By Tony Gosgnach

TORONTO, September 11, 2008 ( – Linda Gibbons’s lawyer put forth a unique argument during the first day of her Provincial Court trial on a charge of obstructing a peace officer in connection with events outside the Scott “Clinic” abortuary in downtown Toronto last July 31.

The diminutive grandmother has spent several of her past 14 years in prison because of peaceful and prayerful demonstrations outside specified Toronto abortuaries that are protected against pro-life demonstrations by a “temporary” 1994 court injunction.

The pro-life movement has charged that the continuous practice of police and Crown attorneys charging Gibbons and others with obstructing a peace officer, instead of the appropriate charges of disobeying a court order or contempt of court, is a politically motivated tactic aimed at denying pro-life activists a jury trial, as well as the opportunity to constitutionally challenge the validity of the court order.

On Wednesday at downtown Toronto’s College Park courthouse, lawyer Daniel Santoro argued that the charge of “obstructing a peace officer” is not valid in connection with the July 31 matter, because Gibbons in no way hindered the official duties of sheriff and police personnel, as is specified in the Criminal Code definition of the charge.

Santoro cross-examined sheriff David Usher, who – as he has numerous times in the past – took the stand to testify against Gibbons. Usher once again referred to abortuary manager Maria Corsillo as simply “Maria,” hinting at the apparently close relationship law enforcement authorities have with abortuary staff.

Testimony during the hearing indicated that two sheriff’s office personnel, two police officers and one police sergeant attended at the Scott Clinic on July 31. In addition, Crown attorney Adrienne Samberg was assisted by one person in court. Pro-life observers in the courtroom marvelled at the huge expenditure of legal and police resources being used to prosecute a gentle grandmother staging a quiet demonstration.

Usher agreed with Santoro’s suggestions that Gibbons’s demonstration was a peaceful one, that she accepted a written copy of the injunction, that she went with officers peacefully when arrested, that she did not interfere with any of his duties and that she did not physically hinder him.

In contradiction of Usher’s testimony, Toronto Police Service Constable Joseph Jaksa said on the witness stand afterwards that Gibbons “got into people’s way” and stepped in front of them, blocking their path, while conducting her demonstration. He also mistakenly claimed Gibbons was mentioned by name in the injunction.

Santoro pointed out that Jaksa’s notes made no mention of the officer’s stated claims that Gibbons blocked people or prevented them from coming and going outside the abortuary. He also had Jaksa concede that Gibbons was “very co-operative” with the arrest he conducted on her.

Prior to final submissions, Santoro attempted to have the charge thrown out on the basis that the Crown had not adequately proven the Scott Clinic to be open at the time of the alleged offence, as is required by the text of the injunction. However, the presiding judge, Justice Clements, rejected the application.

In his final submissions, Santoro argued that simply breaking a court order is not enough of an action to constitute obstructing a peace officer. “Obstruction is, rather, a hindrance,” he said. “The officers were allowed by Miss Gibbons to perform their duties unobstructed.” He added that the obstruction charge is intended to refer to law enforcement personnel when they are conducting an investigation.

Santoro offered several examples of case law to back his point, including a book by a prominent judge that makes no mention of obstruction charges in relation to court injunctions.

Santoro then concluded with another gambit – a motion to stay the proceedings on the basis that there has been an abuse of process by the Crown attorney’s office. The “temporary” injunction was intended to be just that, temporary, he said. The Crown’s neglect in proceeding to take the matter to trial during the past 14 years has resulted in its now being able to exploit that fact by prosecuting Gibbons, he said.

As the day drew to a close, Justice Clements ruled that the matter would have to be heard another day. He said he would hear the motion before issuing a verdict and then adjourned the case to Tuesday, Sept. 23 at 10 a.m. in Room 504 of the College Park courthouse.