viewer discretion legislation coalition

The VDLC Blog

NDP tables Viewer Discretion Act to protect Ontarians from graphic images

QUEEN’S PARK – NDP MPPs Terence Kernaghan (London North Centre) and Jennie Stevens (St. Catharines) have reintroduced the Viewer Discretion Act, a private member’s bill to protect Ontarians from the unsolicited distribution of graphic materials to residences.

If passed, this legislation would require graphic images to be delivered in an opaque envelope with a warning label indicating the content and sender.

London has been leading the charge for solutions to the growing problem of graphic images delivered to doorsteps by anti-abortion groups. In 2022, the City of London introduced the Graphic Image Delivery By-law, which made it illegal to send graphic images that are not fully concealed by a warning label. Woodstock county is developing a similar by-law, and Toronto and St. Catharines are considering similar measures. The Viewer Discretion Act would amplify this local solution to the provincial level.

“This bill offers people a choice about whether or not they want to engage with graphic material,”said Kernaghan. “The London community has been clear – they would like to have a say in whether they are subjected to disturbing images, especially for children.”

Stevens says these images are particularly difficult for those who are living with post-Traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), have experienced pregnancy loss, and for children exposed to these images without consent.

“I think we can all agree that it’s a big problem when a first responder or veteran’s mental health is destabilized because they had to view violent and disturbing imagery without their consent,” said Stevens. “This is a simple solution to a growing problem. I am calling on the Ford government to do the right things and support this important legislation to protect families and those experiencing trauma.”

The bill is co-sponsored by Kernaghan, Stevens, Peggy Sattler (London West) and Teresa Armstrong (London-Fanshawe). The bill was initially tabled in 2021.

The MPPs were joined by Katie Dean, founder of the Viewer Discretion Legislation Coalition, and Shawn Bennett, Director for The Valhalla Project. The Viewer Discretion Legislation Coalition was established in 2020 to protect unsuspecting residents from finding disturbing images at their doorstep. The Valhalla Project is a Niagara-based PTSD support organization for veterans and first responders.


Katie Dean, founder of the Viewer Discretion Legislation Coalition

“The first time I received one of these graphic flyers in the mail, I thought I was being targeted. I was in shock and it triggered a trauma response in me. This is not about abortion. This is about human decency. It is a non-partisan issue that I hope the Ford government will take to heart and help protect all Ontarians”.

Shawn Bennett, director of The Valhalla Project

“Being a veteran with a 31-year firefighting career I can tell you that the stress from the job can lead to a long road for recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder. My home was a vital safe place, and now after seeing those graphic images I don’t even have that – action is required for veterans and frontline responders with PTSD, because this crosses a line”.

Benn Bissland, Scarborough parent

“I believe that everyone is entitled to their beliefs about abortion. What I do not believe is that anyone has the right to try and force their pro-life beliefs upon unsuspecting viewers through the use of graphic imagery such as the pamphlets that we have received in the mail. I don’t get affected by graphic images normally, but this shook me to my core. I am so thankful that my 4 year-old daughter wasn’t the one collecting the mail that day – those images would have destroyed her. This kind of graphic assault must be curbed”.

London North Centre MPP Terence Kernaghan re-introduced the Viewer Discretion Act (VDA) at Queen’s Park Monday.

London, Ont. took the lead, and now a local MPP wants the province to follow suit.

London North Centre MPP Terence Kernaghan re-introduced the Viewer Discretion Act (VDA) at Queen’s Park Monday.

The VDA is a private member’s bill that will ensure graphic images delivered to residences are concealed in an envelope with a warning label.

Protect Your City From Graphic Anti-Abortion Images

making a difference with Viewer Discretion Legislation Coalition – Katie Dean

In this series finale of our Abortion episodes we welcome Katie Dean from the Viewer Discretion Legislation Coalition. Katie begins with her heartbreaking story and facing off with an anti-abortion group canvasing her neighbourhood with graphic images. That led her to starting the VDLC with Natalie Wakim. The VDLC is a London, Ontario based organization that started when anti-abortion activists permeated the city with graphic pamphlets and road signs. These images are disturbing and extremely traumatizing to the community. Right now, cities across Canada are being hit hard with alleged aborted fetus images being delivered to homes without an envelope and large signs are being displayed on our street corners traumatizing many people, including children. Its mission is to deal with the offensive graphic images on signs in public and pamphlets delivered doorsteps. The VDLC is working towards changing Canadian law to prohibit the use of such graphic images in public spaces. The VDLC is proof that anyone has the power to make a difference. As of May 2022 graphic anti-abortion images must be delivered in an opaque envelope with warning labels in London, Ontario. Although we are focusing on Canada’s organizations we hope this episode will inspire you to research how you can support reproductive and human rights in your country.

