In a protest and vigil for Clinic 554 and abortion rights in New Brunswick, two tents set up by protesters were removed by a legislature security official who, a law professor says, wasn’t able to provide his legal authority to do so.
A crowd at the Fredericton legislature assembly grounds to protest New Brunswick’s lack of funding for abortions outside of hospitals. The tents were a part of the protest, goers said, as they held protest materials.
Around 8 p.m., legislature security and several police officers came to the grounds and removed two tents.
Vigil attendees were given a piece of paper signed by the sergeant-at-arms that the legislature security said allowed them to remove the tents.
“The sergeant of arms has made a rule saying, ‘if you’re on the grounds of the legislative assembly, you can’t erect structures for camping’, et cetera. We’re not camping, we’re protesting — and the tents are a part of that protest,” protester Kerri Froc said.
Froc, who is a law professor at the University of New Brunswick, said she asked security and police multiple times to tell her what authority they had to remove protest tents, as no law was mentioned on the notice.
“We’re very disappointed that they couldn’t point to any legal authority by which they did it,” she said at the vigil on Friday.
The Fredericton Police Force said in a statement to Global News: “FPF responded to a call regarding tents that had been set up at the provincial legislature. Officers were present to keep the peace while commissionaires from the legislature removed the tents. The call was concluded without incident.”
The right for peaceful assembly is given under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Froc says what they were doing was a peaceful protest, and they identified as such to the security and police.
Green Party Leader David Coon said he does not believe the sergeant-at-arms would have made the decision to remove the tents on his own.
“So, who did he talk to? Where was the decision made? How did it come about? Those are questions that absolutely have to be answered. We’re being sworn in on Monday, the cabinet’s being sworn in on Tuesday. Everything is back up and running, and we’ll get the answers.”
Froc returned to the legislature on Saturday morning as calls to save Clinic 554 continued.
In New Brunswick, abortions are only offered in three locations because previous provincial governments have not repealed a regulation that bans funding of abortions outside of hospitals. New Brunswick is the only province in Canada that does not fund abortions outside of hospitals.
Clinic 554 is the only location that offers abortions outside of a hospital in the province. The clinic also serves as a family practice and a resource for LGBTQ2 patients across the province. Due to the lack of funding, the clinic is set to close by the end of the month.
“We’re not just a family practice for thousands of people in New Brunswick, we’ve also worked really hard to create a safe, judgement-free zone for people who have little or no other options anywhere else in the province,” Dr. Adrian Edgar, the owner of Fredericton’s Clinic 554, told Global News on Wednesday.
Premier Blaine Higgs has maintained he would not change the province’s stance on funding abortions outside of hospitals and insisted that it complies with the Canada Health Act.
However, the federal government disagrees, and in 2017 it had reduced the Canada Health Transfer to New Brunswick by $140,216, as a result of patient charges for abortion services provided outside of hospitals. This funding was temporarily restored this year due to the pressure COVID-19 put on the health-care system.
“If something were to happen to me, if something were to happen to my sisters, my friends, and they can’t control their own lives because the option’s not there, it’s tragic and disgusting,” said Amber Carter, a UNB student who attended the protest on Saturday.
Another attendee, Eleanor Hutchinson, said it’s not just about abortions but health care for 3,000 people who will be left without a family doctor if the clinic closes.
“Regardless of your politics on trans rights, abortion rights, you’re taking away a general practitioner in the midst of a global pandemic,” Hutchinson said.
— With files from Tim Roszell and Silas Brown.