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Mar 24 2012

Ontario judge (maybe) to anti-choice activist: “You’re wrong and your God’s wrong”

Hat tip to Ibis3 for pointing this story out to me.

Apparently, according to “pro-life” news aggregator LifeSiteNews.com, Justice S. Ford Clements dispensed approbation judiciously to an anti-choice protester by the name of Mary Wagner who’s been harassing abortion clinic patients in violation of her probation. Dammit Janet reports:

[Wagner] was charged with mischief and two counts of failing to comply with probation orders (indicating previous brushes with the law, yes?).

She’d been harassing patients and workers at the Bloor West Village Women’s Clinic. But she’s not content to stand on the sidewalk with gory pictures; she enters the clinic with flowers, brochures, and counselling in-person harassment.


LifeSiteNews quotes the judge thus:

“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.

There are many problems I can’t resolve personally with this article — though it’s getting a ton of traction amongst the religious zealots and conservative crowd, all roads lead back to this one story. Either this is an original piece of reporting, making it suspect in its bias in where all those elipses were placed in the Judge’s quotes, or it was invented from whole cloth. I don’t know how, without transcripts of this court case, any of this could be shown to be true.

One issue I have with the whole case is the fact that Wagner was apparently arrested after being asked to leave and refusing, for violating trespass laws. However, her presence in the abortion clinic violated a protest bubble law in Ontario which protects staff and patients at up to ten feet, and offices at up to twenty-five. Why she wasn’t arrested under those laws is beyond me, unless the story was simply invented.

But regardless, even if everything in LifeSiteNews is exactly correct, and all of the quotes exactly right and in correct context, I still think the judge did the right thing. If a condition of your probation for violating protest buffer zone laws is that you not break any laws, and if you decide unilaterally that these laws are “guideposts”, then you go to jail.

When protesting “the man”, you have to work within the system to change the laws. You cannot simply break them and expect there to be no consequences. Beyond that, you cannot simply break those laws just to provoke a response and make yourself a martyr for your cause. Like the judge said — women exercising bodily autonomy by choosing to abort is perfectly legal in Canada.

Women are already in many cases emotionally traumatized by the experience, especially in cases where they have to abort for medical reasons despite actually wanting the child. There’s absolutely nothing moral about pouring salt in wounds, and there’s nothing moral about terrorizing people into doing what you personally believe under any circumstances.

Especially not because you’re deluded enough to think that some very old book told you to oppose this otherwise legal practice, despite every reading available of said book proving you demonstrably wrong. So, when you get right down to it, if Clements said “you’re wrong and your God is wrong” for believing that harassing abortion patients is justified and moral, he’d be doubly right. Whatever deity Wagner worships, it apparently preaches morality that is not as nuanced and just and correct as what we practice in modern society; and beyond that, no God’s holy book says anything about abortion, especially not any Christian texts. Whatever God she worships, it isn’t the God of the Bible.

Hell. Even Islam says fetuses are only given souls at four months of gestation, and abortions are permissible in many cases even after that. When Islam is more progressive than your religion on some point regarding women’s rights, considering every other way they systematically subjugate women to patriarchy otherwise, surely that should give you some pause.

37 comments

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  1. 1
    chigau (違う)

    Are court transcripts accessible?

  2. 2
    Stephanie Zvan

    Well, not quite. You can certainly be a martyr if you want. Complaining about being a martyr is pretty dumb, though.

  3. 3
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    @chigau Technically, yes. But I have no idea how to go about getting it.

    http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/courts/policies_and_procedures/public_access/

  4. 4
    Jason Thibeault

    It looks as though it’s possible to get a transcript from the court directly. You bring the fee (whatever that is) to the specific court the case happened, and you can have a transcript. I really wish it was accessible online, but Canada’s governmental tech infrastructure is… lacking.

  5. 5
    chigau (違う)

    So, do We™ know anyone close to the courthouse?
    I’d kick in a few dollars.

  6. 6
    Forbidden Snowflake

    … You’ve lost the right as a citizen to be anywhere near an abortion clinic or to speak to an employee,” he said.

    Unless she needs one herself, presumably? The law does have a way to keep her from harassing people without inhibiting her own access to abortion, right?

