Tensions rise over abortion clinic protests in View Royal
Council opts against MLA’s call for expansion of ‘bubble zone’
THURSDAY OCTOBER 24, 2013
View Royal council has refused to endorse a call by Esquimalt-Royal Roads MLA Maurine Karagianis for an increase in the “bubble zone” around abortion clinics, even in the face of what she calls exceptionally aggressive protests at the Vancouver Island Women’s Clinic.
Karagianis approached View Royal council this month asking for support in her call for the province to expand the bubble zone — an area where aggressive protests and other activities directed toward users of the facility are not allowed — to 60 metres from 50.
Clinic staff report that clients walking into the clinic have felt intimidated by protesters near Helmcken Road and the Island Highway and expressed concerns about their signs, said a View Royal staff report to council.
RCMP were called Oct. 10 after one of the protesters entered the clinic and began shouting.
But Steve Weatherbe, president of Choose Life Victoria Society, said people participating in the 40 Days for Life vigils outside the clinic are the ones being harassed — not the other way around.
“We just stand there with signs. My sign says: Children are a blessing,” Weatherbe said.
People standing vigil have been stalked, he said.
Neighbours and passersby have been verbally abusive and horse manure and food waste have been dumped where his volunteers stand.
He admitted a member of his group entered the clinic but said it was her “first time on the vigil.”
View Royal council voted four to one against endorsing an expansion of the bubble zone, with only Coun. Ron Mattson supporting it.
Mayor Graham Hill said he was worried expanding the zone might lead to escalating tensions.
“When you deny people the right of assembly or you intrude on the right of assembly, it becomes very quickly a matter that goes beyond the immediate messaging that people are trying to send and rather becomes one of institutional confrontation,” Hill said.
Expanding the bubble zone is supported by both the clinic and Island Health.
Island Health spokeswoman Sarah Plank said the health authority, which has security patrol the clinic area three times a day, has been asking for an expansion of the bubble zone since Choose Life Victoria members began holding protests outside the clinic in September 2011.
Clinic users aren’t the only people affected, according to Karagianis.
“I first heard about this when neighbours in the area complained that they were intimidated about going even to catch the bus in that area because these protesters would be so aggressive about their message,” Karagianis said.
Expanding the bubble zone would simply “push the protesters far enough away that they couldn’t harass people coming in and out of the complex where the clinic is,” she said.
“They couldn’t harass people who catch the bus in the area and that sort of thing.”
Weatherbe said he would be opposed to any measure that would push his group father away from the clinic.
“We would have less of a chance to get our message across to the girls using it … We want to give them one last chance to consider their actions.”
Karagianis said she has met with both former health minister Margaret MacDiarmid and current Health Minister Terry Lake, but there has been no movement by the province on the file.
Health Ministry spokesman Stephen May said the province will monitor the situation closely.
“We recognize that individuals have a right to express their opinion and carry out peaceful protest.
“At the same time, these protests should not interfere with the staff and patients who need to access a health care building for a legal medical service,” he said in an email.
West Shore RCMP is also monitoring the situation, said Cpl. Kathy Rochlitz.
“We aware of it and we conduct regular patrols in the area.”
— With a file from Jeff Bell