Attorney-General moves to gag peaceful expression
The Ontario government wants to make it illegal to peacefully protest abortion or to counsel women in selected cities across the province.
The Attorney General, Marion Boyd, began a court action in April of this year restricting pro-life activity. She was acting on the recommendation of a Task Group Report on access to abortion in the province. The task group was composed almost entirely of abortionists and abortion activists.
“I am seeking this injunction to ensure that women have access to legal health care services in this province,” said Boyd at the time of the announcement.
The injunction, if granted by the Ontario courts, would halt peaceful picketing and counseling on public property outside three abortion clinics in Toronto as well as at hospitals, abortionists’ homes and offices in London, Brantford and North Bay.
Pro-life leaders argue that it would be an unprecedented restriction of the rights of a group to assemble and peacefully protest in the province. They say Boyd is seeking to restrict the use of public streets and sidewalks by a group which opposes government policy. They add that she is restricting the flow of information about abortion and infringing the political rights and freedoms of citizens of the province who hold opinions contrary to the NDP government. Part of the injunction application includes a law suit against 18 pro-lifers from across the province.
The lawyers representing pro-life defendants against the Ontario Attorney General are calling this a classic civil-rights case.
But in spite of its clear-cut nature, the move by the province to ban pro-life counseling and picketing has yet to engage the attention of civil liberties groups, the media, or any of the other traditional defenders of free speech.
”I don’t want to be accused of hyperbole,” says David Brown, one of the defence lawyers representing the 18 pro-lifers against the province, “but I think it’s certainly going to be one of the most important civil-rights cases in Ontario in the 1990s.”
The mountains of evidence and hours of cross examination by lawyers representing the Attorney General boil down to one point, he says – the government is trying to crack down on peaceful activity on public property.
The case is set to be heard in January and lawyers expect the hearing to last three weeks. Lawyers representing the Attorney General have been joined by Morris Manning and Clayton Ruby, who are intervening in the case and representing the abortion clinics in Toronto. Their cross examinations of the defendants and some of the witnesses have resembled interrogations at times; some defendants have had to endure a grueling ordeal, lasting up to two days, of hostile questioning about their pro-life beliefs and activities.
“The crux of the case is that people should be allowed to express their pro-life opinions and picket against abortion on public property in a peaceful fashion,” says Brown. “As long ass they are doing that on public property in a peaceful fashion, there should not be an injunction.”
The injunction itself seeks to restrain the defendants from creating a public nuisance within 500 feet of 23 different locations across the province. Brown says one of the problems with the government case is that the allegations are vague.
“To create a public nuisance usually means there have to be elements of trespass, violence and disturbance,” he says. “That’s what the Attorney General is alleging. The affidavits filed by the defendants, however, show that what they are doing is peaceful. I think the only conclusion that one can reach is that the Attorney General is trying to stop any form of picketing expressing a pro-life view within 500 feet of any of these locations.”
The lawyers representing the pro-life defendants will continue to stress the point that the injunction is politically motivated and that one of the objectives of the Attorney General is to stop pro-life expression. Brown gives as an example Jim Hughes, president of Campaign Life Coalition, who is “perhaps the most politically situated of them all and does little picketing.” The injunction, which tries to keep pro-lifers off the streets, names Hughes in spite of the fact he confines his activities mainly to the political arm of the pro-life movement. The public record of another defendant, Errol Alchin, shows the extent of his picketing activities to be his participation in one Life Chain. His pro-life views are expressed through preaching against the evils of abortion from the pulpit. He seems to have been included with the other defendants because of some remarks he made to a newspaper during his participation in one of the Life Chains.
In a statement of defence filed in court, the lawyers argue that the injunction is a politically motivated attempt to halt the activities of a group which opposes the government and represents a constant thorn in its side.
So far the pro-life movement has been on its own defending itself against the government actions. Civil liberties groups and unions have shied away from supporting the rights which are threatened by the NDP action.
“Although this case is fundamentally a freedom of expression case, I think most people shy away from the content of the expression, that is abortion,” Brown says.
“That is sad because what is freedom of expression unless it applies to all expression?”
The Civil Liberties Union has not sought leave to intervene and Brown says he is surprised by their inaction as “this is a classic civil rights case.”
Brown is joined by Peter Jervis, who represents a number of the Toronto-based defendants. Jervis will concentrate on general freedom of expression arguments. He will argue that the sidewalk counselors are giving information which is helpful to the recipients. Jervis himself is even more outspoken about the move by the Attorney General.
“I believe that the government’s conduct is a flagrant violation of the Charter of Rights and flies in the face of our democratic and constitutional traditions,” he says. “When the government seeks to prevent something as basic as quiet prayer or peaceful communication on the public streets, it’s a sad day for Canada.”
He calls the lawsuit “an astonishing abuse of governmental power,” in that the government is trying “to totally limit the right to peaceful picket, peacefully communicate and peacefully assemble on the public streets, especially when the purpose is to communicate help and assistance to women.”
Peter Lauwers, who is representing Jane Ubertino, will be offering freedom of religion arguments in the case.
