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Confronting MLA Nahanni Fontaine: Part 2

On March 11, the first day of the United Nations’ 68th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), I got the opportunity to converse one-on-one with Manitoban NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine. She serves as Minister of Families, Minister responsible for Accessibility, and Minister responsible for Gender Equity for the province.

Just a few days prior, on March 7, she had—for the sixth time—introduced bubble zone legislation in Manitoba, which would prohibit pro-life expression in the immediate vicinity of abortion facilities.

You can read about our discussion on this legislation in Part 1.

The short video capturing just a slice of our encounter has gone viral, racking up almost 800,000 plays and 52,000 likes on Instagram.

In her caption, Fontaine lamented, “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 protestor, but here we are.”

Well, she ended up hearing from not just one “anti-choicer” at CSW, but three of us from Campaign Life Coalition.

In a speech the day following our conversation, on March 12, at a UN side event on “The Impacts of Poverty and Criminalization on Access to Abortion,” Fontaine repeatedly bemoaned the “war on women” and bragged about Bill 8, her bubble zone bill. She again accused “anti-choice individuals” of standing outside abortion facilities to “harass and have assaulting images.”

She also claimed: “I know that there’s a narrative quite often as women, as folks, as citizens [we have] to justify our abortion . .  . We don’t ask men to justify their prostate exams or their broken bones. We really have to move away from begging for our rights and justifying our health care.”


So, following the event, Liana Gordan, former CLC intern and one of the members of our CLCY UN delegation, approached Fontaine. Liana asked, “In comparing [prostate exams] to abortion, I just wonder—Do prostate exams involve the termination of a human life?” Fontaine refused to answer the question, saying Liana was in the wrong side event.

Fontaine also spoke at an event later that day on “Indigenous Women’s Voices on the Barriers and Opportunities towards their Inclusive Socio-Economic Development,” hosted by the Government of Canada, in collaboration with the Manitoba government, the Ontario Native Women’s Association, and the Government of Mexicoand attended by a number of prominent Canadian federal and provincial Ministers (Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth Marci Ien, Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu, and Ontario's Associate Minister of Women's Social and Economic Opportunity Charmaine WIlliams). There, CLC staff member Maria Black nervously (and courageously!) asked a controversial question. Having also interned for CLC during the summer, Maria recalled writing a blog post on funding the Liberals had specifically allocated to improve Indigenous communities’ access to “sexual and reproductive health services” (code for abortion and contraception). So, the question she asked event panelists was: “Last summer, Trudeau announced $4.3 million in funding specifically for Indigenous abortions. I was wondering how we can see that as anything other than another colonial genocide, if it’s specifically funding for Indigenous people’s children.”


Fontaine seemed to mutter something about “that pro-life group” and then into the microphone simply stated, “Sorry. You guys are in the wrong room, you guys.” Near everyone then applauded, including Hajdu and Williams. Upon the conclusion of the event, Maria needed to be escorted out by a fellow pro-lifer (a former abortion worker, actually), as other attendees began clamouring and accusing her of racism and insensitivity.

Her experience makes Fontaine’s later allegations all the more insulting.

On March 15, Fontaine posted a vlog on social media (Facebook | Instagram) about her experience at CSW. In her caption, she noted: “I’ve been attending the UN in a variety of different forums across the world since 1997. This is the first year I’ve ever encountered anti-choice groups. These folks approached/harassed myself and my Matriarch delegation, three different times. They would attend our side-events and try to ambush me with their misleading and unscientific questions. They even went as far as to sneakily approach our Matriarch delegation which included 12 year old Ella and secretly recorded them harassing them.”

What was misleading, I wonder? What was unscientific? And how do our questions constitute harassment?

Consider Fontaine’s verbal and body language in the video she posted of our exchange (Facebook | Instagram)—she’s touching me, she’s inviting me to the legislature. If I was genuinely harassing her, would this be her response?

I’ll note as well that while I have no objection to being filmed in a public place, I was unaware that I was being recorded, and my permission was never sought (not that it’s necessary), and so it’s hypocritical for Fontaine to complain about her own delegation being recorded. 

And Liana and Maria merely asked Fontaine each a single question at events for which Fontaine was a panelist. She may have not liked their questions, but that doesn’t make it harassment.

If she considers simple disagreement or challenging questions “harassment,” then her claims that women are being “harassed” on their way into abortion facilities are completely delegitimized. She has no credibility.  

(Also, if pro-lifers were genuinely harassing women, then it shouldn’t matter whether they’re 150 metres away or not—harassment is criminalized everywhere.)

We have the right to express opposing opinions in Canada. You don’t get to imprison someone simply because they say something you don’t like in a place where you don’t want them to say it.

Fontaine has declared that come June, her bill will become law in Manitoba. It does not have to be a foregone conclusion, though. Please sign our petition against bubble zones and while you’re at it, request a postcard that we will send on your behalf. If you’re a Manitoban yourself, you can also send an email to your MLA in less than 5 minutes using our Action Alert Email toolIf you value free speech, then exercise it now in defense of this most basic liberty.