Legal challenge launched against St. Catharines by-law that targets pro-life speech



February 20, 2024

For immediate release – St. Catharines, ON

The Association of Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada has initiated litigation against the City of St. Catharines, challenging the constitutionality and legality of the city’s recently enacted by-law to restrict pro-life speech.

The “By-law to regulate the Delivery of Graphic Images in the City of St. Catharines” (By-law No. 2023-150) defines “graphic image” broadly as any image of a fetus — which includes photos of abortion victims, as well as ultrasound photos of healthy human beings in the womb.

“ARPA Canada is a Christian, pro-life organization that uses ultrasound photos of living human beings in its campaign materials, while advocating for modest pro-life laws that most Canadians would support, such as restrictions on late-term abortion” says Anna Nienhuis of ARPA Canada. “ARPA has never used photos of abortion victims in its campaigns, yet this bylaw threatens ARPA and its volunteers with significant financial penalties, simply for sharing the pro-life message with an ultrasound photo.”

The bylaw was passed by St. Catharines City Council on September 25, 2023, modelled after a nearly identical bylaw passed by the City of London in 2022. The bylaw forbids delivering a flyer with any image of a fetus to a private residence unless the flyer is placed in a sealed envelope with the mandatory warning that it “contains a Graphic Image that may be offensive or disturbing to some people.”

“The bylaw requires ARPA and its volunteers to mislead people about our message,” says John Sikkema, ARPA’s legal counsel. “Ultrasound photos are common and innocuous, not offensive or disturbing.”

ARPA Canada argues in its application to Ontario Superior Court that this forced expression is a well-recognized violation of the Charter right to freedom of expression. They also argue that a municipality does not even have the constitutional authority to “[regulate] the distribution of literature based on the City’s judgment of what specific content, point of view, or subject matter is objectionable or offensive.”

ARPA claims that “the bylaw’s true nature and purpose is to suppress pro-life or anti-abortion content,” arguing that it applies to any image of a fetus, whether graphic or not, yet doesn’t apply to any other graphic or gory images.

“Despite the bylaw’s obvious limitations on freedom of expression, City Council took only ten minutes on September 25 to introduce, discuss, and adopt the bylaw,” Sikkema says. “The City Council did, however, hold an in-camera session with the City’s lawyer before that. It may be that City Council received advice regarding the obvious constitutional problems with the bylaw, but adopted it anyway.”

ARPA is asking the court to strike down the bylaw as unconstitutional, as a violation of the Charter right to freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of expression, and as outside of the authority of a municipal government. If the court agrees, a ruling would likely impact similar bylaws in London, Woodstock, Calgary, and other municipalities.


For media inquiries, please contact:

John Sikkema
ARPA Canada
Email: [email protected]
Tel. 1-866-691-2772

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