TORONTO, Ontario, November 4, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - After three months in prison, Linda Gibbons was found not guilty on a charge of disobeying a court order and released from custody to the hugs of supporters in a downtown Toronto courtroom Friday afternoon. Justice Alphonse T. Lacavera determined Sheriff Peter Krause improperly read the text of an outdated injunction when he directed that she be arrested outside the Morgentaler Clinic (known corporately as “Lexogest Inc.”) abortion site this past August 4.
Krause, he said, read the words of an interlocutory (temporary) injunction issued in 1992 that prohibited pro-life demonstration within 500 feet of Morgentaler’s site, wherever it might happen to establish itself. However, that document had been superseded by a permanent injunction issued in April 1999, the terms of which were not read to Gibbons. Lacavera noted she consequently could not have had the necessary mens rea (“guilty mind”) when she appeared at the Hillsdale Avenue site with a placard and pamphlets in her hands as part of a peaceful, silent protest.
Gibbons had been in custody since her arrest. It was her first appearance at the Morgentaler site after a number of years demonstrating and being arrested outside the Scott Clinic abortion location on Gerrard Street East.
Through her lawyer Daniel Santoro, Gibbons pleaded not guilty going into the trial. Krause and Crown attorney Marie Abraham consistently referred to Morgentaler’s facility as a “business” as the sheriff testified about his role on August 4. He said after cautioning Gibbons several times to remove herself more than 500 feet from the abortion site entrance, he called in the Toronto Police Service to effect an arrest.
Under cross-examination by Santoro, Krause agreed Gibbons was simply walking to and fro on the public sidewalk in front of the building and he did not see anyone impeded from entering the building. He also agreed with the characterization of the demonstration as a peaceful, silent protest.
Krause said he had not seen the 1999 permanent injunction, was unaware of its existence and had not read the text of that document to Gibbons. Santoro then asked Lacavera for a directed verdict of not guilty, noting that the court order in effect at the time of Gibbons’s arrest was not the one being enforced. Crown attorney Abraham countered that Gibbons was nonetheless named within the terms of the 1999 injunction as a “Jane Doe.” Lacavera replied that the onus was on the Crown to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Gibbons knew of the valid order in effect. He then called a break in the proceedings to consider the competing arguments.
Upon his return almost an hour later, Lacavera said there was indeed no evidence Gibbons had been aware of the 1999 injunction at the time of her arrest. “She did not have the requisite knowledge of the permanent injunction,” he said. “She cannot be found guilty.” He then directed that a verdict of not guilty be entered.
Awaiting a late lunch bought by jubilant supporters in a food court afterward, a free Gibbons observed the verdict was a just one. “It was pretty basic ... It is just fundamentally wrong we’re not allowed to be there. It is our constitutional right to be there.” Of her time in prison awaiting trial, she turned attention off herself, noting that there were “a couple of pretty serious pro-life issues to deal with” among other prisoners, but that “we’re seeing results.”
Attention is now being turned to a crucial Supreme Court of Canada hearing this December 14, in which the country’s top judges will decide whether it is proper for Gibbons and others to be prosecuted in criminal courts for violations of injunctions laid down in civil courts. She has always been prosecuted in criminal courts, even though the injunctions regarding the Morgentaler and Scott abortion sites were enacted by civil courts.
“For 20 years, we’ve been shoved into criminal courts when it belongs in the civil courts,” she said. “Now that the Supreme Court is going to examine that, I’m really hoping that at the end of the day, the injunctions will be struck down and recognized for what they were - political devices to stifle pro-life witness.”
As far as considering a legal counteraction if the Supreme Court finds she has been improperly prosecuted criminally for some 17 years is concerned, Gibbons appeared unenthused. “If I thought for one second it would advance the cause of the unborn, I would do it. But for personal loss and suffering, my purpose has always been to bring relief to the unborn children.”
A summary of the Supreme Court case can be read here.