BC Government Blowing Bubbles… But Not the Good Kind 



April 17, 2024
Available in Audio Format:

The BC government has proposed a new type of bubble zone for the province. While you might enjoy a relaxing bubble bath or your kids may love blowing bubbles or popping the bubble wrap from your latest Amazon package, this kind of bubble zone is far less fun. 

Bubble zones, or “access zones” as they are formally called in legislation, are areas where communicating about a specific topic is forbidden. The stated justification for bubble zones is that governments don’t want access to certain facilities to be blocked or people to feel intimidated when using those facilities.  

But bubble zones don’t just target disruptive behaviour. They generally prohibit any public expression on a topic. It doesn’t matter if it is respectful. It doesn’t matter if it is just a single person present. It doesn’t matter if other people are protesting right beside you on a different topic. And it possibly doesn’t even matter if you are simply praying in your head. One woman in the United Kingdom was arrested twice for violating a bubble zone through silent prayer, although she later received a formal apology from the police and was vindicated in her right to silent prayer. 

The very first bubble zone was established by the BC government in 1995 (also under the NDP at the time). That legislation forbade any pro-life activity within 50 meters of an abortion facility. For decades, that was the only bubble zone in Canada, until Newfoundland and Labrador (2016), Quebec (2016), Ontario (2017), Alberta (2018), and Nova Scotia (2020) all passed bubble zones around abortion facilities. Manitoba has also just proposed a bubble zone around abortion facilities, but it has yet to pass. 

All of these bubble zones target pro-life advocacy around abortion clinics. BC expanded the gambit of bubble zones in 2021 when it passed Bill 20, the Access to Services Act (COVID-19). That bill established bubble zones outside of COVID-19 testing sites, vaccination sites, hospitals, and schools from November 25, 2021, to July 1, 2023. At the time, we called on the BC government and other governments across the country not to establish more bubble zones. 

Now, British Columbia is proposing a new kind of bubble zone with a goal of restricting anti-SOGI (sexual orientation & gender identity) advocacy around schools. 

In fairness, Bill 22, the Safe Access to Schools Act, doesn’t just focus on anti-SOGI protests. The legislation technically establishes a 20-meter bubble zone around schools that prohibits protests on any topic or interference in an educational program. That might sound reasonable, until you read the definition of interference: “advising or persuading, or attempting to advise or persuade, by any means, including, without limitation, graphic, verbal or written means, a person to refrain from participating in or providing an educational program.” That’s not interference in any reasonable sense of the word. That’s just regular speech. 

But Premier Eby and his government have been clear that there is one type of protest that they are specifically targeting: anti-SOGI advocacy. Just read any news report on the bill: Anti SOGI protests on B.C. school grounds banned under new legislation (Vancouver Sun), New B.C. law would prevent disruptive protests around schools (Global News), or B.C. moves to ban protests, disruptions outside schools (CBC). Premier Eby mentions that there were 18 major SOGI-related protests outside schools last year. Rather than reconsider, adjust, or entirely remove the SOGI learning resources from schools in response to the widespread criticism of the program, his government has opted to simply ban people from voicing their concerns around schools. 

Unlike other bubble zone legislation which exists in perpetuity, the Safe Access to Schools Act has a built-in sunset clause. The legislation will be automatically repealed on July 1, 2026. The premier’s calculation must be that he hopes a temporary bubble zone will condition the public not to protest near schools so that the legislation won’t be needed by mid-2026.  

Bubble Zones Infringe on Canadians’ Freedom of Expression 

It should go without saying that bubble zones infringe on the Charter rights of Canadians to freedom of thought, belief, and expression. In a democratic country, it is indispensable that citizens be able to protest or even just talk about government actions that they support or oppose, especially around the areas where these decisions are being made. 

The use of SOGI learning resources, although endorsed by the provincial government, is left to the discretion of local school boards, school administrators, and teachers. All of these educational leaders (except in private schools) are, in a sense, government employees. For most of them, their place of employment and the location of the decision-making around SOGI is the local school. It is entirely appropriate for members of the public to protest the actions of the decision makers where those decisions were made (not to mention where SOGI is actually being taught). 

If legislators want bubbles, they should stick to blowing the soapy kind. 

Email Us 

Get Publications Delivered

TO Your Inbox

Sign up for our newsletter to stay informed about upcoming events, action items, and everything else ARPA
Never miss an article.