  7. 7
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    A bit too far for me. It would probably take me 2hrs or so all together for me to get there. I wouldn’t mind if I were going into the city for some other purpose, but I’m not planning on doing that any time soon.

  8. 8
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    Well, I would suppose that she could make arrangements through health care providers in jail and her lawyer/probation officer after that. I would also think, given her history, she’d probably have to go to a hospital rather than to a clinic, so she’d be less likely to encounter other women to harass. But I’m not a lawyer and have next to zero experience with the justice system or corrections, so this is just a guess.

  9. 9
    David D.G.

    HUGE props to you for your skepticism on this story! It is obviously tempting to just pass it along as given, but you are right to be cautious in accepting it at face value.

    I cannot tell you how many times I’ve received a chain email forward of that timeworn cliche story about an atheist professor getting decked by a student after the professor had mocked God and dared him to strike him down, with the student smugly saying, “God was busy, so I took care it for him,” or the equally ubiquitous chain-email lie about Jane Fonda having sabotaged the efforts of an American POW in Vietnam to smuggle out a message when she visited there. The people who pass these along believe these things are ABSOLUTELY TRUE, despite the obvious and well-documented urband legend nature of the “professor” story, or even despite any named individuals in question (such as the former POW) both publicly and privately denying that such a thing ever happened. (My dad actually looked up that former POW and emailed him directly, and he got the same information from him that Snopes.com provided — namely, that whoever started that anti-Jane Fonda email simply made up the whole incident.)

    People usually believe these stories simply because they WANT to believe them, in spite of a lack of any supporting evidence, or even when any existing evidence contradicts it. But skepticism is always warranted, ESPECIALLY when the story sounds exactly like what we would want it to be.

    That said, I look forward to hearing further on this item; and if it IS genuine, then I will happily forward it myself, with sources properly appended!

    ~David D.G.

  10. 10
    RobinLeah

    Outside of some mild frustration that it was hard to find any reliable info. on the internet, it’s probably a good thing that these convictions get pretty much ignored by the main stream media in Canada. Thanks for picking up this story in any case. According to one questionable site that is really not worth the link, there are about 30 people CURRENTLY being held in jail for their conduct in and around abortion clinics (average sentence 4-6 months). I had no idea that it could be this high – what an absolute waste of social resources. If anyone has any reliable information on these convictions, I’d appreciate the link.

  11. 11
    lexd

    “You’re wrong and your god is wrong” is EXACTLY what I’ve been wishing people would say for years now. I’m so proud. Hell, I hope the story’s true, and that judge gets a massive reward of some sort.

  12. 12
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    I had no idea that it could be this high – what an absolute waste of social resources.

    Assuming the numbers are true, what would you suggest as an alternative?

  13. 13
    steve oberski

    Justice S. Ford Clements is listed as a Judge in the Toronto region:
    http://www.ontariocourts.ca/ocj/en/judges/ as of March 7, 2012 and was appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice, effective February 18, 2004.

    The Canandian Legal Information Institute database (http://www.canlii.org) appears to be current only to 2012/03/19 and I can’t find mention of this case using the search tool although I am no expert in this area.

    Perhaps the case will appear in the database in the next day or so.

  14. 14
    Guest

    Anyone who uses the word “patriarchy” unironically is a douchebag of great proportions.

  15. 15
    Mclean

    When protesting “the man”, you have to work within the system to change the laws. You cannot simply break them and expect there to be no consequences. Beyond that, you cannot simply break those laws just to provoke a response and make yourself a martyr for your cause. Like the judge said — women exercising bodily autonomy by choosing to abort is perfectly legal in Canada.

    Actually, Dr. Morgantaler helped overturn abortion laws in Canada by overtly breaking the law against performing abortions. Civil disobediance has helped to overturn many repressive laws, and to deny civil disobediance de-facto as a method to those wishing to reinstate repressive laws is unfortunately a little hypocritical. From each perspective the laws are causing harm to society, so the philosophy of cultural relativism (which I abhor) is also useless in the debate.

    Everything boils down to a debate of ideas (culture war), and though the law has sided with pro-choice based on reasoned debate, the debate will, and must, keep going on from the mere fact that everyone is born ignorant and enough are raised indoctrinated.

  16. 16
    George W.

