OTTAWA (Reuters) - The province of Ontario was within its rights to press criminal charges against a grandmother who has spent 10 of the last 18 years in jail for defying court orders not to demonstrate outside abortion clinics, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on Friday.
Linda Gibbons, 63, appealed to the Supreme Court last year on a technicality, arguing that disobeying a court order should not be punished under the Criminal Code.
Gibbons, who had an abortion in 1970 before becoming convinced that abortion was wrong, argued that she should not get a criminal record for penalties imposed by Ontario courts. The Supreme Court disagreed in an 8-1 decision.
“It’s a huge victory for women,” said Maria Corsillo, manager of the Scott abortion clinic in Toronto where Gibbons was arrested in 2008. The clinic performs about 2,000 abortions a year.
“They (women) have the right to access health care without having to run a gauntlet through people who want to impose their views on them.”
Due to the Supreme Court’s decision, the case against Gibbons in connection with her activities at the Scott clinic will now go to trial.
Under what was supposed to be a temporary injunction in 1994, Gibbons is not allowed to come within 60 feet of a number of Toronto clinics.
She is currently in a Toronto prison in connection with another bubble-zone violation and was not available for comment.
Santoro said Gibbons would continue her fight in the courts, arguing that it is “an abuse of process” for police to continue to make use of an 18-year-old temporary court order.
“She’s a peaceful protester, and she’s never caused any trouble,” said her lawyer, Daniel Santoro. Corsillo said Gibbons would sometimes approach women arriving at the Scott clinic and tell them, “Your baby loves you; don’t do it.”
Canada has no law on abortion and Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised not to reopen the issue.
The name of the case is Linda Dale Gibbons v. Her Majesty the Queen (33813).
Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Peter Galloway