It’s being hailed as a victory for free speech and expression.

The latest set of criminal charges have been withdrawn against Show the Truth demonstrators, who were arrested following events in Sturgeon Falls, Ont. in November 1999. The development means that Show the Truth – which tours different parts of Canada each year publicly displaying large, graphic signs of the effects of abortions – has yet to have a criminal conviction registered against it, despite several fervent attempts by police and Crown attorneys.

“It was very good news for us and an answer to our prayers,” remarked Rosemary Connell, an organizer of the demonstrations who faced charges including creating a disturbance and unlawful assembly. “It’s time people became aware of the fact that they’re losing some very basic rights. We’re fighting for everyone’s freedom of expression in public.”

She noted that demonstrators have always been very careful to observe a strict code of conduct and not leave any room for plausible complaints against them. “We always stay on the sidewalk. If anyone’s walking by, they’re not obstructed. We never stand in driveways.”

About a dozen people had taken up the display and handed out literature on public sidewalks in front of two Sturgeon Falls high schools – a public one in the morning and a Catholic one in the afternoon.

Connell recalled that in the morning incident, demonstrators were approached by a police officer who was “particularly agitated” and warned them to leave the area within five minutes or face arrest for causing a disturbance. “I thought it was unusual police were predicting a disturbance even before it happened,” she said.

After failing to leave as ordered, six of the Show the Truth personnel were arrested and charged. They were released by lunch hour, and proceeded to continue the exhibit in front of the Catholic high school. “It was even more surprising when we were arrested outside the Catholic high school,” said Connell. “The charges were actually [instigated] by the principal.”

Subsequent months saw the case proceed at a snail’s pace through the courts, marked by continuous remands. Finally, in late January, 10 days were set aside for a trial, with Oshawa, Ont. lawyer Blaise MacLean representing the demonstrators. However, as hearings were about to begin, the Crown abruptly withdrew the charges, asking only for a peace bond that stipulated demonstrators in the future must stay at least 100 metres away from any elementary school.

Connell suspects the Crown knew all along that the charges wouldn’t stick, but dragged out proceedings as much as possible in order to create maximum stress on the demonstrators and drain their financial and legal resources to the greatest extent. “I have no doubt it was to take up our time, finances and resources. I have no doubt whatsoever. We’ve had the same issue in other places. All those times, the charges were withdrawn or were never laid in the first place. [The police and Crown] knew the background and still insisted on pushing it to that point.”

She added the latest run-in with the law won’t stop Show the Truth from continuing its work. “This was a test case for doing presentations at high schools. Our plans are to continue to present the truth of abortion at high schools. That’s an age group that needs to see the truth.”

Connell said she has been amazed at the response received from high school students in past Show the Truth displays. “The majority of students want to see the truth and discuss it. Students have stayed for an hour, when they could have jumped on public transit and gone home. They’ll stay for ages, discussing all kinds of moral issues with us. I believe they’re hungry for the truth. They have questions.