    I suppose I could get the transcript, if you have to go to the courthouse to get it.
    I live in Ontario, and several of my closest friends live in Toronto.

    I wonder how much they cost?

  17. 17
    Jason Thibeault

    George, I’d be happy to cover it, however much it is. Maybe ask for people to chip in a few bucks to defray the costs, if it’s more than my budget could handle immediately.

    And I’d owe you a favour thereafter, either way.

  18. 18
    George W.

    I’ll make some calls.
    I’ll e-mail you with the details if I can get the transcript….

  19. 19
    Dave MacDonald

    I am surprised that someone who professes to be an atheist would not be outraged that a judge would presume to know what God thinks. How dare a judge bring in his religious interpretations

    While you have every right to be suspicious of the reporting, Lifesitenews is a very credible news source and is frequently cited by main stream media sources. However, one shouldn’t be surprised that someone has acted with irrationally on an issue as emotional as abortion. Even when it is a judge. It happens to people on both sides of the issue frequently.

    Many atheists will say that they believe in the equality of all people and in science. However, they have trouble reconciling the two when it comes to abortion. No informed person can deny that life begins at conception. Many will willfully blind themselves on this issues saying science doesn’t know. However, this is simply not true.

    Others will say that it is not a person in the eyes of the law. Look up the legal definition and ask yourself if that means the same thing as a human being. Personhood has always been used as a way to discriminate against those who were less powerful, from women to visible minorities. Today, a person, legal speaking, is also a corporation or other legal entity.

    So pick your values. From an atheist’s perspective can one believe in abortion at the expense of reason, science and human rights?

    Religions may disagree on when life begins but science doesn’t. So the question I have for atheists is, do you view the issue of abortion from the perspective of science or your reaction to those who profess a religious viewpoint. A free thinking atheist cannot be pro-choice and maintain that they believe in the equality of all human beings without being logically inconsistent.

  20. 20
    Nepenthe

    From an atheist’s perspective can one believe in abortion at the expense of reason, science and human rights?

    From an atheist point of view, women are people. People are not allowed to use other people’s bodies without their continued permission. There! Problem solved! Let’s all go have ice cream!

  21. 21
    Jason Thibeault

    Oh, aren’t you just precious, Dave MacDonald.

    I am surprised that someone who professes to be an atheist would not be outraged that a judge would presume to know what God thinks. How dare a judge bring in his religious interpretations

    I understand people who say “If your God says this, then your God is wrong” to be saying, “Let’s for the moment grant that your God exists and believes this thing which is illegal. That means your God is in violation of the law.” It is this sort of hypothetical god that does not bother an atheist like myself.

    While you have every right to be suspicious of the reporting, Lifesitenews is a very credible news source and is frequently cited by main stream media sources.

    Yes, sure, cited as an example of an anti-choice activism. Citation needed for any other suggested nuance!

    No informed person can deny that life begins at conception.

    No. I’m informed, and I fully deny that statement. The only way that could be the case is if you define life as “any collection of chemicals that is arranged such that it is capable of growth given the right conditions” By that definition, life begins at creation of the gamete, which means male masturbation is mass murder.

    I no more think life begins at conception than I believe that an acorn, a split second after falling off its branch, is a fully viable tree.

    Personhood has always been used as a way to discriminate against those who were less powerful, from women to visible minorities. Today, a person, legal speaking, is also a corporation or other legal entity.

    And under the law, one person cannot use another person without consent — that is slavery. If this embryo is a fully protected human being under the law, and the woman does not consent to giving that embryo her personal resources to bring it to term, then who are you to deny one fully viable human being’s rights to personal autonomy in deference to a “human being” by definition only, which would not survive without that imposition?

  22. 22
    Dave MacDonald

    well I am glad that science put to rest that argument. If those who provide abortions really care about women, then why do they not respect them enough to give full medical disclosure. The paternalistic attitudes of the abortion providers by saying they know what is best for women so no reason to trouble them with facts. Being pro-choice also means being against informed consent.

  23. 23
    Jason Thibeault

    Or what Nepenthe said. Jeez. I really gotta work on my pithy-ness.

