Journalists arrested while covering Linda Gibbons’ latest protest


On October 15, police arbitrarily suspended freedom of the press when they arrested three journalists covering a peaceful pro-life demonstration in downtown Toronto.

Freelance journalist and Interim editorial board member Sue Careless, CLC director Steve Jalsevac who was video-taping the event for LifeSite News, and Gord Truscott who is writing a biography on sidewalk counsellor Linda Gibbons, were arrested for “obstructing a peace officer” while they were covering Linda Gibbons’ latest witness within the no-protest “bubble zone” outside the Scott abortuary.

Gibbons has spent most the past five years in jail for witnessing inside the injunction zone but this is the first time police have arrested journalists.

According to witnesses the three journalists repeatedly informed the officers that they were media covering the event and were not themselves taking part in the demonstration. On the advice of legal counsel, Sue Careless would not comment; but both Jalsevac and Truscott say they were not warned to leave the zone as required by the injunction procedures. Both emphatically told the police that they would have left immediately if asked to do so. Jalsevac emphasizes, however, that the police did not actually have a right to ask them to leave, since the journalists did not interfere with the officers or the abortion clinic operations. Furthermore, the police confiscated their film and have yet to return it.

Truscott, a reporter for the Royal City Journal, a quarterly Christian newspaper in Guelph, says he was not read the

injunction nor did he hear it when it was read to Gibbons because he was about 20 feet away. He says he would have left the area if he was told to do so. But the “police didn’t seem to like pictures of them arresting Linda,” and he was arrested without warning.

Truscott, who also covered Gibbons’ previous arrest in June, says he never imagined he would be arrested for carrying out his journalistic responsibilities. “I think the police are tired of pro-lifers standing up for their civil liberties like freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” he said.

Careless is an award-winning journalist published in both the religious and secular press. She is a professional member of the Periodical Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) and an associate member of the Canadian Church Press (CCP). Careless, who has retained lawyer Peter Jervis, has been advised not to talk to the press but according to witnesses she did not appear to be close enough to hear what had been said when the injunction was read to Gibbons. Witnesses also attest to the fact that Careless repeatedly told police she was a reporter covering the event.

Jalsevac, a Toronto director of Campaign Life Coalition, was there to video tape the event for LifeSite News. He says he kept his distance but as he moved in, police just arrested him. “I could hear that the injunction was being read to Linda through the (video) camera, as I gradually moved in …. Then all of a sudden, Sgt (Dave) Hogan pointed to me and directed the officers to arrest me.” According to Jalsevac, Hogan also directed the arrests of the other two journalists.

This is a violation of the injunction procedure. The sheriff is supposed to direct arrests only after he reads the injunction to demonstrators within the injunction zone and warns them to leave. More important, the injunction does not apply to journalists.

Jalsevac’s lawyer Blaise MacLean says his understanding of the injunction is that it applies only to “those conducting a demonstration or otherwise interfering with the trade of the clinics.” Obviously, he said, journalists have a right to be there.

The journalists were there to report on the peaceful pro-life witness and sidewalk counselling of Linda Gibbons. Also demonstrating were activists Rosemary Connell and Rev. Ken Campbell. Both Rev. Campbell and Connell left after being read the injunction, although police tried to arrest Connell as she was leaving the injunction zone.

Connell says that she was waiting for oncoming cars to pass before she crossed the street when an officer “grabbed my shoulder and said ‘you’re under arrest,'” an incident to which two witnesses attest. Another officer intervened, saying she was on her way, and Connell wasn’t arrested.

According to numerous witnesses, after the journalists were arrested and their camera and video equipment confiscated (it has been since returned), police treated Gibbons more roughly than they have in the past. Police handcuffed her behind her back and dragged her, one officer on each arm, across the street, face down as her feet scraped the pavement, to a police car. Once the police read the injunction, Gibbons goes limp and doesn’t speak, in identification with the defenseless unborn child.

According to witnesses, Gibbons was thrown into the police car face down. Pro-life activist Anne Dobson says, “they actually threw her in.” Dobson says, “Linda was near tears” as she was dragged across the road. Sidewalk counsellor Mary Burnie says that one person told the police that the handcuffs were cutting into Gibbons’ wrists, to which the officer rudely replied, “She won’t stand up.”

Interviewed by telephone from Metro West Detention Centre, Gibbons told The Interim that her wrists were bruised and that it felt like her “shoulders were going to pop out” because of the way the police handled her. She says it was the roughest she has been treated since she began witnessing at that abortuary.

Denyse O’Leary, a friend of Careless and a professional member of both PWAC and CCP, says “the only reason I can think of for arresting (the three journalists) first is that the police were going to do something they did not want the public to see.” She adds that “I hope it’s not true but I can’t think of any other explanation.”

Normally, O’Leary says, police want journalists to cover arrests to make sure everything is done “by the book.”

O’Leary stresses this is not a pro-life issue but an issue of freedom of the press. She says, “Professional associations don’t want to see a precedent created where the police can ask journalists to leave an arrest.” Giving police the right to ask journalists to leave, she explains, “gives them the right to say what journalists are allowed to cover and how.”

Victoria Ridout, executive director of PWAC, says her association is writing a letter to the detective involved in the arrest with copies going to the police chief and mayor’s office, asking for more information about the arrest. She notes Careless is a “fully accredited journalist who would not in any way obstruct a police officer — she was simply doing her job as a journalist.”

Ridout also says it is wrong for the police to “deprive” Careless of her “means of making a living,” by confiscating her film. “Holding her film means she can’t sell it,” Ridout says. She doubts that this would have happened to a staff reporter from one of the daily newspapers. Other media have covered such arrests before, including CRFB radio, CTV, and Crossroads. MacLean is developing a strategy to regain the film seized from his client Steve Jalsevac. Police claim the film is needed as evidence.

MacLean wonders why there is largely silence on the part of the media over this violation of free press rights. The Interim has contacted numerous media and with the exception of several religious publications and a few “mainstream” journalists, no one seems to be interested in the story. MacLean says that media outrage at such police tactics would force the police to release the film.

Jalsevac recalls that there were numerous “unusual circumstances” that day. He says that when the police arrived, they had “the appearance of a rogue police unit” and that Hogan was “agitated the moment he arrived.”

(This past summer, Hogan had to apologize to pro-life witness Bill Whatcott for his treatment of a assault allegation against the demonstrator. Several pro-life activists who demonstrate across the street from the Scott abortuary also report having difficult encounters with the sergeant.)

At least 13 officers and sheriffs were present that day. They were not the usual officers dispatched and were especially intimidating. Connell says the police knew what they were doing. “It was well planned. They wanted to intimidate us. They get into your personal space, they arrested the journalists and then treated Linda roughly.”

Normally, police park a cruiser in front of the abortuary which they use to transport Gibbons. This time, however, they parked the police car across the street from the abortuary and dragged Gibbons across the street for all to see. After the arrest, police warned the group of demonstrators across the street and outside the injunction zone that if any protesters were to go near the abortuary they would be arrested.

This is another violation of the injunction. In an earlier court case over Rev. Campbell’s violation of the injunction, the judge ruled that the injunction had to be read each time pro-life demonstrators re-entered the injunction zone.

As for Gibbons, her mistreatment did not end with her arrest. She says that while she was in custody she was not given anything to eat for more than 26 hours. She asked the prison matron for food, saying she had not been fed that day, and the matron insinuated Gibbons was lying.