Anti-abortion activist

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

The complaint involved the accuracy of a CBC.ca report on an anti-abortion activist to whom a Queen's Jubilee Medal was awarded. I did not find a violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

On October 23, 2012, CBC.ca, CBC Television and CBC Radio reported that the Queen's Jubilee Medal had been awarded to Linda Gibbons, an anti-abortion activist described as having “spent 10 years on and off in prison for violating injunctions in front of abortion clinics.”

The awarding of the medal stirred some political and social controversy. Gibbons had been a high-profile activist for decades.

The complainant, Chris Waclawik, wrote CBC News on October 27 to question the accuracy of the description about Gibbons. Waclawik said Gibbons had never been charged in connection with the original injunction dating back 20 years or any other injunctions.

The executive editor of CBC News, Esther Enkin, wrote back November 1 and noted the original 1994 injunction prohibited Gibbons and others from being within 60 feet of some clinics when they were open, from carrying placards or intimidating anyone attending or working in the clinics.

Enkin said Gibbons had been jailed for more than nine years over the last two decades. Three years ago, for example, she “is said to have stood immediately in front of the Scott Clinic during business hours with a sign handing out leaflets as well as speaking with people entering the clinic. Toronto police asked her to move; when she refused, they charged her under Section 127 of the Criminal Code with disobeying a Court Order. In other words, she was charged with violating the interlocutory injunction put in place almost 20 years earlier.”

Waclawik wrote again November 20 to say Gibbons had never been convicted of violating the injunctions but of different charges, such as obstructing a peace officer. Waclawik asked for a review of this dispute. CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices call for accurate reporting and say CBC does not hesitate to correct content “when necessary.”

CONCLUSION

Gibbons has herself said she spent time in jail for defying various injunctions. One such incident, in which she handed out pamphlets near a clinic, led to a 2012 Supreme Court of Canada decision to uphold the Crown's authority to use criminal charges to enforce injunctions.

The CBC story did not indicate whether Gibbons had been jailed through arrests, charges or convictions. It said she had spent the time in prison for violating the injunctions, a statement that did not specify the nature of the custody or the stage of the judicial process under which she was held.

I did not find a violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Kirk LaPointe
CBC Ombudsman