Recent and ongoing tensions surrounding pro-life vigils in View Royal have its MLA asking for an increase to the protective zone around abortion clinics.
Maurine Karagianis, MLA for Esquimalt-Royal Roads, is trying to drum up support for her quest to change legislation and have the access zone around abortion clinics increased from 50 metres to 60 metres. Currently, for specified clinics, pro-life protestors are not allowed to campaign within 50 metres of the clinic.
Karagianis strengthened her resolve after an incident on Oct. 10 when West Shore RCMP received a complaint from View Royal’s Vancouver Island Women’s Clinic where a protestor had entered the clinic. RCMP are currently investigating the incident.
“(Clinic staff) are very concerned about the really aggressive nature of the protestors,” Karagianis said. “The clinic is asking for the bubble zone to be increased so that they can push some of those protestors further back.”
Vigil co-ordinator Alex Berns could not confirm a member of his group entered the clinic but was aware of a complaint. He said the vigils are peaceful and do not aim to blame.
“(Karagianis is) supposed to be supporting my freedom of speech at the same time,” Berns said. “She needs to speak for us too.”
Previous vigils were held on the north-west side of the intersection, in front of a housing complex, resulting in many complaints from and run-ins with residents.
Berns said the group agreed to move across the street to deter any further confrontation. Their current location also complies with the 50-metre bubble, but would fall within 60 metres.
Berns also said members are frequently subject to harassment, which does not garner anywhere near the attention actions of the protestors do. The vigil focuses on praying for those who are struggling with the decision and giving information in the hopes of deterring people from going through with an abortion.
“We only care about the women and the men that are affected,” Berns said. “It is quite clear the devastation people go through post-abortive and if we can stop one person from reaching that point, it will be a job well done.”
The MLA has written to the provincial health minister requesting the change. As it has in the past, the Vancouver Island Health Authority is supporting the plea.
Steve Weatherbe, president of the board of directors for Choose Life Victoria, says the move is an attempt to suppress free speech and to sweep the ethical implications of abortion under the rug.
“(It’s) an attempt to create a kind of moral
vacuum around the clinics,” he said. “We can’t force anybody to think one way or to question their own actions … but as it stands now we can ask the question.”
In an email statement, the Ministry of Health said it will monitor the situation in View Royal closely.
Karagianis brought the issue to View Royal council in the hopes that they would write a letter of support for the initiative. Ultimately council decided to receive the information but not write a letter.
Coun. John Rogers said he has trouble supporting the change without a clear idea of the provincial ramifications and without much in the way of complaints from the clinic or its patients.
“So while it’s an interesting suggestion from our MLA, I think we probably need to hear other input, other concerns, favour for this,” Rogers said.
Even without council’s support, Karagianis said she will continue to pursue the change.
“I’m going to continue to pursue it whether View Royal council joins in or not, that was simply one other option,” she said. “It seems unreasonable to me that people should have to put up with a verbal assault, an emotional assault, when people are seeking services at this clinic.”