An increased access zone has been established to protect the dignity and privacy of staff and patients accessing the Vancouver Island Women’s Clinic, located in the Victoria area.
“All people who use the B.C. health-care system, and who provide services for it, should be treated with courtesy, and with respect for their dignity and privacy. Access zones work to ensure this, and to support women seeking health-care services, staff providing the services and others visiting the facility,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health.
“B.C. is a leader in supporting women’s health, and we recognize other provinces for taking similar steps based on the policies and legislation set in place here. Everyone has the right to be free from intimidation and harassment, especially when they are accessing or providing health-care services. Expanding this access zone will remove a barrier to care, and help ensure women can access the services they need,” said Mitzi Dean, Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity.
The access zone is now expanded from an original 10 metres, to up to approximately 50 metres in some places, depending on land features and private property lines, to protect clinic staff and people accessing the clinic from harassment and intimidation. Access zones are sometimes referred to as “bubble zones.” Four other facilities in B.C. already have access zones established similar to the Vancouver Island Women’s Clinic. The offices and residences of doctors who provide abortion services have automatic access zones established under the Access to Abortion Services Act.
The regulation is effective as of Friday, June 1, 2018, and protests, interference, intimidation and recording of those providing abortion services or of patients, are prohibited within the expanded zone. People who do not respect the access zone, and continue to protest in it, can be arrested without a warrant by a provincial constable or municipal constable.
B.C. passed the Access to Abortion Services Act, the first bubble-zone legislation in Canada in 1995. The legislation balances the right to free expression, and the right of the patient and provider to an intimidation-free environment. The B.C. legislation created intimidation-free access, or bubble zones, of 10 metres around the offices of doctors who provide abortion services, 160 metres around their homes, and allows for enactment of a regulation establishing a zone of up to 50 metres around facilities where abortion services are provided.
Abortion services — which are legal in B.C. and throughout Canada — are publicly funded through the Medical Services Plan. The increased access zone was established under the authority of the Access to Abortion Services Act, and involved an amendment to the Abortion Services Access Zone Regulation. Alberta recently passed legislation for bubble zones, and other provinces with existing bubble zones include Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Quebec.
“At the heart of health care is personal choice, and it’s our responsibility to ensure the privacy and security of people who access and deliver these much-needed health services,” added Dix. “We have made an effort to balance protestors’ rights to freedom of expression, with the rights of patients and providers to have an intimidation-free environment.”