Alberta Party wants to see safe zones around schools to prevent anti-abortion demonstrations
After parents of students at a number of Calgary schools complained about anti-abortion protesters setting up just outside school grounds, one Alberta politician wants to see changes made.
A recent video of a protest at Queen Elizabeth High School in northwest Calgary shows protesters on public property holding up graphic placards in plain view of many students.
Many of the students are seen in the video becoming very disturbed by the imagery and parents are upset the protest was able to take place.
Alberta Party candidate for Calgary-Mountain View Angela Kokott says she wants to see more legislation to prevent anti-abortion activists from holding rallies anywhere near any K-12 school in the province.
Current laws only protect patients at abortion clinics, giving them a safe zone in a 50 metre radius of any centre that provides the service.
“These kids are walking out on the sidewalk, right there at Queen Elizabeth, they have no choice to say, ‘no I don’t want to see it,’ it’s right there in their face.”
Kokott says she wants the Alberta Party to take a close look at making legislation that “makes sense.”
“It protects kids and parents don’t have to worry about the images their kids are seeing at school when they don’t have a say in it.”
She doesn’t want to take away from freedom of speech but say that isn’t the type of imagery that’s appropriate around schools.
“As protesters, they’ve got to recognize that they are right next to a school and whether they are showing their placards to the kids or the traffic going by, that’s not the right location.”
John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, says his organization is in support of freedom of expression for anyone wanting to send a message.
“If these people are using shocking photographs, this is actually quite common for different groups, as long as it’s done peacefully, then this is a citizen’s right on a public sidewalk.”
He adds the only restriction he sees would be criminal hate speech.
“The Criminal Code does ban the wilful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group based on race or gender. The anti-abortion expression would not be hate speech, legally,” he says. “Gory and shocking is not illegal at all.”
He says these types of protests are just “part of living in a free country.”
The protest at Queen Elizabeth High School was reported to the Calgary Police Service, but officials say there isn’t anything they can do as long as the protests remain peaceful.
The Calgary Board of Education says it’s aware that from time to time certain groups, even controversial ones, set up outside their school property but students and staff are trained to report anything unsafe or concerning.
“The Calgary Board of Education is responsible for delivering the Alberta Program of Studies as set by Alberta Education. However, schools may provide information to students and have discussions in class on current events and topics occurring in their community, as appropriate,” an emailed statement read.
Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark supports Kokott’s proposal, saying it’s “time to expand bubble zones to protect schools.”
(With files from Kathy Le)