Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ottawa Citizen - Freedom of expression wins

Judge strikes down law that blocks access to information about abortion in Ontario

Published on: June 12, 2017 | Last Updated: June 12, 2017 7:05 PM EDT

An Ontario judge has thrown out a law that prevents the public from knowing how many abortions are being performed in the province, saying it impedes meaningful discussion and criticism about abortion services “which is a matter of public interest.”

The Association for Reformed Political Action, which challenged the law, called the ruling by Justice Marc Labrosse of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice a “huge victory” for freedom of expression.

“This decision strengthens democracy,” said AndrĂ© Schutten, ARPA Canada’s director of law and policy. “The question at the heart of this case was whether governments can avoid accountability on a particular matter simply by excluding information related to that matter from the access to information law. We are very pleased that the court has struck this censorship provision down.”

In his ruling, Labrosse said the law, which excludes information about abortion services from Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy, is too broad and was passed with virtually no debate. He ruled that the section in question is unconstitutional.

The province has 12 months to put remedial legislation in place before the current law becomes invalid.

Labrosse said Ontario relied on concerns of the Ontario Hospital Association that disclosing information about abortions could put the safety and security of patients, hospitals and staff at risk. But the law also excludes general statistical information on abortion, which was once available.

“The evidence in these proceedings leads me to conclude that in order to have a meaningful public debate, the available information to allow for a meaningful public debate certainly needs to go beyond some of the basic statistical information offered by Ontario … the information provided to date is clearly insufficient.”

Schutten said the motivation of his organization — which opposes abortion — was to “make sure we can comment and lobby with accurate numbers. We have never been interested in patient or doctor identifiers or individual names. All we are looking for is statistical general information.”
The ruling could have implications beyond abortion.

Ontario passed similar, although less broad, legislation preventing information from being made public about which health institutions are providing medically assisted death.

Dying with Dignity says such information is crucial to an informed public debate about access to and availability of medically assisted death.

Dying With Dignity Canada CEO Shanaaz Gokool said she sees similarities between the ruling on abortion statistics and her organization’s objection to restrictions on access to information about medical assistance in death.

Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish argued that banning access to information about where assisted death was being performed “hinders transparency, accountability and meaningful public debate,” and is not based on any evidence of public harm.
Beamish also intervened in the court ruling about records related to abortion services.

Gokool said her organization has asked the ministry whether the ruling on access to abortion information changes anything when it comes to limits on access to information about assisted death.
“The decision seems to say that withholding information from Ontarians about health care services limits the ability to have full public and social policy discussions.

“The province has to take another look at what they have passed. To do otherwise would be problematic.”

ARPA, which opposes assisted death, is also interested in information about the provision of services in the province, said Schutten.

“This is the interesting thing. Our organization has grave concerns about vulnerable people. But in this case we would agree with Dying With Dignity. We want to be able to know how many people are being killed and by what means.

“We can handle the information … and a good, robust debate.”

1 comment:

  1. Good work, Patricia and ARPA! Let's celebrate the little victories until we hit the goal post and see the abolition of abortion in Canada.