London city council approves motion to explore bylaws for restricting distribution of graphic flyers

London city councillors voted 13-2 in favor of the motion on Tuesday. 980 CFPL

The distribution of graphic anti-abortion flyers across London, Ont., in recent weeks led London city councillors to approve a motion that asks city staff to look at options to address “community concerns around graphic unsolicited flyer deliveries to residential properties.”

London city councillors voted 13-2 in favor of the motion on Tuesday, with Mayor Ed Holder and Ward 11 Councillor Stephen Turner giving the thumbs down.

“Council doesn’t have the ability to make any decisions on abortion nor does it have the ability to take action contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Turner explained during the council meeting.

“I know that’s not what’s being proposed, but there’s certainly perception (that) we might be taking actions on this.”

Read more: London, Ont., councillors seeking options to address graphic anti-abortion flyers

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Turner added that his views on the distributions of anti-abortion flyers is “tasteless and disgusting,” but still chose to vote “no.”

“I’m not going to be supporting it because I think we’re being played. This motion plays directly into the hands of the agency distributing the flyers. They know (that) their limited distribution of flyers will evoke a strong response from the community.”

“This is a tactic for them, and we’re enabling them.”

Mayor Ed Holder did not comment on why he voted against the motion.

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The motion was first brought forward less than a week after the newly-formed group Viewer Discretion Legislation Coalition gathered outside of London City Hall to call on local politicians to help stop the spread of the disturbing images.

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Since late this summer, members of the community have been expressing anger and frustration over the flyers, distributed by the Alberta-based Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR) in partnership with the local group, London Against Abortion.

Some have shared personal stories of how the pamphlets, which claim to show images of fetuses at 10 weeks and 20 weeks, brought back traumatic memories for them or prompted difficult conversations with very young children.

Read more: Londoners rally outside city hall against graphic anti-abortion images, flyers

Deputy Mayor and Ward 4 Councillor Jesse Helmer was one of many Londoners who received a flyer in his mailbox.

He said during Tuesday’s meeting he has mixed feelings about moving the motion forward, and questioned whether developing a bylaw that prohibits such flyer distribution would actually make it stop.

“But I think it’s important enough that we have to deal with it.”

Other councillors such as Ward 8 Councillor Steve Lehman and Ward 5 Councillor Maureen Cassidy also had mixed feelings, but ultimately voted “yes.”

“For me, this is about free speech, (which) is easy to defend if you agree with what people are talking about,” said Lehman. “It’s tougher to defend if you don’t agree.”

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“If this were an opposite group, and doing a similar campaign… would we seek to do this?” Cassidy asked.

“And I can imagine that there can be graphic images on both sides… Are we regulating based on the subject at hand?”

Read more: London, Ont., group fed up with graphic pamphlets to launch campaign against Alberta’s CCBR

Meanwhile, Ward 9 Councillor Anna Hopkins and Ward 2 Councillor Shawn Lewis supported the motion, citing the significance of ensuring the community feels safe.

“Regardless if you’re pro-choice or pro-life, (this) is an opportunity to address the concerns that are happening (in) the community… These conversations are important to have,” said Hopkins.

“It will be no doubt a long, drawn-out situation but I think we have a duty to (our) constituents (to) at least pursue this,” said Lewis.

The plan is to include include legal advice in the report when it reports back to council.

— With files from 980 CFPL’s Jacquelyn LeBel

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