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Calgary abortion clinic wants provincial protection from harassment

The Kensington Clinic has an injunction that requires demonstrators to be on the opposite side of the street but says people often break the rules

While three 40 Days for Life protesters stand praying across the street from Kensington Clinic, Remi Sauve holds up a sign to counter-demonstrate.


While three 40 Days for Life protesters stand praying across the street from Kensington Clinic, Remi Sauve holds up a sign to counter-demonstrate.

Calgary’s Kensington Clinic is calling on the province create legislation to protect women seeking an abortion from harassment by pro-life demonstrators.

A private court injunction awarded to the clinic in 2003 is supposed to balance its staff, physician and patients' right to privacy with pro-life demonstrators' right to free speech by creating a buffer zone around the building.

The injunction says pro-choice demonstrators must stand across the street from the clinic and only four people can occupy the space at any given time, but the clinic’s executive director Celia Posyniak said those rules are often ignored.

“(Demonstrators) frequently leave the area they're allowed to be in, over-populate their ranks or interfere with patients,” Posyniak said.

“Police enforcement is often slow to arrive and when violators do get caught, only a warning is given – without consequences, the violations repeat, sometimes as soon as the police are out of sight.”

On Wednesday, a group of pro-choice demonstrators, as well as counter-demonstrators, took shifts on the sidewalk outside the Kensington Clinic – their injunction applies to all demonstrators, regardless of cause – to kick off an event called 40 Days for Life, described by organizers as a peaceful prayer vigil.

Posyniak called it a focal point for people opposed to the reproductive rights of women.

“In reality, it's nothing more than an opportunity to shame, harass, and bully women and clinic staff,” Posyniak said in an open letter to Albertans published last week.

Metro attempted to contact 40 Days for Life organizers in Calgary but didn't receive a response. The event is held at abortion clinics across Canada and the U.S.

Melaine Anderson, a volunteer with the Alberta Pro-Choice Coalition who has been involved with women’s reproductive rights for decades, said harassment usually ramps up during the event.

“They quite often don’t obey the restrictions,” Anderson said. “It’s just offensive and really does affect (the patients) emotionally.”

She said she’s concerned that with the recent introduction of Mifegymiso, a two-step abortion pill for early-stage pregnancies made available for free by the province earlier this year, demonstrations will increase.

“With the pill now available, there may be new (abortion) providers in smaller communities,” Anderson said. “I think there has to be some kind of legislation that protects all clinics, doctors and pharmacies from this kind of display.”

B.C., Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador have passed legislation that allows pro-life demonstrators to be in some proximity to clinics, but lays out clear consequences for violations such as fines or possible imprisonment for repeat offenders.

Anderson said that would be an acceptable compromise, although she admits she’d rather the demonstrations cease entirely.

“They should be made to stand further away,” she said. “I think if they want to do it, they should be down the street so these women don’t have to walk right by it.”

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said harassing patients and clinic staff is unacceptable behaviour and her office will continue to discuss the issue with stakeholders.

“My office has heard concerns from patients and staff that harassment is an issue,” Hoffman told Metro. “We strongly support women’s reproductive health options, and are committed to making sure women are able to access abortion services safely.”

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