On Friday, Sept. 25 at close to 8pm, New Brunswick Legislature security officers forcibly dismantled and removed the tents of abortion access activists occupying the lawn of the Legislature.
University of New Brunswick (UNB) law students and members of Fredericton’s LGBT community have been occupying the legislature grounds since Saturday, Sept. 19 to protest Premier Blaine Higgs’ refusal to repeal a section of regulation 84-20 of the New Brunswick Medical Services Payment Act, which prevents the funding of out-of-hospital abortion services.
The regulation has forced Clinic 554, the only abortion provider in the western part of the province and the province’s only trans-inclusive medical clinic, to end care for many of its patients. Regulation 84-20 violates the Canada Health Act.
Previously, security and police have not been able to legally evict the occupation from the legislature grounds, but on Friday the Legislature’s security officers presented a statute signed by the Sergeant-at-Arms the same day giving them powers to evict the occupation.
“There were several lawyers there, and when asked what law or statute they were acting on, the police showed people this notice from the Legislative Assembly, although they were reluctant to let people hold it” says one participant in the occupation. “But they did, and it explained that putting up tents or any kind of structure on the legislature grounds was against the rules. It also was clearly signed by the Sergeant-at-Arms today, September 25.”
According to a photograph of the statute posted by the Save Clinic 554 group, the statute prohibits the erection of temporary structures or encampments without prior authorization of the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. The legal authority of the statute is unclear and does not state who is empowered to enforce the statute. Preventing temporary structures on the Legislature grounds is framed as a matter of public safety.
“Many people in the crowd were saying that refusing to fund clinic 554 was far more detrimental to public safety than some tents,” says one protestor.
Video taken by local videoblogger Charles LeBlanc shows instances of the Legislature security attempting to disperse the gathering, attempting to prevent members of the occupation from reading the statute, and forcibly dismantling and subsequently taking the tents of occupiers through the gates on the side of the legislature. Fredericton police were also present.
“They would not give back the property. They did not leave a number to contact,” says one witness to the eviction. “They also appear to have taken the iPad of someone who is homeless. This was not part of the structure that was set up.”
Numerous civil rights organizations have noted an increase in the criminalization of dissent and protest in Canada starting with the 2010 G20 protests in Toronto. The Quebec student strikes of 2012, numerous indigenous land defenders, the Saskatchewan co-op refinery strike, and anti-pipeline protests in Alberta have all been met with state repression and increasingly punitive legislation. In their special report on the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association noted a tendency for all levels of government to pursue punitive containment measures while neglecting essential social programs in their pandemic containment strategies.
“The eviction of women and their allies from the grounds of the Legislative Assembly last night for exercising their right to assemble and protest the closing of Clinic 554 is completely unacceptable,” stated MLA for Fredericton South David Coon (Green) on Facebook. “An apology must be made, and it will start with me. As a member of the Legislative Assembly I am sorry that this action was taken, I oppose it, and will make every effort to make sure such a thing never happens again.”
Protests to repeal regulation 84-20 continue in spite of the statute, with a new gathering called for today, Saturday, 26 September.
Abram Lutes studies political economy as a graduate student at Carleton University.