Pro-lifer was outside ‘bubble zone’, but is charged

with criminal harassment

The police crackdown on any sort of pro-life activity near the Scott Clinic abortuary in downtown Toronto continues.

Alex Vernon, a young Campaign Life Coalition office worker and volunteer sidewalk counsellor with the pro-life Aid to Women agency, was arrested by four plainclothes police officers on Feb. 27 while standing down the street from the Gerrard Street facility – outside a court-imposed “bubble zone” in which pro-life activity is prohibited.

Told that he was being charged with “criminal harassment,” Vernon was taken in a marked cruiser to a police station, where he was strip searched and held in a room for six hours before being released after agreeing to an undertaking that he stay away from the freestanding downtown Toronto abortuaries.

“I maintain I have done nothing wrong,” Vernon said in an interview later. “I have no reason to even entertain the thought of pleading guilty or anything like that. I think I’m within my legal rights and I intend to fight the court case based on that.”

Vernon is retaining Oshawa, Ont. lawyer Blaise MacLean to handle his case. His first court appearance was on March 13. He was remanded to the next day because proper disclosure had not yet been provided.

Given little information

Vernon said police told him his arrest was related to an alleged incident several days earlier. “They weren’t very specific and, to this date, I have no information as to what alleged incident they were referring to, or on what day. I’m very much in the dark … ” He added that there is a complainant named on his undertaking, whose name he does not recognize. However, police suggested that the woman may be a nurse at the Scott Clinic.

The arrest of Vernon comes on the heels of several other questionable police actions regarding the Scott Clinic. During a protest mounted by veteran sidewalk counsellor and pro-life demonstrator Linda Gibbons in October 1999, three journalists at the site were arrested and charged with obstructing police. Those charges were dropped after winding their way through the justice system for several months.

In October 2000, another journalist covering a demonstration by Gibbons was ordered to leave the area by a sheriff who had no authority to give such an order. And in February of this year, a police officer ordered the same journalist not to take his picture “under any circumstances” while he arrested Gibbons.

More than a few people have begun to wonder whether the police are acting as a virtual private security agency for the abortuary. For his part, Vernon suspects the crackdown had much to do with the “business” abortuaries are losing due to the work of effective pro-life sidewalk counsellors.

“This is probably not so much an attack against me as against sidewalk counselling and pro-life activity in general,” he said. “If anything, the abortionists in the area felt a threat to their business of killing babies by our pro-life sidewalk counselling team which has been very effective, I think, in alerting women and men to the dangers of abortion. We know we’ve had an effect and it’s obvious they’re trying to negate that effect by stifling us, arresting us or by whatever means they can find.”

As far as his strip search and detention for six hours is concerned, Vernon said he will pursue the matter if it violates normal procedure in such cases. “I’ve tried to note down every detail of my arrest and surrounding circumstances, and will mention them to my counsel at the appropriate time. I’ll take whatever advice they give to me. If it’s something we should contest, then I’ll contest it. I wonder why they haven’t learned their lesson and stopped harassing pro-lifers.”