A Delta, B.C. woman who was jailed after handing out flowers in front of an abortuary has been released after a confusing series of judicial errors.
Mary Wagner, 25, was sentenced June 16, to spend the rest of the year in jail after admitting to a variety of offences under B.C.’s Access to Abortion Services Act. She was then ordered released on June 18, although because of a court mistake, she wasn’t set free until the next day. B.C. Provincial Court Judge Elizabeth Arnold originally sentenced Wagner, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Parish in Delta, to seven months after she admitted to the offences and refused to commit to staying away from abortion sites in the future. The Crown had asked for a sentence of two years.
Wagner, a graduate of the University of Victoria and a volunteer who works with the disabled, had already served more than 30 days in B.C. Women’s Correctional Centre awaiting trial.
On June 18, Arnold ruled that Wagner could be set free even if she refused to sign a recognizance order that she keep the peace, be of good behaviour, and stay out of the bubble zones around the clinics. Arnold said the order should be read to Wagner. Then, if she violated it by entering one of the zones, she could be re-arrested and brought back to court for sentencing.
However, when her father went to pick up his daughter, he said no one was available to sort out the confusion over her release papers, delaying her release until Saturday. As a result, she was returned to Burnaby’s Correctional Centre for Women for the night.
Defence lawyer Paul Formby described his client as a “conscientious objector” to what she considered a bad law, and pro-life groups portray her as a “political prisoner.” Formby praised the judge’s decision to release Wagner without making her sign the order. “That’s basically what I was asking for,” he said.
On Feb. 1, Wagner accompanied a girl to the Elizabeth Bagshaw abortuary at Granville St and West 16th Ave. She accompanied the girl and her boyfriend into the abortuary, where she was arrested after staff discovered she was attempting to counsel the girl. In March, Wagner was arrested after handing out flowers in front of the Everywoman’s clinic on East 44th Avenue. She was also charged with two counts of protesting, besetting a building, and interfering with a person by sitting in front of the abortuary door.
Deborah Woelders, of the Pro-Life Society of B.C., welcomed the decision to release Wagner. “It’s (about) freedom of speech … Mary was always there with love, reaching out to these women.” The National Post picked up Wagner’s cause in a June 22 editorial entitled “Freedom to picket.”