Metro Toronto Police finally finished their three-and-a-half month investigation into the city’s two illegal abortion clinics and arrested three abortionists, only to have the rug pulled out from under them when Attorney General Ian Scott moved swiftly to ensure that they were not brought to trial. After an early-morning arrest, the three were free again by lunchtime, announcing that they were rushing off to the clinics to resume work.
Early on September 24, Metro Police arrested Henry Morgentaler, Robert Scott and Nikki Colodny at their homes and charged all three individually with procuring a miscarriage, contrary to Section 251 of the Criminal Code. They were held in custody until a bail hearing later in the morning. At the hearing, the Attorney General’s office asked for, and were granted a “stay of proceedings.” Further action on the case will not betaken until the Supreme Court of Canada rules on Morgentaler’s appeal of the October 1985 decision of the Ontario Supreme Court (which overturned the acquittal of November 1984). This allowed the three abortionists to walk free from the court with no conditions restricting their activities.
During the day it became clear, in press conferences and interviews, that there was a clash of opinions between Police Chief Jack Marks and Attorney General Scott over the timing of this police action.
Chief Marks stated that the arrests were the conclusion of a police investigation that began late May, when the second clinic operated by Robert Scott opened. He indicated that the investigation had been hampered by “certain circumstances,” acknowledging that the Ontario doctors’ strike this summer had slowed down the process. Clearly, the police were reluctant to lay charges when access to legal abortions was severely limited. (Readers will recall that many hospitals suspended their abortion committees during the strike.) A prosecution started at that time would have been more vulnerable to the illegal abortionists successfully claiming a defence of necessity.
The police chief pointed out that the stay of proceedings meant that a trial was postponed rather than dismissed. The police evidence of illegal abortion offences remains before the court, although no action can be taken on it until one year has elapsed. Chief Marks indicated that he knew the Attorney General would intervene to delay a trial. He implied, however, that he was surprised that the stay of proceedings had been made so early in the court process.
Paul Dodds, legal counsel for Campaign Life, applauded the police action but was highly critical of the Attorney General’s intervention. “The police did their part to enforce the law by laying charges,” he said. “The Attorney General undid all that work by refusing to ask for bail conditions. Normally in such circumstances, an accused would have bail conditions imposed upon him which would effectively prevent him from renewing the offence.”
Mr. Dodds pointed out that the media were alerted to the arrests the day before, when they received a press release announcing police intentions issued by Evelyn Gigantes (NDP- Ottawa Centre). Pro-abortion supporters were also aware of the police actions and duly appeared, carrying picket signs and chanting slogans, at the court house and police station. “It was well-orchestrated,” commented Mr. Dodds, “one would think it had been rehearsed.”
The Interim contacted Ms. Gigantes’ office in an attempt to clarify her involvement in the affair. Ms. Gigantes was in Thunder Bay at a caucus meeting at the time and was not available. Her press assistant declined to speak for Ms. Gigantes and reveal her source of information for police activities. She said though that they received “enough information from reliable sources” and that “we thought it would be responsible to inform the public.”
Ms. Gigantes is a pro-abortion supporter. She arranged for a room at Queens Park to be made available to Morgentaler and associates earlier this fall when he held a press conference deploring police investigative tactics outside his abortuary. He claimed that women were being “harassed” by undercover officers. Ms. Gigantes sat on the panel, supporting Morgentaler’s allegations, at that press conference.
The Toronto Star was the first newspaper to publicly criticize the police while supporting Ian Scott. In an editorial the following day, the Star called it “just one more attempt by the authorities to harass Morgentaler, to expose him to more crippling legal costs…”
Campaign Life’s Paul Dodds, however, thought if was more a ploy on Ian Scott’s part “to make himself look the good guy by stepping on the police.” Mr. Dodds said it is “one more indication that in Ontario we have a biased Attorney General, doing everything in his power to protect the abortionists, while protesting he is doing all he legally can to close the clinic.”