Ontario Attorney General Charles Harnick failed to tip his hand about the province’s plans for a lingering injunction and court case against 18 pro-lifers.
Speaking Febraury 13 to the North York Retired Men’s Club, Harnick said it would be inappropriate to comment on a case still before the courts. He said rulings made since the injunction and court case were launched will dictate his ministry’s response.
“I will only say that the motivating factor behind what we have done is to follow the logic behind the decision of Mr. Justice (George) Adams and we have followed that logic because one of the aspects that we have to be very careful about is public safety,” Harnick said. “And he (Justice Adams) has laid out a plan to ensure public safety and it would be unwise not to follow that advice.”
Pro-life supporters are disappointed with Harnick’s response. They have been pressing the Attorney General to drop the court case and injunction since the Conservative government was elected last June. While in opposition, the Conservatives, including Charles Harnick, criticized previous NDP Attorney General Marion Boyd’s action as an unnecessary restraint on freedom of speech. Many pro-lifers anticipated the new Conservative government would drop the matter shortly after their election win.
Shortly after coming to power in June, Harnick told reporters he would review the injunction, adding that he saw the issue as one of free speech, rather than abortion rights. He also expressed concern about imposing any kind of restraint on peaceful, legal public protest.
David Brown, a lawyer representing some of 18 pro-life defendants, said it would be inappropriate to speculate on the likelihood of the Conservative government dropping the injunction and lawsuit. He added however that a B.C. court decision overturning similar legislation could impact the Ontario case.
“I’d be delighted if the Attorney General decided to drop the case immediately,” said Paul Vandervet, one of the 18 pro-life defendants. “At some point the government is going to have to make a decision on this issue.”
The court action was initiated by former NDP Attorney General Marion Boyd in April 1993. It was taken in response to recommendations from the Task Group Report on Access to Abortion, a body composed entirely of abortion supporters. The injunction banned pro-life activity within 500 feet of 23 locations across the province. The injunction also sought $500,000 in damages from 18 individual pro-lifers.
An August, 1994 ruling by Justice Adams allowed limited pro-life activity around hospitals, abortion clinics and doctors’ offices, and dismissed all charges against two of the 18 pro-lifers named in the Boyd injunction. Last March, Justice Adams ruled the defendants would not be compensated for legal expenses, leaving them with a bill approaching $400,000.
In response to questions at the February 13 meeting, Harnick said he has no plans to dismiss staff appointed to the Attorney General’s office by the NDP government. “In terms of the lawyers who work for us, I make the decisions, they don’t.” Harnick said. “They supply me with advise, and I get advice from a wide source of areas, but ultimately those decisions are mine.”
The question was prompted by the apparent ideological differences, particularly regarding abortion, between the former NDP government and the Mike Harris Conservatives.
Pro-life supporters plan to continue pressing the Attorney General to drop the injunction and lawsuit.