The case against an Ottawa Jesuit priest for violating Ontario’s abortion clinic bubble zone restrictions could go on for years, the lawyer for Rev. Tony Van Hee says.
Van Hee’s lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos said with the courts being closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he doesn’t foresee the case being argued in court until at least 2021.
“You never know, but I don’t think the courts will get to it in 2020. It will probably be argued in court in 2021, but with the courts closed and a backlog of cases growing I could see it even going into 2022,” Polizogopoulos told Canadian Catholic News after Father Van Hee was cross-examined via video conference on May 29 about the statements he made in an affidavit for the case.
Polizogopoulos said the case is in the review of affidavits stage, a process he expects to continue for months, which would then be followed by written legal arguments being submitted before the case is eventually argued in court.
Van Hee, 84, was arrested on Oct. 24, 2018, for demonstrating within the exclusion zone of 50 metres surrounding the Morgentaler abortion facility on Ottawa’s Bank Street, one of the main streets in downtown Ottawa.
At first he was charged under a section of the Ontario’s Safe Access to Abortion Services Act, which reads: “While in an access zone established under section 6 for a clinic or facility, no person shall … for the purpose of dissuading a person from accessing abortion services … intimidate or attempt to intimidate the person.”
However, that specific charge was dropped and instead was replaced by two charges under section 3 of the Act, which says no one can “inform or attempt to inform a person concerning issues related to abortion services, by any means, including oral, written or graphic means,” and section 3(1)(c) that no one shall “perform or attempt to perform an act of disapproval concerning issues related to abortion services, by any means.”
Van Hee has pleaded not guilty and is also trying to challenge the provincial Act on the basis of freedom of expression guarantees in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
When Van Hee was arrested within the “bubble” zone he was wearing a sandwich board that said on one side “The Primacy of Free Speech Cornerstone of Western Civilization,” and on the other “Without Free Speech The State is A Corpse.”
Polizogopoulos wrote to Ontario’s Attorney General, which at the time was former Ontario Liberal MPP Yasir Naqvi, shortly after the initial charges were laid to state that Van Hee “never spoke or engaged with anyone and never mentioned or referred to abortion services or related issues.”
Van Hee has been a fixture of anti-abortion protests for decades in Ottawa and his dedication to the pro-life cause was honoured by the Catholic Civil Rights League in November with the Archbishop Adam Exner Award for Catholic Excellence in Public Life.