Judge Lorenzo Di Cecco, at the “show cause” hearing on the three clergymen at Old City Hall, Toronto, on February 25, 1986, proved the perfect symbol of Canadian Society. “I will not take sides,” he declared, withdrawing his earlier decision of February 10 to impose the signing of a “peace bond” upon the two Catholic priests and the Baptist Church minister.
On February 10, 1986, the judge had acquitted the three clergymen of the “Mischief against Private Property” charge for padlocking the back-alley gates of the Morgentaler abortuary in that city. However, Di Cecco intended to impose upon them a “peace bond,” requiring that they should stay 300 yards away from the 85 Harbord Street abortuary. This was to be decided on February 25.
No sooner had the judge taken his seat in his courtroom on Tuesday, February 25, then Crown Attorney Peter Griffiths announced that the Crown did not regard the requirement of a “peace bond” from the three clergymen” in the public interest.” Thus the Attorney General’s office put a distance between itself and the judge in case the latter would insist on the peace-bond.
The Friday before the hearings the Crown Attorney had made enquiries from defence counsel whether the three would sign such a bond. He had been given a negative answer. Anxious not to have three clergymen in jail, let alone three who had been acquitted from any charges only two weeks earlier, the Crown Attorney chose the only option left to him, namely to dissociate himself from the judge’s action.
Defence counsel Paul Dodds, knowing the Crown Attorney’s strategy beforehand, could only note its contradictory nature. He observed in the courtroom that it was odd behaviour for the prosecuting counsel not to ask for restrictions when all along it had been his position that the three clergymen had committed a crime.
Still, the message was not lost on the judge. Although he ascertained from Crown Counsel whether the Crown supported his right to seek a peace-bond, (the answer was affirmative) he began to cast about for ways of extracting himself from his obvious predicament. His choices were limited. He could send the clergymen to jail for not signing. This, of course, would look ridiculous, especially after first acquitting them. It would also enrage Attorney General Ian Scott who would be blamed (correctly) for putting the priests and the minister in jail while Morgentaler went free. Or, he could order both clergymen and the abortuary personnel to sign a peace-bond, thereby in fact closing the Morgentaler centre. This would anger the Attorney General as well, interfering with his efforts to make abortion on demand acceptable to the people of Ontario.
Finally, the judge could drop the peace-bond and get off scott-free, leaving it to the Attorney General to think what to do next in case the clergymen tried again to padlock the gates. This he decided to do, thereby, confirming the observations of Defence Counsel Paul Dodds that the whole legal situation surrounding the Morgentaler abortion centre had taken on the qualities of Alice in Wonderland.
After hearing a few witnesses, the judge decided that he had heard enough. He was not going to listen to Defence Counsel or to the witnesses who all suggested that the Morgentaler centre be closed, thus removing the very source of the tension on the street. There are, he said, sincere people on both sides of the issue. Dr. Scott who does the abortions is a sincere man, he said, so are the clergymen. There are Catholics on both sides of the issue, he stated (shades of the Maureen McTeer publicity, of course, newly rehashed in the Toronto Star three days earlier). And there are Baptists on both sides. All of them are sincere people. Crown Counsel has refused to bring witnesses because he sees no reason for signing a peace bond; so why should I? I will not take sides.” Case closed.
It was, of course, a sad ending, an ending which symbolized well enough the current Canadian understanding of the issue. Both the killers of the unborn and their defenders are sincere; therefore, they are both justified in what they do. There is no right or wrong. Everything is a matter of individual opinion. As long as one is sincere, there is no objective truth. What is truth? Said Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.