Youth Blog

Youth Blog

Confronting MLA Nahanni Fontaine: Part 1

Many government officials and other influential decision-makers attend the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which provides valuable lobbying opportunities.

CLC Youth representatives have been able to share the pro-life message with Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth; Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services and Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Northern Ontario; Leah Gazan, NDP Critic for Children, Families, and Social Development and Critic for Women and Gender Equality; and Charmaine Williams, Associate Minister of Women's Social and Economic Opportunity for Ontario.

I also had quite a substantive conversation with Nahanni Fontaine (NDP, St. Johns), who serves as the Minister of Families/Accessibility/Gender Equity in Manitoba. She walked by me when I was in line for a UN side event. Knowing she had just tabled legislation that would erect bubble zones in Manitoba, I stopped her. I introduced myself and asserted that even if she had a different opinion on abortion than me, I would ask that she respect my right to free speech.

See, if Bill 8, The Safe Access to Abortion Services Act, passes, then any form of pro-life expression, no matter how benign, would be prohibited in the immediate vicinity of any abortion “clinic,” and any other facility committing abortions—like a hospital or pharmacy—that requests such a bubble zone. These zones can be between 50-150 metres. If you “attempt to inform a person” about abortion or “perform an act of disapproval” of abortion when in a bubble zone, then you can be fined up to $5000 and imprisoned for six months—and that’s just for a first offense.

Realizing that I was referring to her bill, Fontaine proudly insisted that it was going to go through.

She said that we could still express our views or pray or whatever—just 150 metres away from a hospital. She invited us to come to the legislature if we wanted to protest.

I explained that we believe abortion to be a human rights injustice and that we want to express our pro-life views where the injustice takes place—and that some women do change their minds and lives are saved.

She asked if we were willing to support those women in raising children if they didn’t have abortions and I enthusiastically told her “Yes!” I shared that there are over 100 crisis pregnancy centres across the country that provide free diapers, baby clothes, etc. She didn’t want to hear that.

She again assured me we could still espouse our “anti-choice” views 150 metres away. I asked her why 150 metres—why that arbitrary limit? She said it wasn’t arbitrary and that other provinces had also established bubble zones of that size. (Indeed, Manitoba is poised to become the seventh province with bubble zones around abortion facilities.) I countered that those limits on free speech were arbitrary too. 

She was adamant that women have the right to access abortion without being harassed or impeded. I concurred with her that no one ought to be harassed, but I asked her what she considered to be harassment.

I also contended that, “We weren’t impeding access; we were just expressing our opinion, and freedom of expression is protected in the Charter as well.” She, in turn, repeatedly asked, “If you guys weren’t impeding access, then I wouldn’t have to make a law, would I?” I responded that I think she just didn’t want criticism.

She smugly posted a clip of this part of our exchange on her Instagram and Facebook accounts.

Fontaine insisted that it was her “right as a legislator to protect Manitobans.” She declared, “And that’s what I’m going to do. You may not like it...”

The video cuts off just before we start arguing about the humanity of the pre-born. I asked her about the Manitobans in the womb who are being killed. She insisted that they weren’t Manitobans, that “a fetus” wasn’t even human. I stated that the fetus was human, just as there can be a dog fetus or a dolphin fetus. She vehemently disagreed when I said that science has established that life begins at fertilization. I asked her when life begins if not at fertilization.

Even angrier at this point, she pulls further away, dismissing whatever “science” I was listening to. Probably in vain, I mentioned a study of over 5000 biologists, which found that over 95 per cent of them acknowledged that life begins at fertilization.

She said that she was entitled to introduce such bubble zone legislation as a legislator, and that if I didn’t like it, I could get elected myself. Not being a Manitoban, and having no desire to move to the province, I instead promised her she would get unelected. (So, residents of St. Johns, please do replace her with a pro-life and pro-family representative!)

She reiterated that women have a right to access health care; I said that killing innocent human beings isn’t health care. She derided me as “anti-choice,” as more onlookers began to pay attention. I responded that I was anti-the-choice-to-kill.

I don’t believe for a second that I changed her mind. If anything, our argument will motivate her to double down. What I hoped could be a productive conversation—a plea that, regardless of her views on the issue, she still respect my right to express mine freely—devolved into what felt like an exercise in futility.

But it wasn’t futile. I’m grateful that I got to have a face-to-face conversation with her on behalf of all the pro-life Manitobans whose peaceful actions she’s proposing criminalizing.

Our first goal is always conversion—so please pray for her—but in absence of conversion, there must at least be accountability. When our freedom of expression is violated, and thus, our ability to advocate for the rights (and lives!) of the pre-born constrained, we cannot simply roll over and shut up. We must vigorously condemn censorship, not just for our sakes, but for the sakes of the vulnerable in the womb who have no one else to defend them, not even their own mothers.

Fontaine’s caption of the video on her social media reads in part: “I never would have thought I’d be approached about my Abortion Buffer Zone legislation at the U.N. Status of Women Commission—a body dedicated to the rights of women, girls and gender diverse folks, including reproductive justice—by an anti-choice protester, but here we are...”

Here we are. There we are. Everywhere we are.

She needs to hear from every pro-lifer. She needs to know the extent of the opposition to this oppressive bill.

Please sign our petition pleading with Manitoban legislators not to institute bubble zones.

Please email and call your MLA as well.