OTTAWA - The tough-on-crime Conservative cabinet is taking a hands-off approach to a Diamond Jubilee medal being awarded to a repeat offender jailed for harassing women over abortion.
Saskatchewan Conservative backbencher Maurice Vellacott has won kudos from the pro-life community for recommending that jailed anti-abortion crusader Mary Wagner be commended for her "civil disobedience to further a just cause."
Vellacott also recommended a medal for Linda Gibbons, another woman who has been charged repeatedly for encroaching on abortion clinics and harassing staff and patients.
Wagner, 38, is currently in jail in Toronto awaiting trial after entering a clinic in August — this following a conviction in March for a similar offence last November when she attempted to force her way into a Toronto clinic's private treatment area.
Court documents show Wagner has four similar convictions dating back to 2000 in Vancouver.
Locking up repeat offenders has been a Conservative mantra since the party took power in 2006, but Public Safety Minister Vic Toews denied any knowledge Tuesday of the Wagner case when he was asked about the award at a joint news conference with Treasury Board President Tony Clement.
Clement jumped in to say that, "as you know, these nominations come forward from a variety of sources, I am told."
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson was similarly blase, saying it is up to Vellacott — a 15-year veteran Conservative MP first elected in 1997 — to address the matter. Nicholson said that he personally is very happy to have awarded Diamond Jubilee medals to victims of crime.
A news release from Vellacott's office said the MP couldn't award medals "to the victims of crime, because these baby victims are dead."
Instead, the release said, he chose Wagner and Gibbons, calling them "heroines of humanity."
"It's a pretty upside down world when we honour abortionists like Henry Morgentaler for killing over 5,000 babies and imprison precious women, like Mary Wagner and Linda Gibbons, who try to save babies from such savagery," the news release said.
Vellacott's Jubilee citation to Wagner alludes to her willingness to do jail time in the cause of stopping abortions.
"Your faithful battle for justice for pre-born children, with your willingness to suffer hardship and personal deprivation, is a source of strength and inspiration for many," says the medal citation, awarded by the Governor General's office.
Bob Rae, the Liberals' interim leader, called it "bizarre, in my view, to be giving medals to people who are in jail for harassment or for causing mischief or for breaking probation."
"I think it's completely inappropriate," Rae said outside the House of Commons.
Marie-Pierre Belanger, a spokeswoman for the vice-regal office, said nominators "are expected to establish their own selection process to nominate Canadians for the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and to choose responsibly."
Some 60,000 medals are being awarded based on a loose guideline to "focus on the achievements of persons who have helped to build the Canada of today," according to the Governor General's website.
It also suggests that "through their achievements and sustained contribution, the candidates have distinguished themselves from others employed in the same field."
In that respect, Mary Wagner certainly applies.
Wagner's most recent conviction last March ended up at an appeals court after the trial judge effectively blew a gasket over her repeat offences.
Court transcripts show she somehow gained access to a secure waiting room of a Toronto abortion clinic, had the waiting patients and their escorts in tears demanding her removal, then attempted to force her way through a door when staff ushered the patients into a more secure counselling and treatment area.
She refused to leave when police arrived and was charged with trespassing, along with two counts of breach of probation.
Her resulting six-month sentence was overturned on appeal in September by the Superior Court of Justice, which found that trial Judge S. Ford Clement had made "ill-advised and inappropriate" comments during her sentencing.
Clement, the appeal court noted, "commented that the appellant had displayed an 'utter contempt' for previous court orders and had demonstrated a 'lack of respect for the rights of others, and the rule of law.'"
"The trial judge also noted that, by purporting to act according to a 'higher moral obligation' than the laws of our country, the appellant represented a 'potential threat and danger to the well-being and safety of civil society' and sowed the 'seeds of lawlessness … disorder, or perhaps even anarchy.'"
On Sept. 27, Wagner's sentence was reduced to time served — 88 days — and three years probation. By then, however, she had already breached her probation by entering another abortion clinic.