OTTAWA—A charge of intimidation under Ontario’s abortion bubble zone law against an 83-year old Catholic priest has been dropped and replaced with two other charges.

Father Tony Van Hee, a Jesuit priest who is best known for 28 years of fasting and praying on Parliament Hill every day the House of Commons was in session, was arrested Oct. 24 for demonstrating within the safe exclusion zone of 50 metres surrounding the Morgentaler abortion facility on Ottawa’s Bank Street.

Father Van Hee is expected to appear in court later in January.

Police initially charged him under the Safe Access to Abortion Services Act, which reads in part: “While in an access zone established under section 6 for a clinic or facility, no person shall... for the purpose of dissuading a person from accessing abortion services... intimidate or attempt to intimidate the person.”

That charge has been replaced with charges under section 3(1)(b) that states no person shall “inform or attempt to inform a person concerning issues related to abortion services, by any means, including oral, written or graphic means;” and section 3(1)(c) that no person shall: “perform or attempt to perform an act of disapproval concerning issues related to abortion services, by any means.”

“So why did they drop the charges of intimidation?” asked Ottawa pro-life blogger Patricia Maloney. “Because clearly Father Tony wasn't intimidating anyone. He was sitting in complete silence, not speaking with any members of the public, with a sign about free speech, looking towards Parliament Hill. How is that ‘intimidating?’”

She called the new charges “similarly ridiculous.”

In a Notice of a Constitutional Question filed with the Crown in November and posted on Maloney’s blog, the priest’s lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos said Father Van Hee would plead not guilty and challenge the Act on rights of freedom of expression guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The priest had been demonstrating for four and a half days in October within 50 metres of an abortion clinic, wearing a sandwich board. On one side, it wrote: “The Primacy of Free Speech Cornerstone of Western Civilization,” and on the other: “Without Free Speech The State is A Corpse.”

Father Tony Van Hee.

Polizogopoulos wrote the Attorney General shortly after the initial charge was laid, explaining that during the days Father Van Hee protested within the exclusion zone he “never spoke or engaged with anyone and never mentioned or referred to abortion services or related issues.”

“Father Van Hee was protesting a political and public policy on public property,” Polizogopoulos wrote. “The Act is arbitrary and over-broad and contrary to the Charter. As such, it is null and void.”

The charges against the Ottawa priest did not stop him from continuing to demonstrate a couple of days a week on the edge of the exclusion zone, wearing the same sandwich board. He took a break over Christmas.

“I witnessed Father Tony on the day before these initial charges were laid,” Maloney said. “It looked to me like his sign and his message were clearly about his Charter rights to free speech. It was also clear to me that this message was directed at politicians, since Father Tony was facing Parliament Hill.”

After a two week break over Christmas, the elderly priest resumed demonstrating on the edge of the exclusion zone for several hours a day, three days a week.

Canadian Catholic News.