Pro-lifer Linda Gibbons takes protest fight to highest court

  • September 1, 2010

Linda Gibbon

TORONTO - Jailed pro-life protester Linda Gibbons is seeking to have a 16-year-old “temporary” court injunction overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Gibbons’ lawyer, Daniel Santoro, said the blanket injunction against pro-life protesters is an “abuse” and criminal charges arising from the injunction are  “unconstitutional.”

Santoro told The Catholic Register he submitted an application for a hearing to the Supreme Court on Gibbons’ behalf on Aug. 23. The Court has yet to respond.

The application challenges section 127 of the federal Criminal Code that states anyone who disobeys a lawful order by a court of justice is guilty of an indictable offence liable to imprisonment. Santoro questions whether the federal government can create an offence of disobedience for an Ontario court order.

Over the past 16 years, Gibbons, a 62-year-old great-grandmother, has been arrested 20 times and served eight years in jail for picketing outside a downtown Toronto abortion clinic. A 1994 Supreme Court of Ontario injunction bars protests within 60 feet of several downtown abortion clinics.

Gibbons is to appear in provincial court on Sept. 2 and 8 stemming from charges laid on Jan. 20.  She has been in jail since that time because she refuses bail conditions that restrict her right to protest.

Santoro said the issue is whether the provincial criminal court has jurisdiction to try Gibbons for breaching a temporary court order that was issued 16 years ago by a civil court.

A lawyer for the Crown’s office has said the issue before the provincial courts is not the validity of the original order but Gibbons’ “violation of the order.”

Pro-life advocates say they hope Gibbons’ upcoming proceedings will finally settle the issue of the temporary injunction and perhaps lead to opening up the debate on abortion-on-demand in Canada, where there are no limits on when abortions can be performed.

“She is a very heroic woman for this stance she has taken,” said Mary Ellen Douglas, Campaign Life Coalition’s national organizer. “There’s a grave injustice done her. All she’s ever wanted to do is help women.”

Douglas, who was one of the 18 named in the 1994 court injunction, said the injunction should have been dropped “long ago,” adding that this illustrates the public’s avoidance of the consequences of abortion.

Phil Horgan, president of the Catholic Civil Rights League, says it’s time for the Crown to address the case’s real issue. He says Gibbons has always been charged with obstructing a peace officer under the federal Criminal Code but never has had a direct charge of breaking the 1994 injunction.

“Normally, in a civil injunction case, (the order) is temporary until the final trial. (In Gibbon’s case) a trial never occurred,” he said.

Horgan speculated that the hesitance with charging Gibbons for breaking the injunction could be because she may be entitled to a jury trial or it could focus upon the “weakness” of the temporary injunction order.

Horgan said Gibbons’ case is about the right to “conscientious objection” and to “prayerful protest.”

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