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Opinion: Here's how Burnaby residents - and the city - can stop delivery of 'graphic' flyers

Burnaby residents upset at children being exposed to images

In Chris Campbell’s June 13 column, Burnaby residents upset at ‘grotesque’ pamphlets delivered to homes, he mentions that graphic flyers showing aborted fetuses are being delivered unsealed to homes in Burnaby, potentially exposing kids to these images. (Scroll through the photos above for a sample.)

Indeed, children are often exposed and significant emotional trauma can result.

The graphic flyers are the work of extremist anti-abortion groups (which use) young volunteers to hand-deliver them to homes in dozens of municipalities across Canada.

Over the years, several million of these flyers have shown up in the mailboxes and on the doorsteps of Canadians. Thousands of Burnaby homes were targeted with the flyers last summer and the tactic returned in February 2021. Other B.C. cities have been hit at various times too, including Vancouver, New Westminster, Surrey, Chilliwack, Kelowna, and likely others.

But residents are fed up. People should not be coming onto private property to deliver such flyers, especially when they are not concealed in an envelope. Our group, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC), has been recommending several actions that can be taken by residents as well as affected municipalities.

In February, ARCC wrote to Burnaby City Council and the city clerk asking them to take action. Council discussed the issue at their March 8 council meeting where our correspondence was referred back to staff for review. Therefore, we encourage Burnaby residents to contact the mayor and council to ask them what the city plans to do about the graphic flyer delivery.

The city has options. It could pass a bylaw prohibiting unwanted flyers to homes that have a “No Flyers” notice posted. 

Four major cities already have such bylaws, including Calgary, Ottawa, Halifax, and Winnipeg. The city could also pass a “Viewer Discretion” bylaw requiring that the graphic flyers be enclosed in envelopes with identifying information on the outside so people are forewarned before opening.

We have two provincial remedies as well. Any B.C. citizen can take immediate action themselves by placing a “No flyers” or “No Trespassing” notice at their mailbox or door, then sending a letter to the anti-abortion group to prohibit them from coming onto their property.

If they do, they can be arrested and charged under BC’s Trespass Act. Just Google “ARCC Trespass Remedy”.

Second, ARCC is lobbying to also have a provincial Viewer Discretion bill introduced in the B.C. legislature requiring that the flyers be put in envelopes. Such a law would protect all B.C. residents from the flyers. This bill has already been introduced in Ontario thanks to the advocacy work of the London group Viewer Discretion Legislation Coalition – Bill 259, Viewer Discretion Act (Images of Fetuses), 2021

Of course, there is nothing to stop the most-affected cities like Burnaby from enacting their own similar bylaw first, and this could encourage B.C. to follow suit with a province-wide law.

We hope that by sharing these options, residents will feel better equipped to take action.

Too often, people feel angry and helpless in the face of these upsetting images and don’t know where to turn for a solution.

Local governments like the City of Burnaby, as well as provinces, need to take more responsibility for the well-being of their citizens and communities. They have the authority to do so. It’s not a question of protecting “freedom of expression” for the anti-choice group, because they are violating the privacy of residents by coming uninvited to the doorstep of residents and forcing graphic images onto them.

Please, let’s take any and all actions we can to put a stop to this offensive behaviour.

Joyce Arthur is the executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada,