“You have, in some measure, displayed utter contempt for the courts and the rights of others,” he said. “You appear to be governed by a higher moral order than the laws of our country. Your determination to break the law is a potential threat to the well-being of society and plants the seeds of lawlessness, perhaps even anarchy … You are unable to accord some civility and respect to others. Your view in law is wrong.”
An Ontario Court of Justice judge erupted in a lengthy, angry tirade against pro-life activist Mary Wagner – and ejected a spectator from the public gallery – in a downtown Toronto courtroom Wednesday. The judge then sent Wagner to jail for an additional 92 days, added to 88 days already served prior to trial, after finding her guilty of mischief and two counts of failing to comply with probation orders.
The charges related to Wagner’s November 8 arrest at the site of the Bloor West Village “Women’s Clinic.” Wagner has been arrested on several occasions for peacefully entering abortion facilities in Toronto, where she presents women in the waiting room with a rose and offers them pro-life counseling.
Pro-life activist Mary Wagner (right) with fellow pro-life activist Linda Gibbons, who has also been repeatedly arrested for violating bubble zone laws against any pro-life activity.
The remarkable scene played itself out after Crown attorney Derek Ishak and defense counsel Russell Browne made a joint submission to Mr. Justice S. Ford Clements for time served plus a three-year probationary term. But Clements emphatically rejected the submission.
“She can sit in jail, if that’s the only way to protect people,” he fulminated, calling Wagner “cowardly” for “abusing other human beings” and not having the courage to make her views known through other channels. “This is an extraordinary waste of resources. Get a grip!”
“You don’t get it, do you? What’s the rule of law? You’re required to abide by it … You’ve lost the right as a citizen to be anywhere near an abortion clinic or to speak to an employee,” he said.
“You’re wrong and your God’s wrong,” he continued. “You have complete contempt … There is a right to (abortion) in this country … You don’t have a right to cause (abortion-seeking women) extra pain and grief the way you do.”
“[Abortion] is legal,” he continued, “that’s all you have to understand … You start causing people emotional pain and harm, you think that’s okay?”
He then asked Wagner whether she would stay away from abortion sites for three years as required by the proposed terms of probation.
“I will not,” Wagner replied firmly.
“Then you’re going to jail,” said Clements.
Earlier, one of Wagner’s supporters in the public gallery spoke up and was addressed by Clements. “These (life issues) are deeply held beliefs. We respect the rule of law. There are ways to change the law. The rule of law is absolutely fundamental. We see what happens in the streets when the rule of law is ignored,” he said. “You wouldn’t like someone in your vestibule every night. People who can’t deal with that, we lock them up.”
When the man attempted to reply, he was ejected from the courtroom by Clements.
After a noon recess, Clements observed that joint submissions by the Crown and defense were not binding on a judge. He said in his view, the submission as it was would be contrary to the public interest and would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.
Asked whether she had anything to say prior to sentencing, Wagner said she saw the rule of law as a guidepost, not an absolute. “The letter of the law does not always maintain justice … abortion is a short-term solution but causes long-term pain,” she said.
She added she never acts out of a lack of sensitivity, but rather attempts to love the women to whom she speaks. She also pointed to examples from history where people who were initially regarded as criminals were later found to be in the right.
Clements was unmoved. “You have, in some measure, displayed utter contempt for the courts and the rights of others,” he said. “You appear to be governed by a higher moral order than the laws of our country.”
“Your determination to break the law is a potential threat to the well-being of society and plants the seeds of lawlessness, perhaps even anarchy … You are unable to accord some civility and respect to others. Your view in law is wrong.”
In concluding, Clements accepted the testimony of abortion site co-owner Patricia Hasen, who filed a victim impact statement that claimed financial hardship caused by Wagner’s actions, including the necessity to hire a “counselor” from another abortion site. Hasen also said she was “scared a bit” when Wagner allegedly held a door open, adding she “doesn’t trust this woman’s peaceful demeanour” and worries about potential aggression. “These people do not work alone.”
Crown attorney Ishak, in his submissions, charged that pro-life activists “prey upon the emotional vulnerability” of abortion patients as “they evidently pursue martyrdom.” The “flouting” of laws, he charged, harken back to “the Dark Ages” and blurs the line between might and right. He suggested Wagner’s actions mark an increase in “the aggressive nature” of pro-life demonstrations, creating emotional distress.
There was no immediate word on whether Wagner planned to appeal either the verdicts or what amounted to a six-month jail sentence. There is also an option to file a complaint with the Ontario Judicial Council over Clements’s statements and conduct in the courtroom. According to the OJC website, “If you have a complaint of misconduct about a provincial judge or a justice of the peace, you must state your complaint in a signed letter. The letter of complaint should include the date, time and place of the court hearing and as much detail as possible about why you feel there was misconduct.”