Richmond Cochrane, 92, is one of 16 aged pro-lifers named in an Ontario injunction seeking to end picketing at abortion clinics. Photo courtesy Cochrane family

Province targets pro-life seniors

  • October 12, 2017
The Ontario government is trying to reimpose a lapsed, 23-year-old temporary injunction against 16 aging pro-life protesters.

The 16 people named in the injunctions, including two men in their 90s, average 68 years in age and most haven’t picketed or protested in front of a clinic in years.

“It’s an old case. I was just a young thing then,” said 72-year-old Mary Ellen Douglas, Ontario president of Campaign Life Coalition.

In 1994 the Bob Rae government sued 18 anti-abortion protesters for $500,000 in civil court on behalf of a number of doctors and clinics offering abortions. One of the original 18 has died, and one is not named in the new action.

The original suit was never brought to court because the government’s real goal was the injunctions, intended to keep the known protesters away from 23 locations — abortion clinics, hospitals and some doctors’ homes.

Those injunctions were finally set aside by a registrar’s order at the end of last year following new rules intended to unclog the courts and sweep away inactive cases. The Ministry of the Attorney General only realized the injunctions were dead when the National Post’s Christie Blatchford wrote a May 31 column about the old injunctions and the proposal for bubble zones around clinics, calling the tactics “using an elephant gun to kill a flea.”

That sent crown lawyers scurrying to court June 14 to have the old injunctions reinstated, arguing that the 1994 temporary injunctions were “in effect a final injunction.” The crown tried to get a case management master of the Ontario Superior Court to set aside the administrative decision and automatically reinstate the old injunctions. Master Rona Brott said no. She said the crown would have to put its case before a judge and it would have to properly notify everyone involved.

Going back to court could cost the 16 pro-life advocates thousands of dollars in legal fees.

The attorney general’s office doesn’t think it’s using an elephant gun against fleas by both proposing bubble-zone legislation and reviving 23-year-old injunctions.

“The proposed legislation would be in addition to the protections provided for in existing injunctions and would provide one consistent approach across the province,” said Attorney General spokesperson Andrew Rudyk in an email to The Catholic Register.

“It flies in the face of free expression to use these injunctions to just prohibit peaceful protest — it’s quite astounding,” said Ontario Civil Liberties Association executive director Joe Hickey.

The injunctions were applied at a much different time, just after the Henry Morgantaler decision struck prohibitions against abortion from Canada’s Criminal Code and following the murders of Dr. David Gunn and Dr. John Britton in the United States. Peaceful pro-life protesters always objected to any use of violence as antithetical to their movement, but were accused of contributing to tension through their rhetoric.

“For the most part at these functions now, they pray,” said 74-year-old Jim Hughes, Campaign Life Coalition national president and one of the 18 named in the 1994 injunction. “They try to counsel (women seeking abortions), they hand out material.”

“There has never been any violence, any activity that would require this type of draconian measure,” said Douglas. “It’s completely mind boggling.”

Douglas says she hasn’t picketed since the mid-90s, with the exception of annual Dec. 28 candlelight vigils on the Feast of the Holy Innocents in Kingston, Ont.

Among the peaceful protesters covered by the injunctions is Linda Gibbons, who has spent 11 years in jail for peacefully violating the terms of the injunctions. The youngest member of the group is 45-year-old John McCash, who was a 21-year-old political science student when he was slapped with the injunction. He was the co-founder of Students for Life. The oldest is Richmond Cochrane, 92.

“The crazy part of this stuff is that they just let the case drop. It dropped in December,” said Hughes. “Obviously it was going to be dropped because nothing’s happened in the meantime. There’s been no huge explosion of people out picketing and that sort of thing."

“It’s never been about picketing, etc. It’s all politics. It’s always been politics.”

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