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Canada Jan. 25, 2019

Priest to challenge constitutionality of Ontario bubble zone law

By Deborah Gyapong

Father Tony Van Hee’s court case for violating Ontario’s bubble zone law will be hear in 2020, pending a constitutional challenge of the law, says his lawyer. (Deborah Gyapong photo)


OTTAWA (CCN)—A lawyer for Father Tony Van Hee, SJ, entered a plea of not guilty on the priest’s behalf Jan. 24 on charges of violating Ontario’s bubble zone law.

The case won’t be heard until sometime in 2020 to allow time for a constitutional challenge of Ontario’s Safe Access to Abortion Services Act.

“When we pleaded not guilty, we filed a Notice of Constitutional Question challenging the constitutionality of portions of the bubble zone legislation,” the priest’s lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos in an email.

“We expect to set a date for some time in the summer of 2020. This is intentional because we have agreed, with the Crown, to have the constitutionality of the legislation addressed in a separate civil proceeding which we will launch in the near future,” said Polizogopoulos.

Father Van Hee, 83, has been charged under two sections of the Act: with trying to inform people about abortion services; and with expressing disapproval within the 50-metre exclusion zone created around abortion facilities.

The constitutional challenge will be launched in Ontario Superior Court, Polizogopoulos said.

In early November, Polizogopoulos filed a “Notice of a Constitutional Question” with the Attorney General of Canada and the Attorney General of Ontario that outlined the priest’s intention to plead not guilty and to challenge the validity of the law on Charter grounds.

The notice said the priest was “protesting government restrictions on freedom of expression,” noting he was wearing a sandwich board that said on the front: “The Primacy of Free Speech Cornerstone of Western Civilization” and on the back: “Without Free Speech The State is a Corpse.”

The Jesuit priest is best known for spending 28 years fasting and praying for an end to abortion on Parliament Hill every day the House of Commons was in session.

But starting Oct. 20, 2018, Father Van Hee began standing at the corner of Bank and Sparks Streets for several hours a day.

Though he was standing near the Morgentaler abortion facility, the notice says Father Van Hee “never spoke or engaged with anyone and never mentioned or referred to abortion services or related issues.”

Police charged him with violating the act on Oct. 24, initially charging him with “intimidation or attempting to intimidate” under the act. That charge was dropped in January and replaced with the charges of attempting to inform and showing disapproval.

The notice filed by Polizogopoulos contended the “Act is arbitrary and overbroad and contrary to the Charter. As such, the Act is null and void.”

“The limits on Father Van Hee’s freedom of expression do not serve a pressing and substantial objective,” he argued. “The limits cannot be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

“The means chosen to serve the Act’s objective are not rationally connected to the objective, are not minimally impairing and are not proportionate,” the notice said.

Campaign Life Coalition set up a fundraising campaign for the priest’s legal expenses at wonderwe.com/helpfrvanhee. The campaign hopes to raise $50,000 for a case Father Van Hee has said he is prepared to fight all the way to the Supreme Court. So far, more than $8,000 has been raised.

Weather permitting, the priest has continued his protest at the corner of Bank and Queen Tuesdays through Thursdays from 9.30 a.m. to 3.15 p.m. He wears the same sandwich board, but on the edge of the exclusion zone.