Calgary city councillors have approved a motion that opens the door to a new bylaw that would restrict the door-to-door dispersal of graphic anti-abortion flyers.
The motion, drafted by Ward 2 Coun. Jennifer Wyness, calls for a new bylaw that will require mailed flyers from anti-abortion groups — which include graphic images, like showing or claiming to show a fetus, or any part of a fetus — to be concealed in an envelope.
The motion also calls for the pamphlets to include a viewer discretion warning.
On Wednesday, council voted unanimously to approve Wyness’ motion after a majority of councillors signed on as sponsors of the motion.
“It’s about representing the community and finding a way to balance everybody’s belief system and rights,” Wyness told Global News. “I think that’s what I tried to strike a balance in when I wrote this.”
Wyness told council she heard about the issue from constituents who have had graphic flyers dropped off on their doorsteps.
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said council has “been fighting this for a long time,” and noted an incident where she was personally impacted by a graphic pamphlet.
“It is incredibly traumatizing,” Gondek told council. “I’ve had this dropped into my mailbox after a miscarriage and that is not something I wish for other people to go through.”
The city made the move to acknowledge “the rights of parents to control their children’s access to potentially disturbing or offensive materials,” Wyness’ motion said.
But according to the motion, the current rules require residents to “choose between receiving no flyers or receiving all flyers, including those containing alleged images of aborted fetuses.”
However, the language in the motion could open the door to legal challenges down the road, according to Marty Moore, a lawyer at the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.
“This bylaw is not targeting graphic imagery across the board, it’s targeting particular graphic imagery used by pro-life groups for political expression,” Moore told Global News. “You can anticipate a significant pushback on the basis that this is not a neutral bylaw to protect residents from graphic imagery, which may stir up their emotions or trigger them in some fashion.”
One of Wyness’ constituents Jennifer Sanger also received a graphic anti-abortion flyer at her home last summer.
The former labour and delivery nurse said the flyer brought up the trauma of her patients who experienced loss.
Sanger now works with the Viewer Discretion Legislation Coalition (VDLC), which advocates for changes to laws in Canada to prohibit the use of graphic images on door-to-door flyers without consent.
“I don’t want to censor anti-abortion groups,” Sanger told Global News. “I do want to have our family values respected in how they deliver their message.”
Wyness’ motion is similar to a bylaw passed earlier this year in London, Ont. Those new rules require flyers containing graphic images to be distributed in envelopes with a content advisory.
Calgarians will be able to have their say at a public hearing on the matter when the new bylaw is drafted by city administration, which is expected sometime next year.