BCCLA frustrated by Ministry’s refusal to provide information about bubble zones

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is frustrated by the Ministry of Health’s refusal to release any substantive information about the provincial government’s decision to place abortion bubble zones around Vancouver Hospital.

The BCCLA is concerned that the expression rights of anti-abortion protesters may be being unreasonably restricted.

In November, 1998 the rights group made a request to the Ministry under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act for the factual information upon which the government based its decision to create anti-protest zones in front of Vancouver Hospital, and around the Surgical Day Care Centre where abortions are performed. The hospital had requested the zones in April, 1998, but the zones were not announced until October, shortly after the murder in Buffalo, New York of a physician who performed abortions.

In its response to the BCCLA’s request, the Ministry released the April, 1998 letter from Vancouver Hospital in which all of the information supplied by the hospital in support of its request had been deleted.

“How are citizens to judge for themselves whether the actions of protesters at Vancouver Hospital are sufficiently harassing to warrant restricting their right to protest?” asked BCCLA president Andrew Irvine today. “We are not satisfied with the government’s public assurances that the zones are necessary. Citizens are not children to be put off with calming words. We want to know what the events or actions were which the government has decided are serious enough to limit citizens’ basic expression rights.”

The BCCLA notes that the sections of the FOI Act upon which the Ministry has relied in refusing access to the requested information are all discretionary—that is, the Ministry has the option of releasing the information.

“Why is the Ministry trying to keep this information secret?” asked Irvine. “Is it afraid that when citizens see it they might question the need to create the bubble zones at VGH?”

The BCCLA has appealed the Ministry’s refusal to disclose information to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.