The taste of freedom was a short one for Linda Gibbons.
Just three days after being released from her latest prison term for demonstrating at a Toronto abortion site, the diminutive grandmother was arrested July 31 outside the “Scott Clinic” for allegedly violating terms of a “temporary” court injunction enacted in 1994 that prohibits pro-life activity within certain distances of specified Toronto abortuaries.
It has been Crown and police practice to charge her with disobeying a peace officer, instead of the more appropriate charge of violating a court injunction. Pro-life activists believe this is a politically motivated tactic to deny Gibbons a jury trial and the ability to challenge the constitutionality of the injunction.
A trial date on the latest charge is scheduled for Sept. 13.
At the July 28 trial on the earlier charge of disobeying a peace officer over an incident outside the Scott Clinic last May 15, an Ontario provincial court judge took a subtle jab at the injunction. Upon the reading of the charge, Justice J. Sutherland immediately questioned how it was possible to obstruct a peace officer by disobeying a court order. Crown Attorney L. Shin offered a convoluted explanation that revolved around the view that it was Gibbons’s failure to leave the injunction zone when ordered to do so that constituted obstruction.
“I’m not sure that’s correct,” replied the skeptical judge.
Nonetheless, the case proceeded with Sutherland entering a not guilty plea on Gibbons’s behalf after she remained silent, as has been her consistent practice in solidarity with the voiceless unborn.
Sheriff David Usher, who has commonly been on the scene when Gibbons has staged her demonstrations, testified that he was summoned to the site on May 15 after a call from abortuary staff advising that pro-life protesters were outside the building in contravention of the court order.
Interestingly, perhaps hinting at the cozy relationship abortuary staff have with law enforcement authorities, Usher used only her first name in saying that “Maria” (abortuary director Maria Corsillo) told him the abortuary was in operation while Gibbons was within the injunction zone.
He added Gibbons was holding a sign depicting a baby with the caption, “Why, mom? When I have so much love to give,” held pamphlets and had strewn a number of plastic fetuses along the sidewalk in front of the abortuary. After being handed a written copy of the court order, Gibbons tore it up and threw it to the ground, he said.
Usher then summoned two police officers who had attended to arrest Gibbons, who remained silent throughout. Gibbons said not a word through the entire court hearing, simply rising from her seat in the prisoner’s box when addressed by the judge and sitting down afterward.
After observing that the wording in the information on the charge was “unusual” and “odd,” Sutherland found Gibbons guilty. Shin then asked the judge to levy a stiff sentence of six months in prison in addition to time already served, making for a total imprisonment of eight and a half months. She said “denunciation” and “general deterrence” were the motivating factors in requesting such a heavy penalty.
“She wants to be a martyr, doesn’t she? It certainly looks that way,” Sutherland remarked in reply. About 15 of Gibbons’s supporters in the courtroom – many from the Show the Truth tour, which was in town – winced in anticipation of the coming sentence.
However, the judge went on to give Gibbons a two-for-one credit on time already served, translating to five months. Noting that it was difficult to come up with an appropriate sentence in light of the fact that Gibbons would go out of her way to violate the injunction regardless, and any penalty he laid down would not make a difference, he sentenced her to five months imprisonment – including time already served. With the two-for-one credit, that meant she would serve only one more day in jail with no probation order in addition.
In a handwritten letter afterwards, Gibbons described it as “the trial that wasn’t” and commended the presence of Show the Truth personnel as “unapologetically bold and robust.”
“Their witness was both seen and felt,” she wrote, noting that court personnel murmured about the assembled crowd. ““It gave me immense satisfaction that the languid legal muscle being flexed in the court basement to weaken our public witness was at that moment being trumped by the Show the Truth dynamism above on College Park and in the courtroom. Kudos to those who waited on court and put shoe to pavement.”
As far back as 1998, Campaign Life Coalition has been protesting that police and Toronto Crown attorneys have been laying inappropriate charges of obstructing a peace officer on Gibbons and others who have been arrested for peacefully violating the court injunction. CLC has called this a “serious abuse of legal process” and has pointed to a 1998 case in which the late Rev. Ken Campbell had his charge of obstructing a peace officer thrown out by Justice Milton Cadsby, who termed it baseless.
Cadsby also questioned the legitimacy of the injunction, noting that, as a “temporary” measure, it was time it was re-examined. The injunction had been engineered by the virulently pro-abortion NDP government and its extreme feminist attorney-general, Marion Boyd, who went on to mishandle the Paul Bernardo-Karla Homolka murder case. Successive Progressive Conservative and Liberal governments have failed to either drop the injunction or move to make it permanent.
“The Toronto police and the Ontario attorney-general appear to be directed by abortion clinic staff to bypass normal legal process to avoid any interference with clinic abortion activity,” CLC said in a 1998 statement. Remarkably, a decade later, that state of affairs still exists.