The Tea with Laura & Rachele

Resources VDLC: Website | Facebook | Instagram List of ARCC CPC’s Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada All About Teale AccessBC Dr. Ruth’s Talk on Reproductive Justice & No-Cost Contraception MyPostCare.ca National Abortion Federation Canada NAF Hotline – 1-800-772-9100 Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights Action Hotline (Call) – 1-888-642-2725 Action Hotline (Text) – 1-613-800-6757 Choice Connect Abortion Referral Women Help Women (Abortion Pill & Contraceptives) Women on Web Tia Health (Online Doctor Appointments) Check out Joyce Arthur’s Publications Viewer Discretion Legislation Coalition (London, ON) Norma Scarborough Fund SisterSong Cover ContraceptiON Birth Control Access for Manitoba Sex [M]ed Our Commons Open Parliament Planned Parenthood – Toronto DO NOT GOOGLE ABORTION CLINICS & AVOID CRISIS PREGNANCY CENTRES Listen in now!

Want to be a part of the conversation and learn more information?


What we’re drinking: Rachele – Bengal Spice | Laura – Lemon Ginger Twist | Katie – Pinot Grigio Disclaimer: All views expressed on the show are based on personal opinions and experiences. Your opinions and experiences may differ. Always do your own research.

Proposed Calgary bylaw to restrict graphic images on anti-abortion flyers

An advocacy group is looking to bring about change to some of the content Calgarians are receiving in the mail. They say that flyers from anti-abortion groups containing graphic images need to be concealed and come with a warning!

By Joey Chini and Tiffany Goodwein

Posted Sep 26, 2022, 3:04PM MDT.

Last Updated Sep 27, 2022, 7:41AM MDT.

Have you flipped through your mail recently, only to find a flyer with a disturbing image of a fetus on it?

Calgary city council is looking at restricting graphic images often found on anti-abortion pamphlets in a proposed bylaw next week.

Typically, anti-abortionist flyers contain images of dead fetuses that several people find disturbing.

Calgary councillors Jennifer Wyness, Kourtney Penner, Evan Spencer, Courtney Walcott, Richard Pootmans, Peter Demong, Raj Dhaliwal, and Sonya Sharp along with Mayor Jyoti Gondek sponsored the Notice of Motion calling for a new bylaw to address the issue.

Under the proposed bylaw, graphic images on flyers will need to be concealed by either folding the pamphlet, taping it shut, or using an envelope.

Council appears to be concerned that Calgarians cannot meaningfully give their consent to view the images, and that looking at pictures of dead fetuses can have “harmful and traumatizing impacts,” especially to people who have experienced pregnancy loss. Councillors are also concerned that children may see the images.

London, Ont. already has a similar bylaw in place, and Toronto has said it will follow suit.

Ward 2 Coun. Jennifer Wyness says she feels strongly about restricting graphic images on pamphlets because it is a “distorted image of a fetus.”

“The organizations believe it’s a human being,” Wyness said. “They also are disrespecting a human being and a human life if they are so comfortable with putting this image in people’s faces.”

Wyness says pro-life organizations are intentionally depicting shocking images in their literature to evoke an emotion.

“This is not what someone who goes through a miscarriage sees, this is not what someone who goes through an abortion sees,” Wyness said.

“They don’t even realize that they are traumatizing families across Calgary who have experienced pregnancy loss. People who are trying to conceive children are greeted with this image and it causes trauma and pain. Children should not have to see this either, because sometimes children will get to the door and see this image before a parent can intervene. This results in children having nightmares, this results in parents having to engage in sex education conversations before they are ready. A four-year-old who sees this image is not ready to have the sex education conversation about what an aborted fetus looks like.”

WATCH: Abortion rights advocates rally at Alberta Legislature

Abortion rights advocates rally at Alberta LegislatureShare

https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.533.0_en.html#goog_348322452Play Video

Cam Cote is the western outreach director at the pro-life organization Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR). The organization describes itself as “an educational human rights organization dedicated to speaking out on behalf of the youngest and most vulnerable members of the human family.”

Cote says it’s discouraging that the city is trying to censor their content.

“Our team goes to extraordinary efforts to ensure that it’s the homeowners that are receiving the literature that we distribute, to ensure that our postcards — for anyone who wouldn’t be familiar with them — have covers on them already,” Cote said. “They are generally delivered either into the private home’s mailbox or very high up beside the door so that only an adult can reach them. And of the hundreds of phone calls that I get, that result from the tens of thousands of postcards that we deliver, the majority of the phone calls say ‘my child could have seen these images.’”

