24 Oct 2011 Setting the Record Straight: Niagara Abortion Memorial
After reading inaccurate and misleading media accounts about the reason why ARPA Niagara’s abortion memorial was ordered down by the municipal authorities, some of our readers may be led to believe that ARPA did not do its research properly before setting up the display. Some may go so far to conclude that we were not respecting our authorities. A clear timeline of events should help in that respect.
Before even considering setting up the memorial, one of ARPA Niagara’s board members took the time to consult with the township. When he met with a representative, they looked at the law books together. They could not find anything prohibiting a temporary display and so no permit was issued. (As far as legal principals are concerned, it is safe to assume in Canada that unless something is forbidden by law, we have the freedom to engage in that activity, especially when done on private property).
On Saturday October 1st, the ARPA Niagara group erected a memorial to remember the victims of abortion in Canada. The memorial consisted of straw bales on a flatbed trailer stacked like bleachers. A total of 100 white crosses were spaced out on the bales. On one side of the display was a 48” x 48” sign that read “Each cross represents 1000 unborn children aborted every year in Canada.” On the other side of the display was a 48” x 96” sign picturing a living unborn baby alongside the words “I praise you Lord because I am fearfully and wonderfully made… You knit me together in my mother’s womb… Psalm 139.”
A by-law officer visited the property owner on Monday, October 3rd claiming that the property’s zoning does not permit a standing trailer. When asked to see the law, the by-law officer responded by stating that the law doesn’t give permission to set up such a display. Again, a point of law: The law is not meant to give permission to do things (proscriptive); things are permissible unless and until a law is put in place to stop or regulate it (restrictive); such laws must be reasonable and justified in a free and democratic society.
The co-chair of the ARPA Niagara board, contacted the Mayor to investigate what compelled the order. He informed the co-chair that the municipality received numerous complaints about the memorial. The co-chair asked whether the trailer was the issue. The Mayor did not specify what the concerns were or even how many complaints were made, but admitted that the order to remove the display was motivated by the Town’s fear of those voicing complaints.
On Tuesday October 3rd, the Township of West Lincoln issued an order for the removal of the memorial. A deadline of Monday October 10th was given for the removal of the display. The order cited a violation of Zoning By-Law 79-14 Section 7.18, relating to sign size and location regulations. There is no mention in the order of a parked trailer. It should be noted that one sign violated the by-law by a mere 8 inches.
The Niagara ARPA co-chair phoned the town to discuss the order. The town refused to communicate with him citing privacy laws.
The display was dismantled by ARPA Niagara on Saturday October 8, two days before the deadline issued, in full compliance with the order.
We wish to emphasize that the entire process of setting up and removing this display was done with incredible respect and restraint. We followed all of the rules. However, we ask a legitimate question: were the complaints a result of residents being offended by the memorial’s sign dimensions or by the message on the signs? Was the by-law order meant to regulate the medium or meant to censor the message? We cannot help but conclude by the run-around given us by the township that it was the latter.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental freedom that Canadian citizens are privileged to have and which our governments are tasked to protect. It is this freedom that is necessary for discourse to take place. The memorial erected by ARPA Niagara, for the purpose of remembering the preborn babies who perish prematurely due to unrestricted abortion, was tastefully done. The display was simply a means of engaging in a dialogue that needs to happen in this country.
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