TORONTO, September 12, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — An Ontario judge sentenced pro-life activist Mary Wagner to 30 months probation and 50 hours of community service but stopped short of giving her more jail time, even though the Crown asked for a sentence of 18 months.
Justice Rick Libman of the Ontario Court of Justice cited letters attesting to Wagner’s character as well as her deeply held beliefs as mitigating factors when he sentenced her Tuesday for one conviction of mischief and two of breach of probation.
Libman found Wagner guilty August 15 of charges arising from her December 12, 2016, arrest at the Bloor West Village Women’s Clinic, where she tried to persuade women to choose life for their unborn children.
The 43-year-old pro-life activist spent almost six months in jail waiting for her trial because she refused to sign bail conditions requiring she stay away from abortion facilities.
Libman agreed June 9 to release Wagner on the sole condition she return for the remainder of her trial, which began May 25 but was delayed by the Crown’s extraordinary application for a publication ban.
(Toronto lawyer Phil Horgan will be arguing LifeSiteNews’s application against the publication ban September 18.)
“I would not be here if it was not a matter of life and death,” Wagner told the Court at her sentencing hearing Tuesday.
Wagner read a letter to the court from a woman she met that December 12, who wrote she was “hopeless and helpless” and seven weeks pregnant.
After speaking with Wagner, who showed her “lots of love,” the woman decided against abortion, and is now the mother of an eight-week-old baby boy.
“If I had obeyed the law, that child would not be alive today,” Wagner told the court, packed with some 35 of her supporters.
The letter was just one of hundreds sent to the judge, who told Wagner after convicting her that she could submit character references at the sentencing hearing.
So Wagner asked the wider community to send letters of support, to show she was not alone in her desire to protect unborn children.
According to Campaign Life, where the letters were delivered, the response was “phenomenal.”
“In less than a month, Mary received more than 850 reference letters, 34,000 emails and 67,000 petition signatures in support of her character and unborn children,” Jim Hughes, president of Campaign Life Coalition noted.
Particularly notable was the enthusiastic response from Poland, where Wagner is regarded as a heroine, and from Polish Canadians.
Letters also came from Japan, the U.K., Germany, and many were emailed directly to Libman and Crown counsel Craig Power, with a copy to Wagner care of CLC.
Libman told Wagner Tuesday he hadn’t contemplated “essentially a petition” seeking to exonerate her.
However, many glowing character references of Wagner from friends and family were mitigating factors in her sentencing, Libman said.
Her mother, Jane, and father, Frank, told the judge of their eldest daughter’s love and concern for her five adopted siblings, who suffer a range of physical and mental disabilities.
There were also letters from among Wagner’s seven biological siblings who spoke of their sister’s patience.
Indeed, even Crown lawyer Craig Power allowed that Wagner was “articulate, pleasant” and “an extremely kind person” who “has a potential for so much good.”
Nevertheless, Power asked Libman to send Wagner to jail for 18 months to deter her from further offences in the future.
Power also submitted Wagner’s criminal record as evidence.
Wagner, whose arrests date back to 2000 in her home province of British Columbia, has served a total of five years in jail because of her non-violent attempts to save women and children from the violence of abortion.
Libman ruled that Wagner’s “moral culpability” was “lessened” because of the reasons behind her actions.
The only reason for her criminal record was because she was acting upon her beliefs, he said.
But her “numerous previous convictions,” and her “planned, deliberate conduct” in attending the abortion facility were aggravating factors in Wagner’s sentencing, he ruled.
Moreover, at the time of her arrest, Wagner was bound by three court orders prohibiting her from being at the abortion facility, the judge said.
Libman also opined Wagner’s conviction for mischief “was not a victimless property offence.”
Witness testimony and video evidence showed staff and “patients” at the abortion facility “impacted by the disruption.”
Libman then quoted a 1994 judgment by Justice George Adams which stated that pro-life protestors “prey upon…emotionally vulnerable” women.
“I don’t understand why you have to break the law to show your beliefs,” the judge said to Wagner earlier in the hearing.
Wagner countered it wasn’t a question of beliefs, but of lives in immediate danger. She likened it to someone refusing to help a suicidal friend because the law said not to.
“If you really love your friend, you’re going to do all you can to help them through that moment of darkness,” she said.
Dr. Charles Lugosi, who argued Wagner’s constitutional challenge, appeared on her behalf early in the proceedings with an application for a stay of proceedings.
He told the Court that under common law, the judge could rule that while technically guilty, Wagner had no moral culpability because of her conviction that her intervention was necessary to save the lives of unborn children.
Libman dismissed Lugosi’s application, noting that the proportionality of the sentence to the gravity of the offence, and Wagner’s blameworthiness, were matter for the sentencing hearing.
His probation order prohibits Wagner from being within 250 meters of the Bloor West Village Woman’s Clinic, or to be in contact with the abortion facility employees or staff.
Wagner also remains under a previous probation order, issued by Justice Katrina Mulligan, until April 2019.