Council seeks legal remedy to graphic anti-abortion flyers
LONDON, ONT. -- City council hopes to sidestep a legal minefield and halt the distribution of graphic images to London mailboxes.
Admitting their options may be limited, on Tuesday council decided to ask its legal department for a list of options to stop the door-to-door delivery of unsolicited flyers that contain graphic images.
Deputy Mayor Jesse Helmer’s ward was the latest neighbourhood to receive anti-abortion flyers containing images of aborted fetuses.
“I don’t think it needs to be said how traumatic it could be fore somebody who has just had a miscarriage, or may have had an abortion, or terminated a pregnancy,” Deputy Mayor Helmer told his council colleagues.
The pamphlets are being distributed by Calgary-based Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.
The motion drafted by the four councillors asks civic administration to consider, “steps taken by other municipalities and potential amendments to the existing nuisance by-law, or an introduction of a new by-law.”
“The response may come back that we don’t have a solution to this,” admitted Councillor Shawn Lewis. “Other communities have put in some by-laws, and we want to know what those look like.”
Lewis says that an eventual solution must not target specific flyers, organizations, or issues.
He expects the recommendations from civic administration will not compromise anyone’s Freedom of Expression.
“What it is not, is a restriction on freedom of speech. What it is not, is a debate around the abortion issue. What it is, is a debate about graphic materials coming to people’s homes,” Lewis says.
“It’s not communicating about an issue that’s the problem. It’s how people are communicating about the issue,” added Helmer.
Councillor Stephen Turner opposed the motion.
He warned council that a lengthy municipal process, and possible court challenge, will provide the organization with the free publicity that it craves.
“This is a tactic for them, and we’re enabling that,” explained Turner. “I would rather not give them that oxygen. They don’t deserve it. That’s the reason I’m not going to support it.”
“I don’t think that Councillor Turner and I can agree on that one, I don’t think we can ignore our responsibility to our constituents to respond to their concerns,” replied Lewis.
Council voted 13-2 for civic administration to report back with a list of options based on the actions of other communities.
Staff had earlier advised council that given their existing workload and legal complexities involved, a report won’t be ready until the summer of 2021.