P.C. David Packer’s appeal against his dismissal from the Metro Toronto police force for refusing to guard the Morgentaler clinic was heard by the Board of Police Commissioners on December 19 and 10, 1988. Defence lawyer Harry Black relied heavily on labour law concerning the relations between employers and employees, to try to show that his client did not act unreasonably.

When Packer told Staff Sgt. Griffiths on April 8, 1987, that he could not do the detail assigned him, the Police Commissioners where reminded that Griffiths and his superior Superintendent Getty did not even consider whether Packer’s wishes could be accommodated. Yet the possibility of an officer’s having moral objections to such work had been discussed at a meeting the previous January, according to Packer. The employer was delinquent, Black contended, in not taking account of an employee’s conscientious objections: the Superintendent was contravening Packer’s fundamental rights of freedom of conscience and religion.

Black paid less attention to a point stressed by Packer’s wife, Anne, on a phone-in-radio programme some months previously. Her husband was a police officer, a caller said, and had to obey orders. In answer she said that had been Klaus Barbie’s excuse – and he was on trial in France for carrying out orders. The command to guard the ‘clinic’ (the term was actually used; Packer noted it down) could not have been a lawful one, in Packer’s view, since the Criminal Code provisions against abortion were still in force and the clinic was operating illegally.

No conscience

For the prosecution, Staff-Inspector John Addison contended that if police officers have a right to disobey orders which conflict with their own beliefs, then chaos will result. By joining the police force, he insisted, officers give up certain freedoms held by ordinary citizens.

“When the day comes we police this city along the lines of conscience,” he said, “we will have anarchy. It is not practical to act on the basis of conscience.”

If you overturn this decision, he told the Board – which is composed of lay member, not police officers – you will be undermining the Police Act.

If the matter had been so serious, some of the discussion which followed could have been looked on as farcical. One commissioner, lawyer Jane Pepino, took offence at Parker’s reference to abortion as an “abomination”.

Others seemed to regard him as a religious zealot who needed to be rehabilitated; what would happen, they speculated, if he were asked to go to a hospital where abortions were being performed and arrest someone? Forgetting his previous excellent record, they treated him as someone thoroughly undependable.

Black argued that the penalty of dismissal awarded at the earlier hearing was far too severe; Staff-Inspector John Addison had not even asked for something this extreme. If anything, he said, the appropriate penalty would be a reprimand and a warning.

The decision of the Board of Commissioners will be announced on January 12, 1989.

If it is unfavourable to him, Packer intends to take his fight to the Ontario Human Rights Commission and to higher courts. “My position is the truth”, he said, “and I’m willing to defend it. It’s been tough on me but I will soldier on.”