Two pro-life activists face charges after picketing outside Nikki Colodny’s Toronto abortion clinic.
Rosemary Connell of Burnt River, Ontario, and Bill Whatcott of Toronto were arrested July 25 after police officers called to the scene determined the signs the pair was carrying were obscene.
Connell was carrying a sign showing the dismembered head of an unborn child, while Whatcott’s sign displayed an image of an unborn child scalded by a saline abortion. Whatcott’s charge was later changed to “mischief of enjoyment of property.”
Although both signs are extremely graphic and upsetting, Connell and Whatcott believe they are effective means of showing the true nature of abortion.
“People need to see the truth of abortion and this is what these signs are all about,” Connell told The Interim July 29. “A few people may be upset by the images, but most people accept them for what they are. Sometimes the signs make people most people accept them for what they are. Sometimes the signs make people stop and think about what is going on inside these clinics.”
Following the arrest, Connell and Whatcott were taken in handcuffs to 51 Division for processing. Connell was released after signing an agreement to stay at least 500 metres away from Colodny’s clinic. She returned to court August 15 and is expected to set a trial date at her next appearance September 26.
Whatcott meanwhile, initially refused all bail conditions. He spent nine days in Toronto’s Don Jail and was released August 3 after his pastor posted $1,000 bail. He also agreed to stay at least 50 metres away from the Colodny clinic.
Whatcott told The Interim August 2 that his spirits have been buoyed by his pastor and other pro-life supporters. He said pro-life signs may be graphic, that have become “one of the most effective weapons we have to alert people about the clinics.”
This marks the second time Whatcott was been arrested for pro-life witnessing. His first arrest occurred in July, 1995 outside Robert Scot’ Gerrard St. abortion clinic. He was also charged at the time with obstructing a peace officer and violating probation. His trial on the July 1995 charges is scheduled for September 17. He is also scheduled to appear in court September 20 on the mischief charges.
Whatcott is being represented by Gerard Gay of the Canadian Centre for Law and Justice.
Public pro-life efforts in the province have been hindered by a permanent injunction against pro-life picketing near Ontario hospitals and abortion clinics. The injunction was initiated in 1992 by the former NDP government in Ontario in response to claims pro-life demonstrations limited women’s access to abortion services in the province.
The “obscene” sign charge against Connell is puzzling to Ontario pro-lifers, who have watched with dismay as the right to peaceful demonstration and picketing seems to be steadily eroding.
In an August 30, 1994 ruling which limited the terms of the original injunction, Judge George Adams deemed pro-life posters, including the two carried by Connell and Whatcott, were not obscene. The only sign Judge Adams found objectionable was one which read, “Abortion butchers sent to jail.”
The injunction has been the source of heated debate in Ontario, particularly in light of the overturning of similar legislation in British Columbia in January.
Accompanying the injunction is a $500,000 damage suit against a group of 16 pro-life supporters. The damage suit and resulting legal costs have been a tremendous financial burden to Ontario’s pro-life community.
Pro-life supporters have been pressing Ontario Attorney-General Charles Harnick to drop the lawsuit and lift the permanent injunction. Prior to coming to office in June, 1995, Harnick criticized the NDP injunction as a violation of freedom of speech. Now after more than one year as Attorney General, Harnick has made no move to drop the injunction.