The one time I met Maurice Lewis, I recall thinking: “This is the guy?” Lewis was one of the meekest, least intimidating fellows
you’d ever care to meet. Reporters who interviewed him came away startled at his mild manner. Not the sort of person you’d
peg as the government’s Public Enemy No. 1.
Yet that’s what Lewis was, as the government in 1995 launched a full legal assault against the Vancouver truck driver for daring
to cross the 50-metre no-go zone around the Everywoman’s Health Centre in east Vancouver while carrying a pro-life message.
Today, Lewis is dead, and details remain sketchy. On September 5, the same day Mother Teresa died, Lewis was found dead
in his truck in northern Ontario. Police at first chalked it up to natural causes. Now they’re asking people who knew him if he
had been receiving threats from anyone. As of September 10, provincial police were also refusing to release his autopsy report.
Gentle by nature
If Lewis died violently, it contrasts sadly with his nature. Although rugged looking, he was refined, with a British accent – the
type you’d expect to startle with a soft “Boo!” Yet the former bus driver was dragged through the courts so the NDP could
maintain a fiction that he was a risk.
Lewis was first charged with breach of the access zone in September 1995. He refused to co-operate by giving police his
name, so they added obstructing a police officer to the charges. He refused to sign an undertaking to stay away from the centre,
and was held three months in custody until his court date.
When he finally went to trial in 1996, Judge E. J. Cronin ruled that although so-called “sidewalk counselling” could be
prohibited, it was unconstitutional to restrict Lewis’s freedom of association, religion and speech, i.e. praying in public. The
government appealed, and later in the year B.C. Supreme Court Justice Mary Saunders threw out Cronin’s ruling and convicted
Lewis, saying a woman’s right to an abortion outweighs the right to freedom of expression under the Charter.
Lewis’s lawyer, Paul Formby, filed a notice of appeal. Now with Lewis’s death, a sort of legal limbo has resulted, as Formby
and the Crown try to figure out their options while another pro-lifer, Jim Demers, awaits trial on similar charges to Lewis’s.
Formby says the attorney-general could invite submissions on the particular issues in dispute, perhaps for the date of Lewis’s
scheduled appeal next February. Sounding drained, Formby talks about Lewis as though he was more than a client – and he
was. “I felt like he was a brother.” When Lewis refused to stay away from the clinic, remained in jail, and lost his truck-driving
job, “I really admired him for that,” he said.
For Lewis, death came just as romance seemed to be blossoming. On a visit to his native England this summer, he met someone
– a girlfriend who planned to come visit him. People who knew Lewis say he had high regard for women.
And while his critics would say he interfered with women’s rights whenever he persuaded them to walk away from an abortion
clinic, Lewis would tell you otherwise. Lewis had a personal stake in the issue of abortion, because years earlier, in England,
when a friend’s girlfriend had become pregnant, it was Lewis who had helped her get an abortion, paying for it himself.
The turmoil he witnessed in her life afterward turned him around forever. “He had this compassion for women, because he saw
first-hand the suffering,” says Formby. Compassion was in his nature to the end. Formby says that on the Friday before he died,
Lewis was driving in California. Eating in a restaurant near L.A., he witnessed a woman being terrorized by her angry, and big,
companion. Lewis, no giant, went over and confronted the man, who stood up, towering over Lewis, zipped open a satchel and
reached inside. At that moment Lewis thought he was going to die. He said a quick prayer and prepared for the worst.
Suddenly the man closed the bag and walked out the door.
“He really believed in standing up for what he believed in,” said Formby.”He’s one man I really admired.”