Toronto politicians tackle 'traumatizing' anti-abortion images

By Bambang Sadewo,

City councillors and an MPP in east-end Toronto have teamed up to try and stop anti-abortion groups from displaying graphic posters in public spaces and distributing graphic flyers in mailboxes.

Beaches-East York Councillor Janet Davis says imposing images that often depict aborted fetuses to unsuspecting pedestrians is verging on “hate and harassment” and it needs to stop.

“Last year we requested our staff to come back with a report on ways that they could regulate it,” Davis said. “We may have some ability to use existing bylaws.”

Along with Parkdale-High Park Councillor Sarah Doucette, they put forward a motion to have city staff review current regulations to prevent any group from obstructing the use of public streets and sidewalks for the display of extremely graphic images.

The motion passed without debate and amendments last week, and the final report is expected in the first quarter of 2019.

Toronto-Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns calls such images “disturbing and traumatizing” for the public.

“We need to protect freedom of speech. But I disagree profoundly with the arguments they're making,” said Tabuns, of groups that run anti-abortion protests.

He added that the public should also have the right to demand protection from being exposed to the images.

The recently re-elected MPP suggests residents need to make their voices heard.

“Let the organizer know how profoundly the public reject their behaviour and let them know that what they’re doing is undermining their arguments,” Tabuns said.

Tabuns is also attempting to stop graphic flyers being distributed to people’s homes.

Tabuns, along with city councillors in the east end, including Janet Davis, Paula Fletcher, and Mary Fragedakis, sent trespass warning letters and a notice to a Calgary-based organization – the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform – that has been known to deliver the graphic anti-abortion flyers to Toronto homes.

The notice states that if the warning is violated, the offender will be charged under the Trespass to Property Act and that further legal action might be pursued.

“They haven’t distributed the (graphic) flyers in the east end this summer. I tried to get this out in advance…. this is being done with good reason. There are children who’d go out and pick up the mail,” he said.

Tabuns hopes the organization will treat the trespass notice seriously and respect people’s property.

Denise Handlarski is a professor in the School of Education at Trent University, teaching social justice and diversity issues as well as sex education. The east-end resident didn’t witness the protests that took place last month in the Danforth area, and on Queen Street East.

However, she said she has seen them around the city in the past.

“I don't think that they should legally be allowed to hold up these graphic signs in a neighbourhood,” Handlarski told Metroland Media Toronto.

As a believer of free speech, Handlarski, who is also a rabbi, said it’s fine if the groups want to have closed meetings that people choose to come to. It’s a different story if they stand on street corners that are busy and intentionally choose areas near schools to show the signs.

“I do think that's inappropriate,” she said.

The mother of two says the tactic used by such groups shows that they have a weak argument.

“If they could convince people with their words, they would, they can't. So they resort to using these images,” she said. “If you really care about life, then you should be working really hard to make real children's lives better."


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