Red faces in the Ontario Attorney General’s office after a major break in the trial of four pro-lifers.
The four, Rosemary Connell, John Bulsza, Ann-Marie Tomlins and William Whatcott were charted last July 3rd during a Show the Truth demonstration in the southwestern Ontario community of St. Thomas.
The group had signs showing aborted babies in various stages of development and were charged with “causing a disturbance by indecent exhibition” and “exhibiting a disgusting object.”
The break came in mid-trial, in early April when the Crown withdrew the charges as the result of a well-thought, aggressive strategy by Oshawa lawyer, Blaise MacLean, solicitor for Rosemary Connell.
Says MacLean “The charges were pulled, I think after the Ministry of the Attorney General, I believe probably learned this trial was going on, or maybe was afraid that we might seek some of their internal documents.”
MacLean looked at a case in Lindsay, Ontario, near Toronto, where police were forced to return Show the Truth signs they seized from Mrs. Connell last October. That issue went all the way to the Criminal Law Division of the Attorney General and no charges were laid.
The St. Thomas situation, says MacLean, was identical to Lindsay. Same signs, same method of protest. With that, he subpoenaed the Lindsay Crown Attorney and the Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Murray Segal. Within 24 hours MacLean had received a letter from the Crown in St. Thomas saying the charges would be withdrawn.
Brantford lawyer, Paul Vandervet, representing the other three pro-life defendants said, “Doubtless the effectiveness of these accused, in shifting the ground of the abortion debate, caused sufficient fear in some quarters that these ridiculous and insulting charges were resorted to.”
One of the defendants, Rosemary Connell of Burnt River, Ontario said Justice Katie McGowan appeared “annoyed” the case was taken from her hands, however she stated it was just as well because she would have had a difficult time making a decision on the case.
MacLean felt it was an attempt by the Crown, in St. Thomas “to really criminalize free speech that he didn’t agree with, or that somebody didn’t agree with. The standard he used, they could lay charges for the platform of the Reform Party if you want to stretch words words the way they did down there.”
While Connell called the outcome “a pro-life victory” MacLean couldn’t really say if this was a precedent setting case, because there was no formal legal decision on it but adds “I think it’s the statement of a policy by the Ministry of the Attorney General not to prosecute in these cases.”
But the question remains, could this happen again as Show the Truth readies itself for a multi-city swing, starting July 6th in Hamilton.
Commenting on the Linda Gibbons case, the native Maritimer called it “a scandal” adding “she’s spent more time in jail than a lot of criminals. She’s doing a life sentence on the instalment plan.”