Three B.C. pro-lifers were found guilty of civil contempt of court on December 13 for counselling outside the Everywoman’s Health Centre in Vancouver.
In making the decision, Mr. Justice Low admitted the term “watching or besetting” which is in the 1989 court order restricting pro-life activity outside the clinic, is “difficult to define.”
However, he decided the actions of one of the accused pro-lifers were “provoking and upsetting, far beyond attendance merely for the purpose of communicating information.” He said the other two “persistently importuned people who did not want to deal them.” These actions, he said, constitute watching and besetting.
Christine Hendrix, Brian Breton and Gordon Watson will be sentenced in January. They were charged April 30, last year.
Since the injunction was granted four years ago, there have been several convictions involving Rescues at the clinic. With the convictions for the Rescues, the court found the pro-lifers to be in contempt of the court order which forbids blocking or interfering with the premises.
But these latest convictions are the first where the Crown alleged contempt on the basis of the “watching or besetting” clause of the injunction.
The three pro-lifers were holding signs, handing out pamphlets and trying to counsel and speak with women going into the clinic. The judge accepted the evidence of abortion-clinic staff and said the conduct of Hendrix and Breton “did have an obvious emotional effect on their targets.”
But he admitted the pamphlets which they were handing out were “genuine attempts to inform people of the one side of the abortion issue and to offer alternatives to abortion, including the availability of counselling and other services.”
Hendrix had received advice from three different lawyers that speaking to women outside the clinic would not constitute contempt of the injunction.
The lawyers representing Hendrix and Breton argued that the words in the injunction should not be interpreted in a way which would contravene the provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which allows for freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.
But the judge said the injunction would stand until set aside by a higher court or replaced by another court order.