Before a standing-room only crowd of supporters and reporters, Constable David Packer, the police officer whom Mother Teresa called a hero for his courage toward the unborn child, was ordered to resign or face being fired from the Force he has so outstandingly served for the past ten years.
Superintendent Bernard Nadeau, presiding over the hearing on January 26, provided a lengthy and detailed review of all the evidence and arguments of the previous hearings.
P.C. Packer was charged under the police Act with the serious offence of insubordination – refusal to carry out a lawful order, when on April 8 of last year he “respectfully declined” to carry out his assigned duty of keeping the peace at 85 Harbord Street – the Morgentaler abortuary. His reason for refusing the order then, as now: “In all conscience I cannot stand by while they kill babies there. It is not a lawful order.”
Harry Black, Packer’s lawyer, had based his defence on three arguments. The first concerned the meeting called in January, 1986, to discuss the problems encountered by officers assigned duty at the Morgentaler abortuary. On the witness stand, several officers, including Packer, testified that Deputy Chief William McCormack stated that any officer facing a crisis of conscience over his assignment to the abortuary would be “accommodated.” Deputy Chief McCormack, however, denied that accommodation meant that religious belief could be the basis for outright refusal to preserve public order.
Unspeakable crime and offence to God
Black’s second argument was based on the testimony of moral theologian, Fr. James Wingle. If anyone believes that abortion is an unspeakable crime against humanity and offence to God, testified Fr. Wingle, then he is obligated in good conscience to place the moral law ahead of the civil. So P.C. Packer believed, and so he did.
The third argument in Packer’s defense was derived from the case law of labour relations, where employers had denied their employees the freedom of the practice of their religious beliefs. Packer, so it was argued, ought not to be found guilty since his faith and conscience had been grievously violated by his employer.
His review of the evidence and arguments completed, Superintendent Nadeau then proceeded to give his judgment. None of the arguments presented in P.C. Packer’s favour had any validity. For Nadeau the issue at hand was “pure and simple” an act of insubordination. Packer had plainly not done what he was told.
All the testimony given concerning the accommodation promised by Deputy Chief McCormack to those officers troubled by duty at the abortuary Superintendent Nadeau ruled as too vague and conflicting to be of any use in Packer’s defense.
As for his moral dilemma, Nadeau determined that Packer ought to have recognized that the police presence was necessary solely to keep the peace and ensure the safety of all citizens at a location where “disturbances” were frequent. Constables on duty, claimed the Superintendent, were nothing more than peace officers, and not guards for Henry Morgentaler’s “clinic”, certainly not directly or indirectly involved in its activities. According to Nadeau, only officer Packer had used the word “guard” to describe his and the force’s assignment at the abortuary. Had P.C. Packer been mindful of his function as a constable sworn to maintain the Queen’s peace, no crisis of conscience would have arisen.
Superintendent Nadeau was not convinced by the argument from labour law. All the cases here involved the refusal to work on the grounds that to do so would violate fundamental religious convictions. In Nadeau’s view, Packer’s fundamental religious conviction that abortion is wrong would not suffer by his carryout a lawful order from his superior to keep the peace at 85 Harbord Street.
Having disposed the arguments in Packer’s defence, Superintendent Nadeau delivered the verdict of the Police Commission: On the grounds that he had no lawful excuse to disobey a lawful order to keep the peace, Constable David Packer was found guilty as charged.
It should not come as a surprise that Superintendent Nadeau would arrive at the strictest legal interpretation of the charge of insubordination, since Constable Packer’s decision was defended solely on the basis of conscience.
In all the testimony for the defence, no mention was ever made of the reason for Constable Packer’s crisis of conscience on the afternoon of April 8, 1987. The abortion “clinic” where he was being posted for duty, the “clinic” where he knew babies were being killed, the “clinic” which he knew was a monstrous affront to his conscience – this “clinic” was an illegal facility, kept open and operating in direct defiance of the Criminal Code of Canada by the police force of which he was a loyal and exceptional member. Constable Packer refused an order to guard the abortuary, not only because abortion is an abominable crime, but because the abortuary itself is unlawful.
Pure and simple
Since the illegality of the abortuary was an issue never raised in the course of the hearings, Superintendent Nadeau readily dismissed the arguments based on conscientious objection as irrelevant. Packer was insubordinate – pure and simple.
Determined to reduce the issue to mere peacekeeping, Nadeau and Prosecutor Addison felt free to vilify and caricature Packer’s act of courage. According to Addison, P.C. Packer is a police officer on a crusade, whose act of disobedience was premeditated. He himself is inflexible, but will bend his office to serve his beliefs. His example, stated Addison, will have an effect on other police officers, introducing chaos into the ranks where following orders and discipline must prevail.
Lack of remorse
Superintendent Nadeau concurred in this judgment, but went further. Insubordination was a major offence, but what it made it more serious in Constable Packer’s case was his lack of remorse. His claim of conscience, so argued Nadeau, made it inevitable that he would commit the same offence in the future when confronted with a similar situation. Rehabilitation was out of the question. Not even a last minute agreement between the prosecution and defence to call for a demotion in rank was able to deter Nadeau from applying the full weight of the Police Act on Constable Packer. The punishment: Resign voluntarily in seven days or be fired.
The judgment of the Police Commission distorted Packer’s moral decision into a misguided, disobedient crusade for a private morality. And he was punished severely for it – he has lost his career. Had the intrinsic justice of his fearless act been clearly placed in the trial record, a different story might have emerged. It might have been a story of duplicity, deceit and the obstruction of justice, a story of how the police of Toronto are “blindly following orders to protect the Morgentaler’s abortuary…at the behest of the Attorney General” So wrote Fr. Lawrence Abello, S.J., in the October issue of The Interim. He goes on: “Likewise, blindly following orders is what the elite, 20,000 strong, Paris police force did at the behest of the legitimate Vichy government, under Marshall Petain.
“Like the officers standing guard at the Morgentaler abortuary, the Paris police were never ordered to kill anyone. Many of them were merely ensuring that ‘demonstrators’ did not disturb ‘peace and order’ while hundreds of Jewish children destined for death in concentration camps were hauled away in buses.
“But the ‘fetuses; killed at the Morgentaler abortuary are not legally persons. Neither were the ‘unmenshen’ (non-humans) ‘which’ were being hauled away in the buses. A society always relegates the victims of a holocaust to the status of non-persons in order to hide the injustice it is perpetrating.”