Safe access zone legislation comes into effect in Ontario today. That means thousands of patients, health care providers and staff will benefit from a new layer of protection against verbal harassment, physical assault and targeted threats. The behaviours that will be prohibited within fifty feet of abortion providing facilities are human rights violations – specifically, acts of violence.
In a related effort to realize sexual and reproductive rights in Canada, the federal government recently amended criteria to ensure that public funds are not put toward activities that discriminate against individuals and undermine human rights. Previously, the sole purpose of some of the Canada Summer Jobs program projects was to undermine reproductive rights and the rights of individuals with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions. These publicly funded acts of discrimination contributed to a culture of misogyny, transphobia and homophobia that compromised the health, safety and well-being of women and LGTBQ+ individuals.
In both cases, these changes to law and policy are about unlawful actions, not opinions. These changes do not infringe on freedom of religion, expression, conscience, or any other right that people in Canada enjoy. Instead, they are a step towards greater compliance with existing Canadian and international human rights law – namely the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. Advocates and legal experts have been saying for years that Canadian policies do not reflect our laws and obligations. This is not a situation of writing ideology into the law, it is a step towards compliance with domestic and international law.
Safe Access Zones and the Canada Summer Jobs program changes ensure individuals have access to accurate and non-discriminatory information and the protections they need to access health and other public services in safe environments, without the threat of violence.
Our domestic and international laws dictate that Canada has an obligation to proactively protect individuals from all forms of violence and discrimination. Individuals seeking abortion services should not face harassment, judgement or violence – all of which result in barriers to a medically necessary service. Children should not be subjected to hate and exclusion for being queer and/or trans.
Action Canada commends the Federal Government and the Government of Ontario for taking these much needed steps towards greater respect, protection and fulfilment of sexual and reproductive rights in Canada. Unfortunately, gaps persist. We therefore urge provinces and territories that have yet to enact Safe Access Zone legislation to do so with specific attention to extended abortion care resulting from the roll out of the abortion pill Mifegymiso.