Linda Gibbons was sentenced to the maximum of six months in prison, with 29 days yet to serve when taking into account time already in custody, as her sentencing hearing concluded at the provincial court at College Park in downtown Toronto Sept. 11. Gibbons has been in and out of jail for years over her protests outside Toronto abortion clinics, during which she silently walks back and forth on the sidewalk, and offers counseling to women who come to the clinic to abort their babies.
Gibbons was been found guilty of disobeying a court order at the conclusion of her trial on Sept. 9, by Madam Justice Feroza Bhabha, in relation to her peaceful protest outside the “Morgentaler Clinic” abortion site in Toronto on June 11. That facility is protected by a “bubble zone” law that prohibits pro-life activity within a certain perimeter around the building.
Bhabha rejected defence counsel Daniel Santoro’s two arguments: that an injunction protecting the abortion site did not apply to Gibbons and that even if it did, her conduct on that date did not constitute a violation of its terms. Bhabha said the document’s language encompassing “John Doe and Jane Doe and persons unknown” meant Gibbons was included and that Santoro’s argument was a “collateral attack” on the injunction, a process that has to be pursued in Superior Court. Morgentaler lawyer Clayton Ruby had argued the same in his surprise appearance before the court at the previous trial hearing.
As well, Bhabha accepted the testimonies of Morgentaler “operations manager” Shayna Hodgson and Intercon Security guard Brett Kitchen in ruling that Gibbons’s actions of wearing a large placard, standing in close proximity to the site’s door and engaging clients in dialogue meant she was “disturbing, interrupting or attempting to interrupt” the functioning of the Morgentaler site, conduct which is prohibited by terms of the injunction.
Prior to adjournment, the Crown indicated that, in light of numerous similar past convictions dating to 1994, it would be seeking a six-month jail term with a credit only on a one-for-one basis for the number of days served since June 11. Santoro countered that a four- to six-month term was appropriate, with credit on a one-and-a-half-to-one basis for time served.
At the sentencing hearing, the judge went on to administer a tongue-lashing to Gibbons at sentencing hearing.
“She has indicated no remorse to the court,” Bhabha said angrily. “She believes in the rightness of her cause … (but) abortions are legal. Miss Gibbons does not appreciate that it’s a legal right.”
The judge added a “strong message” needs to be sent to her and others that “there needs to be respect for the law” and she characterized Gibbons as “a martyr for her cause … it’s very likely that she will appear again before this court.”
Bhabha said that Gibbons and others need to face the fact the democratic process allows them avenues other than law-breaking to address laws with which they don’t agree. Failure to follow that process, she said, leads to “mayhem and anarchy … what if people didn`t believe in gun control laws and decided which laws they would obey?”
The judge said Gibbons’s continual appearance before the courts meant she was not amenable to “rehabilitation” and her conduct “must be denounced,” with general deterrence emphasized in order to “enhance respect for the law.” She turned down defence counsel Daniel Santoro’s submission that Gibbons be credited on a one-and-a-half-to-one basis for time already served and instead agreed with the Crown that credit would be only one-to-one.
That elicited groans from one of Gibbons’s supporters in the public gallery and prompted Bhabha to sharply tell him to be quiet. “We’ve heard this all before,” said the man, to which Bhabha said, “if you’re bored, then leave.”
Gibbons’s friend, Mary Burnie, was also watching and asked to address the court, but was told, “no, you may not,” by the judge, who then gathered her belongings and stormed out of the room.
The blow-up carried shades of the incident last year in which fellow pro-life demonstrator Mary Wagner was denounced and attacked by Justice S. Ford Clements, whose sentence was later overturned, and inflammatory comments reprimanded by an appeals court judge. Clements also ejected one of Wagner’s supporters from the courtroom on that occasion. A complaint to the Judicial Council of Ontario over Clements’s conduct is still in the making.
Santoro has already said he will appeal the conviction, along with two earlier ones levied by Justices Mara Beth Greene and William R. Wolski, on the bases that a court injunction protecting the Morgentaler site does not apply to Gibbons and, even if it does, her conduct does not constitute a breach of its conditions.
Outside court, Burnie, who speaks to Gibbons by telephone almost daily, said her friend’s spirits behind bars are “very good” and she continues to hold the respect of her fellow prisoners. Burnie lamented, however, that a planned joint stay at a cottage will now have to be delayed until after Gibbons’s Oct. 10 release.
Meanwhile, fellow pro-life demonstrator Mary Wagner is due in court at 1000 Finch Avenue West on Oct. 7-8 for the continuation of her trial on charges of mischief and failing to comply with probation orders. She was arrested on August 15, 2012 at the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site on Lawrence Avenue West in Toronto and has been in custody since that time while refusing to accede to bail conditions that include staying away from abortion locations.
The judge in her case, Justice Fergus O’Donnell, in June turned down her request for public funding of a challenge to the Criminal Code’s denial of human status for the unborn. Currently, the law dictates that human status is conferred on a child only after he has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of his mother, whether or not he has breathed, has an independent circulation or has had his navel cord severed. O’Donnell’s written decision has still not been released.
In light of the denial, and Wagner’s returning of a legal aid certificate, a group of pro-life supporters is moving to set up a “Mary Wagner Legal Defence Fund,” which will seek to raise the perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars needed for a full challenge to the abortion law, led by her counsel, Dr. Charles Lugosi. The process would involve the calling of expert witnesses, the employment of assistant legal counsels and more.
In a letter to O’Donnell dated August 27 confirming her withdrawal from Legal Aid, Wagner said her constitutional rights are being violated. “I believe that I am unfairly and illegally being denied full answer and defence,” she said. “I have no other recourse than to directly appeal to the public for donations … I put my hope in the people of Canada to enable me to make full answer and defence.”
Versions of this article originally appeared as separate stories on Sept. 9 and Sept. 11 at LifeSiteNews and are used with permission.