Pro-lifers listened in shock as a police officer testified in a Toronto courtroom that the officers have orders from Chief Jack Marks not to arrest the Harbord Street abortionists on charges relating to Section 251 of the Criminal Code.
The testimony came during the trial of five pro-lifers on November 20. The five, Barbara and Tom Brown, Antonio Conhoto, Stephen Jalsevac, and Annette McLoughlin, were charged with trespass following an incident at the Morgentaler abortuary in July.
All five testified to their actions that day. They explained to the judge that they had entered the abortuary with the intention of performing citizen’s arrests on the abortionists. When police were called, they requested that the police help them to make the citizen’s arrests. They confirmed that this action was carried out with no physical violence on the part of the protestors or the abortuary staff. In fact, Stephen Jalsevac sat down on the stairs just outside the abortuary, rather than force his way through the two staff members blocking the stairway. While the other protestors managed to reach the reception area of the clinic, they chose to sit peacefully there rather than force their way to the third floor where abortions were taking place.
Judge S. Darragh found all five guilty as charged and offered a choice in sentencing: a $50 fine, or three days in jail. He said that the idea that they entered the abortuary to perform citizen’s arrests was a “charade” and a “flagrant abuse.” He dismissed defence lawyer Paul Dodds’ argument that the five had a right and a duty to make such arrests under the exceptional circumstances.
It was Mr. Dodds’ cross-examining of one of the arresting officers, Police Constable L. Pavan, that confirmed what many regular picketers at the abortuary have observed for many months. He made it quite clear that the officers on the spot have orders not to arrest the abortionists, or the abortuary staff, on abortion-related charges.
Constable Pavan further stated that it was “force policy directed down by the Chief.” Asked if the purpose of the police presence at 85 Harbord was to protect the abortuary, the officer avoided a direct answer and merely stated that they were there “to keep the peace.”
Abortionist Robert Scott was also a witness. He testified that the abortuary routinely completes 12 to 14 abortions daily. On the day of the incident, four abortions had already been carried out and, at the time that the protestors entered the abortuary, he was “just finishing up a procedure.” Scott further testified that women making appointments for abortions “rarely” have certificates from Therapeutic Abortion Committees permitting the abortion and he confirmed, once again, that the abortuary is not licensed as a hospital. In his judgment, Judge Darragh did not comment at all on this evidence which clearly showed that the abortuary is operating outside the provisions of the Criminal Code regulating legal abortions. In fact, the Judge said that the pro-lifers went in to make an arrest “without evidence that an offence was being committed prior to their entrance.”
Immediate reactions from the five were of stunned incredulity, Barbara Brown said that her impression of the trial was that their evidence was completely ignored “as if we were all telling lies.” Stephen Jalsevac saw it as yet another example of “the justice system going out of its way to protect the abortionists again.”
The pro-lifers have not yet decided whether they will pay the fines or choose to serve a jail sentence. They have also not yet decided whether they will appeal the conviction. Despite this disappointing decision, the five have nevertheless confirmed their intentions to keep up their personal commitment to peaceful picketing and demonstration at the abortuary. “It’s back to the picket lines,” said Tom Brown.