Serial abortion clinic protester released from jail
National Post Staff Jun 5, 2011 – 2:58 PM ET | Last Updated: Jun 7, 2011 10:01 AM ET
By Jane Switzer and Charles Lewis
Toronto — A 62-year-old grandmother released from jail after 28 months for picketing a Toronto abortion clinic says she promised her mother she would stay out of trouble long enough to visit her in British Columbia.
But Linda Gibbons vowed to return to the front lines of anti-abortion protests even if it almost certainly means an immediate return to jail.
“I want to, God willing, go see my mom in July. I haven’t seen her for three years,” Ms. Gibbons said in an interview Sunday, her second full day of freedom. “I believe I would probably be back at the abortion clinics shortly thereafter.”
Ms. Gibbons walked out of jail on Friday after Ontario Court Justice Mara Beth Greene granted her lawyer’s application requesting that she be released without conditions.
It was a surprising victory for the unrepentant protester who has spent 10 of the past 17 years in jail and inspired her 89-year-old mother to write a poem about her legal travails.
Amidst the Chile mining accident in 2010, her mother wrote: “It’s easier to get miners out of a hole than to get Linda out of a gaol.”
Over the past two decades Ms. Gibbons has been arrested repeatedly for breaching a court injunction forbidding her from protesting outside several downtown Toronto abortion clinics. Each time she could have walked free on bail she refused to sign an order agreeing to obey the injunction, calling her decision a “principled” stand against compromising her beliefs based on legal restrictions.
“For me to sign off is to say that I will compromise my commitment to the unborn when it comes to legal restrictions,” she said. “I’m not ready to toy with my commitment to pro-life. It would almost be like me telling the unborn, ‘Sorry, I can’t defend you this time.’”
Her most recent stint behind bars goes back to January 2009. Ms. Gibbons says the last 28 months were long, but that she compartmentalized her own problems to focus on counselling fellow inmates.
“I’m either counselling the women on their addictions, or I’m counselling some woman not to have an abortion, sharing the faith with them or giving them some encouragement to get through the day,” she says. “When you’re in there, you’re not saying, ‘I wish I wasn’t here.’ You’re just saying, ‘What do I do here?’”
In granting her release, the judge ordered Ms. Gibbons to return to court on Jan. 16, 2012 to face a charge of disobeying a court order that goes back to October 2008. The Crown has said that if Ms. Gibbons does not stay away from abortion clinics she would be re-arrested and charged, says her lawyer Daniel Santoro. But Ms. Gibbons insists she is not doing anything criminal.
“I’m there to defend my beliefs, but also to defend the Christian heritage of this country, that we are a country where we have freedom of expression, whether it be a religious or a value system.”
Since Aug. 30, 1994, when a civil court placed a temporary injunction around several abortion clinics in downtown Toronto at the request of the provincial Attorney-General, Ms. Gibbons has been arrested roughly 20 times for various offences under the Criminal Code. The injunction prevents protesters from standing a the door of the clinic but they are allowed to stand across the street.
Ms. Gibbons and others have said they need to close the door so they can counsel woman against having an abortion.
Mr. Santoro has argued that the case should never have been prosecuted criminally but should have been sent back to civil court. The civil court should have also decided whether to make the injunction permanent or quash it, he said.
This past winter, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear Ms. Gibbons’ case. Mr. Santoro will argue a heavy-handed Crown used the Criminal Code to punish Ms. Gibbons beyond the severity of her offences.
“They have used the criminal process as a strategy to avoid an inquest on the civil side,” Mr. Santoro said in February.
The injunction was initially issued during a climate of great antagonism between those on both sides of the abortion issue.
It was only six years earlier that the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the country’s abortion law, making Canada the only Western country to have no rules and regulations on abortion.
In 1994, high-profile abortion doctor Henry Morgentaler wrote, “the freestanding clinics in Toronto are particularly vulnerable because service providers and women attending the clinics are easily identified.”
“These clinics have reported vandalism, arson and bomb threats. The seriousness of these activities is evident in the May 1992 destruction of the Morgentaler Clinic in Toronto as a result of a firebombing. In addition to these extreme measures, more common and ongoing tactics such as blockading clinics and assaulting patients and staff have had a profound impact on access.”
There was never any indication that Ms. Gibbons committed any violence or ever physically harassed anyone. She says the injunction muzzles legitimate pro-life free speech, and will return to her familiar posts outside abortion clinics regardless of the injunction.
“I have really said in my mind that as long as the injunctions exist and God gives me the ability to stand on my feet, that I will continue to challenge these injunctions as long as they exist.”
http://life.nationalpost.com/2011/06/05 ... from-jail/