breached, this case is about the context in which the expression was conveyed, noting the city’s transit system has a vision to provide a safe, welcoming, inclusive space. These ads, the lawyer added, would disrupt that vision for women who have had or are considering abortion.

Crosson is asking for the judge to quash the city’s decision and set firmer guidelines on what is and what isn’t allowed in city advertising.

BELOW: Lethbridge & District Pro-Life Associations’ five ads that were rejected by the City of Lethbridge.

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