Going to Jail for Life: The Linda Gibbons Saga

Linda Gibbons, a 62-year-old Canadian woman, has been in and out of jail for the last 15 years of her life, having spent more than seven of those behind bars as a common criminal. Her crime, which is defined as “trespassing,” is really that of praying and witnessing outside various local abortion mills in Cabbagetown, Ontario, and elsewhere.

On September 30, 2008, Canada’s National Post gave its readers a glimpse into Gibbons’ struggles:

A 60-year-old Toronto grandmother who has been arrested more than a dozen times for silently protesting in front of a Cabbagetown abortion clinic was acquitted today of her latest charges.

Over the last 14 years, Linda Gibbons estimates she has spent a total of about 75 months in jail. It’s because she continues to violate a 1994 court order that prohibits counseling and pro-life outreach within 60 feet of The Scott Clinic on Gerrard Street.

She was charged with obstructing a police officer after she was arrested on July 31. This afternoon, Justice S. Ford Clements said simply disobeying a court order does not constitute obstructing justice.

“The defendant was peaceful and silent,” the judge said, though she stepped away when the officer took her elbow to persuade her to move beyond 60 feet of the clinic.

Ms. Gibbons left the prisoner’s box and walked out of the courtroom wearing her prison-issued forest green sweatshirt and pants. Several of her supporters, many pro-life advocates, hugged her outside. One man put money in her hand to help with her cause. Someone offered to drive her back to the Toronto West Detention Centre to pick up her clothing and hundreds of letters from sympathizers.

She has only been acquitted twice. But that matters little to her.

“Picketing on a sidewalk is a constitutional right,” she said today.

She uses the same sign each time she protests, a placard with a photo of a crying baby which reads, “Why mom, when I have so much love to give?”

She says she just stands mute on the sidewalk holding pamphlets and a model of a “baby fetus” that fits in her palm.

What I found most interesting about this woman is her tenacity. Pro-life advocate Mark Pickup recently paid tribute to her: “If the pro-life stalwarts like Linda Gibbons were prepared to endure harassment, mockery and even years in jail because she witnessed for the right to life of every unborn child, who will dare to take her place?”

Indeed, I would have to agree. I recall knowing and speaking on a podium with one such hero right here in the USA. His name was John Arena and his “crimes” were of the same sort. Though pro-aborts would suggest that John was an extortionist, John said at one point: “I’ve been a peaceful anti-abortion activist for 31 years. Not one person has ever needed a Band-Aid or an aspirin for anything that I did, yet I was sent to prison because I was considered a terrorist.”

Other pro-life activists who lost their homes for nothing more than participating in an Operation Rescue event are numbered among my pro-life friends as well. There was a time when Operation Rescue events were extremely popular, back in the 1980s. During those years, even football greats like Mark Bavaro participated.

But over time, with the advent of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), the popularity of such demonstrations withered. Pro-life activists became fearful of lawsuits, doing jail time and otherwise being punished for standing up for life. This is understandable, of course, when one considers that pro-life activists are people with families and obligations who are called to first and foremost to protect their loved ones and refrain from participating in activities that might render them unable to meet their primary obligations as spouses and parents.

This is why when a story like the Gibbons story comes along, we take notice and acknowledge the heroic nature of this woman’s actions, not to mention discuss what actions the rest of us might take to help her plead her case and hopefully be freed from jail.

What brought Gibbons to my attention most recently was a wonderfully constructed e-mail plea from Pickup entitled “Linda Gibbons: Pro-life Prisoner of Conscience in Canadian Jail.” The cause of his consternation and call to action is the very same reason each of us would have if the same sort of injustices were perpetrated against a single one of us for merely witnessing, silently and prayerfully to the truth: The right to think and act and share one’s opinion freely without threat of incarceration.
But rather than belabor the point, I present Pickup’s masterfully constructed letter:

Re: Linda Gibbons, prisoner of conscience

Linda Gibbons, 62, has spent much of the last 16 years in jail for her silent pro-life witness in front of Toronto abortion clinics. She rightfully does not recognize the punitive, repressive and arbitrary nature of “bubble zones” that strip her, and others, of fundamental freedoms guaranteed under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.

The bubble zones around abortion facilities not only deny these Fundamental Rights, but deny the Legal Rights to the “right to life” (7) to the youngest members of Canada’s society.

Linda Gibbons is a prisoner of conscience who must be released immediately in accordance with legitimate principles of fundamental justice. Successive provincial governments have persecuted her for the peaceful expression of her beliefs and protected unjust bubble zones, which are designed to repress such freedoms. A free and open society cannot preserve only opinions they agree with and suppress the rights of people with whom they disagree. It is repressive governments that do what you are doing.

I call upon the government of Ontario to release Linda Gibbon, who has been prisoner of conscience in your jails for much of the last 16 years. It’s hard to believe this injustice is happening in Canada. We are quick to point out human rights violations of other countries but are blind to our own.

Even though this situation involves a Canadian citizen, it is my opinion that, as we are all Americans, we can participate as well. It is my fervent hope that those who value the fundamental right of freedom of thought and opinion and the peaceful expression thereof will contact the Hon. Chris Bentley, Attorney General of Ontario and demand Gibbons’ release. Additionally, ask him to stop Gibbons’ further imprisonment for exercising her belief in the universal human right to life of every preborn child.

Send letters via regular mail:
The Hon. Chris Bentley
Attorney General of Ontario
McMurtry-Scott Building
720 Bay Street, 11th Floor
Toronto, ON. M5G 2K1

Or FAX: 1-416-326-4007

We are inspired to act in defense of innocent preborn persons and to support those who sacrifice for the babies by the profound words of Blessed Mother Teresa:

“Any country that accepts abortion, is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what it wants.”

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  • http://schefter.org PrairieHawk

    I am reminded of Servant of God Dorothy Day, who over the course of a lifetime was arrested many times for civil disobedience; the last time was shortly before her death, when she was in her late 70′s. The self-sacrifice and powerful witness of a woman like Linda Gibbons are awe-inspiring. Does Cabbagetown, Ontario, have a saint among them?

  • Suzanne

    Thank you for bringing the work and the plight of Linda Gibbons to the wider pro-life community. She is one of the most dedicated and tenacious pro-life advocates we have here in Canada.

    Just a couple of points of clarification – “Cabbagetown” refers to a neighbourhood in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the largest city in Canada. As well, we Canadians might refer to ourselves as “North Americans” (though rarely), but we do not consider ourselves “Americans”, even though we share the same continent.

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