Canada's police crack down on peaceful free speech


National Post, 17 January 2019

During the 4½ days he protested, Father Van Hee, 83, never spoke to anyone, didn't hand out literature and didn't impede passage

KINGSTON, ONT. — Eighteen months ago, when the Kathleen Wynne government was in its final year of official party status in Ontario, it passed, with the connivance of the then “opposition” leader Patrick Brown, Bill 163, entitled the Safe Access to Abortion Services Act 2017.

I wrote at the time: “Canada already has the world’s most extreme abortion license, with abortion on demand legal for any reason at any time. But the totalitarian impulse seeks to enforce approval, or at least criminalize dissent. How far does Bill 163 reach? The police could arrest you if, two blocks down from an abortion clinic, you wore a T-shirt saying, ‘Canada should adopt Sweden’s abortion laws.’”

It turns out it is worse than that. Last October, the Ottawa police arrested Father Anthony Van Hee, 83, a Jesuit priest who has been carrying out a pro-life vigil on Parliament Hill for nearly 30 years.

He was arrested for a silent protest within the 150-metre “bubble zone” around the abortion clinic at 65 Bank St.

Fr. Van Hee’s “offence” consisted of him sitting (on his own chair) on the public sidewalk, wearing a sandwich board that read on the front side, “The Primacy Of Free Speech: Cornerstone Of Western Civilization.” On the back side it read: “Without Free Speech The State Is A Corpse.”

During the four-and-a-half days he protested, Fr. Van Hee never spoke to anyone, or engaged with anyone. He did not hand out literature. He did not impede passage. He never mentioned or referred to abortion. The Ottawa police charged him with “intimidating or attempting to intimidate” persons seeking or providing abortions.

This week, evidently embarrassed by the prospect of prosecuting a silent, sedentary octogenarian for “intimidation,” the charge was withdrawn and instead Fr. Van Hee was charged with “informing or attempting to inform a person concerning issues related to abortion services, by any means, including oral, written or graphic means” and “performing or attempting to perform an act of disapproval concerning issues related to abortion services.”

Even if you think that such subversive behaviour deserves a totalitarian slap down, Fr. Van Hee did no such thing. The Crown appears to consider it an offence to protest restrictions on free speech if, in the past, you protested against abortion. The crime is exercising free speech while pro-life.

How far this blatantly unconstitutional prosecution will go is anyone’s guess, but one might ask whether the despatching of Wynne and Brown has made any difference. Why doesn’t the new attorney general, Caroline Mulroney, simply instruct the Crown prosecutors not to prosecute?

How’s that? The state deciding not enforce laws against protesters? Can one conceive of such things?

I can. Last Saturday, in our quiet downtown, I was driving down our main drag, Princess Street, only to discover it blocked by anti-pipeline protesters. They blocked the intersection for some 20 minutes, reading out sundry complaints and distributing literature about the RCMP “invasion” of Aboriginal lands to their captive audience of trapped motorists.

There were four Kingston police officers accompanying them, keeping a careful eye on those of us blockaded, lest frustrations boil over. While waiting I asked the police officer on duty if there was a plan to clear the protest and open the street to traffic.

There was not. After all, he explained, there were only four officers and the protesters numbered about 60 or so.

Was he going to call for help? Perhaps a few more officers could be called in to usher the protesters off the street?

No. Things would clear up when the protesters decided to move on. Meanwhile, the police would do nothing of consequence.

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