Jessica Duncan looks at her mailbox every day in her quiet Victoria neighbourhood.
In early July, however, the Fernwood resident did not expect to find a graphic anti-abortion leaflet sitting in there displaying explicit images.
“You know those cigarette packets – it was like that, but 10 times worse and gross and horrible. Very, very disturbing,” says Duncan.
She is just one of many Greater Victoria residents who have received anti-abortion brochures displaying pictures of unborn fetuses.
The origin of the leaflets is not clearly displayed, but they come from an anti-abortion group called Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR.) The group has taken responsibility for the leaflet deliveries across Canada, including in Toronto, Brampton, Hamilton, Calgary, Kelowna, Chilliwack, Burnaby, Surrey, New Westminster, and now Greater Victoria.
The CCBR’s website describes the project’s mission as “leafleting brings the truth about abortion right to people’s doorsteps, as we deliver flyers by hand directly into mailboxes. The flyers contain photos of healthy pre-born children, photos of abortion victims, pregnancy help resources, and a concise care for human rights for all human beings. Unlike our conversational projects like ‘Choice Chain,’ this project is focused on efficiency and scale getting as many flyers distributed as possible.”
Saanich Coun. Teale Phelps Bondaroff has had many residents like Duncan who have expressed concerns about kids being exposed to the graphic images on the leaflets.
“Imagine a young person coming home, checking the mail and finding this kind of graphic imagery in the mailbox, or someone who has had an abortion, or someone who has had a miscarriage,” said Phelps Bondaroff.
Duncan is also worried about the “misinformation about abortion” she said the leaflet contains and who might see it.
“My neighbour has small children and she found it fortunately before her kids did,” said Duncan. “I’m not easily shaken up, but this one was really disturbing. I feel like it’s a dangerous piece of literature going out.”
Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC), said her group has researched solutions different cities have used to block the distribution of the leaflets.
“I definitely think the delivery of these flyers are harmful and unethical.”
In 2022, one city came up with the idea of requiring that the CCBR has to put the leaflets into opaque envelopes and have identifying information on the outside, including names and addresses, plus a warning on the front of the envelope informing the potential viewer of the graphic images inside.
“This gives the individuals the choice to open it or not,” said Arthur. “It still protects the freedom of expression, so they’re still free to deliver the flyers, but it also protects the rights of the residents to privacy and gives them the choice of whether or not they want to open it.”
Woodstock and Calgary have followed in London, Ontario’s footsteps in passing the envelope bylaw. Although the CCBR threatened to sue over the bylaw, they have not yet.
Phelps Bondaroff will be proposing a motion for Saanich council that asks staff for ways of addressing this issue of when and how they distribute the flyers.
“It’s all about trying to find solutions that balance out different needs,” Phelps Bondaroff said. “In this situation, we have the need to balance out freedom of expression, but we need to protect people’s privacy and protect people from non-consensually seeing images that they would be uncomfortable with.”