A pro-life organization is filing a constitutional challenge against the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS), claiming that its Charter rights were violated on the grounds of the nation’s capital in May.

The day before the annual March for Life on May 10, Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) held a press conference on Parliament Hill. The Hamilton-based pro-life advocacy group brought signage with abortion victim photography, which shows images of aborted fetuses. The PPS – the federal department dedicated to the protection of Canada’s Parliament – prohibited the signs, declaring that their content was inappropriate for use.

Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) constitutional lawyer Hatim Kheir, who is representing CLC in court, said that the legality of the PPS’ actions hinges on the concept of “reasonable limits”.

“I really think this is a clear-cut legal issue,” Kheir said in an interview with True North. “CLC was trying to express itself on a matter seeking truth, which is a higher value form of speech according to the Supreme Court. The real question is whether these limits imposed by the PPS are reasonable.”

The PPS cited policy within the “General Rules on the Use of Parliament Hill,” to justify banning the signage. As the PPS informed CLC, the guidebook forbids signs “that are obscene, offensive, or that promote hatred.” Eight days ahead of the March for Life, on May 3, the policy was updated to read that “signs or banners that display explicit graphic violence or blood” are also prohibited. The PPS officer in communication with CLC used an earlier, non-updated version of the rules.

“The Supreme Court has been clear that while there can be reasonable limits on people’s expression, limits that merely prevent offensive material cannot be prevented. The right to freedom of expression includes the right to offend others in pursuit of truth,” continued Kheir.

The JCCF filed a Notice of Application in the Federal Court on June 30, on behalf of CLC and a woman who planned to hold a sign during the press conference, which argues that their freedom of expression was limited.

“We hope that the policies restricting signs and banners on Parliament Hill will be ruled unconstitutional, and that freedom of expression will be restored on the Hill,” said CLC’s Director of Advocacy and Education Josie Luetke. “More broadly, we hope that in the future, others in government will think twice before pursuing similar attempts at censorship.”

In a public location like Parliament Hill, a space intended for upholding the rights and freedoms of Canadians, Luetke points out the situational irony.

“Parliament Hill ought to be considered the very location where freedom of expression is most important and deserving of protection. When bubble zones were established around Ontario abortion facilities a few years ago, we warned legislators and others that a terrible precedent was being set. It’s disappointing, but unsurprising, to see how censorship has exploded in recent years. We are pushing back,” she said.