Liz Phillips, Toronto Mom, Removes Anti-Abortion Flyers From Neighbours' Mailboxes

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TORONTO — A Toronto mom who removed graphic anti-abortion flyers from neighbourhood mailboxes says she would handle the situation differently if it arose again.

Liz Phillips says she grew concerned about the flyers prepared by the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform, which show vivid images of fetuses in utero and post abortion.

She says she knew of people whose children were traumatized by the images, so she took it upon herself to remove the flyers from mailboxes on her block in her downtown neighbourhood.

In their place she left a note explaining her actions and saying she had the flyers at her home if anyone wanted to read them.

liz phillips
Liz Phillips poses outside of her home in Toronto, June 9. (Photo: Eduardo Lima/The Canadian Press)

Phillips says the neighbourhood reaction has been "overwhelmingly positive," but conversations with a couple of upset neighbours have prompted her to rethink her approach.

She says next time she would circulate a note advising people that the flyers may appear in the mail, cautioning parents that the images may be too much for children, and offering to remove the flyers if they wanted.

The Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform did not respond to a request for comment.

"These are really graphic images. Most of us as adults don't want to look at it."

Phillips acknowledged that she does not share the views imparted in the flyers, but said it was concern for the impact on children that prompted her to take action.

"These are really graphic images. Most of us as adults don't want to look at it," Phillips said in a telephone interview. "I can imagine if my kids actually saw (the images), they would last."

Phillips said she was first made aware of the flyers on a neighbourhood Facebook group in which anxious moms started posting about the strong reactions the flyers were eliciting from their kids. At least two women said their children had nightmares for days after seeing the pictures, she said.

Phillips said this gave her time to plan her strategy, which she put into action on Wednesday when the flyer surfaced in her mailbox.

'Freedom of expression is important to me'

The mother of two young boys walked around her block removing the literature, leaving a note explaining the reason for her actions.

"Freedom of expression is important to me," she said. "I didn't want to be taking these out and not letting people know that I'd done it."

Phillips said she encountered some parents on her route who approved of her actions and spoke to several later on who applauded her initiative.

Others expressed a more nuanced position.

"They don't agree with the material itself, but they don't want somebody else to make the decision of whether they want to see it," she said. "They would rather get it, and even if their children saw it, they would rather have that conversation with their children because it came up."

Phillips said the incident has triggered a wider conversation among the neighbourhood, some of which directly challenges the message communicated in the flyers.

She said one woman took it upon herself to set up a website as a resource for parents looking for guidance on how to discuss the flyer and even the topic of abortion with their children.

Removing pamphlets not theft: police

Phillips' actions are perfectly legal in the eyes of the police.

Const. David Hopkinson said general material that has not been processed by Canada Post and does not contain personal identifying information can be handled without consequence.

Taking properly addressed post is a different matter.

"If mail is delivered to you, delivered by Canada Post containing your name, that is theft of mail, and it is a federal offence," he said. "In the case of a pamphlet, it's not considered mail."

Hopkinson said people could buy some protection by putting up a sign barring people from tampering with their mailbox. If someone does so despite the sign, they could be subject to a "minor fine," he said.

Phillips said one neighbour was quite angry about her actions, prompting her to reconsider her approach.

"She was very upset that I'd gone into her mailbox at all, and I totally understand that which is why I kind of thought about what I'd do if this were to happen again to make sure that those concerns were heard."

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