A Canadian judge who appeared never to have heard of civil disobedience not only condemned pro-life hero Mary Wagner as he sentenced her for entering a Toronto abortion facility — he condemned her God as well.
A pro-abortion spokesperson approved the judge’s words but the head of the Canadian Catholic Civil Rights League said they suggested an anti-religious bias and she was considering a complaint to the Judicial Council.
“You’re wrong, and your God’s wrong,” Justice S. Ford Clements told Mary Wagner, 38, as he sentenced her to 92 days in jail for her November intrusion into a Toronto abortion business.
His comment, first reported by LifeSiteNews, who had a reporter in the courtroom, was confirmed by Wagner's attorney.
In sentencing Wagner to 92 days, Clements ignored a joint recommendation from the Crown prosecutor and her own defense attorney that she be sentenced to the 88 days she had already served before trial.
The joint submission recommended three years probation as well, but the judge asked Wagner if she would promise to stay away from Ontario abortion facilities during the three years.
“I will not,” she declared.
Clements’ comments on God came in the middle of a tirade against Wagner for what he evidently viewed as her insensitivity to the feelings of women using the abortion facilities. “You don’t have the right to cause extra pain and grief in the way you do,” he told her. However, according to Wagner’s defense lawyer, Russell Browne, the Crown introduced no evidence from clients of the abortuary as to “pain and grief.”
Is Judge Biased?
Browne told the Register he would be looking closely at the transcript of the sentencing hearing for “an apprehension of bias” on the part of the judge, adding that he was planning to appeal both Wagner’s sentence and her conviction for “mischief to property.”
“It certainly caught me by surprise,” Browne said of the judge’s comments. And the judge, by asking Wagner about her intentions to re-offend, may have been “forcing her to testify” against herself, which is unlawful in Canada, as it is in American law.
Browne said he would appeal the sentence on the grounds that Wagner’s 88 days already served was in line with previous sentencing for second offences for abortuary occupations. Her intentions during probation should have been immaterial to what was, in Browne’s view, a technical matter.
Browne will appeal the conviction on the principle of Wagner’s constitutional right to free speech.
The judge, said Browne, apparently wanted to mix it up with Wagner over her comments about obeying a higher law than the law of Canada. “He did say, ‘If you don’t like the law, then go change it; don’t disobey it,” said Browne, so the judge didn’t need to launch an attack on his client’s faith.
Joseph Ben Ami of the Ottawa-based Canadian Centre for Policy Studies called Clements’ comments “profoundly absurd,” adding, “They call into question whether the judge is without bias. Even if I were an atheist, this, to me, is a stupid thing for a judge to say.”
Law to Protect People’s Feelings?
Ben Ami added that there is a tradition in Western culture for laws to be changed through civil disobedience. “It’s absolutely a good thing that there are people willing to go to jail to change the law. But here the judge seems to be saying the law is there to protect people’s feelings.”
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association declined to comment on Clements’ remarks. However, Mary Ellen Douglas of the Campaign Life Coalition of Canada termed Clements’ remarks “very biased and anti-Christian.” She also scoffed at testimony during the trial from the abortion facility’s owner to the effect that Wagner’s presence made her fearful. “Some of us pro-lifers might be scary, but not Mary. She is the gentlest of souls. They just can’t take anybody saying that abortion is killing a baby.”
While the coalition does not enter abortuaries or enter the so-called “bubble zones” courts have established around some facilities, said Douglas, it does not criticize Wagner or Linda Gibbons, Canada’s other pro-life prisoner, for doing so. “The distance we stay away does make it hard to reach the women. Linda and Mary take the route they do to take the message to the women,” she said.
However, Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, told the Register, “Mary got what she deserves. What she doesn’t deserve is this reputation for being meek and mild. She’s actually quite aggressive. She goes right into clinics and even the ones who just stand there and do nothing are harmful because the anxiety, stress and fear it creates can increase the risk of medical complications, both physical and psychological. The clinic staff have to continually deal with this fallout.”
As for the judge’s comments, Arthur said she was glad to “hear someone tell it like it is.”
On the other hand, Joanne McGarry, executive director of the Canadian Catholic Civil Rights League, called the comments “very inappropriate. She added, “We are considering a complaint to the judicial council.”
Wagner, contacted through her lawyer, said she remained committed to her vocation of counseling women seeking abortion. To her mother, Jayne Wagner of Nanaimo, British Columbia, she said, “I am at peace, Mom.”
Register correspondent Steve Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.