The judge who told a pro-life activist “Your God is wrong” earlier this year came under scrutiny during an all-day appeal hearing at the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto on Sept. 19.
In a lengthy tirade, Justice S. Ford Clements had ripped Mary Wagner for what he saw as her “cowardly” attempt to speak to abortion-bound women inside the Bloor West Village Women’s Clinic, an abortion facility. She was convicted on charges of mischief and failing to comply with probation orders.
Although there had been no mention of God during the trial, Clements had said Wagner’s views were “no different” than those of Islamic jihadists. “Your own belief system … that is what gets people into trouble and that is why, in Syria, people are dying in the streets,” he said. “Get a grip. She sure wouldn’t like it if someone was standing on her doorstep everyday pushing her around.”
Those comments demonstrated a reasonable belief of bias on Clements’ part, defence lawyers Peter Boushy and Russell Browne said, as did his decision to sentence Wager to a six month sentence instead of a joint Crown-defence submission of 88 days in jail.
Boushy and Browne also said the judge’s questioning of Wagner as to whether she would obey the law, when she had chosen to exercise her right to remain silent, was improper.
Boushy said while the determination of bias by a judge is a difficult and nuanced process, the legal principle is that justice must not only be done; a “reasonable person” must be able to “realistically and practically conclude” justice had been served impartially.
Judges are held to stringent standards regarding bias, he said, adding it was “troublesome” that while Section 726 of the Criminal Code gives a judge no authority to engage a defendant in questioning during sentencing, Clements did just that. “Even with the high threshold (for determining bias on the part of a judge), intuitively how could a reasonable person not come away without a reasonable apprehension of bias?” Boushy asked.
Crown attorney Rick Nathanson countered that Clements was only concerned with protecting the public. “The issue is not with her beliefs … but her breaking the law and interfering with people’s rights,” he said.
He claimed that Clements was not attacking her religion and emphasized how the judge had said he had “absolutely no problem with her point of view.”
While Nathanson conceded some of Clements’ comments were “inelegant” and “unfortunate,” Nathanson said the judge was dealing with an “emotionally charged” issue. He also argued it was not improper of him to inquire of her as to whether Wagner would be a “further risk to the community” and said her increased sentence was proportional to what she had done.
In his final submissions, Boushy noted it was important that justice be seen to be done in the case, as leading media outlets such as the Sun News Network and National Post were covering it.
Judge Ken Campbell said he would reserve judgement and provide a written decision soon.
Meanwhile, Wagner is to appear in the Ontario Court of Justice at College Park on Oct. 9 at 10 a.m. for a bail hearing regarding her latest charges of mischief and two counts of failing to comply with probation orders after her recent arrest at the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site on Lawrence Avenue West in Toronto. She is incarcerated at the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton.
The Crown has indicated it will oppose her release pending trial, “no matter what.”
In a letter to a supporter from jail, Wagner said she has a lot of peace and is praying “for the guidance of the Holy Spirit here.” She said seven or eight inmates gather every morning for a Bible study and that may have resulted in her area of the jail being “calmer than I’ve ever experienced.”
She told the story of a pregnant fellow inmate who began singing the hymn Amazing Grace and “her baby started kicking up a storm – her T-shirt was moving all over the place! She said the baby usually saves the gymnastics for night-time, but I guess she wanted to praise (God), too!”
This article originally appeared Sept. 20 at LifeSiteNews.com and is reprinted with permission.