Earlier this year, the executive of a professional association of Roman Catholic judges and lawyers in Toronto was asked by one of its members to take a stand against the continuing illegal operation of the Morgentaler Clinic. After polling its members, the executive decided not to take a position, a decision which has concerned many of its members.
The Interim has obtained a copy of a letter sent in the name of Judge Karen M. Weiler (but not signed), president of the Thomas More Lawyers’ Guild, informing the members that the Guild had been asked to write to Attorney General Ian Scott expressing its views on the matter. Judge Weiler asked that members let her know whether the Guild should “advocate a position in this matter.”
“As a member of the judiciary,” Judge Weiler wrote, “it would be inappropriate for me to participate in this discussion.” If the Guild adopted a position, the Judge said, “While I can only speak for myself, other members of the judiciary who are also members of the Guild may also wish to consider their continued participation in the activities of the Guild…”
In responding to Judge Weiler’s request for members’ views, David T. Bennett, Q.C., a founder and former president of the Guild, wrote to the Guild’s secretary Duncan McRae.
“It should be unnecessary,” he wrote, “to emphasize to lawyers that, in face of the decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal setting aside the acquittal of Morgentaler in respect of the operation of his Toronto clinic, it is an affront to the intelligence of any fair-minded lawyer to be told by the Government that nothing can be done respecting the continued operation of the clinic pending the accused’ appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Government has been told again and again that further charges should be laid and the usual bail order made conditional on there being no operation of the clinic pending retrial of the accused.”
“I have no hesitation” he continued, “in stating that the Guild should and must protest to the Attorney General the continuing operation of the Morgentaler clinic and thus express the view of the knowledgeable and influential community. To fail to do so in the name of a “benevolent neutralism” is not only to misunderstand the true notion of pluralism but is a deception which precisely plays into the hands of the abortionists who are by no means neutral and promote their views in an astounding pushy manner.”
Mr. Bennett also criticized Judge Weiler’s assertion that she could not take a position. “I see no valid reason why the judiciary as members of the Guild should not take a stand in favour of the rights and security of the unborn just as Catholic priests and bishops languish in jails in China and elsewhere in defence of their faith and ’prisoners of conscience’ supported by Amnesty International suffer in defence of their fundamental rights as human persons.” He said.
Mr. Bennett pointed out that judges are chosen as men and women “qualified and able to make judgments according to law,” and their personal opposition to various crimes does not affect their competence to reach correct judicial decisions.
Judge Weiler’s decision to consult the membership on this issue involves “an abdication of responsibility” on the part of the executive in Mr. Bennett’s view.
“The decision in question” he said, “is peculiarly within the competence of your directors. True, the decision involves some risk and requires courage, the members elected the directors in the belief that they were capable of that responsibility and possessed the courage required.”
On March 6, Thomas More Guild members received a letter from secretary Duncan McRae who reported that “the majority of the responses received advocated that no position should be taken,” although he did not report how many members had expressed their opinion.
In the “considered opinion” of the executive, he said, “no reasoning is premised on two considerations. Firstly from a historical perspective the Guild has not previously intervened in legal issues. While the legality of the Morgentaler Clinic may stimulate some animated discussion of morality and the law, the essence of any writing to the Attorney General would nevertheless be concerned with alleged violations of the law. Secondly, while the whole issue of abortion may readily be the subject of continuing discussion among some of our members, we cannot ignore the fact that we are concerned with man’s law soon to be determined by the Supreme Court of Canada.”
Such pragmatism on the part of the Thomas More Guild executive deeply concerns Gwen Landolt, a Guild member and legal counsel to many pro-life organizations. “What is the purpose of the Guild,” she asked, “if not to uphold Catholic teaching?” The major example of this is Thomas More himself.