Two well-known sayings suggest that “justice is blind” and “the law is an ass.” After a recent court case in Toronto, pro-lifers might tend to agree on both counts.

A woman who pepper sprayed a crisis pregnancy counsellor as he was assisting a pregnant client at a St. Michael’s Hospital clinic last summer was convicted of assault March 24, but was then given an absolute discharge – meaning no criminal record – at a sentencing hearing four days later.

Judge Cathy Mocha commended 43-year-old Carol Ann Trueman (also known as Carol Ann Campbell-Trueman), an employee of the YWCA Stop 86 Young Women’s Shelter in Toronto, for being “truly remorseful.” Mocha, noting that abortion is “an emotional issue,” said Trueman was acting out of fear, not aggression, when she blinded Robert Hinchey of the Aid to Women agency for about 15 minutes with a blast of pepper spray into his face from close range last August 29.

The judge also suggested Trueman “misperceived” Hinchey’s actions and said the attacker didn’t realize the actual effects of a pepper spray attack. The judge added she was satisfied there was no need for either general or specific deterrence in the matter, especially since Trueman had no previous criminal record and neither she nor Hinchey had any contact with each other before or after the incident.

Outside court afterwards, the soft-spoken Hinchey said he was “disappointed” that his assailant did not receive even a probationary term after such a violent attack. Other observers had more pointed words to say about the case, and said the legal proceedings were marred by numerous instances of irregularities and questionable conduct on the part of the police and Crown attorney’s office.

There was a divergence between the Crown and defence over the circumstances surrounding the attack. Defence lawyer Todd Ducharme would only concede that a pepper spray attack took place, and that his client was the culprit. However, he would not agree to any of Hinchey’s other statements, especially those that suggested the pregnant woman with Hinchey at St. Michaels’ Hospital was there of her own volition.

According to Hinchey’s sworn testimony in court, the pregnant 18-year-old woman, known by the first name of Shermyleen, was staying at the Stop 86 shelter because she was an illegal immigrant to Canada. After becoming pregnant, she sought out an abortion and had a laminaria tent (which expands the cervix) inserted in preparation for the procedure. However, she later changed her mind about going through with the abortion and agreed on three separate occasions to accept Hinchey’s help in having the procedure reversed, with the laminaria tent removed. Her wishes in the matter were later confirmed by a police officer who interviewed her privately.

It was while Shermyleen and Hinchey were in the waiting room of the St. Michael’s Hospital clinic that two women burst out of an elevator, grabbed Shermyleen and began dragging her toward the elevator. Shouting for help to a nearby security guard, Hinchey attempted to stop what he perceived to be a kidnapping in progress by separating the two strangers from his client. It was at that point, Hinchey said, that one of the women pulled out a can and sprayed him in the face with a noxious substance that was later found to be pepper spray.

Blinded and in fear of damage to his eyesight, Hinchey was unable to see the two women leave with his client in tow. The irrigation of his eyes by a doctor allowed him to see again about 15 minutes later, as the clinic was cleared of patients and staff, and firefighters with gasmasks swarmed the floor.

Hinchey required further treatment before his eyesight was fully restored, suffered a scratched eyeball and had to take antibiotics for several days to ward off infection. In contacting police afterwards, he and other pro-life representatives were told there was no record of the incident.

However, following media pressure that included investigation by Joanne Byfield of Report newsmagazine (now the Citizen’s Centre Report) and LifeSite News, Toronto police acknowledged that Trueman had indeed been charged with assault with a weapon at the scene and released. That set in motion a judicial saga that involved several remands, a skewed police synopsis of the matter, pre-trial deliberations that led to a reduction of the charge from assault with a weapon to simple assault, and a sentencing hearing that essentially let a violent attacker go scott-free.

At the hearing in which the court took Trueman’s guilty plea, Hinchey was put on the witness stand and allowed to give testimony with an agreement that there be no cross-examination by either the Crown or the defence. That arrangement raised the eyebrows of retired Toronto police officer Kevin McNiff, who was in the courtroom at the time. He told The Interim later that he had never seen such a judicial procedure in all his years of policing.

Judge Mocha expressed puzzlement on several occasions about whether Hinchey’s statements were being accepted as fact, or were simply his perceptions of what took place. After extensive further discussions between Crown attorney Chris Punter and Hinchey, which included a break for a recess, Punter said he wouldn’t push the issue of Hinchey’s perceptions being accepted as facts.

“I’m not asking you to make the finding of fact,” Punter told the judge. That created the escape hatch through which Trueman was able to jump and escape sanction for her crime.

Also prompting surprise to observers in the case was the fact that Judge Mocha, who took the plea and pronounced the sentence, was involved in the pre-trial deliberations, and neither the defence nor the Crown had a problem with it.

That, said McNiff, was unusual since it raised the spectre of a conflict of interest.

Punter asked the court for an unspecified “deterrent sentence,” which was to include a minimum of some form of probation, with conditions that Trueman not have any contact with Hinchey and not have in her possession any kind of weapon, including pepper spray or dog repellant.

Ducharme, meanwhile, submitted that his client was carrying pepper spray out of fear from several sexual assaults that had occurred in her area. Trueman, he said, had been stressed by the publicity in the case and was undergoing therapy and anger management sessions. He said she was “dressed down” by the YWCA agency, which took her actions “very seriously.” He also said she wished to apologize to Hinchey and others affected by the attack.

Toronto pro-life leaders said later the matter is far from closed. They are examining the possibility of a civil action on Hinchey’s behalf and also wish to draw scrutiny to the actions of the police and Crown attorney’s office in the case. Pro-lifers note that “the book” is usually thrown at pro-lifers who transgress the law in a peaceful manner – such as Linda Gibbons, who has spent months in jail at a time for quiet and prayerful demonstrations outside abortuaries.