A 40 Days for Life vigil near the Morgentaler clinic in downtown Ottawa in 2017. Protesters have been unable to do so since 2018 when Ontario introduced its “bubble zone” law in 2018. Manitoba has introduced a similar law. (CCN file photo)

Manitoba introduces ‘bubble zone’ law

The Manitoba government is following in the footsteps of provinces like British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Québec by advocating for legislation prohibiting pro-life protests, demonstrations and picketing near clinics and hospitals that offer abortion and the residences of abortion providers. On March 7, Minister of Families Nahanni Fontaine and Minister of Health, Seniors and Long-term Care Uzoma Asagwara introduced The Safe Access to Abortion Services Act (Bill 8) to the provincial legislative assembly. If passed, the bill would mandate that “buffer zones” of 50 metres immediately take effect around hospitals and clinics, and the provincial cabinet would have authority to expand the boundary to 150 metres at a later date. The legislation stipulates that buffer zones around homes be set at 150 metres. Facilities offering chemical or surgical abortion that do not fall under the purview of The Safe Access to Abortion Services Act could apply for a buffer zone. The law also promises to provide protection to physicians and pharmacists that offer the abortion pill Mifegymiso. If passed, first-time offenders of the law would be subject to fine of up to $5,000, imprisonment of six months or both. Repeat offenders would face a $10,000 fine, one year of incarceration or both. Maria Slykerman, the president of Campaign Life Coalition Manitoba, denounced the proposed bill as “utterly totalitarian.” She said it “makes an enemy of every Manitoban who values the freedoms that make Canada such a great place to live — including the freedom to gather and speak in the public square, no matter who you are or what your views are.” Passing this statute has long been the apple of Fontaine’s eye. The MLA for the St. Johns riding since 2016 made five previous attempts to get this legislation passed from 2018 to 2021, but these efforts failed as the Progressive Conservative government of the time did not support her bill. The NDP formed the government following the 2023 election. Fontaine stated in a press release that “abortion is health care. Manitobans have the right to safe and accessible health care. Whether you’re accessing reproductive care, recovering from a procedure or providing critical health care to Manitobans, this new legislation would make sure your safety and privacy is protected.” Jeff Gunnarson, the national president of Campaign Life, stated that the bill takes away the free speech of those who advocate for the voiceless. “Let’s be clear: preborn babies are being killed in these centres,” said Gunnarson. “These are humans we’re talking about here, humans with human rights, including the right to life. But, they have no voice. So, pro-lifers become their voice and try to convince mothers to choose life for their babies. “It’s simply evil that a government wants to criminalize those voices at abortion centres who are trying to save lives, who are trying to stand up for the victim of a violent and cruel death. Shame on (Premier) Wab Kinew and the entire NDP for abandoning the preborn child with this anti-human-rights legislation. May God have mercy on us.” Lauren Stone, the Progressive Conservative families’ critic, has not yet publicly commented on The Safe Access to Abortion Services Act, which is expected to advance through the legislature and receive royal assent before the summer hiatus begins on June 4.

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