I was privileged to attend a several-hundred-strong gathering at the Human Rights monument in Ottawa last evening. The demonstrators were there to protest the benign neglect of the Ottawa Police Service and City Hall as women are consistently bullied, yelled at and even spat upon by “pro-life” fanatics at the Ottawa Morgentaler Clinic on Bank Street.
In an earlier post, I wondered aloud why it was that the Chief of Police and the Mayor of my city were claiming that nothing could be done because of the Charter of Rights and inadequate by-law language. Those claims are palpably false. Court injunctions, and provincial legislation in British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador, have kept anti-choice harassers away from the vicinity of abortion clinics, and have proven robustly Charter-proof. This, in fact, is settled law by now. Nothing is stopping the City from enforcing the existing by-laws or, if necessary, drafting new ones. It was good to see the experts weigh in on this.
Meanwhile, my own Councillor, David Chernushenko, was regurgitating the police and mayoral talking-points, and likely some other Councillors were doing the same, but not all of our municipal representatives are keeping their arms folded and hanging back. Councillor Catherine McKenney, in whose ward the clinic is located, has been pro-active on the matter: as the popular outcry has increased, she (and the Mayor, who could hardly say no) have asked for a legal opinion:
Can the City Clerk and Solicitor provide Council with legally enforceable options to allow the City to ensure that people providing or seeking counselling or medical procedures at any clinic or medical provider in Ottawa will be able to provide or access those services free from harassment, threats or intimidation and in a manner that respects their dignity and privacy.
The options should include new or amended provincial legislation (such as the creation of “bubble zones” that have been done in the Provinces of British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador) and/or new or changes to the City’s own by-laws.
At the demonstration, Councillors Jeff Leiper and Tobi Nussbaum flanked McKinney in silent support as she spoke.
I caught sight of an old friend who had been part of the 1970 Abortion Caravan. “47 years later, eh?” I said to her.
This is not 1970. Pro-choice sentiment is mainstream. The bullying of vulnerable women in downtown Ottawa has created a rising wave of public disgust. I suspect that the Mayor and the Chief of Police have grasped by now what their indefensible inaction has unleashed.
There will be more chapters of this tale written over the few days and weeks. There will be no going back.
Photo Credit: Jean Levac/ Postmedia News