The defendants named in the suit are: CLC President Jim Hughes; John and Dan McCash of Toronto; Joanne Dieleman, Linda Groce and Dick Cochrane of Aid to Women in Toronto; Judy Johnson of Toronto; Jane Ubertino of Toronto; Barry D’Costa from Kitchener; Jack Baribeau from CLC London; John Bulsza and George Dienesch of London; Paul Charron of North Bay; Rhonda Wood, Ontario CLC Coordinator; Mary Ellen Douglas, Kingston president of CLC Ontario; and Paul Vandervet, Nancy Kuwabara and Errol Alchin of Brantford.
- Married, father of four, 50.
- Collects food for soup kitchens and battered women shelters.
- Former board member of the Catholic Children’s Aid Society.
- Came to the pro-life movement after a successful business career.
- President, CLC for last ten years.
- Says he has been named as a defendant in an attempt by the NDP to intimidate all pro-lifers.
- Studies political science at the University of Toronto, 21.
- Has been a long-time picketer and counselor outside abortion clinics in Toronto.
- Co-founder of Students for Life.
- Is now more involved with changing public policy through political action in his involvement with Liberals for Life.
- Computer consultant, born in Glasgow, father of three, 46.
- Major figure behind Liberals for Life, a group working within the Liberal Party to enact pro-life legislation.
- Sought the nomination in his home riding but was denied the chance by a Jean Chrétien appointment of a pro-abortion candidate.
- Born in Holland, RN, 57, married, eight children, two adopted, one with spina bifida, one mentally disabled.
- Cared for about 250 children as a foster parent. Many were handicapped or street children.
- Co-director Aid to Women crisis pregnancy centre in Toronto, located next to the Buriana Abortion Clinic.
- Mother of three.
- Full-time crisis pregnancy counselor with Aid to Women.
- Came to realize the importance of counseling after herself having an abortion without any advice or information about the development of her child.
- Has provided concrete help to many women facing difficulties in their pregnancies.
- Born in Angra, India, in 1925. Served Royal Indian Air Force.
- Married, children.
- Director of Aid to Women Crisis Pregnancy Centre.
- Served with the St. Vincent de Paul Society and was a school trustee with the MSSB in Toronto.
- Feels pro-lifers must do everything they can to provide for women in crisis pregnancy situations.
- Former teacher, 52, mother of five.
- Foster mother for the Catholic Children’s Aid Society providing emergency care for needy children.
- Candidate for FCP.
- Pro-life speaker and volunteer at CLC office.
- A regular sidewalk counselor outside Toronto abortuaries offering assistance to pregnant women.
- Married to a Ukrainian-rite priest, mother of three.
- Believes in the “seamless garment” approach to the pro-life issue.
- Works in a church mission in one of Toronto’s housing projects.
- Prays in front of an abortion clinic in Toronto.
- Third year philosophy major at the University of Waterloo.
- Single, 22.
- Co-founder of Students for Life.
- Long-time dedicated pro-life worker in the Kitchener-Waterloo area.
- Member of the Communication, Energy and Paper Workers’ Union, has participated in labour-related picketing.
- Married, three children, 36, owner of a construction firm.
- Lives in London.
- Foster parent for three children in underdeveloped countries.
- President of London area CLC.
- His primary pro-life work is in the political arena, working with MPs and MPPs.
- Has been a Life Chain organizer.
- Teacher, married, two daughters, 43.
- Lives in London.
- Active volunteer in his community, working with mentally handicapped adults.
- Became involved in pro-life movement while a student at Western in 1973.
- Staff advisor for the pro-life group at his high school.
- Philosophy major, 23, at the University of Waterloo.
- Heavily involved in community drama, theatre and music.
- Actively involved in Canadian Youth Pro-Life Organization.
- Founded Chatham Students for Life and King’s Students for Life.
- Became involved in pro-life work after the Supreme Court struck down the abortion law in 1988.
- Retired businessman, married, eight children, 67.
- Extensive community activity including prison, hospital and nursing home visits.
- Volunteers in a soup kitchen.
- Active pro-lifer in the North Bay area.
. RHONDA WOOD
- RNA, married, mother of two, 40.
- Ontario coordinator for CLC.
- Pres. of Brampton Right to Life.
- Came from the pro-choice position to her firmly-held pro-life beliefs.
- Says she doesn’t know why she is a defendant in this matter other than the fact she is spokesperson for a group which opposes the NDP’s policies.
MARY ELLEN DOUGLAS
- Married with five children.
- Ontario president of CLC.
- Has serve as a school board trustee and on the board of governors for the Kingston General Hospital.
- First became involved in the pro-life movement 1971 while working with Birthright, supporting pregnant women.
- Lawyer, married, three children, 46.
- Lives in Brantford.
- Former President of Brant Right to Life.
- A Big Brother for 10 years.
- Member of the Christian Legal Fellowship and the St. Thomas More Lawyers Guild.
- Married, mother of six, 41.
- Lives in Brantford.
- Graduated from University of Windsor, former case worker for the Essex County Social Services.
- Involved with Big Sisters.
- Runs a homeschool support group.
- On the board of directors for Grace Fellowship Non-profit Housing Corporation.
- Married, four children, 67.
- Lives in Paris, Ontario.
- Has been pastor at Pentecostal churches.
- Presently overseer of pastors of Elim Fellowship in Canada.
- His pro-life activity is limited to one Life Chain in 1990: does not belong to any pro-life group.
- Confines his pro-life activities to preaching to his congregation.