Pro-lifers must continue to lobby federal politicians if the unborn in this country are to have rights at all.
That message came through loud and clear after a 28-year-old Ontario woman walked to freedom two days before Christmas after being charged with shooting her unborn son with a pellet gun.
Brenda Drummond, a postal worker in Carleton Place, south of Ottawa, was charged last June with attempted murder and using a firearm in the course of committing an offense. The police investigation revealed Drummond discharged the gun into her vagina, with the pellet lodging in the head of the near term fetus. Two days later, Drummond gave birth to a six-pound baby in the bathroom of her home. Doctors at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa successfully removed a pellet from the infant’s brain some 90 hours after birth, or as the court stated, “after he (the baby) became a human being.”
Drummond’s action touched off a firestorm of public outrage last summer at around the same time legal action was taken against a 22-year-old pregnant, glue-sniffing Manitoba mother, and the destruction of frozen embryos in England.
Drummond’s December hearing in Smiths Falls was to determine if legal action against her would proceed. In the end, Judge Inger Hansen opted to dismiss two of the charges and threw the whole issue back into the laps of federal politicians.
A criminal negligence causing bodily harm was scheduled for January 21 in Smiths Falls. It was put over to February 3.
In a 30-minute address to a courtroom packed with family members, electronic and print media, Judge Hansen stated an offense may have taken place but it “can’t be considered homicide or attempted homicide.” Current case law says a fetus is not a human being. Hansen said it is up to Parliament, not the courts to change the law. Judge Hansen refused to accept Lanark County Crown Attorney John Waugh’s contention that the Criminal Code provides sanctions against those who kill or injure an unborn child and as such recognizes fetal rights.
As the drama was unfolding inside, more than two dozen members of Campaign Life Coalition held a peaceful vigil outside the courthouse.
Ontario Campaign Life Coalition President, Mary Ellen Douglas called the decision “a disgrace and a scandal in our country that we don’t protect the most innocent members of our society.”
Frank Mountain of Ottawa, disabled for eight years, listened to the decision from his wheelchair, saying, “the law is crazy.” He was hoping for a verdict that would have protected the unborn and admission that the unborn are human.
He is concerned about where decisions like this will eventually lead, especially as they impact on cases involving assisted suicide.
Outside the courthouse, Drummond’s Lawyer Lawrence Greenspon told a swarm of reporters that Judge Hansen made “a courageous decision.”
Asked by The Interim where this now put the unborn child, he replied “it doesn’t change the situation for the unborn child at all. Under Canadian law, the unborn child, the fetus, becomes a human being at the moment of birth. That doesn’t change as a result of today’s decision.”
Later in his news conference, the Ottawa lawyer said “Whether Parliament, because of this case, with its very unusual facts, feels there is a need to legislate, that is up to them to decide, but I certainly don’t see a need to fill the gap that has existed.”
Speaking with reporters, Crown attorney John Waugh said “I feel very strongly that this is not an abortion case. This is a case dealing with fetuses at the end of the third trimester where Parliament has already made it against the law to take the life of a fetus [by deliberate injury] before it becomes a human being as defined by the law.”
In late January, the Ottawa Attorney- General’s office decided it would not appeal the attempted murder charge against Drummond. However, Brenden Crawley, a spokesman for the A-G’s office, said that case indicates gaps in the law when it comes to legal protection of the unborn.
Crawley referred to a 1989 report from the Law Reform Commission of Canada which recommended drafting a law to deal with such situations as the Drummond case.
Demers cites international law in Criminal Code challenge
By Mike Mastromatteo
A British Columbia pro-life activist is turning to international law in an attempt to win legal protection for unborn children.
Nelson resident, Jim Demers, 39, will cite the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in challenging Section 23 of the Canadian Criminal Code, which states that unborn children have no legal rights until they pass completely from their mother’s womb. The UN covenant, of which Canada is a signatory, reads, “Every human being has the inherent right to life.”
Demer, who has been arrested at least ten times for pro-life activity, has been held in Vancouver’s Pre-Trial Centre since December 11. He was separated from his wife and five children over the Christmas and New Year holidays.
In early December, Demers stood before the Bagshaw and Everywomen’s abortuaries in Vancouver with a poster bearing the words of the UN covenant. He also displayed a sign from the Organization of American States’ Covenant on Human Rights reading, “Every person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be protected by law, and, in general, from the moment of contraception.”
At one point during his protest, Demers wore a blindfold and gag to indicate he would not be “watching or besetting” any persons entering or leaving the abortion clinics. He was eventually charged with violating B.C.’s “bubble zone” legislation, which prohibits pro-life witnessing near the clinics. Demers will defend his action as human rights, rather then freedom of speech issue.
“Canada claims to be at the forefront of the human rights movement,” Demers told The Interim January 10 from the detention center. “And we’re really put to the test when the challenge is in our own country. As far as the unborn are concerned, Canada has failed miserably. Not only does it not want to discuss the issue, it doesn’t want anybody else to discuss it either.”
Demers has long advocated international law as a means of protecting the unborn. He believes international human rights conventions can be used to interpret Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That section says everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of the person.
He also said Canadian legal tradition puts extra emphasis on natural, rather than man-made law. “To me, the fundamental issue here is, do the rights of man come from the generosity of the state or from the hand of God,” he said. “And if we leave it in the hands of either the majority or the concept that democracy can decide who has human rights, then that becomes a very dangerous precedent. We say that the right to life of human beings is inalienable, especially as it is reflected in the language of the Charter and international treaties.”
Unlike the U.S. legal tradition, which favours a “balancing” or trading off of some human rights, Canada does not permit a lessening or derogation of the right to life, Demers said. “Things like liberty and security of the person can be traded off, but if you look at international law, you will see that the state cannot suspend an innocent’s right to life.”
Some pro-life legal experts however, have reservations about Demers’ appeal to international law to protect the unborn. Gwen Landolt of REAL Women of Canada said Demers’ actions have shown the “absurdity” of bubble zone legislation. At the same time, she is wary of the prospect of having the Canadian Parliament bound by international conventions.
“If the case were to proceed on the freedom of expression argument, it could be a tremendous boost to the pro-life movement in both British Columbia and Ontario,” Landolt said. “But there are national sovereignty issues at stake. We don’t want to have our legislative bodies bound by United Nations or international conventions, which in the past have not been overly concerned with life issues.”
Demers’ case is scheduled for February 5 in the British Columbia Provincial Court. In the meantime, Demers said he is bearing up well despite the confinement and the separation from his family. He expressed appreciation for the support he has received from the pro-life community during his latest ordeal. He said his experience “is like a spring break,” compared to that of Ontario pro-life prisoner Linda Gibbons.
Demers realizes the odds against the courts accepting his arguments. “I’ve been at this for 15 years and I’m an eternal optimist,” he said. “I hope that somewhere, truth will come forward and that there will be the integrity to follow through.”