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February 1999

Bombshell in bubble zone trial

Officer's testimony indicates political agenda to silence Ontario pro-lifers

By Tony Gosgnach
The Interim

A Toronto 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.

Constable 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.

Ontario 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.

A disobey-court-order charge entitles an accused to choose a trial by jury, an option that is not available under a charge of obstructing a peace officer.

Stevens, 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.

However, 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 matter.

The discrepancy 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.

The unexpected developments prompted the trial to extend past its scheduled two-day run. Hearings will continue on March 1.

The normally 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.

The start 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.

The trial 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.

Although 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."

Culver went on to opine that "obstruct a peace officer" was an appropriate charge in the matter of Gibbons, Campbell and Steden.

"Numerous other ... judges have ruled that ‘obstruct a peace officer' is an appropriate charge in this and similar situations."

That letter prompted Campbell to accuse Culver of playing "Bill Clinton-type word games" with the law.

"One must 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.

"Apparently, there's obstruction or perversion of justice being perpetrated here for which ... Crown Paul Culver is responsible," Campbell added.

In previous, 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.

In July 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.

In June 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.

These previous 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.

(With files by Leeda Crawford)




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