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Pro-Life, Free-Speech Case Appealed to International Tribunal

  • Chalcedon,
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Nelson, British Columbia, March 24, 2004 - Nearly six months after the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear his appeal in the case of Regina v. Demers, Nelson resident James R. Demers has filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Demers' case originated in 1996 when he was arrested, jailed for seven weeks awaiting trial, and convicted for holding a sign outside an abortion clinic in Vancouver, British Columbia. A series of appeals has ensued, through the provincial courts, and finally to the Supreme Court of Canada where Mr. Demers' Application for Leave to Appeal was denied on September 25, 2003.

The IACHR, an organ of the Organization of American States (OAS) headquartered in Washington, D.C., represents all of the member states of the OAS, and was established for the promotion and protection of human rights. It receives petitions for the redress of violations of human rights recognized in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man ("Declaration") and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Commission may hold hearings on allegations and issue denunciations of governments that violate human rights.

Mr. Demers' petition focuses on two areas of human rights violations by the Canadian government, recognized in international law and in the OAS Declaration particularly. First, Mr. Demers asserts that his rights to freedom of expression were violated (Article III). The prosecutors, judges and justices involved in his case have admitted that Mr. Demers' rights to freedom of expression have been violated, while claiming that the violations are justified under section 1 of Canada's Charter. International law requires, however, that a nation may derogate from (violate) such rights only in case of a declared national emergency. The Crown's counsel presented no evidence that an emergency existed or was declared in Canada. Second, Mr. Demers argues that the right to life of unborn children has been violated (Article I). Abortion advocates in Canada have boasted that Canada is the only democratic nation in the world that affords absolutely no legal protection for unborn children at any stage. They claim that only China, North Korea and Vietnam are in the same company as Canada.1

Additional human rights violations that Mr. Demers believes have been committed against himself, and against Canadian women and their children, include OAS Declaration rights to association with others (Article XXII), equal protection under the law (Article II), full formation and development of personality (Article XXIX), special protection during pregnancy (Article VII), participation in the benefits of scientific discoveries (Article XIII), and recognition as persons having rights and obligations (Article XVII).

The record of trial shows that on three days in December, 1996, Mr. Demers stood without speaking, on a public sidewalk outside Everywoman's Health Centre in Vancouver, holding a sign stating: "Every human being has the inherent right to life. United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights." On a fourth day he held a sign stating: "Every person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be protected by law, in general, from the moment of conception. Art. 4-1 American Convention on Human Rights." He was arrested without incident, confined to jail for seven weeks awaiting trial, and convicted of "protest" and "sidewalk interference" under British Columbia's Access to Abortion Services Act. Under the Act, "protest" includes any act of disapproval of abortion, including informing a person about abortion-related issues, no matter how peaceful.

Mr. Demers has argued since his 1997 trial that the charges should be dismissed because the Act violates certain fundamental human rights that are recognized in international law and mirrored in Canadian law. The Canadian Charter states in section 2: "Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: (a) freedom of conscience and religion; (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression . . . ." Mr. Demers says that Canada has violated his rights to freedom of expression. Section 7 states: "Everyone has a right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice." The Canadian courts have denied that the term "everyone" in the Charter includes unborn children.

In his petition, Mr. Demers notes that all individuals, not just nations states have a responsibility to promote and protect human rights. He argues that Canada has not only refused all protection of law to an entire class of human beings, it has actively promoted human rights violations, and has even gone a step further in prosecuting persons who promote laws held in common by the international community.

If the IACHR agrees to consider Mr. Demers' petition, it could find Canada in violation of human rights standards under international law and issue appropriate denunciations.

For more information, contact:

Canada Contact: John Hof
[email protected]

USA Contact: Jeffrey C. Tuomala2
434-582-2806; 434-386-0724
[email protected]


1. Joyce Arthur, "Different Foundations, Diverging Futures," March 2003, Pro-Choice Action Network web page.

2. Jeffrey C. Tuomala is the American attorney and international law expert who assisted in Mr. Demers' appeals in Canada. He is currently Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Law at Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Virginia