Are Fredericton taxpayers subsidizing a “fake clinic”?

Written by Susan O'Donnell on April 13, 2017

“THIS IS NOT THE CLINIC,” read the caption of the photograph of the Women’s Care Centre on the website of the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton.

The Government of New Brunswick has granted a property tax exemption to a company and property owned by Fredericton anti-choice and anti-abortion campaigners. The tax exemption is a subsidy that during the last five years alone was worth more than $30,000 in tax revenue lost to the City of Fredericton.

The owner of the property that housed the Women’s Care Centre on Brunswick Street is a numbered company, 030822 N.B. Ltd., with a registered address on Charters Settlement Road. The company directors are well-known anti-choice campaigners Peter Ryan, Suzie Ryan and Thaddée Renault. Peter Ryan is the former executive director of Right to Life New Brunswick.

The Women’s Care Centre operates from their tax-free property reaching out to women who are pregnant or who think they might be pregnant. They claim to provide free counselling, ultrasounds and pregnancy testing. However, the Women’s Care Centre, run by the New Brunswick Chapter of Right to Life, is known in the community for not providing accurate information on the full range of medical choices available to pregnant women, including abortion. According to the campaign to expose fake clinics, centres such as the Women’s Care Centre often provide false information about abortion. Their strategy is to delay or intimidate women from receiving comprehensive medical care.

The property that houses the Women’s Care Centre is right next door to Clinic 554, a real health clinic that offers comprehensive medical care, including abortions and counselling about all the health and medical choices available to pregnant women. In the past, the Women’s Care Centre has provided a gathering space for anti-choice protesters who have harassed women seeking health services at the neighbouring Morgentaler Clinic (now Clinic 554).

Valerie Edelman, the Manager of Clinic 554, explained that on several occasions patients called her to book an appointment for an abortion after going to the “Women’s Care Centre” first because they saw a sandwich board outside their building that read “Free Ultrasounds.” Said Edelman: “Every time a woman called me after going there, they were in tears. The encounters in the anti-choice building were filled with shaming and incorrect medical information (for example: abortions increase risk of breast cancer and sterilize women).”

The New Brunswick Chapter of Right to Life is staunchly anti-choice and anti-abortion. Most recently, the organization has spoken out against the Government’s decision to make the abortion pill Mifegymiso free to pregnant women. The Government has stated that financial barriers should not stand in the way of a woman’s right to choose, although there are still many barriers for women who want to access abortions, especially in rural areas. However, Right to Life New Brunswick’s executive director Heather Hughes has stated publicly that she is distressed that the province is helping women who want to end their unwanted pregnancies.

In April, Hughes made an application to Fredericton City Council for permission to construct a new building on their downtown Brunswick Street property to provide anti-choice information to women. Their previous building was destroyed by fire in 2016 and since then the Women’s Care Centre has been operating in temporary offices on Carleton Street.

The plans for their proposed new two-story building include spaces for counselling and watching videos. The plans must obtain approval from the City’s Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) before the building can go ahead because it requires variances from by-law provisions related to building height and parking spaces.

The company owned by the anti-choice campaigners, 030822 N.B. Ltd., applied for and was granted an exemption from property taxes under the New Brunswick Assessment Reduction Program (ARP). The ARP can grant full exemption from property taxes to eligible non-profit organizations. To be eligible, the property owners must provide services to the community and must benefit one or more of the following: relief of poverty, services to youth, services to the elderly, or services to the disabled or disadvantaged. In addition, the primary services on the property must be funded to a considerable extent by donations and volunteer efforts.

The New Brunswick Chapter of Right to Life describes its services as follows: “To promote the sanctity of all human life from fertilization to natural death through public education. To advocate for the right to life of the preborn, the disabled, the infirm and the elderly who are all uniquely created by God.”

The applications for exemption from property taxes are made on an annual basis, with a deadline of September 30 every year. The ARP review committee includes representatives from Service New Brunswick, the Department of Finance, and the Department of the Environment and Local Government, on behalf of the Director of Assessment. There is no approved published list that identifies or is available to the public on which properties are receiving a reduction. Information can be obtained by reviewing the assessment roll.

The assessment roll records available online show that since 2013, the company owned by the well-known anti-choice campaigners has paid no taxes on its property at 562 Brunswick Street. In 2013, the building was assessed at $275,600. In that year, the usual tax assessment on a building of that value would be almost $8,000. The vacant lot is currently assessed at $88,300, and again in 2017 it is also exempt from property taxes.

By contrast, while the owners of 562 Brunswick (the NB Chapter of Right to Life) have paid no property taxes since 2013, the owners of the building next door, 554 Brunswick (Clinic 554), have paid in total more than $91,900 in property taxes during this same period. Valerie Edelman says: “The Clinic 554 pays its taxes. We are part of the community and appreciate the opportunity to contribute.”

Dr. Adrian Edgar, the Medical Director of Clinic 554 has made his facility a safe space that provides patient-centred and patient-driven care to the Fredericton community. He noted that the Women’s Care Centre that operates from the property next door is staffed by unqualified professionals. He would like the City of Fredericton to invest in quality evidence-based healthcare. Fredericton was recently chosen the pilot site for introducing midwifery into the province. Dr. Edgar suggested that the City could purchase the property currently owned by the anti-choice campaigners and sell it to the Horizon Health Network so that the midwives who will be coming to Fredericton can turn the property into a birthing centre.

Reproductive Justice New Brunswick (RJNB) has been for years drawing attention to the disruptive activities of the Women’s Care Centre on Brunswick Street. Responding to the information about the property tax exemption, RJNB Spokesperson Allison Webster said: “Reproductive Justice New Brunswick is incredibly disappointed to see that while patients are still forced by the province to pay out of pocket for abortion services at a safe, professional and compassionate medical clinic, a duplicitous ‘fake clinic’ providing lies and manipulation is granted a tax-free existence.”

The City of Fredericton’s Planning Advisory Committee is currently considering the planning application for new building that will house the Women’s Care Centre. The PAC review meeting will be held at Fredericton City Hall’s Council Chambers on Wednesday, April 19 at 7:00pm. RJNB is planning to speak against the application at the meeting and encourages members of the public to do the same.

Susan O’Donnell is a researcher and writer based in Fredericton.

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