Cote says the flyers that CCBR hands out go beyond showing “the reality of what abortion does.”

“It provides information for grieving parents who have already chosen abortion to get connected with post-abortive healing ministries. It has information for people who are pregnant and in a difficult situation to get connected with the pregnancy support that they need,” Cote explained.

Wyness rebukes Cote’s claim that images of fetuses on flyers are informational.

“I say it’s there for shock and awe, not to educate. When you look at the standard that society has set for gory and graphic images on the packs of cigarette smoke, it has to go behind a locked cabinet. You cannot walk past a register at a grocery store and see cigarettes,” Wyness said.

“I am not saying that they are not allowed to educate Calgarians on their stance, I’m saying the image in which they are addressing Calgarians with is inappropriate and unacceptable. They can easily go door to door with the flyer that has their website address that directs the Calgarians or Albertans to go learn more.”

Wyness also linked the images of fetuses found on flyers to child pornography.


Cote says drawing comparisons from images of fetuses to pornography is inaccurate and inappropriate. He says images of dead fetuses are “victim imagery” that is “exposing an injustice.”

“Whether it’s violence overseas, violence in our own cities, whether its racially motivated, whether it’s motivated by anything else, victim imagery is very, very common in today’s day and age,” Cote said.

“If you don’t see abortion to be the injustice that any pro-life advocate or anyone who recognizes the science that human life begins at fertilization would recognize it to be, we have to acknowledge that it at least has the potential of being a violation which claims the lives of over 100,000 Canadians every year.”

Wyness adds that images of dead fetuses are not permitted on some websites due to their graphic nature. She uses Reddit as an example, saying a user wishing to post similar images to the forum must tag it as “18A” and “have it behind a filter.”

“When we have other platforms that say this image is inappropriate and we have steps you have to take to see that image, why do we allow it to go on private property on the front doors without actually having the same care and caution? Our news media cannot put [those images] out, social media platforms would probably take it down and flag it as inappropriate. So my question to the organization is, why do they think going and standing on street corners or coming to private property and putting this image on is appropriate?” Wyness said.

A notice of motion will be put forward to an executive committee on Thursday.

–With files from Shilpa Downton

When Anti-Choice Goes Too Far:

Examining Spaces that Should be Safe from Anti-Choice Rhetoric

By Jenn Miller

When is it “going too far” to expose children (and others) to graphic and gruesome photos of alleged aborted fetuses? Surely, we can all agree that this is inappropriate at school, where there is an expectation of physical and psychological safety. What about fairs, children’s festivals, and other places where kids are supposed to have fun and live those fleeting moments of sweet childhood innocence?  

Unfortunately, many anti-choice and right-to-life groups do not agree, and they choose to target schools, fairs, and festivals to spread their message and show children horrific and upsetting images of what they claim to be aborted fetuses. In fact, the anti-choice group the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR) is known to display graphic signs (usually large ones) outside of high schools and attend family-friendly events such as the Calgary Stampede.[i] Believe it or not, there is little-to-no recourse for displaying these images despite the extreme distress they cause among adults and children alike.

The Role of Ad Standards

When we view upsetting or inappropriate images, we have the option of making a complaint under Ad Standards. However, Ad Standards will no longer accept, process, or investigate complaints regarding graphic anti-abortion images. As per Ad Standards:

“Please do not complain to Ad Standards about graphic images of aborted fetuses, as the agency has already issued three decisions against them and does not take further complaints. The only enforcement mechanism that Ad Standards has is to ask the anti-choice group not to use the graphic images anymore, but the groups responsible for [them] refuse to comply.”[ii]

So, while there is no way to put a stop to the display of graphic images, Ad Standards still supports the function of taking complaints about anti-choice messages and ads that DO NOT contain graphic imagery. In London, Ontario, the Viewer Discretion Legislation Coalition (VDLC) was successful in passing a city-wide by-law[iii] that prohibits the distribution to private homes/residences of anti-choice material that contains graphic imagery unless it is contained in an envelope or folder that contains a warning so that the recipient can choose to view the material (or not). The by-law only covers distributed materials and doesn’t include signage, billboards, or bus ads. And unfortunately, the by-law only applies to London, ON. The CCBR and other anti-choice groups can and continue to, do whatever they want with no repercussion in many other areas.

When does Anti-Choice Messaging go too Far?

