The exceptional criminality of Linda Gibbons

By  Ian Hunter, Catholic Register Special
  • February 23, 2011

I have never met Linda Gibbons. I’m not sure I’d want to. After all, this 63-year-old grandmother must be a very dangerous person. She has spent almost all of the last 20 years locked up in jail.

Gibbons’ story began in 1994 when the NDP formed the Ontario Government and then Attorney-General Marion Boyd obtained a court injunction to prevent anyone from offering up a public protest within a 60-foot “bubble zone” around abortion clinics.  

Gibbons believes abortion is tantamount to murder. You do not have to share her view to recognize the moral imperative it creates. So Gibbons stands on the sidewalk outside abortion clinics and prays silently. Sometimes she goes further; sometimes she goes so far as to hold up a sign that says: “Why, Mom, when I have so much love to give?”

Free speech in Canada is not so robust as to withstand her conduct, so Gibbons is immediately arrested.

As a result, she has become Canada’s most obdurate prisoner of conscience spending more time behind bars than most convicted robbers or rapists.

Gibbons is an exceptional criminal in several ways. Often she goes to court without a lawyer. She says nothing in her own defence. She refuses to acknowledge the jurisdiction of a court to prevent her from praying. She accepts without recrimination what, by any standard of natural law, are unjust verdicts. She makes few criticisms of her treatment in jail. She seeks no early release.

I do not go so far as to suggest that she is a model prisoner. Admittedly, Gibbons was a pain when she asked to have a Bible in her cell. And she sometimes leads her cellmates in prayer. In the past, prison guards have noted how jail-house language markedly improves in Linda’s presence. Such, I suppose, is the nefarious control that one criminal mind is capable of exerting over other inmates.

Ten years ago she wrote to me about noise levels at the Metro West Detention Centre where she was then incarcerated. Piped-in music was so loud and unrelenting that she considered it a form of “unnecessary torture.”

A decade later, she has written again, this time from the Vanier Women’s Centre, regarding the cold in certain corner rooms located on the outside of the facility. She tells me that the women held in these rooms “…suffer chronic colds with symptoms of hypothermia; blue nails with red, runny noses with often subsequent illnesses from being chilled.” When Gibbons herself spent two weeks in such a room, she estimated that the overnight temperature inside the room fell below 50 degrees F. Inmates are usually given two blankets at night. Sometimes Gibbons was given four blankets but, even so, the cold prevented her from sleeping.

But why, you ask, does she not file a formal complaint with the proper authorities?

She has — both to Donna Keating, the Superintendent of the Vanier Centre, and with the provincial Ombudsman. But neither has produced any result. Well, no result in terms of heat, but plenty of hot air. After her complaint to the Superintendent, a bureaucrat met with Gibbons to advise her:

1) Only her personal concern with the cold, not her concern for other inmates, was open for discussion;

2) The temperature in the cold rooms were not in violation of correctional facility standards;

3) Maintenance personnel had been consulted and no corrective measures were recommended;

4) Inmates can always request extra blankets.

Yes, Gibbons tells me, there is a form for this (which usually takes 24 hours to process). But in fact she says such requests are routinely turned down on the basis that “the blanket supply is limited and we will only issue two in case further admissions come in.”

Gibbons is more charitable than I am. She writes: “I am confident it is not the purpose or intent of Corrections Canada to house women in rooms so cold they are prevented from sleeping.”

Whatever the intention of Corrections Canada may be, there are problems that are insoluble, and there are problems where anyone but a bureaucrat can see and implement a simple solution. This is an example of the latter.

(Ian Hunter is professor emeritus in the Faculty of Law at Western University.)

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