Mr. Justice George Adams’ decision not to order the Ontario government to pay the legal costs of the pro-life picketers is nothing less than a stroke against democracy.

The case is the one in which the Ontario government is seeking an injunction to ban all pro-life activity at 23 locations across the province. Last August, Judge Adams granted an injunction that was much more limited than the government was seeking, and pro-life people were able to see it as partial victory.

The lawyers representing the 18 Ontario pro-life defendants then asked the court to order the government to pay the legal costs of the pro-lifers. There was a number of reasons for this, including the fact that the government has virtually unlimited resources available to fight the case, while the defendants have very limited resources.

Furthermore, the government had other routes open to it instead of dragging the 18 pro-lifers through the courts. The government could have passed a law restricting pro-life at abortion clinics and other locations. Pro-lifers could then have decided if they wanted to place themselves in jeopardy by breaking the law. The court case would have been simpler and less costly, and those who chose to protest would have had a fairly clear idea of the risks involved.

There were also legal precedents that supported the pro-life position. In a recent case the Supreme Court of Canada awarded costs to a set of parents who had lost their case against the government. The parents, who were Jehovah Witnesses, had refused to allow their child to receive a blood transfusion. The parents lost their case but the Court required the government to pay their legal costs.

Despite these factors, Judge Adams rejected the call for costs to be awarded to the defendants and the pro-life people will receive no government assistance in paying their legal bills.

That decision is a stroke against democracy because it has powerful repercussions for freedom of speech in our society.

The defendants chose to actively protest against the prevailing of prevailing pro-abortion mentality of the day. In doing so they were doing something essential for democracy- voicing a dissenting opinion.

Everyone in our society applauds freedom of expression as a wonderful ideal to be protected. The ideal is popular. Actually tolerating the voices of those we disagree with is much less so. Yet the test of whether we believe in freedom of speech is the amount of freedom we demand for those who want to push and promote views that we find most objectional.

Nothing could chill a citizen’s willingness to express unpopular opinions faster than the prospect that he or she would be named in a government-sponsored injunction application. The costs of hiring lawyers to defend oneself in such a case would quickly run past the $100,000 mark. Ordinary citizens faced with such a threat effectively have no other option than to comply with what government wants. It comes down to a choice between their life savings or their freedom of speech.

Allowing ordinary citizens to be subject to what kind of attack sends powerful message to anyone who is thinking of challenging the status quo. The message is that exercising your freedom of speech may cost you every penney you have.

If that isn’t chilling enough, consider that an injunction application usually includes a demand for money by the party seeking it. In this case the government, in addition to an injunction, was asking for damages of half a million dollars. That meant that the defendants had chosen not to contest the government’s action, the courts would have awarded damages against them.

If the government seeks an injunction against you, you can’t afford to fight it, and you can’t afford not to.

The NDP government in choosing an injunction to silence pro-lifers was using a singularly unfair and unjust weapon. The government’s utter moral bankruptcy was revealed by their decision to give $778,000 to the abortion clinics to intervene in this case. Judge Adams had an opportunity to strike back in the name of freedom of speech.

We are all poorer because of his decision not to.