Officials accused of ignoring attacks on pro-lifers, and going easy on pro-aborts

Several recent legal cases in Ontario and Alberta could leave the impression that the capricious nature of the legal system is being used against pro-lifers. This past summer the police and courts have seemingly employed a double standard in dealing with allegations against pro-life activists.

The day before police arrested three pro-lifers for violating an injunction prohibiting free speech outside of Ontario’s abortion clinics, they failed to respond to a complaint by pro-life activist Bill Whatcott, who says he was assaulted and had his picket sign destroyed while conducting a peaceful and legal demonstration in Toronto. Once they did interview him, a day later, they seemed to drag their feet on the investigation.

Despite a license plate number and other compelling evidence, the police did not charge 43-year-old Simon Brownstone until July 19, and even then it was not for assault but mischief under $5,000. Once the case made it to court on August 23, Judge K. Madigan dismissed the charge at the request of the Crown. Apparently a deal had been arranged after Brownstone agreed to donate $50 to a local charity. Whatcott received no compensation for his sign, which cost more than $100.

Pro-life activist and counsellor Robert Hinchey has been assaulted three times, and in his opinion the police have not been responsive. Hinchey alleges a driver of a medical waste truck destroyed property, physically threatened him and assaulted him on July 15. According to Hinchey, despite an audio tape and witnesses, the police response was to blame Hinchey for the incident.

Twelve days later, Hinchey alleges the driver once again assaulted him, this time shoving the camera into his face causing cuts and bruising. The police took his complaint, but Hinchey told The Interim, “I don’t think they’re going to do anything about it.”

In another incident, an escort at the “Cabbagetown Women’s Clinic” allegedly knocked down Hinchey with a body check.

Meanwhile, Whatcott has been arrested because police say his pro-life witness was causing a disturbance. Witnesses say Whatcott was outside the “bubble zone” – the no-protest zone established by the province-wide injunction.

At the same time, pro-aborts have had several recent legal victories. On September 14, charges were withdrawn against two participants in a demonstration against Human Life International. The men where arrested at an April 10 protest organized by the Rage Against HLI Coalition, consisting of Anti Racist Action, the Revolutionary Anarchist Women’s Collective, and the New Socialist Group, among others. The Crown withdrew charges of “assault police” citing a lack of evidence.

On August 25, multiple charges against a youth were stayed. The accused was arrested for his role in an Anti-Racist Action demonstration against Show the Truth in Toronto on July 10, 1998. The accused had been charged with “assault police,” “possession of a weapon for a purpose dangerous to the public peace,” “mischief,” and “wearing a disguise with intent to commit an indictable offense.”

Despite the severity of the charges, Judge Sheppard accepted the defense argument that the 13-month delay from charge to trial was unreasonable. Sheppard claimed the defendant, now 19, as a “child” had a “different perception of time” and thus the 13-month delay was unreasonable.

One observer said the crown’s case was inept, questioning the commitment of the crown attorney’s office to pursue justice in this case.

Also over the summer, the Calgary police conducted a half-hearted investigation of allegations of infanticide at Foothills Hospital, and that only after public pressure. Reform MP Jason Kenney questioned the integrity of the police investigation and called for a provincial probe. Alberta Pro-Life president Joanne Hatton said the flaws in the investigation, including failing to interview witnesses, illustrated that the police were not serious about investigating the allegations.

Do all these incidents show a bias in the way police investigate, crown attorneys argue and judges decide cases involving pro-life and pro-abortion protesters? Many pro-lifers say it does.

Whatcott, who has been arrested numerous times, alleges mistreatment at the hands of police in downtown Toronto.

He told The Interim that he believes “51 Division doesn’t like pro-lifers.” He said they have used their discretion to hamper pro-life witness, harass pro-life demonstrators and protect abortuary business.

“It isn’t right” Whatcott complained. “They have to enforce the laws, not decide to whom they apply.”

Whatcott’s lawyer Paul Vandervet says both the police and the Crown have a fair bit of discretion in deciding how to apply the law. But Vandervet said sometimes the decisions seem to based as much on “political correctness” as the legal merits of the case.

He cited the example of crown attorney Paul Culver’s intervention to drop police charges of public indecency in a Toronto gay bar. The Crown “seems to be jumping in more and more,” Vandervet said of the increasingly political nature of that office.

Vandervet said politics should not play a role, because one side will be favoured and justice will no longer be blind.

“If a matter is reported,” Vandervet said, “and clearly … it appears to violate the Criminal Code, there should be an investigation. Go forward, collect evidence and, if necessary, lay charges. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case.”

Vandervet offered one solution for pro-lifers: sue in small claims court. He said Whatcott could sue for both the alleged assault and for compensation for his destroyed sign.