in bubble zone trial
testimony indicates political agenda to silence Ontario pro-lifers
police officer dropped a bombshell during his testimony at the start
of the trial of Linda Gibbons, Ken Campbell and Anneliese Steden Feb.
2 and 3.
John Stevens told the court under oath that the provincial attorney-general's
office instructed Toronto police not to charge the trio with disobeying
a court order, regarding their alleged transgression of a temporary
injunction in place around the "Scott Clinic" abortuary last Sept. 9.
Instead, the demonstrators were charged with obstructing a peace officer.
pro-life activists have long suspected that the provincial government
and Crown attorneys are avoiding the application of disobeying-a-court-order
charges because they realize the injunction, initiated by Ontario's
former NDP government and continued under the Tories, will not withstand
a direct legal challenge. The latest, dramatic development gives them
a chance to pursue the matter on a solid basis.
charge entitles an accused to choose a trial by jury, an option that
is not available under a charge of obstructing a peace officer.
one of the arresting officers at the Scott site Sept. 9, testified that
a detective who decided what charges should be laid made the comment
regarding the attorney-general's office and pro-life demonstrators.
"He said something about not wanting to give them a platform for their
complaints," Stevens said.
Stevens's testimony was contradicted the next day by Detective David
Brown, who denied there had been any communication with either the attorney-general's
office, or Paul Culver, the Crown attorney for Toronto region, on the
between the testimonies of Stevens and Brown prompted Blaise MacLean,
Gibbons's lawyer, to ask presiding Judge E.G. Hachborn to call Mr. Culver
into court as a witness to clear up the matter. The petition was opposed
by Crown attorney Jennifer Crawford, and was turned down by Hachborn.
MacLean had earlier filed a factum with the court, submitting that Gibbons
had been subject to an unfair and inappropriate charge.
unexpected developments prompted the trial to extend past its scheduled
two-day run. Hearings will continue on March 1.
outspoken Campbell, a Milton, Ont. Christian activist, was tight-lipped
following the adjournment of the trial, noting that he was restricted
in what he could say because the trial was still in progress. However,
he did predict that MacLean and Brantford, Ont. lawyer Paul Vandervet,
counsel for himself and Steden, will pursue "every legal possibility"
when the trial resumes.
of the trial was marked by a group of pro-lifers who demonstrated in
the rain outside the College Park courthouse in downtown Toronto. Later
inside, the courtroom was packed by pro-life supporters of the charged
trio, with some people having to sit on the floor the first day of the
trial, owing to a lack of seating.
also drew an unusual degree of media coverage, with outlets including
the CBC, Toronto's CITY-TV, the Cambridge Reporter, the Ottawa
Citizen, and the Toronto Star sending reporters.
Culver will not appear in court, in a December letter to Campbell, he
denied that he or anyone else from his office would order Toronto police
to lay a particular charge in any situation. "The discretion to lay
a charge rests solely with each individual police officer who finds
that there are reasonable and probable grounds that an offence has been
committed," Culver wrote. "The police, on occasion, consult with the
Crown for legal advice as to whether a particular charge fits an appropriate
situation. I was not consulted in your situation."
went on to opine that "obstruct a peace officer" was an appropriate
charge in the matter of Gibbons, Campbell and Steden.
other ... judges have ruled that ‘obstruct a peace officer' is an appropriate
charge in this and similar situations."
prompted Campbell to accuse Culver of playing "Bill Clinton-type word
games" with the law.
conclude that ... Mr. Culver is responsible for advising police not
to charge us with ‘disobey' because we'd be able to challenge the constitutionality
of the injunction before a judge and jury." He also alleged Culver was
allowing a "political agenda" to conflict with his duties as an officer
of what should be an impartial justice system.
there's obstruction or perversion of justice being perpetrated here
for which ... Crown Paul Culver is responsible," Campbell added.
similar cases, judges have either dismissed charges against Campbell,
or levied token fines while noting that hearings were taking place at
an inappropriate court level.
1998, Judge Milton Cadsby dismissed a charge of obstructing a peace
officer against Campbell because of the lack of action on the part of
the province in moving to make permanent the temporary injunction against
pro-life activities outside certain abortuaries and abortionists' homes,
which has been in effect since 1994.
1997, Judge Charles Scullion pointed out that the appropriate court
to hear such matters is the general division of provincial court, which
issued the temporary injunction, and not the provincial division, in
which the cases have been heard so far.
developments set the stage for the current situation, which offers greater
hope than ever that pro-life activists can make inroads on a legal circumstance
that stifles any chance they have of saving unborn babies' lives at
the most crucial of places - the doorsteps of abortuaries.
files by Leeda Crawford)