There may yet be a glimmer of hope in the legal situation that has seen Toronto pro-lifer Linda Gibbons languish in jail for most of the last four years.
Gibbons continues to stay behind bars at the Metro West Detention Centre in Rexdale, Ont. and refuses to take steps to defend herself legally. But Milton, Ont.-based Christian activist Ken Campbell has taken up the torch to challenge the “bubble-zone” style court injunction that has both prohibited pro-life activity within specified distances of certain Toronto abortion clinics, and has served as the legal basis for keeping Gibbons in jail.
Crown attorneys have consistently avoided giving Gibbons an opportunity to challenge the constitutionality of the injunction. They have done so by charging her and having her convicted for obstructing a peace officer and breaching probation. These convictions have consistently drawn six-month prison sentences, the last such sentence being levied against her on Dec. 18.
Campbell has similarly had obstructing a peace officer charges laid against him, resulting in small penalties such as a $100 fine. In this regard, he has been frustrated because of his inability to challenge the constitutionality of the injunction. To do that, he would have had to have had “disobeying a court order” charges laid against him (which also would have afforded him the opportunity of a jury trial).
On the latest occasion, Campbell was arrested along with Gibbons last Sept. 2 and was originally charged with disobeying a court order following an alleged transgression against the injunction protecting the Cabbagetown Women’s Clinic on Gerrard Street East in Toronto.
Sure enough, as has been their habit, Crown attorneys notified Campbell Nov. 7 of a change in the charge to one of obstructing a peace officer – once again. The difference this time was that the Crown attorney indicated to Campbell he would be free to raise Charter of Rights issues at the trial. Campbell has pounced on the opportunity and plans to plead not guilty.
“We’re preparing at least a couple of hours of submissions,” said Campbell, who is working with Brantford, Ont. lawyer Paul Vandervet. “We believe the injunction violates Charter provisions guaranteeing freedom of expression.”
The action may be the straw that broke the camel’s back of the injunction. Although it was put in place several years ago, the injunction remains officially “temporary” in nature – probably because its proponents realize they would be unsuccessful in a bid to make it permanent. As well, the repeated evasiveness of Crown attorneys in dealing with injunction-related charges head on is a further indication that the law wouldn’t withstand a serious legal challenge.
Despite the positive development, a pall has been cast on the latest proceedings by the fact that the Crown attorney assigned to Campbell’s case is none other than Michael Leshner – a man whom Campbell describes as a prominent, outspoken lobbyist for the “militant homosexual fringe” in the Toronto area, as well as an individual whom Campbell has debated and criticized on his daily radio broadcast.
Campbell suspects it was more than coincidence that Leshner was assigned to his case and is protesting what he sees as a transgression against judicial impartiality. “We’re requesting that he be removed entirely,” he said.
Campbell wrote in protest to the director of Crown operations in the Toronto region and had his radio program listeners swamp the director’s office with phone calls and faxes as well.
“Obviously, the incompatibility of (Leshner’s) dual public positions as representative of the militant fringe of the homosexual community and of the Ontario justice system, leaves us with considerable cause to question whether our expectation of justice has not been severely jeopardized in my case currently before the courts,” he said.
Campbell also called for Leshner to be reassigned to another, less sensitive position within government. “Surely, he can be removed from his position as senior Crown attorney and reassigned to a government posting (without loss of salary), which would assure the preservation of the perception and reality of the objectivity and fairness of Ontario’s justice system.”