R v Lewis [1996]

Case summary

The scope of the Coalition’s (including LEAF, the Elizabeth Bagshaw SocietyEvery Woman’s Health Centre Society (1988), the BC Women’s CARE Program, and the BC Coalition for Abortion Clinics) intervention was to make submissions under section 1 of the Charter as to why the Access to Abortion Services Act, which creates access zones around abortion clinics and the homes of abortion service providers, is constitutionally valid.

West Coast LEAF’s involvement

Our arguments focused on how the legislation promotes the constitutional values of equality, dignity and privacy by seeking to ensure that access to abortion services is protected. Our position was that the Access to Abortion Services Act does not infringe the accused’s rights to freedom of association, assembly, and religion, and that the violation of the right to freedom of expression, which was admitted, is a reasonable limit under section 1 of the Charter given that the legislation protects the equality, privacy and security of the person interests of women seeking access to abortion services.


Madame Justice Saunders adopted many of the Coalition’s arguments in upholding the Act. Justice Saunders found that while the legislation violated the rights of anti-abortion protesters to freedom of religion and conscience and freedom of expression under the Charter, the Act was justified as a reasonable limit on those rights. The court accepted the Coalition’s call to look at the anti-abortion activity in its broader context, and from the perspective of the women seeking access to abortion services. Justice Saunders found that “health care has a fundamental value in our society. A woman’s right to access health care without unnecessary loss of privacy and dignity is no more than the right of every Canadian to access health”.

The Act was found to strike an appropriate balance between the rights of anti-abortion protesters, and the rights of women and abortion service providers to equality, privacy and security of the person.

Case documents

Factum – Supreme Court of BC

Decision – Supreme Court of BC

Case documents

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