This case concerned the constitutionality of “bubble zones” – areas around the homes and offices of doctors who provide abortion services where anti-abortion protest activity is not allowed.
LEAF intervened before the Supreme Court of British Columbia, in coalition with:
- The Elizabeth Bagshaw Society
- Everywoman’s Health Centre Society
- The B.C. Coalition for Abortion Clinics
- The B.C. Women’s C.A.R.E. Program
In 1995, the British Columbia Legislature enacted the Access to Abortion Services Act. This created “bubble zones” around the homes and offices of doctors who provided abortion services in which anti-abortion protest activity was not permitted. The Act created a bubble zone around the Everywoman’s Health Centre in Vancouver.
Marcus Lewis was charged for protesting and engaging in sidewalk interference in the Centre’s bubble zone. The Provincial Court of British Columbia, however, dismissed the charges because it found the Act violated the right to freedom of conscience and religion, and the right to free expression under the Charter. The Crown appealed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
The Coalition argued that, given the manner in which the Act advanced the constitutional values of equality, privacy and dignity of the person, any violation of Mr. Lewis’ Charter rights was justified under s. 1. The Act only restricted individuals from expressing anti-abortion views in narrowly-defined geographic locations. It focused on ensuring access to healthcare, including abortion services. Anti-abortion activities impaired access by discouraging doctors from providing services, and impaired women’s privacy and health.
In addition, the Coalition argued that safe, unimpeded and dignified access to lawful abortion services was a necessary component of sex equality in the context of reproduction. The Act therefore promoted sex equality. It also enhanced security of the person under s. 7 of the Charter, by reducing the considerable stress imposed by anti-abortion activities on women requiring abortion services and on service providers.
The Court found that the Act violated s. 2 of the Charter, but that it was justified under s. 1. The Court noted that health care is fundamental to society, and that women should be able to access health care including abortion services without losing their dignity and/or privacy. The objective of the Act outweighed the infringement of s. 2 of the Charter.
LEAF’s advocacy in this area did not end with this case. LEAF continued to defend the constitutionality of bubble zone legislation before the courts. For more information, see our intervention in R. v. Demers and R. v. Watson and Spratt.
LEAF is grateful to Nitya Iyer and Lindsay Lyster, counsel in this case.
Download the factum here.
Read the British Columbia Supreme Court’s decision here.
Our records are imperfect, but we are doing our best to update them – if you were involved with LEAF on this case but your name is not reflected here, please email us at [email protected].