Conscientious objector has previously turned down bail by refusing conditions
By Deborah Gyapong
On Dec. 23, Mary Wagner, 40, deliberately violated the law by entering a Toronto abortion facility armed with roses and pregnancy-help information cards.
Within a half hour, police spilled out of three cars and arrested her. The British Columbia native is back behind bars at the Vanier Centre for Women, in Milton, Ont., on charges of breach of probation, and mischief for interfering with a business.
Wagner has been in and out of prison in Ontario over the past four years. She spent two years locked up while her lawyer Charles Lugosi defended her in the Ontario Court of Justice on charges of mischief for interfering with a business and other minor charges.
She was convicted last June and he is seeking leave to appeal. Lugosi said the judge and the prosecution had wanted to release Wagner on bail but she refused to sign an undertaking promising she would not return to the facility.
Wagner is also well-known in Poland, where demonstrations have been taking place protesting her arrest. Hundreds gathered before the Canadian Embassy in Warsaw on Jan. 8, and more than 35,000 have signed a petition demanding her release.
Father Paul Nicholson, a priest with the London diocese who has known Wagner for five years, drove with her to the abortion facility Dec. 23. They recited the morning office together on the way. "I took her breviary from her and she went into the clinic," he said. "She went with her roses."
"She goes there to pray for a miracle: those are her own words, that the women will change their minds and the abortionist himself will be converted, and the abortion workers also," the priest said. "She willingly accepts the results of her interventions and she sees it as identification with the unborn child."
"It's an act of complete solidarity with the victims of abortion," he said. "She is the unwelcome intruder, just as the unborn child is seen as the unwelcome intruder. Mary becomes a visible unwelcome intruder into the debate."
The third of 12 children, Wagner grew up in a prolife Catholic family in a suburb of Vancouver. Her mother said Mary did "rescue work" in British Columbia when she was in her mid-20s and spent some time in the women's prison in Burnaby. In 2011 she travelled to Ontario to "be in solidarity with Linda Gibbons," a grandmother who has spent years in prison for praying outside abortion facilities, violating a more than two-decade old temporary injunction creating a bubble zone around abortion mills in Ontario.
"I'm proud of her, but it's hard," said her mother. "Initially when she was young I found it very difficult." At the time, her mother thought her daughter had "not thought it through enough."
"She did listen to me," she said. Wagner then entered a convent with the Sisters of St. John, a contemplative order. She was sent to the motherhouse in France. Having a driver's licence, Mary often found herself driving the nuns to doctor's appointments, her mother said. "She was constantly confronted with signs for abortion in doctors' offices." Her daughter began to think, "Clearly God wants me to do something else."
Father Nicholson said Wagner, Gibbons, and American Joan Andrews Bell, who originated the "spirituality of solidarity that we have to be there with the babies and love Jesus where He is unloved," are "being like prophets pointing to the real crisis in our culture and the refusal to admit what our guilty conscience already knows."
"Yes, we have to love Jesus where He is not loved," Father Nicholson said. "In those abortion mills, He is being torn to pieces, and nobody is at Calvary with Him there."
"We already know there's a law there that forbids us from going into private property, but there is a far greater evil going on that trumps the privacy laws," he said.
Wagner represented herself the first time she was arrested in Ontario, and Lugosi said she may choose to remain silent and without counsel when she appears in court in January. He, however, plans to represent her on her appeal, all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada if necessary.
At stake is the preamble of the Constitution describing the rule of law as anchored in the supremacy of God, Lugosi said. If one talks merely about legal precedents, "that's rule by law, not the rule of law" which is anchored in natural law, he said.
Lugosi is challenging the archaic Criminal Code definition of a human being that says an unborn child only becomes a person when he or she has fully exited the birth canal. He also argued on the basis of a law that allows someone to come to the defence of another human being who is being assaulted, injured, or killed.
"Am I a human being because I am or because the government says I am?" Lugosi said in an interview from Brantford. "No government has the authority to define who lives and who is a human being."
Lugosi tried to bring evidence from embryologists and other scientists into the courtroom to prove scientifically the fetus is human, but the judge refused to allow it. "We ran her trial as a constitutional test case, and it was a very unusual ending, because the trial judge made adverse rulings on our applications without reasons, but promised to deliver reasons."
More than six months later, he is still waiting. The Catholic Civil Rights League is keeping an eye on the case.
"It is highly rare to find people like Mary Wagner who are willing to sacrifice their personal freedom, inevitably ending up in jail," said League executive director Christian Elia.
"What she is doing amounts to civil disobedience in its mildest form," Elia said. "Look at the stark contrast to Henry Morgentaler, who also engaged in civil disobedience in the 1980s."
"His civil disobedience was tolerated and even encouraged to the extent that he was financially secure by being paid for abortions; he succeeded by having the existing abortion law struck down, and we are still in a shameful state of having no law in Canada, and he was hailed as a hero and given the Order of Canada," Elia said.
"Ms. Wagner's civil disobedience consists of presenting a woman with a gift, with a soft-spoken voice. It is mild and bloodless and is of no personal advantage to her other than the shared goal of prolifers to ensure the protection of human beings from conception until natural death."
Golob said she does not usually talk about the Spirit moving her, even though she is Catholic, but "when I am with Mary I actually do believe I'm in the presence of a modern-day saint."
"She is the most peaceful, loving person I have ever met," Golob said. Father Nicholson also described her as sweet-spirited.
"Sometimes, in the battle over abortion, people can become acidic, just by the nature of the vitriol that surrounds the debate," the priest said. "When one deals with these individuals who have been forged in the fires of spirituality and solidarity, they lack any or all kinds of acid, their authenticity is so complete."
Wagner visited Poland in October 2014, speaking in packed churches and halls. She also met with Archbishop Waclaw Depo of Czestochowa and Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, who gave her a first-degree relic of St. John Paul II, her mother said.
In 2013, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay and one of Pope Francis's eight advisers, visited Wagner in prison and celebrated Mass at the Vanier Centre. He has remained a friend, and he advised her to accept the invitation to go to Poland, her mother said.