Saskatchewan politicians want to review how strictly a legislature security rule should be enforced, after a woman was forced to turn her T-shirt inside out to gain entry into the building.
Megan Johnston, an abortion rights activist, was among those invited to the legislature Wednesday by the Opposition NDP to call on the Saskatchewan Party government to improve abortion access.
Johnston wore a shirt that read, "Abortion is health care." After she entered the building, front entrance security told her she had to change. They escorted her to the washroom to ensure she turned the shirt inside out.
"I don't really have a problem," Christine Tell, Saskatchewan's minister of corrections, police and public safety, told reporters Thursday when asked about the shirt.
"Some discussion needs to take place. The tweaking needs to take place and we're committed to doing that."
There are rules regarding demonstrations and protests at the legislative building.
Demonstrations are prohibited inside the building. Placards, megaphones, or "anything that might be used as part of a demonstration" are also not allowed inside, the rules state.
The words on Johnston's shirt were also used in a billboard campaign she recently launched, but she said she felt her shirt simply stated a fact.
As of Oct. 4, there are five clinics and hospitals in Saskatchewan that provide medical or surgical abortions: four providers in Saskatoon, plus the women's health centre at the Regina General Hospital, according to the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.
Security 'following what is written': minister
Last spring, the province passed Bill 70, which resulted in the sergeant-at-arms being in charge only of security and safety within the legislative assembly.
A security director was appointed, and a new security team replaced the sergeant-at-arms and his staff for security elsewhere inside and outside of the building.
Before entering the legislature, Johnston and members of other abortion organizations, such as Planned Parenthood Regina, demonstrated outside the building. Tell, the minister responsible for the security team, said it's likely security viewed Johnston's shirt as a continuation of that demonstration.
"They are following what is written in the standard operating procedures. That's what happened," said Tell, who also noted she does not oversee day-to-day operations of the security team.
She said she hadn't spoken with the security unit before talking to reporters Thursday morning.
Exceptions to the rules have been made previously, Tell noted, such as people wearing orange "Every child matters" shirts on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
"It could have gone either way and we need [the rules] to be a little bit more clear," she said.
Tell said she wants the NDP to be part of the conversations around what is allowed inside the building.
NDP deputy House leader Meara Conway confirmed to reporters that the Saskatchewan Party had reached out about the issue, and said her party welcomes that conversation.
"We were disturbed by the level of scrutiny for these guests yesterday, certainly," Conway said.
"That's not what they expected when coming to their legislative assembly to speak out about an issue that they know a lot about, and care a lot about. Something has to change, there's no question."
Tell and Conway both said some clothing — such as any that features hate speech, for example — should not be allowed in the legislature.
But there needs to be a level of tolerance, Conway said, that allows people to express themselves on different issues.