Pro-freedom group urges Ontario city to reject bylaw banning abortion victim photography


While the bylaw is being framed as a necessary measure to prevent motorists from being distracted by billboards, The Democracy Fund has argued it is a violation of freedom of expression for its specific targeting of pro-life activism.

LONDON, Ontario (LifeSiteNews) — A pro-freedom law group is urging the City of London, Ontario to scrap a forthcoming by-law amendment seeking to ban abortion victim photography from being displayed in public.

According to a February 23 press release, pro-freedom group The Democracy Fund (TDF) has advised London, Ontario to reject a by-law amendment to its Streets By-Law that would ban displaying any images of murdered unborn babies on public property in the name of reducing distracted driving.  

“It is a legal fiction to deem any image of a fetus whatsoever to be an obstruction despite its size, location, or graphic content,” TDF’s litigation director Alan Honner said. “This latest version of the amendment underscores the fact that its true purpose is to restrict pro-life expression.”  

The amendment was first suggested in July 2022 by the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC), which told the Community and Protective Services Committee (CPSC) that abortion victim photography distracted motorists and that the signs “interfered with the privacy, equality and bodily autonomy of others.”  

The group apparently failed to see the irony in arguing that images of murdered babies who were denied autonomy interfered with the autonomy of others. 

The amendment was apparently forgotten until a December 2023 CPSC meeting where the council told city staff to draft an amendment to the Street By-Law and to report back to CPSC in the first quarter of 2024.  

The proposed amendment was expected to prevent anyone from seeing “distressing, unwanted and disturbing images,” which were defined as any “image or photograph showing, or purporting to show, a fetus or any part of a fetus.”    

While the amendment is framed as preventing motorists from being distracted by the billboards, Honner pointed it out that it particularly targeted pro-life activism by specifically banning any images of unborn babies.  

As a result, TDF wrote to the CPSC to voice their concerns “that the city was being asked to take sides in the political and moral debate about abortion and to misuse its legislative power to silence one side of that debate.” 

“If the proposed legislation were about preventing harm or distraction, then the bylaw would not be narrowly restricted to the display of fetal images commonly used by pro-life advocates but would include other images that can be distracting or offensive,” TDF explained, adding that the proposed amendment could violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as it relates to freedom of expression.  

TDF’s concerns were apparently supported by city staff, including the Deputy City Manager, Legal Services, who recommended against the proposed changes, pointing out that the Streets by-Law should not regulate the content of signs.  

However, despite concerns, the city staff recommended the amendment which “would deem the display of fetal images to be obstructions, nuisances and activities that interfere with public travel.”  

However, the amendment apparently did not satisfy the CPSC, which requested city staff to redraft the amendment before the end of June 2024.   

The amendment would hardly be Canada’s first law to restrict pro-life activism. Already, Canada has a “bubble zone” law which prohibits pro-life activism within 50 meters of an abortion clinic. Under the 2017 law, distance can be increased to 150 meters upon request.   

Similarly, a Calgary bylaw states that flyers with graphic images of aborted babies, or “fetuses” as it says, “must be concealed in an opaque envelope, with a graphic content warning, and include the name and address of the sender, when delivered to homes.”  

Those found to violate the new rule can face fines of up to $1,000 per violation, and the city has promised to “investigate” and enforce the bylaw.