The Ontario Liberal government is aiming to reinstate a 1994 temporary injunction that bans pro-life activity in front of abortion centers, claiming it was dismissed five months ago by mistake.
The attorney general’s office brought an urgent motion last month to reinstate the 24-year-old interim injunction. It was issued by Justice George Adams as part of a $500,000 lawsuit for damages that Bob Rae’s NDP government brought against 18 pro-life advocates.
A registrar’s order dismissed the injunction in January under new Crown regulations intended to clear out old cases. But Crown lawyer Sara Blake argued June 14 before Master Ronna Brott of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice the injunction was “in effect a final injunction.”
The 18 pro-life defendants “got lucky” because the action was dropped by “a mistake of the court,” Blake said. The attorney general’s office only discovered it had been dismissed from a newspaper article, she told the court.
According to a crown affidavit sworn out by Sunil Mathai, acting deputy director and counsel for the ministry of the attorney general, that was a May 31 National Post article by Christie Blatchford.
Blake argued setting aside the registrar’s order would “automatically” reinstate the injunction, which was needed “to maintain peace on the abortion front.”
Even though the three lawyers showed up at short notice to request an adjournment on behalf of the pro-life defendants, she refused to agree.
The lawyers pointed out that the 18 individuals named on the 1994 injunction — one of whom, Errol Alchin, has since died – hadn’t been properly served, the case had been dormant so long the files were in “deep storage,” and two of the lawyers in the original action, David Brown and Peter Lauwers, had since become appeal court judges.
Blake, however, reiterated that she was under instructions to get the order set aside that day. “We need the registrar’s order set aside today,” she told Brott.
But Brott didn’t see it that way. She denied the motion, and in a three-page ruling slammed the Crown for failing to prove urgency, and “improperly” serving the motion, pointing out “few, if any” of the defendants had been contacted, and none had filed a response.
Brott also faulted the Crown for asking her to rule outside her jurisdiction. “Free speech and the right to assemble et. al. are constitutional matters which must be heard by a judge,” she wrote.
And while the Crown had argued setting aside the registrar’s order would “automatically reinstate” the injunction, a master cannot issue injunctions, Brott added. “The moving party cannot do through the back door what is not permissible through the front door.”
Moreover, because the Crown “acted hastily” and would not agree to an adjournment so the defendants could be properly served, Brott awarded costs of $1500 each to the trio of lawyers “who were compelled” to “attend court for a full day.
But the matter is not over.
Brott gave the parties one week to arrange for a date in Civil Practice Court so a judge from the Superior Court can rule on how the matter should proceed.
At that point, it is likely the attorney general will ask for a hearing date to have the registrar’s order set aside, Toronto lawyer Alan Honner told LifeSiteNews.
The Crown will have to provide proper notice to the parties before that motion can be heard, he added.
Honner appeared on behalf of Daniel Santoro — a lawyer for Linda Gibbons, one of the 18 named defendants — to argue the defendants were short-served, which, he pointed out, was “especially problematic” in a 24-year-old case.
Peter Jervis also appeared, and told the court he acted for nine of the 18 in the original action when he was with the Toronto firm Lerners, but he has since moved to another firm.
The Crown’s move was an “extraordinary abuse of power,” Jervis said, adding he only found out about the motion on Sunday.
The legal action against the 18 brought by then-attorney general Marion Boyd was “clearly politically motivated” and “highly abusive,” he told the Court.
And the case went dormant in 2001, Jervis added.
The Crown had served Lerners because it was listed as “counsel of record” for some of the 18, but Lerners’ partner, Brian Grant, told Brott the files were in storage and he hadn’t spoken to any of the defendants.
Campaign Life Coalition president Jim Hughes is one of them, as is Mary Ellen Douglas, Ontario president of Campaign Life.
The Liberals moving to reinstate the 1994 injunction “was a shock, it was certainly a shock to me after 24 years,” Hughes told LifeSiteNews.
At the same time, he pointed out, Attorney General Yasir Navqi announced in May the Liberals will bring in “bubble zone legislation” in the fall to restrict pro-life activity outside abortion facilities across the province. Reinstating the 1994 injunction “is part of that,” Hughes said.
“The question is, what will you do when they do that?” noted Gibbons, who has spent 11 years in jail for her peaceful pro-life witness in front of abortion centers and was present at the June 14 motion hearing. Pro-life advocates need to look at how they will respond, not at what the government is doing, Gibbons told LifeSiteNews. “It’s a call to arms,” she added. “When they want to ramp it up, then it’s for us to step it up.”
A version of this story originally appeared June 19 at LifeSiteNews and is used with permission.