Alberta United Conservative leader to abstain on abortion clinic safe zone vote
Alberta United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney is seen in Vancouver, Monday, March 5 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, April 9, 2018 5:03PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, April 9, 2018 6:32PM EDT
EDMONTON -- Alberta United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney says proposed legislation creating safe zones around abortion clinics is political game-playing by the NDP government.
He said Monday he will abstain when the bill comes to a vote. His caucus members will be allowed to vote freely.
Kenney said Premier Rachel Notley's government has never proposed or discussed such legislation before. He said they are doing so now to distract from a budget that promises an $8.8-billion deficit this year and more long-term debt.
"This is so obviously a transparent effort by the NDP to distract attention from its failed economic record," said Kenney. "We're not going to play games with divisive social issues. We're here to focus on job creation and economic growth, (and) market access for energy products.
"I will be abstaining from the vote, as will most of our caucus."
Kenney has been clear in the past he is against abortion, but has said he would never legislate on the issue.
The proposed legislation would create 50-metre buffer zones around abortion clinics to keep protesters away and would also forbid them from taking video or pictures of those going in or out under penalty of fines or jail terms.
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said the government began looking at legislation last year, and said Kenney's non-stance speaks volumes.
"The fact that Mr. Kenney refuses to stand up for women is disappointing. It's not surprising, but it's disappointing," said Hoffman.
"Women deserve to have peace in accessing health care services. What we're doing is in line with other jurisdictions in the country and it is about making sure that they are not bullied or harassed."
Liberal legislature member David Swann said Kenney's abstention is his choice.
"For the rest of us, most Albertans, this is a clear issue of protecting employees, protecting patients, and getting fair and safe access to recognized health services."
The two main clinics in Alberta that handle about 75 per cent of all abortion procedures have civil restraining orders in place to keep protesters across the street, but they say demonstrators routinely ignore or violate those rules.
The bill, introduced last week, would also designate similar no-go zones around homes and offices of doctors and other staff who provide abortions.
It would also be illegal for anyone to harass a doctor or staffer by phone, mail or online to convince them to not provide abortion services.
Anyone breaking the law faces fines up to $10,000 or a year in jail. Corporations that violate the rules can be fined up to $100,000.
If the bill passes, Alberta will join British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador in creating so-called bubble zones around clinics.
The operators of the clinics say the legislation has helped reduce harassment in those other provinces.
Anti-abortion advocates say the bill is an assault on free speech and that adequate laws already exist to prevent bullying and harassment of patients and staff.