A peaceful but relentless Toronto anti-abortion crusader who has spent more than nine years over two decades in jail for repeatedly violating a court order to quit picketing outside abortion clinics has lost her appeal before Canada's highest court.
eight-to-one decision Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Linda
Gibbons could in fact be charged criminally for disobeying a civil order
that dates back to 1994.
The 63-year-old grandmother, who
is in jail again for disobeying a different court order and who is
poised to resume her trial on that charge next week, has long argued she
has a right to peaceful protest and that the courts were unfairly
pursuing her because of her unpopular views on abortion.
top court, however, was asked to rule on a far more technical matter —
whether it is lawful that she be charged criminally for a civil
"The question is whether the provisions of
Ontario's Rules of Civil Procedure . . . governing motions for contempt
orders preclude the application of Sect. 127 which makes it a criminal
offence to disobey a court order," states the judgment written by
Justice Marie Deschamps.
"The courts below . . . held that
they do not. I agree. In my view, the exception in Sect. 127 is meant to
apply where there is an express alternative statutory response to
failures to obey court order. I would dismiss the appeal."
lawyer, Daniel Santoro, was hoping for a win so that the case could be
brought before the same civil court that made the original order. He
argued the criminal court judges his client has and will continue to
face have little power to interpret, let alone quash the order.
That said, he vowed to continue the fight.
the new trial I will pursue my argument that the charge is an abuse of
process because she is facing a charge for breaching an 18-year-old
temporary order," he said.
"I'm stuck with the argument
that the prosecution is abusive. The judge can say 'I agree, I'm not
going to allow the Crown to proceed.'"
Gibbons was first
charged in 1994 for breaching what was supposed to be a temporary civil
injunction to keep 150 feet away from several Toronto abortion clinics.
occurred six years after the Supreme Court struck down Canada's
anti-abortion laws and two years after the fire-bombing of Henry
Morgentaler's Toronto clinic at the height of tense anti-abortion
She's since been arrested some more 20 times for
violating the injunction and has spent considerable time behind bars for
it, the longest stretch being 700 consecutive days.
case relates to her October 2008 arrest for holding a sign within 18
metres of The Scott Clinic in Toronto. Her most recent arrest happened
in December, days after her case was brought before the Supreme Court,
and relates to a breach of a different civil injunction.
soft-spoken, bespectacled grandmother usually stands quietly on
sidewalks outside clinics holding pamphlets, a palm-size model of a
fetus and a sign with a crying baby that reads "Why, Mom, when I have so
much love to give?"
At a time when widespread protests
over tuition fees in Quebec that have, at times, turned violent and
paralyzed downtown Montreal, continue despite attempts to stifle it with
legislation, the case is raising questions about how far prosecutors
will go to pursue a single demonstrator who happens to hold an unpopular
The ruling also comes amid reports that even the
Conservatives want to avoid the subject of abortion these days. Media
reports suggest the Prime Minister's Office has been quietly urging
members to vote down Tory backbencher Stephen Woodworth's motion to
re-examine when human life begins.
The motion was expected
to return to the House of Commons for debate this month but an illness
in Wordworth's family appears to have delayed it to the fall.