  24. 24
    Jason Thibeault

    It most certainly does not mean being against informed consent, Dave. It means not lying to women and saying egregiously incorrect things like “fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks” when they don’t even have nervous systems, or forcing them to undergo transvaginal ultrasounds (e.g. having a 10 inch rod stuck up their vaginas) to show them what the baby looks like when they’re informed that they have a choice between either carrying the dead fetus to term and possibly dying themselves, or having the abortion and saving their own lives at the expense of the already-dead baby that has half its brain growing outside its skull.

    Yes, my little scenario really happened.

    So why are you campaigning so hard that blastocysts and embryos have more rights to the woman’s resources than the woman herself, exactly? And when are you going to back any of your assertions about science with, oh, say, actual science?

  25. 25
    Dave MacDonald

    Why do you feel it necessary to distort what I have said. I believe all human being should be accorded the same basic rights. You have accused me of saying in favour of granting more rights to a younger human being than women. This would seem to be a complete contradictory position from that which I have stated. Which is not given that those who support abortion think the best way to promote their position is to fabricate information. For instance, its just a blob, life doesn’t begin until quickening, when or my favorite when the baby can live on its own. In our Starbucks generation there are plenty out their that couldn’t get by without the guy giving them their morning coffee in the drive through.

    As far as transvaginal ultrasounds that seems a little far fetched. A simple ultasound would be sufficient for making an informed consent but it sure does make good propaganda to suggest that pro-lifers were forcing women to undergo a procedure which might be defined as a sexual assault.

  26. 26
    Dave MacDonald

    Try reading Gray’s Anatomy, the book not the show, regarding the development of the brain and central nervous system. http://education.yahoo.com/reference/gray/subjects/subject/184 Keep telling yourselves that pro-lifers are anti-science.

  27. 27
    Nepenthe

    @Dave MacDonald

    It seems you’re hard of reading, so I’m going to type this really slowly.

    Women are people.

    People don’t have the right to use the bodies of other people without their ongoing permission.

    Hence, even if fetuses are people, they do not have the right to use the bodies of other people without their ongoing permission.

    End of story. Finis. The show is over. You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here, etc, etc, etc.

    Any dithering about when said fetus becomes a person is moot. Any dithering about when “life” begins is moot. Now go have your ice cream.

    PS We should accurately celebrate the beginning of the life of such a grand person as Dave MacDonald. Let us know when your Conception Day is so we can send you e-cards.

  28. 28
    Dave MacDonald

    thank you for your consideration in typing slowly it made it so much easier to understand. Woman are people… hmm unusual concept. So you say, “even if fetuses are people” you seem to have trouble acknowledging the scientific reality. Is this a reaction to others religious belief or do you just make things up as you go?

    Have you noticed that in every case where they kill people they don’t call them people. In war it is casualties, collateral damage, or worse racially demeaning terms. Capital punishment it is animals. Euthanasia it is vegetables. Slavery and lynchings were committed against those they called N*’s and men who beat women refer to them as B*’s or worse. No one ever says this person deserves to die.

    Why if people truly believe abortion is morally correct can’t they say that the unborn child is a person but still the woman has the right to take that child’s life. Tell people it is only a clump of cells, just like a fingernail, and my favourite it is small. I like the it is small so it is unimportant because that makes me feel so powerful.

    If you truly believe in abortion just tell the truth. If you believe in war or capital punishment just say there will be people killed but it is justified. However, it can’t be done as dehumanization is necessary to take human life.

  29. 29
    Nepenthe

    It apparently is an unusual concept that women are people. Most forced birthers appear to think of them as aquariums for carrying fetuses. You seem to have glossed over it entirely.

    I’m confused about this “scientific reality” to which you refer. Is it that fetuses are alive? That’s a trivial truth. Fetuses and embryos are alive. I am alive. Cows are alive. Tumors are alive. We don’t grant legal or moral personhood to three of these, though you and I clearly differ on which one the third ought be.

  30. 30
    Dave MacDonald

    Trivial truth that is rich. Now I am understanding the thought process of a pro-choicer. Human being = cow = tumor because all are alive. So it is understandable that you are confused by scientific reality.

    Is there anyone who has the intellectual capacity to open up a book and give an argument based on scientific, rather than emotional, evidence to support abortion.

  31. 31
    Nepenthe

    You really are hard of reading.

    They are all alive. Do you have a problem with this statement? Are some of the above not performing metabolic functions to your standards?

