Kelly McParland: No court is too clogged to prevent the pursuit of an elderly woman and her abortion pamphlets
Kelly McParland Jun 15, 2012 – 9:43 AM ET
As a three-part series in the National Post demonstrated, the judicial system in Ontario is so clogged with backlogs and delays that it threatens to grind to a halt. But prosecutors are never so weighed down with work that they can’t find time to pursue another charge against 63-year-old grandmother Linda Gibbons for the crime of handing out pamphlets.
Gibbons has already spent nine years in jail over two decades and is before a judge once again, thanks to the zeal of the crown attorney’s office to stamp out elderly ladies and pamphlets. Ms. Gibbons’ crime is that her protest is against abortion, and she carries it out where women seeking to terminate a pregnancy can see her.
In Canada, your right to march through the streets, shaking your fist or offering Nazi salutes to the police will be upheld as a fundamental expression of free speech. You can agitate to join a Pride parade carrying a banner accusing Israel of being an apartheid state, and sympathetic “progressives” will argue on your behalf while municipal leaders look the other way. But stand on a public sidewalk near an abortion clinic, holding a poster with the image of a baby on it, and the forces of justice come down on you with both feet.
Ms. Gibbons lost a case before the Supreme Court last week in which she argued she shouldn’t face criminal charges for defying a civil order to stay away from abortion clinics. The crown decided to drop that case even though it won, since she’d already been in jail for six months. But she’s still awaiting a judgment on another case, for handing out pamphlets depicting fetuses.
Crown attorney Andrew Cappell told Judge William Wolski Thursday that Ms. Gibbons’ pamphlets were “disturbing” to clients of the clinic. It was also a “nuisance” and interfered with the clients’ right to get their abortion.
“By doing this in front of the clinic, it is intimidating people into not having these abortions performed … intimidating them into not executing a legal right that they have,” Mr. Cappell said.
Cigarette packages in Ontario carry graphic depictions of cancer that are also disturbing – in fact, they’re intended to be so, and anti-smoking organizations want to make them even more so. Cigarettes can be purchased at any variety store. And Toronto regularly creates a nuisance to people trying to go about their business. The city core is frequently jammed with marches, protests, demonstrations or charity run-a-thons and bike-a-thons that prevent non-participants from going conveniently about their tasks. The two main highways into the city are regularly closed so some group or other can raise some money. Everyone is OK with that, but to have Linda Gibbons hand out a pamphlet 30 feet from the door of a clinic is intolerable and has to be stopped.
Daniel Santoro, Ms. Gibbons lawyer, noted that her actions are peaceful, and no more intimidating than an animal rights advocate distributing photos of baby seals near a fur store.
“That’s a totally lawful course of action, and constitutionally protected. What’s the difference here?” he asked the court. “It may be disturbing, but she’s allowed to do that.”
“She is not locking the door, harassing the staff, shining bright lights in the windows to disrupt them … nothing she is doing is disturbing the function of the clinic. If she persuades someone not to go in, so be it,” Mr. Santoro said.
That’s not good enough for the Crown, though. Baby seals are evidently more worthy of protection than baby children. A woman’s right to an abortion is sacrosanct; another woman’s right to protest is a violation of the law. The case against Ms. Gibbons will proceed.