Rev. Tony Van Hee, who was arrested and charged Oct. 24 for violating Ontario’s exclusion zone around abortion facilities, is mounting a constitutional challenge of the law.
The case has been adjourned to Jan. 24 and “transferred to the Ontario Court of Justice so it can be heard before a judge,” said constitutional lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos, who is representing the 83-year-old Jesuit priest.
“This is because we have challenged the constitutionality of the legislation in question and a justice of the peace cannot strike legislation as being unconstitutional,” said the lawyer.
Polizogopoulos said they will likely set a trial date at the Jan. 24 court appearance.
Van Hee was arrested and charged while praying peacefully and holding up signs about free speech across the street from the Morgentaler abortion clinic in Ottawa.
The priest’s signs made no reference to abortion. The sandwich board 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.”
Ontario’s Safe Access to Abortion Services Act, passed by the previous Liberal government, allows for a punishment of fines up to $5,000 and imprisonment up to six months for violating the 50-metre exclusion zone around abortion facilities.
Meanwhile, Campaign Life Coalition has launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund the legal challenge.
“These kinds of cases are generally quite expensive,” Polizogopoulos said. “Certainly in the six-figure range.”
The campaign has a goal of $50,000. So far, it has raised $6,500.
Among those supporting the priest’s challenge is fellow Jesuit, Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast. In a letter dated Nov. 12, the archbishop wrote Van Hee and said: “Here’s some financial support for your upcoming trial and legal expenses. It comes with the assurance of my prayers for the cause, and for you as well as my fraternal support.”
Van Hee is best known for his 28-year vigil of fasting and praying while wearing anti-abortion signs on Parliament Hill every day the House of Commons was in session.
He has abandoned his vigil on the Hill, but has continued to demonstrate on Ottawa’s Bank Street in sight of the Morgentaler abortion facility, though outside the bubble zone