A group protesting the imminent closure of Clinic 554 says the removal of their tents from the grounds of the New Brunswick legislature in Fredericton Friday night was done without legal authority.
Clinic 554 is a Fredericton family medical practice that, in its words, "is committed to sex-positive, gender-celebratory care, anti-racist and feminist practices, and full-scope reproductive care, including abortions."
Kerri Froc, an associate law professor at the University of New Brunswick, said the group was in the middle of a vigil when they were presented with a notice from the sergeant-at-arms. It said that no structures, including tents, could be erected on the property and camping was not permitted.
"The tents had all of our political protest signs on them," said Froc. "We indicated it was a peaceful protest and that we had a charter right and that the tents were part of our political process.
"We're not camping, we're protesting and the tents are part of that protest."
When contacted to see if he was aware of the notice and removal of the two tents, Speaker Daniel Guitard said he made the decision with the staff and advisory team after being told it was a longstanding practice not to permit tents on the property for security reasons.
"While I recognize that last night's protest was a peaceful one and there was no indication that the tents were concealing anything dangerous, the procedure of the [legislature] must be respected."
But Guitard also spoke as a Liberal MLA.
"I have never commented on Higgs's decision. But this time I'll say that the reason we're at this point today is because of [the] refusal of the government to fund Clinic 554."
Froc said she asked for an explanation about the regulation or legislation behind the notice but couldn't get one.
"He [the sergeant-at-arms] came in with a couple of police officers and took our tents and put them behind the barricades there."
She said the group was disappointed no one could point to any legal authorization for removing the tents.
"So they didn't tell us that and they took our property basically for no legal reason that they could point to. I'm a law professor. I like to know what the law is so that I can abide by it."
Froc said the vigil was held to celebrate reproductive rights in New Brunswick and to celebrate Clinic 554, which will close on Sept. 30.
She said the group thought it could continue to peacefully occupy with the two tents, as others had been throughout the week.
"We're not creating any damage. We're just here to mark this solemn occasion and instead the sergeant-at-arms comes out with two police officers."
Fredericton Police Force confirmed they were called by legislature staff to help keep the peace.
Promise not fulfilled
Froc said she was angry Friday night, and was angry earlier in the week because Clinic 554 was closing.
"We had a promise from the prime minister that he would keep it open and that promise is not going to be fulfilled."
The clinic is closing because the province has refused to cover the cost of any out-of-hospital abortions, including those performed in the facility.
Dr. Adrian Edgar, medical director at the clinic, said he can't afford to continue to subsidize the service and is leaving for another job.
The clinic is for sale. But Edgar said the facility is available if the lobby group Reproductive Justice New Brunswick can recruit another doctor, or if another physician wants it for a family practice.
The federal government has said the province's refusal is a violation of the Canada Health Act, but Premier Blaine Higgs claims the province has a legal opinion stating otherwise.
"We have a government in flagrant violation of the Canada Health Act for failing to provide funding for abortions in clinics," said Froc.
An abortion in the clinic can cost a patient up to $800 if the clinic doesn't reduce or waive the fee
Medicare covers abortions performed at three hospitals in the province, two in Moncton and one in Bathurst.
Froc said the province is violating women's constitutional rights by not providing the funding to clinics.
Meanwhile, as protests continued at the legislature on Saturday, Froc told reporters she would be exploring legal options around the civil rights of the protesters being violated.
"This might be the way the Clinic 554 controversy gets to court first. It won't be the last way."
Green Party Leader David Coon said on social media the eviction was 'completely unacceptable' and he would make sure it doesn't happen again.
At its annual meeting Saturday, Le Regroupement féministe du Nouveau-Brunswick passed an emergency motion denouncing the eviction, saying it infringes on the rights of protesters.
In French, they said the legislative assembly is a public building and the people's house, and expelling protesters obstructs freedom of expression.