TORONTO, ON October 18, 2011 – The Catholic Civil Rights League elected a new regional director to its boardat its Annual General Meeting October 13, and announced one resignation.
Christian D. Elia, former director of the Office for Catholic Youth in the Archdiocese of Toronto, was elected as Ontario director. The League regretfully accepted the resignation of Sean Murphy, who has served as western region director in B.C. for 10 years and now wishes to devote more time to other interests, including the Protection of Conscience Project (www.consciencelaws.org).
League President Phil Horgan expressed thanks to Mr. Murphy for his leadership over the years, particularly in the areas of parental responsibility for the education of their children and the protection of freedom of religion and freedom of expression in the public realm.
All League members are entitled to receive a free copy of our annual report, which includes our financial statements from 2010. Requests can be e-mailed or made by phone (416-466-8244).
Executive Director Ms. McGarry presented the annual activity report, noting that despite reduced funds the League had participated at the same rate as previous years in court and tribunal cases, press releases and articles about legislative and other policy initiatives and opposing anti-Catholic defamation in the media.
In a brief summation of ongoing cases, Ms. McGarry noted that our intervention in the Whatcott case had just been presented at the Supreme Court of Canada, and that we expect decisions fairly soon in the prostitution appeal (Ontario Court of Appeal) and the appeal of Quebec parents (Supreme Court of Canada) seeking an exemption from the province’s Ethics and Religious Culture Course.
The League’s anti-defamation work in 2010-11 was mainly occasioned by public funding of particularly vile artwork, severely biased or misleading commentary on papal statements or Church teaching on public issues, and anti-religious obscenity in public spaces.
Guest speaker Daniel Santoro, counsel to pro-life protester Linda Gibbons, told the meeting that Ms. Gibbons’ case has parallels to the mandate of the League, in that both concern the right to participate fully in the public square, and practice one’s beliefs freely and openly. Ms. Gibbons has spent a total of about 10 of the past 17 years in jail for repeated silent, peaceful protest within the “bubble zone” surrounding several Toronto abortion clinics.
“Linda’s case is all about freedom of expression of a Catholic belief, i.e., the right to life,” said Mr. Santoro. He discussed the history of what was viewed at the time (1993-4) as a temporary injunction creating a bubble zone around several Toronto abortion clinics.
While injunctions of this type are usually temporary, this one still stands 17 years later because “they don’t want to touch it.” (The injunction was against 18 citizens including Ms. Gibbons, plus “John and Jane Doe”.)
While the gist of the Supreme Court of Canada appeal that Mr. Santoro has undertaken is a question of jurisdiction – he argues that Section 127 of the federal Criminal Code cannot be used to enforce a civil injunction of the provincial government – the other cases involving Ms. Gibbons’ peaceful picketing address the freedom of expression questions and the fact that the injunction is unjustified. “We already have laws to protect people from problems that may arise from pickets, such as laws against mischief, property damage; stalking…the injunction is truly not needed.”
If the SCC appeal is successful, he said, the injunction would not end automatically, but it would have to be addressed through legislation either ending it or making the restriction permanent, as it is B.C. for example.
Lessons learned from pro-life legal work, Mr. Santoro added, include the importance of defending those charged (since the “other side” always seems to be well funded and well represented), the value of having our argument on the public record and the need to support such cases for the long term, since change is incremental and slow.
Henry Morgentaler, for instance, was charged and tried many times before the law was finally changed, and there are still a few unresolved cases involving clinic funding. It is important to get more individual lawyers involved in pro-life work, Mr. Santoro added, since Canada does not have legal associations to fill the gap.
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