Calgary moves closer to creating abortion protest bubbles around schools

The City of Calgary says it's possible for council to prohibit graphic anti-abortion displays near schools in order to protect children from having to see disturbing images.

A council committee voted in favour of that idea after hearing stories from school administrators and teachers on Wednesday.

Guidance counsellor Jennifer Moore estimates one quarter of the students at Crescent Heights High School have some kind of trauma in their background, and that abortion protest displays are psychologically damaging for them.

"Some of them shout at the protesters. Some of them hide in the bathroom. Some of them, we've just got to call parents and say, 'They're not feeling safe here today. so we need to get them home,'" Moore said.

While freedom of expression rights apply in public spaces, the city law department says municipalities have the jurisdiction to ban certain activities in specific areas to protect children.

The city first began exploring whether it has the power to set up these kinds of safe zones in April, when Coun. Druh Farrell put forward a motion that was partly motivated by a recent confrontation between a group of teenagers and anti-abortion activists outside a northwest Calgary high school.

Farrell said students shouldn't have to see graphic images on their way to and from school.

"They're supposed to go to school, and they're confronted with some of these images. It's hurting these children," she said.

Farrell says she's confident a bylaw could withstand a Charter challenge while still allowing less harmful types of political messaging.

"What is different here is the graphic images. They're massive, and these individuals park outside of school where children don't have the ability to avoid these images," she said.

If city council approves the plan, the bylaw would be drafted for debate next year.