Watson v R; Spratt v R [2008]

Case summary

Watson and Spratt challenged the Access to Abortion Services Act, which creates a no-protest (“bubble”) zone around abortion clinics to allow women access to clinic services free of unwanted approaches by anti-abortion protesters. Watson and Spratt argued that the bubble zone law violated their Charter right to freedom of expression.

Watson/Spratt is an extension of the Lewis and Demers cases. In R v Demers the BC Court of Appeal rejected Mr. Demers’ appeal on the basis of section 7 arguments; however, the case did not directly determine the freedom of expression issues. At issue in Watson/Spratt was whether or not the Access to Abortion Services Act is a justifiable interference with freedom of expression rights.

West Coast LEAF’s involvement

A coalition of abortion service providers and pro-choice organizations, including West Coast LEAF, intervened to support the legislation. The Access Coalition included the Every Women’s Health Centre Society, the Elizabeth Bagshaw Women’s Clinic, the BC Women’s CARE Program (of the BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre), West Coast LEAF and the Pro-Choice Action Network.

The Coalition maintained that in creating the Access to Abortion Services Act. the government of British Columbia took into account and balanced the rights of citizens who work in and attend abortion clinics and the rights of citizens who seek to express their opinions about abortion and abortion clinics. The Coalition noted that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute.  The Act did not limit the protestors’ freedom of expression completely, but disallowed it within a certain zone to ensure equal, safe and dignified access to abortion services.


The case was argued at the British Columbia Court of Appeal in September 2007 and in September 2008 the appeal was dismissed. In June 2009, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed Spratt’s application for leave to appeal.

Later in June 2009, Mr Spratt, along with Cecilia von Dehn, was arrested for standing inside the “bubble zone” outside Every Woman’s Health Centre. Both were convicted of violating the Access to Abortion Services Act. Spratt was fined $1000 and sentenced to 2 years’ probation and von Dehn was sentenced to 2 years’ probation.

Case documents

Factum – BC Court of Appeal

Decision – BC Court of Appeal

Plain language case summary – West Coast LEAF

Case documents

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