On August 26th, the B.C. Supreme Court dismissed the defamation lawsuit against abortion activist Joyce Arthur brought by the Vancouver and Burnaby Crisis Pregnancy Centres (CPCs).
On September 25th, in their media release “Crisis Pregnancy Centres won’t appeal defamation case, but will respond to pro-choicer’s allegations,” the CPCs stated they would not pursue an appeal but would respond later and in more detail to Ms. Arthur’s 2009 report entitled Exposing Crisis Pregnancy Centres in British Columbia, which contained allegations that CPCs used unethical practices in serving women and their communities.
According to Brian Norton, Executive Director of the CPCs, concern about the possible negative effect on their reputation and community service led the CPCs to launch the defamation suit in the hope that Ms. Arthur would be ordered to withdraw the report. However, the judge found the vague language of the section in question made it impossible to conclude Ms. Arthur meant the two CPCs used the practices she described.
Mr. Norton worried those who found the report online would think that “the misconduct that Arthur unfoundedly alleges is ‘common to many or most CPCs throughout North America’ must also be true of BC Centres in general and our Centres in particular.”
Lola French, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Pregnancy Support Services, expressed her opinion that allowing a report such as Ms. Arthur’s to stand, “with its conveniently vague but staggeringly broad allegations to taint the reputation of centres and volunteers across the province of BC, and beyond,” seriously hinders CPCs in their work.
Dr. Sherry Chan, a board member for the CPCs, emphasized the importance of the volunteer-based, privately funded centres, which “provide pregnancy options information, as well as practical resources, from donated maternity and baby clothes, to accommodation assistance, and prenatal and childbirth classes.”
Mr. Norton affirmed that women dealing with crisis pregnancies or post-abortion difficulties “can have confidence that our Centres adhere to the highest standards of counselling ethics and provide accurate information and non-judgmental help.”
In her September 26th Activate CFPL blog post “The Joyce Arthur Defamation Suit and the Tactic of Being Vague,” Faye Sonier discussed the decision of the CPCs not to appeal the ruling.
The defamation suit, launched by the CPCs in the hope that Ms. Arthur would be ordered to withdraw or correct her report, focussed on the allegations considered most defamatory, including allegations that “CPCs use graphic videos and pictures to shock and horrify young women about abortion”; that “CPCs … won’t say upfront they are religious, and will lie about being religiously-affiliated to get a woman into the centre”; and that they “provide misinformation about abortion and its risks” and “break confidentiality.”
The court found the report’s vague language meant that a reasonable person would not necessarily think the two CPCs committed the ethical breaches in question.
Ms. Arthur commented in her Rabble.ca post that her strategy in the lawsuit was to argue that the report did not specifically state the two CPCs used the tactics she described.
While understanding the reasons the CPCs would not appeal the decision and declaring her support for their plans to rebut the allegations, Ms. Sonier expressed her frustration that the report would damage the reputation of CPCs in Canada. She pointed out that an Internet search of certain city names with keywords such as “Crisis Pregnancy Centres” would find Ms. Arthur’s report among the first search results, which “negatively affects people’s understanding of Canadian CPCs.”
Ms. Sonier contended that the report did not meet “some of the most basic academic research standards, as an authoritative source on Canadian CPCs.” For example, the serious allegations made in one section of the report “aren’t supported by a single footnote or source.”
Ms. Sonier also argued that “the average reader would likely assume that the allegations made within the report apply to B.C. CPCs, and likely to the two CPCs which launched the suit against Arthur.” She noted that the report was entitled Exposing Crisis Pregnancy Centres in British Columbia; that its stated goal was to “find out what these centres were doing and saying to women in B.C., and whether they were engaging in deceptive or harmful practices”; and that its appendix listed CPCs in British Columbia alone.
In spite of of Ms. Arthur’s report, Crisis Pregnancy Centres will continue to serve with compassion and kindness women facing unintended pregnancies as they have done for so many years.