Despite the slippery legality of distributing anti-choice material (including that which includes graphic imagery), it is still reasonable to expect areas where children congregate to remain free from anti-choice rhetoric, including literature, billboards, signage, bus ads, and so on. However, anti-choice groups are actively targeting high schools and even elementary schools. In 2021, grade eight students in Woodstock were given the assignment to design a poster with the theme “Unborn Babies Matter.”[iv] Posters were going to be both graded and entered in a contest sponsored by none other than the Right to Life Coalition. Even more problematic is the fact that the Right to Life Coalition was offering a cash incentive for participation. There were no lessons and no information available to offer students any other perspectives around choice.

Likewise, in Sudbury, an anti-choice bus ad was placed on the main line – which goes directly past the local hospital. The hospital in question is a designated safe access zone, which makes displaying anti-choice messages and protesting abortion illegal within 150 m; yet, complaints to have the ad removed went unheard.[v] When CCBR tried to place an ad on a Peterborough bus, the City of Peterborough refused.[vi] The CCBR responded with a Charter of Rights complaint, stating that, “speaking about abortion does not negate our right to free speech.”

If sponsoring contests at elementary schools and placing bus ads knowing that they’ll pass through safe access zones doesn’t seem to take anti-choice messaging too far, what about displaying large, gruesome, and upsetting photos directly outside of a high school? In 2021 an unnamed Woodstock high school was subjected to the images much to the great upset of students, staff, and parents alike. There are pictures of this below but be warned: the graphic imagery is on full display – view at your own discretion.

Fighting Anti-Choice Messages

There needs to be a reasonable expectation of safety at places where children are present, including fairs, schools, festivals, and other kid and family-friendly locales. This needs to extend beyond safe access zones, which only protect medical clinics, clinic staff, and clinic staff’s homes, and ONLY when the hospital applies for and is granted, safe access zone status. There needs to be a social understanding of where this kind of rhetoric is simply unwelcome and inappropriate. Anti-choice groups go too far when they target schools and family-friendly events.

Although Ad Standards has let us down by refusing to handle complaints around graphic imagery, they can still help. If you see an anti-choice ad that upsets you or that you feel is inappropriate for the venue or location, you can still report it to Ad Standards provided it doesn’t contain graphic imagery. If you’re in London, ON, you can report graphic images under the Graphic Imagery Distribution by-law by emailing enforcement@london.ca, but only those that are delivered (to your mailbox or handed to you) to private homes/residences.

Making a complaint when you see something upsetting is a good start, but what’s even better is taking strides to prevent anti-choice rhetoric from invading spaces where it’s simply not acceptable. One way to do that is to start a petition in your area to force groups like CCBR to censor graphic images and keep them (and other anti-choice messages) out of schools. To get a petition started, reach out to us at vdlc_ontario@gmail.com or find us on Facebook

VDLC is working hard to get a second reading for the Graphic Imagery Distribution proposed provincial law so that all graphic material that is distributed across the province of Ontario must be censored and accompanied by a warning that enables recipients to choose whether to view it or not. Do you want to help us be heard? Sign our Provincial Petition here – www.vdlclondon.ca

Let’s stand together to create change.

[i] Take action against aborted fetuses in public! Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, July 9, 2022 (First written in 2017) PDF DOCUMENT

[ii] ‘Submitting Complaints Against Anti-Choice Ads’. Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, https://www.arcc-cdac.ca/submitting-ad-complaints/. Accessed 21 Sept. 2022.

[iii] Graphic Image Delivery By-Law – PW-14 | City of London. https://london.ca/by-laws/graphic-image-delivery-law-pw-14. Accessed 21 Sept. 2022.

[iv] News ·, Kate Dubinski ·. CBC. ‘Ontario Mom Furious Grade 8 Assignment Requires Students to Make Posters for Anti-Abortion Group’s Contest | CBC News’. CBC, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/mom-furious-students-making-anti-abortion-posters-london-1.6426019. Accessed 21 Sept. 2022.

[v] ‘Anti-Abortion Bus Ad Angers Many but City Says Its Hands Are Tied’. Sudbury.Com, https://www.sudbury.com/local-news/anti-abortion-bus-ad-angers-many-but-city-says-its-hands-are-tied-3297940. Accessed 21 Sept. 2022.

[vi] ‘Pro-Life Group Fights City Ban on Anti-Abortion Bus Ad’. Thepeterboroughexaminer.Com, 22 Feb. 2016, https://www.thepeterboroughexaminer.com/news/peterborough-region/2016/02/22/pro-life-group-fights-city-ban-on-anti-abortion-bus-ad.html.