If a person really believes that abortion is the taking of a human life, is it enough to simply oppose abortion? Jim Demers has, by his actions, given a clear answer as to what his position is on that very difficult question.
In January 1985, Jim Demers was charged with theft, possession of stolen property, and mischief following an incident at Kootenay Lake District Hospital in B.C. In the subsequent trial, the court ruled him guilty, put him on probation, and Demers’ later appeal of his conviction was unsuccessful.
His latest trial, for refusing to comply with one of the conditions of his probation, became the focus of media attention in the Nelson area.
Demers had been involved with his local abortion-providing hospital for two years, attending numerous protests and demonstrations. His involvement became very personal on the evening of January 27, 1985, as he entered the hospital’s reception area.
For months earlier, Demers had been in a moral quandary. Standing by, “while children were being killed in the hospital,” he reasoned, was like ignoring the slaughter of youngsters in his neighbour’s backyard. So he decided to take firm and serious action; action that would focus attention on the lives that were being snuffed out at KLDH.
As Demers walked through the front door of the hospital, he smiled at the receptionist. After a brief search, he found a Gamco Uterine Aspirator, a machine used almost exclusively in the abortion procedures. He wheeled the unit out of the hospital, into his truck, and then drove with it to his carpentry shop in Nelson. There he proceeded to “remanufacture” the aspirator into a library book trolley.
Later that evening, Demers took the “trolley” back to the hospital and presented himself and his handiwork to the hospitals’ incredulous staff. He then called police and turned himself in.
In May 1985, Demers appeared in court to chose trial by jury on the advice of his legal counsel, Brent Adair. On October 10, of the same year, Demers appeared before Mr. Justice John Cowan an 12 of his peers. His defense was that of “a higher law.”
Defense lawyer Brent Adair referred to Section 27 of the Criminal Code, which states that one may use “as much force as reasonably necessary…to prevent the commission of an offence.
The arguments consisted in part in establishing that certificates issued by the hospital’s Therapeutic Abortion Committee were not valid, and thus an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada was, in fact, being committed.
Judge Cowan ruled that the defense argument had no bearing on the case, and he prohibited the defense from following that line of argument. Further, Judge Cowan ruled irrelevant any reference to the abortion issue.
After Section 27 was closed to Adair as a line of argument, he fell back on two points: that Demers is an upstanding citizen and that the value of the machine depreciated below $200.
The prosecution’s case, on the other hand, was much more straightforward. It rested on the premise that “the fetus is not a person.” In response to Adair’s attempt to use Section 27 as a defense, the Crown replied that Demers was not acting because of any “immediate” danger, and thus that argument was invalid.
Further, the Crown lawyer cautioned the court that this was a serious offence. He urged that the court not encourage people to act according to their own set of morals by taking the law into their own hands.
In response to this caution, one pro-life observer wrote, “There is always a tremendous risk to an individual taking such an approach to a societal problem. The risk is that if everyone started acting simply on his own moral code, ignoring the law, there will be anarchy. Is the law to be obeyed at any cost, or is there some point at which a citizen is entitled to challenge the law – to say that it is unjust. The built-in protection that we have in our society is, of course, the jury. Twelve average persons of society judge all the facts, hear the accused, and then they representative of all community, and decide whether the actions of the accused are criminal or are justifiable.
In his closing remarks, the judge noted that he did not appreciate his courtroom being used “as a forum for this man’s opinion.”
Demers had “great reservations” regarding the outcome of the trial, and decided to appeal the decision. Unfortunately, he was disappointed with another conviction. The fight was not over though, for this June he appeared before Judge Stewart Enderton in Nelson Provincial Court for Breach of Probation.
During the hearing, Demers said that the order to pay for the machine was “in violation of my conscience…I have an obligation to my conscience and to the state to make my position perfectly clear…I cannot replace the abortion machine.”
He went on to plead that obedience to the law is wrong when there is an obligation to oppose it, and proceeded to quote a reference from the Nuremberg trials.
In reply to Demers’ plea for a higher law, the Crown replied, “This man is going to defy the courts…it is a very serious mistake to let society begin to contemplate simply defying the law. It would be a drastic step backward to suggest that if you don’t like the outcome you could just say I’m not gonna do it.”
Demers does not believe that he was acting in defiance of the law. “I’m not trying to flout the law,” he said, but said he was acting “to try and right the wrongs.”
Presiding Judge Enderton found himself in a quandary. On one hand, here was a man who was acting out of conscience in destroying the suction machine, and then refusing to pay for it. On the other hand, the court’s duty was to try Demers, not on why he ha breached his probation, but on whether he had in fact, breached probation, and if he had, how to sentence him.
In Enderton’s words, “It is quite clear that you believe quite fervently in what you’re telling me, but it does not constitute a defense.”
The Judge seemed somewhat reluctant to pass sentence though. Perhaps it was the reference to the Nurmeberg Trials that concerned him. Nonetheless, Judge Enderton has no recourse by law but to sentence Demers in some way for Breach of Probation. Judgment will be handed down on September 11.