Permanent injunction blocks anti-abortion demonstrations on hospital premises

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On May 12, 2017, in Regional Health Authority (Vitalité Health Network) v Godin,[1] the Queen’s Bench of New Brunswick issued a permanent injunction enjoining anti-abortion activists from demonstrating within Chaleur Regional Hospital’s property lines.

The facts giving rise to the injunction were largely undisputed. In September 2012, the defendant and others were demonstrating against abortion on Chaleur Regional Hospital property, as part of the annual, “40 Days for Life” event. The presence of the demonstrators on the entrance road to the hospital led to several safety-related complaints. In particular, one ambulance driver was forced to brake unexpectedly twice, endangering a patient, due to demonstrators obstructing the road. After this incident, a hospital official asked the demonstrators to move away from the entrance and off hospital property. The demonstrators did not obey, so the hospital sought an interlocutory injunction, which was granted in October 2012. In this case, Vitalité sought a permanent injunction order against the defendant and other demonstrators from demonstrating on hospital property.

Justice Léger summarized the issues for granting a permanent injunction order as follows:

  1. a) Was Vitalité the appropriate party to seek the permanent injunction? b) Should the Court order a permanent injunction? c) What would be the appropriate terms of the injunction under the circumstances?

First, Justice Léger determined that Vitalité was the appropriate party to seek the injunction. By being responsible for operating and managing the hospital, Vitalité was also responsible for ensuring the safety of all hospital users, which this injunction concerned.

Next, applying the test for permanent injunctions,[2] Justice Léger found that a permanent injunction should be ordered, because Vitalité 1) had a legal right to sue for a permanent injunction, and 2) showed that the permanent injunction was an appropriate remedy.

Vitalité argued that it had a legal right to sue for the permanent injunction because of its duty to ensure the safety, privacy, and well being of all hospital users. It argued that the demonstrators’ presence on hospital premises interfered with this duty by preventing proper functioning of the hospital environment, interfering with free access to the hospital’s various services, and causing safety problems for hospital users. Consequently, Vitalité argued that the injunction would be justified, despite the infringement on the demonstrators’ rights. Vitalité emphasized that its goal was not to prevent anti-abortion demonstrations, but rather to require that all demonstrations be held outside of hospital property for the safety of its users.

The defendant argued that his freedoms of expression, assembly and religion under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms entitled him to demonstrate on hospital property, and that the injunction order would infringe on these rights. He also argued that the demonstrations were peaceful and posed no safety risk, as they were largely composed of silent prayer.

Justice Léger determined that Vitalité had a legal right to sue for a permanent injunction. Although acknowledging that the injunction would infringe upon the defendant’s Charter rights to freedom of expression, religion, and peaceful assembly, which are critically important in a free and democratic society, Justice Léger noted that these rights needed to be consistent with the normal operation of the location where the defendant wanted to exercise them. Here, Justice Léger found that the defendant’s exercise of his rights were incompatible with Vitalité’s duty to ensure safety for its hospital users, and that Vitalité’s safety-related duties to hospital users justified the infringement on the defendant’s Charter rights. Therefore, Vitalité had a legal right to take the measures it considered appropriate against the demonstrators, including suing for a permanent injunction.

Then, Justice Léger determined that a permanent injunction was an appropriate remedy despite its extraordinary nature. Pointing to the ambulance incident, Justice Léger determined that the demonstrators’ presence, whether peaceful or not, posed a clear and significant risk to hospital users. Thus, he resolved the second issue by finding that a permanent injunction should be ordered.

Finally, Justice Léger determined that the appropriate terms of the injunction under the circumstances should cover all of the hospital’s premises. He declined to take the defendant’s suggestion that the demonstrators could move father away from the hospital but still remain on the grounds, and demonstrate for fewer days each week, finding the compromise inadequate in eliminating the safety risks. Thus, Justice Léger granted Vitalité’s request for a permanent injunction, enjoining the defendant and all those with knowledge of the order from demonstrating on hospital premises.

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA or PBSC.

[1] Regional Health Authority A (Vitalité Health Network) v Godin, 2017 NBQB 93 (CanLII), <http://canlii.ca/t/h3x8t>, retrieved on 2017-05-26

[2] The court applied the test for permanent injunctions from Surgeries Corp. v. British Columbia (Medical Services Commission), 2010 BCCA 396 (CanLII), 323 D.L.R. (4th) 680.