Top court won't hear abortion picketer case

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Supreme Court of Canada chose on Thursday not to hear an appeal of a lower court decision that found that a nurse who picketed a Planned Parenthood clinic and referred to its workers as baby killers was protected by the right of free speech.

Nurse Bill Whatcott staged his anti-abortion protest at the clinic in Regina, Saskatchewan, in 2002, and Planned Parenthood subsequently launched a complaint against him at his professional association. Whatcott had earlier served jail time for demonstrating against an abortion clinic in Toronto.

The Saskatchewan Association of Licensed Practical Nurses found Whatcott guilty of professional misconduct, suspended him as a nurse and ordered him to pay C$15,000 ($15,150) in legal costs.

Whatcott argued that he had been demonstrating in his free time and that his protest was simply a case of free speech. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association had also weighed in on the debate, saying that while it favored abortion rights it was concerned over attempts to squelch debate.

The penalty against Whatcott was upheld by a Saskatchewan trial court, but then overturned by a Saskatchewan appeals court, whose decision the Supreme Court of Canada effectively endorsed by not hearing an appeal from the nurses’ association.

($1=$0.98 Canadian)

Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Peter Galloway