Mr. Justice Samuel Darragh of the Ontario Court of Justice punished twenty one pro-life activists October 3 with fines as high as $600 and jail terms of up to 15 days.
The defendants were found guilty June 30 of this year on the charge of obstructing a peace officer. Police had laid the charges March 3 when the rescuers refused to leave the front and back entranceways to Henry Morgentaler’s downtown Toronto abortion ‘clinic.’ Sentencing had been postponed from August when some of the defendants were absent from the courtroom.
Although he acknowledged the “good character” of the defendants, Justice Darragh narrowly based his judgment on breach of a court order. The demonstrators “refused to disperse” when ordered to by police and so were guilty, he ruled.
In May 1989, Henry Morgentaler obtained a sweeping injunction from the former Supreme Court of Ontario banning rescues, picketing and counseling within 150 metres (500 feet) of his abortuary.
Justice Darragh ignored the summation of defense lawyer Paul Vandervet who castigated the double standard at work. He pointed out that for years, Morgentaler flouted the old law restricting abortion procedures to accredited hospitals.
Returning to the courtroom were Steve Johnson, Ken Kittel, Brian Austin, Ita Venner, Barry D’Costa, Lorraine Carbonneau, John Laviolette, Paul O’Neill, Fr. William Comerford and Joanne Dieleman. They were fined $600 or 15 days in jail, placed on probation for 18 months and ordered to perform 150 hours of community service.
In court for the first time were Pat Bannon, Adele Scammell, Vera Stothers, Jeanie Arcand, Helen Vallii, Nancy Kuwabara, Yvonne Sabourin, John Hayes and Elizabeth Hannon. They were fined $300 or seven days in jail, placed on probation for a year and were ordered to perform 100 hours of community service.
As Justice Darragh handed down the sentences, four of the defendants – Austin, Stothers, Arcand and Venner – each made public their intention not to pay a fine under any circumstances. They were immediately taken into custody.
“By paying a $600 fine, I’m as much as saying I’m guilty,” Mrs. Venner, 68, told The Interim from the West Toronto Detention Centre where she was being held. “Well I’m not guilty of any crime. I’m a nurse, and a nurse is supposed to save lives. That’s what I was doing,” she added.
A fifth defendant, Adele Scammell, declined to come forward with the others when sentence was passed. When Justice Darragh ordered her removed from the courtroom after she had displayed a poster of an aborted baby, Miss Scammell fell to the floor and assumed a non-cooperative position. Court officers painfully handcuffed her from behind and dragged her from the room while a crowd of supporters outside applauded and prayed.
Scammell is a member of the Victim Souls for the Unborn Child. The U.S.-based group of full-time pro-life rescuers, led by Fr. Norm Weslin, undertake rescues at abortuaries where protests have been banned or where police have been brutal in their arrest of peaceful demonstrators.
British rescuers fined
A Magistrates Court in Stockport, England found three rescuers guilty September 12 of an offence against public order and imposed fines of up to ₤100 (more than 200 Canadian dollars).
The defendants were members of a group of 20 who had shut down the Stockport Abortion Centre May 19, 1990 by standing with arms linked in the doorway. After ‘clinic’ management claimed the rescuers were engaged in “illegal activity,” police made their arrests.
“The results are a little better than on most previous occasions, but still make no sense,” commented Rev. James Morrow, who had participated in the rescue, but was not arrested. “Those who were found guilty behaved like the rest, attempting sensibly and peacefully to save babies’ lives,” he added.
Omaha rescuers freed
I late summer, Omaha’s Douglas County District Court Judge Robert Burkhard overturned the convictions of 18 rescuers, He based his decision on the necessity of defending human life, a legal argument which has had little impact in U.S. rescuer trials.
Judge Burkhard wrote: “The evidence in these cases establishes, as a matter of law, justification for the defendants’ actions. The desirability of avoiding death and maiming of unborn children obviously, and as a matter of law, outweighs the desirability of avoiding the injury sought to e prevented by the ordinance involved herein. Commentators and case law uniformly agree that saving human life out of necessity generally justifies the violation of property rights. Human life is much more precious than property.”