Lethbridge anti-abortion group fights city for right to display ads on transit property

A Southern-Alberta anti-abortion group was in court in Lethbridge Thursday to fight for the right to show five proposed — and contentious — advertisements.

The proposed ads came after city had previously decided to pull the group's "pre-born babies feel pain" advertisements from transit buses, benches and shelters after what they called "adverse community reaction."

The Lethbridge and District Pro-Life (LPL) says that if the ads are banned, the City of Lethbridge would infringe on its right to freedom of speech and expression.

The new advertisements feature the phrase "say no to abortion" and the group's logo.

LPL says that the advertisements are being rejected by the city because of its previous campaign, which the city said caused an adverse reaction and resulted in more than one hundred complaints — some citing emotional harm and psychological distress.

While the city concedes charter infringements on the new proposal, it says it's about finding a balance. It decided the ads would not contribute to a safe, welcoming and inclusive transit environment. 

"The city acknowledges that they have that right to have their message conveyed, but had to decide if on transit was the right place weighing it with their mandate," said the city's lawyer, Michael Solomon.

But LPL argues that many of the complaints lodged against the first advertisement were template letters from lobbyist groups, including Alberta Pro-Choice and Abortion Rights Coalition. 

"They told people to say things like, 'these ads can be triggering, demeaning ... they can illicit shame, fear and anxiety,'" said LPL's lawyer, Carol Crosson.

Submitted by LPL

And even though the ads may cause some people discomfort — they have a right to display their opinion on the issue.

"Nurturing the idea that if you don't agree with us, you should be muzzled, can only lead us into a darker place, not a better place," said Crosson.

Solomon says the city weighed a number of things when making the decision, including the context in which the five advertisements would be viewed and the accuracy of the claims being made, as they say some images perpetuate the idea that late term abortions are the norm in Canada.

"Objectifying women who have had abortions to suggest that is how women in Canada experience abortions," he said.

Another issue raised by LPL's legal team was the city's reliance on Ad Standards Canada's code when making its decision, rather than the Canadian charter. 

"The problem with the code in our view is it's a private set of views that do not take the charter into account," said Crosson. 

"The city has the obligation to follow highest law in the land, which is not the code, it's the charter."

The decision will be released by the Justice the week of Dec. 16 at the Lethbridge court.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that the pre-born babies advertisement was part of the judicial review, but it is not. We regret the error.