Anyone who has recently gone through the intersection of Helmcken Road and Old Island Highway in View Royal has likely seen the signs.
From Feb. 18 to March 29, 40 Days for Life is holding a vigil at that corner in protest of the Vancouver Island Women’s Clinic – and some of the neighbours aren’t impressed.
According to Steve Weatherbe of Choose Life Victoria, the group has arrived on occasion to find horse manure dumped where they plan to set up, people have left huge piles of food scraps, and the group is constantly verbally abused. One nearby resident, Weatherbe claims, “exposed herself to our group through her window and then came outside with a noose around her neck yelling about killing herself.”
Neighbours have complained to the Town of View Royal about the group’s presence at the corner, he says, and the town has responded by asking the group to rotate from location to location at the intersection so as not to continually be in front of one particular property.
View Royal Mayor David Screech confirms this to be the case.
“Sure, there have been isolated cases of complaints,” he says, “but I don’t know of any coming from anyone that lives outside that directly affected corner, really. It’s certainly not a case of widespread outrage or anything.”
Screech says the city has been working with the group to make sure they are respecting everyone’s rights.
“I think they’ve worked extremely well with our staff and the RCMP to ensure that they’re not being overly disruptive over the last few vigils they’ve held. We’ve developed a really good relationship and our communication has been very open, I would say.”
According to Weatherbe, the main issue is that people just don’t understand that what the group is doing is perfectly legal, instead assuming that they’ve got to be breaking some kind of law.
“We’re within our rights, here,” he says. “You can use public sidewalks for displays of opinion, it’s built into the Charter (of Rights and Freedoms) that as long as you’re not obstructing traffic or getting in the way of pedestrians, you can peacefully share your views on things.”
“Where we are is annoying, maybe, but it’s legal,” he says, “and it’s where we feel we need to be in order to try and get our message across.” He adds that the people going into the clinic are only getting half the message because they aren’t being told the risks associated with abortion, and that’s what their vigils are meant to accomplish.
The police seem to agree with Weatherbe’s claim that they’re doing nothing wrong from a legal standpoint.
Const. Alex Berube of the West Shore RCMP says they have stepped up patrols in the area, mainly because the situation is one which might become volatile for the community. However, no incidents have been documented, no arrests have been made and no citations issued.
“We are providing the same protective service for this case as we would for any other similar situation,” he says.
“We work within the existing legal framework that balances public safety with individuals’ rights,” adding that they are in constant communication with the Town of View Royal, Island Health and the organizers of the protest,” to ensure they have as much information as they can at all times.
Last week when the Gazette stopped by the corner to have a look at the situation, one pro-choice supporter had taken up her post near the 40 Days for Life vigil. She told a reporter she also wanted to exercise her right to share her views, but felt she’s not being afforded the same respect the group is asking for, and that they definitely make her feel unwelcome at the location.