    The distinguishing feature, which I took pains to point out and you would have noticed were you arguing in the least bit of good faith, was that they are not all persons. I think the statement that cows are not people is, outside of rather fringe animal rights groups, uncontroversial. I know of no one who thinks that tumors are people. I know many who believe that women are people and I know many who believe that embryos are people. (These last groups have some overlap.)

    Again, what is this “scientific reality” to which you refer?

  32. 32
    Dave MacDonald

    From the moment of conception the genetic makeup of the human being is complete. Some call this a potential human being. Ya, the same way a potential child is a potential teenager. No scientific basis but rather mere rhetoric to justify abortion.

    The law has always been used to undermine human rights. If it is convenient then we just deem certain classes of human being non-persons.

    If not conception, when does science point to the time when human life begins?

  33. 33
    Nepenthe

    Ah, you’re arguing that the event of fertilization creates a “human being”, which I assume you’re using as shorthand for “legal and moral person”. Science can’t answer the question of when unique human genetic material becomes a person. It can tell us, however that neither fertilization nor a unique genetic combination necessarily lead to what any reasonable person would agree to be a person. The roughly 50% of zygotes that fail to implant do not lead to a person. Molar pregnancies have unique genetic makeups, but cannot become human beings. Monozygotic twins are not a single person and a chimera is not two people.

    Clearly you’re using a different set of criteria for personhood than fertilization and unique genetic material, whether you acknowledge it or not. So, the question is what those criteria are.

    And you continue to gloss over the pertinent point. Women are people. People are not obligated to have other people use their bodies without continued permission. Whether an embryo is a person is a moot point.

    I understand that, assuming you are a cissexual man, this is a theoretical exercise for you, but we are discussing my personhood. When I was pissing onto a stick in a public bathroom outside of Walgreens, after having been raped and realizing that my menses were late, this was not a theoretical exercise for me. Keep that in mind.

    Side note: Jason, please feel free to end this if you feel it’s disruptive. I have a terrible case of SIWOTI.

  34. 34
    Jason Thibeault

    Nepenthe: if I shut down this discussion, it won’t be because of you. It’ll be because Dave came in on a dead thread days after everyone disappeared to wax pontific about how great his knowledge of science is, without any proof of his assertions that embryos are obviously persons.

    I really would have thought the idea that people aren’t allowed to use other people without their permission might have gotten through to him, because it accedes for rhetorical purposes the idea that maybe this embryo, by virtue of being a human embryo, is a fully viable person. At this point, all I can really do is point and mock. I’m tempted to show pictures of embryos at 6 and 12 weeks of development and ask him if he can tell us what their political views, favorite foods, or hobbies are.

  35. 35
    Nepenthe

    @Jason

    I’d like to give all forced birthers a quiz about which of several embryos should be put on the census and are acceptable to enslave women in the and which will, in a few months, make a tasty lunch.

  36. 36
    Nepenthe

    That should be “enslave women in the service of”.

  37. 37
    Katya

    Not sure if Canada’s court system works similarly to that of the US or not, but just an FYI concerning gathering public information from courts.

    Any information that has not been sealed is rightfully open to the public. If it has been sealed, which can happen at the request of the main parties (and so Ordered by the Judge), or it contains information regarding a minor, the public can’t even know that information exists.

    Court documents are quite easy to obtain. In the great state of Montana, anyone can walk into the Clerk of Court’s Office and run a background check on anyone they want, free of charge. If they want to print copies, this is free as well (though some counties may charge a small fee per page). If you don’t have the luxury of going to the Courthouse in person, our Clerk of Courts charge a small fee to search their records for you, all you need to know is the name of the party you are searching for and the year in which charges were brought to THAT SPECIFIC court. If, say, you already know the case number, in all likelihood your search will be conducted free of charge. In my office, we will inform people of what documents are available and how much it would cost to obtain them (how many pages, whether postage need be paid, etc).

    Court transcripts, however, are a little more tedious. These are created, kept and maintained by the Judge’s own personal Court Clerk, who is paid handsomely to do so. Often times, one must contact this Clerk specifically to obtain transcripts, and pay fees which are deemed by that Clerk.

    I know I’m late to the party, but it’s great to be informed, especially about information that we, as the public, actually have a right to.

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