Proposed Calgary bylaw would require graphic images of fetuses be enveloped

Click to play video: 'Proposed Calgary bylaw would require graphic images of fetus be enveloped'
Proposed Calgary bylaw would require graphic images of fetus be enveloped
WATCH: The City of Calgary has introduced a bylaw aimed at covering graphic images on door-to-door pamphlets. Adam MacVicar reports. – Apr 27, 2023

Calgarians are one step closer to not having to view graphic images of a fetus without their knowing.

The city’s community development committee recommended a bylaw to put some protections around the graphic images.

The proposed bylaw would require graphic images of or purporting to show a fetus be placed in a sealed opaque envelope. The outside of that envelope would require a graphic image warning, and a return name and address.

The proposal is designed to balance freedom of expression and protection of private homes.

Penalties would range from $100 to $1,000, depending on the infraction.

“Having graphic images delivered to your door is unacceptable,” Ward 2 Coun. Jennifer Wyness said after the meeting.

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“It’s your home and you have the right to have graphic images delivered in an envelope with a warning for you to decide if you’re going to open that envelope or not.”

The committee unanimously recommended that city council enact the bylaw, following a public hearing that included multiple women and organizations who shared stories of their losses of children, and the impact of seeing images of fetuses had on them.

Click to play video: 'Calgary city council approves bolstering restrictions on graphic door-to-door pamphlets'
Calgary city council approves bolstering restrictions on graphic door-to-door pamphlets

“Those aren’t stories people want to relive. That’s not a story anyone should have to relive,” Jennifer Sanger with the Viewer Discretion Legislation Coalition said.

“We all think when we get pregnant that there’s a happy ending. We walk out of the hospital with that car seat and the brand new baby in tow. And that’s not always the reality when we get pregnant.”

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Aditi Loveridge, CEO of the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Centre said the loss of a child — historically “brushed over” — causes mental health impacts.

“People kind of push it under the rug and move on, but more and more research is showing that it actually has profound mental health impacts,” she said.

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“Many people who have gone through pregnancy loss in any form end up having a lot of symptoms of PTSD for a longer period of time up to over a year to two years post-loss.”

Loveridge shared a story of coming home from a walk with her nine-year-old son to a flyer with the image of a fetus sticking out of the siding of her home. Her son grabbed it and asked what he was looking at.

“He knows what I do for work. We talk about death and dying and babies dying all of the time. And yet it shook him,” Loveridge told the committee. “I spent the rest of the walk, the rest of that evening and the rest of the next day continuing to have conversations with my son.

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“I had the language to have the conversation with my son, and so that was a very privileged spot for me to be in. And I understand that so many families don’t have that same privilege.”

City officials said the bylaw’s language is similar to bylaws in London, Ont., and Woodstock, Ont. Toronto and St. Catherines, Ont., are also exploring adding similar bylaws to the books.

A sole male representative of an anti-abortion group also spoke to the committee.

Cam Cote with Calgary-based Canadian Centre for Bio-ethical Reform (CCBR) intimated the proposed bylaw would reduce how many people would open his organization’s flyers.

“I think that seeing the victims of abortion is essential to actually being able to understand the issue of abortion itself,” he said.

He also said the CCBR has taken steps to improve how, where and to whom their printed material is given, and that they’ve moved the most shocking images to the inside of the flyer.

Another speaker shared a story of a day home operator who, years ago, found a flyer upon the return from a field trip with six five-year-olds, hiding the flyer before the children saw it. That operator later became pregnant after years of trying, but suffered a miscarriage and said seeing flyers like that brought back the memory of the miscarriage.

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“Tragically, we didn’t have that in our policy manual that that should not be delivered to a child a registered child care home, thinking that was intuitive,” Cote said. “That has now been placed into our policy and no longer happens.”

Cote argued the junk mail bylaw – the diverting of unsolicited mail if a sign says something to the effect of “no junk mail” – should be sufficient to prevent Calgarians from seeing images they don’t want. He also said the bylaws in other Canadian cities have yet to be tested by a Charter challenge.

Wyness said the bylaw can serve as a backstop for organizations distributing graphic material.

“Essentially, we’ve just helped them put it in an envelope so that if, inadvertently a staffer didn’t read the memo, we’re helping them” follow their own policies, she said.

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Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said what the committee heard Thursday morning “gave us a lot of pause.”

“I think what we heard is that the protection of images or the protection from images is really vital in helping people stay emotionally intact and helping people feel safe, and that they should be safe in their homes from harm,” Penner said.

“This isn’t about abortion, this is about shock value and that the images that are being distributed have nothing to do with talking about the medical procedure of abortion and when or why it might happen.”

City council’s next meeting is May 9.

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