Linda Gibbons received a sentence of six months in jail, concurrent on two charges, in addition to two years’ probation, when she appeared before a provincial court judge in Toronto April 17.
The charges, of breaching probation and obstructing a peace officer, had been laid in connection with her picketing and prayer outside the Scott Clinic abortuary on Gerrard Street East in Toronto on Feb. 13. Those activities were in violation of a court injunction that established a 60-foot “bubble zone” around the facility and prohibited pro-life demonstrations or counselling of any sort.
The veteran pro-life demonstrator, who has been imprisoned for most of the past seven years for similar activities, was also in violation of a probation order, issued in connection with a previous conviction last November, that barred her from coming within 100 metres of the Scott Clinic.
Her lawyer, New York-based John Broderick, said afterwards that it was a harsh sentence. He had asked the judge to sentence her only to time served. However, the Crown attorney pushed for two consecutive six-month terms, adding up to 12 months, including time served.
In the end, the judge settled on a six-month sentence, including time served. The maximum term on each charge is six months. The decision means Gibbons should be released from prison in July.
Broderick pleaded not guilty on Gibbons’ behalf, but agreed to the Crown’s statement of facts.
As has been her usual practice, Gibbons remained mute throughout the trial out of solidarity with defenceless unborn babies. She refused even to nod when asked to acknowledge statements from the judge.
After the judge issued a finding of guilt on both charges, he asked why the charge of disobeying a court order was not pursued, and the Crown offered no reason. This has been a source of chagrin among pro-life activists, who observe that the laying of such a charge, which is the most appropriate one under the circumstances, would open up the injunction to a constitutional challenge. It has appeared that Crown attorneys have deliberately not gone ahead with that charge in order to avoid giving pro-life demonstrators the opportunity to pursue such a challenge.
During the sentencing hearing, the Crown noted that “the rule of law is what makes us a civil society.” Broderick, in reply, made an impassioned plea for Gibbons, noting that she was acting for “spiritual reasons.”
He added that Gibbons has no desires for martyrdom or publicity, and stressed her non-violent and prayerful conduct. He added that she ministers to everyone she meets, and called several character witnesses, including Aid to Women worker Robert Hinchey, retired priest Rev. Patrick Gorman, friend Adrianna Bassi and Annaliese Steden, who has demonstrated and gone to jail with Linda in the past.
The judge said Gibbons knowingly chooses to break the law and that the hearing was not a question of debating the rights or wrongs of abortion. “Who decides what laws can be broken and who can break them?” he asked, in response to the issue of conscientious objection.
“Laws are designed to impose some sort of stability. There are ways and means of protesting without breaking laws,”he added. “She is going to have to suffer the consequences. She can go to Parliament, hand out pamphlets or invite guest speakers. Until the law is changed, she is going to have to bear the consequences of her actions.”
Afterwards, Broderick said in an interview he considers any time in jail for Gibbons to be a harsh sentence. “She shouldn’t even be arrested. All she’s trying to do is save babies. I don’t think you should be arrested for saving babies .”…The law is ridiculous.”