OTTAWA, December 14, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The Supreme Court of Canada is hearing submissions today from the lawyer of Linda Gibbons, a pro-life activist who has spent years in jail for peacefully protesting outside abortion facilities that are protected by “bubble zone” injunctions.
Lawyer Daniel Santoro will reportedly present arguments that Gibbon’s odyssey through the criminal courts for violations of injunctions laid down in civil courts was an improper use of the criminal justice system.
According to the National Post’s Charles Lewis, who has been closely following the Gibbons case, Santoro will argue that the criminal court should never have been involved in something that began as a civil matter.
“A civil court could have used a scalpel instead of a butcher’s knife to come out with a better solution,” Santoro told the National Post.
“A civil court could would have had many more solutions,” Santoro explained. “They could have ended the injunction, saying it was no longer necessary, they could have also even made an exception for her to protest peacefully in the bubble. They have a lot more latitude in dealing with this kind of case. All the criminal court can do is convict or not, they can’t make a decision about the viability of a 17-year-old injunction.’’
The Supreme Court of Canada decided in February that it would hear the appeal filed by Santoro seeking to overturn an Ontario Court of Appeal decision reinstating Gibbons’ criminal conviction on a charge of disobeying a court order.
The charge had originally been quashed by a lower court judge on the grounds that the matter was improperly heard in a criminal, rather than civil, court. The 1994 injunction relating to the charge had been decreed in a civil court, yet the Ontario Attorney-General’s office had, from the beginning, consistently charged Gibbons criminally.
In November, Gibbons was released from custody, since an arrest in August, when Justice Alphonse T. Lacavera found her not guilty on a charge of disobeying a court order. The judge determined that Sheriff Peter Krause improperly read the text of an outdated injunction when he directed that Gibbons be arrested outside the Morgentaler Clinic abortion site this past August 4.
Krause, Lacavera said, read the words of an interlocutory (temporary) injunction issued in 1992 that prohibited pro-life demonstration within 500 feet of Morgentaler’s site. However, that document had been superseded by a permanent injunction issued in April 1999, the terms of which were not read to Gibbons.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 in a peaceful, silent protest, and directed that a verdict of not guilty be entered.
Upon her release, Gibbons remarked to supporters gathered to welcome her, “For 20 years, we’ve been shoved into criminal courts when it belongs in the civil courts. 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.”
A summary of the Supreme Court case (Docket # 33813) can be read here.