TORONTO — Almost two weeks after he was pepper sprayed by a woman trying to induce an 18-year-old girl to have an abortion, pro-life counselor Robert Hinchey still didn't know who committed the crime.
Hinchey, a 52-year-old counselor at Aid to Women, was sprayed in late August while accompanying a woman to a medical clinic after she changed her mind about having an abortion. It was only in mid-September that he learned from a reporter that Carol Ann Trueman, an employee at a Toronto women's shelter, had been charged with the crime.
For two weeks he was told that police had no record of the incident even though police and fire officials wearing gas masks evacuated the clinic.
As well, the woman, who had changed her mind about having an abortion, ended up killing her 20-week-old unborn baby.
The bizarre pepper spraying occurred Aug. 29 at St. Michael's Family Medical Clinic in downtown Toronto.
Aid to Women occupies half of a semidetached building in Toronto. The other half houses an abortion clinic, Cabbagetown Women's Clinic. Aid to Women counselors often meet women on their way to the abortion clinic to advise them alternatives are available.
Hinchey saw an 18-year-old woman step out of a taxi in front of the clinic. He asked if she was looking for help and pointed to the Aid to Women sign, then accompanied her inside.
Hinchey and Tina Arruda, another Aid to Women counselor, talked to the pregnant girl. They learned she was an illegal immigrant from the Caribbean who, a day earlier, had a laminaria insertion to dilate her cervix and was scheduled for an abortion that morning. She thought she would be deported if she had the baby.
“We told her we could help her, that she didn't have to abort her baby,” Hinchey said. “We said we knew a doctor who would take out the laminaria for free.”
Hinchey said he reiterated what they were proposing in place of the abortion. “I said to her, ‘Is that what you want?’” Hinchey said. “She was very clear about what we were doing.”
Hinchey left to get a car to travel to St. Michael's clinic, while Arruda escorted the teen to the corner to wait for the car.
As they walked, a woman from the abortion clinic followed them and called out to the young woman several times, telling her to stop and come back. As the two continued walking, the abortion clinic employee ran ahead, according to Arruda, stopped inches from them and hit them so that they were separated.
Arruda said she called 911 to report the incident to police, and subsequently called three more times that morning to report the alleged assault. Police have a file on Arruda's complaint but would not comment on it.
Hinchey, meanwhile, took the 18-year-old to St. Michael's clinic. As they were waiting, the receptionist told him a police officer had just called and was on her way over to speak to the young woman.
Hinchey said a female officer arrived and insisted on speaking to the teen alone outside of the clinic. After several minutes, she returned and went back to the clinic with Hinchey.
“I assumed that the officer was satisfied that [the young woman] was there because she wanted to continue with the pregnancy,” he said.
But within five minutes, Hinchey added, two large women appeared, grabbed the young woman and moved toward the clinic's elevator. “I yelled for them to stop and said, ‘They're kidnapping her.’”
Hinchey said the clinic security guard moved toward the women and demanded they stop and wait for the police. Hinchey tried to place himself between them and the young woman.
Suddenly, one of the intruders sprayed him in the face. He was immediately blinded and fell back, unable to see what happened afterward.
The same policewoman who had spoken to the young woman earlier returned shortly after the pepper spraying and told him the woman had changed her mind and had the abortion.
Police and fire officials were called to the scene, according to Nicole Ireland, of corporate communications for St. Michael's Hospital, and the clinic was evacuated because of the pepper spray.
John Henry Westen of Lifesite News broke the story on Sept. 5 after asking Constable Debbie Abbott of media relations with the Toronto Police Department about the incident and whether charges had been filed. She told him she had no record of the incident.
As well, Hinchey said he called police on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 to find out if anyone had been charged and was also told there was no record of the event. Police also told the Register on Sept. 10 that there was no file and no charge.
Finally, on Sept. 11 Detective Sgt. Tom Russell told the Register that Trueman, a worker at Stop 86, a Toronto women's shelter, had been charged with assault with a weapon because of the pepper spraying. She will appear in court on Oct. 28.
Russell said the charge against Trueman was filed at the scene Aug. 29 and said he could not speak for others who said there was no file.
The pro-life counselors remain concerned that there may have been a deliberate effort by Toronto police officials to keep the incident from the public eye. Hinchey wondered why he was not told about the charge on Aug. 31, Sept. 1 or Sept. 5 when he called police again and said he wanted to file a complaint about the assault. Two officers interviewed him that day but said nothing about any charges having already been filed.
He also wondered how the two women knew the girl was at St. Michael's clinic. He, Arruda and the policewoman who responded to the complaint about the abortion clinic employee's alleged interference were the only ones who knew, yet the women with the pepper spray showed up several minutes after the girl's meeting with the policewoman.
Reached at Stop 86 after police finally disclosed her name, Trueman asked how a reporter got her name. Told the police had released it, she said, “This is supposed to be a confidential matter,” then hung up.
Police media relations spokes-woman Abbott said no media release was sent out because it was not a “major event.”'
Said Abbott, “I've had lots of calls on this, but not from any of the media I usually deal with. The Toronto Star [Canada's largest newspaper] called but they didn't think it was a story. What is so interesting about this?”
Aid to Women's Arruda wondered if the officer would say the same thing if the pepper-sprayer had been a pro-lifer.
“That would have been all over the media,” she said. “We're the ones who are always called aggressive and violent and extreme. When it's the other side, no one reports it.”
Joanne Byfield writes from Edmonton, Alberta.