Charges against Anti-Racist Action members stayed
due to unusual ‘institutional delay’
A recent court decision to drop all charges against 11 Anti-Racist Action (ARA) members who violently disrupted a Show the Truth demonstration in Toronto two years ago has left pro-life supporters again wondering about the capricious nature of Ontario’s legal system.
Mr. Justice Robert Bigelow of the Ontario court ruled September 14 that the Charter rights of the accused to be tried in a reasonable period of time had been breached in the long interval between arrest and trial.
Ten ARA members, along with another under-age activist, were charged with obstructing a roadway and assaulting police for their part in a counter-demonstration at a July, 1998 Show the Truth exhibit at Queen’s Park in Toronto. In addition to blocking traffic, the ARA activists scuffled with police and shouted obscene slogans during the 90-minute pro-life witness.
Show the Truth demonstrations, which are lawful and peaceful, make use of graphic posters of aborted preborn children to alert communities to the true nature of abortion. Organizers say they have never met with the kind of hostility displayed by the ARA counter-protesters, some of whom wore masks and carried signs affixed to baseball bats.
While ARA was established to oppose acts of racism and hate crime, it has become one of the most extreme and violent supporters of legalized abortion. Although the left-leaning Canadian Human Rights Commission has distanced itself from ARA, organizations such as the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League (CARAL) and the Ontario Coalition of Abortion Clinics have readily allied themselves with the ARA to press for “reproductive choice.”
The group played a key role in organizing violent demonstrations against the Human Life International (HLI) conference in Toronto in April, 1999.
Representing the ARA activists at the September 14 appearance at Toronto’s Old City Hall courthouse, lawyers Paul Copeland and Bob Kellerman argued that justice would not be served by going ahead with two-year-old charges. Crown attorney Maggie Rogers, meanwhile, was unable to convince Mr. Justice Bigelow to uphold the obstruction charges against the ARA group.
The decision to drop charges against the ARA members is remarkable, considering the fact that only two in 10,000 Ontario court cases are “stayed” due to unreasonable delay in bringing the case to trial.
Ms. Rogers told The Interim Sept. 20 that “institutional delay” and a lack of court resources were the main reasons the charges were not pursued aggressively by the Crown. While the Crown had sought to prohibit ARA members from gathering at Queen’s Park as one of the bail conditions, pro-life observers felt it lacked a clear willingness to prosecute the matter from the beginning.
Rogers, who was assigned the case only in August, denied that senior Crown officials deliberately allowed the case to linger for more than two years.
Brendan Crawley, an official with the Ontario Attorney-General’s office, said that while the Crown was prepared to prosecute the case against the ARA members, it simply waited much too long to bring the defendants to trial. He added that the Attorney-General’s office does not influence Crown prosecutors in terms of how expeditiously to pursue individual cases.
However, Crawley said it is “quite uncommon” in Ontario for cases to be dropped due to unreasonable delay in going to trial.
“This is particularly true at Old City Hall court, where the time-to-trial is typically three to four months. Province-wide, in 1998 and 1999, only .02 per cent of charges in the system over eight months were dismissed due to unreasonable delay by the Crown,” Crawley said. “The vast majority of charges do go to trial within the guidelines set down by the Supreme Court.”
He added that the Supreme Court guidelines call for a maximum of eight months between the initial laying of charges and bringing the case to trial.
Rosemary Connell, one of the organizers of the July, 1998 Show the Truth tour, resigned herself to news that the Ontario Court chose to drop the charges against the ARA group.
“I’m disappointed, but not surprised with the news,” Connell told The Interim. “It makes me wonder if the Crown would be so lackadaisical with charges against pro-life supporters.”
The 10 ARA activists appearing in court September 14 were Amber Ternus, David Cheater, David Fingrut, Giles Grierson, Joanne Bender, John Mura, Kenneth Theobald, Reena Katz, Sue Collis, and Ronald Tulk. An eleventh member, Kellee Hodge, had her charges dropped several weeks earlier.