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The Klassen story
Breaking through to the public

Lives ruined:
Attempted suicides, drug abuse, broken families

The Klassen and Kvello families expected their lives would improve after they won their 10-year-old malicious prosecution lawsuit against justice officials last December.

Instead, they are barely hanging on to their sanity. Drug addictions, paranoid delusions, suicide attempts and other problems now haunt them as they feel they are being forced to beg for their rightful compensation and an apology from the three officials who wronged them.

The government has appealed the case, and it could be many months before they see all of their money or an apology. In January, the province gave the plaintiffs an interim payment totalling $1.5M.

"Each day seems like a year. The pain is incredible," said plaintiff Pam Shetterly, who was hospitalized two weeks ago after attempting suicide.

"I'm on the edge and could fall off any day. Why are they putting us through this? Why should we have to beg for this? We won."

Today, Shetterly and another plaintiff, Diane Kvello, and their lawyers Robert Borden and Ed Holgate, will meet with Premier Lorne Calvert in Saskatoon to tell him how the whole experience continues to traumatize them.

Of the other 10 plaintiffs, two have died and the other eight have chosen not to come to the meeting.

"I don't feel like I've won anything. I feel like I'm in hell," said Kvello.

Kvello and Shetterly — formerly Klassen — and the other lawsuit plaintiffs were charged in 1991 with sexually abusing three foster children in a case known at the time as the "Scandal of the Century."

The charges were eventually stayed against them, and they later sued for malicious prosecution. They alleged officials knew there was no case against them but proceeded anyway.

Brian Dueck

The group was branded as child abusers, and their lives changed forever.

In a pointed judgment last December, Court of Queen's Bench Justice George Baynton ruled that three officials — therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys, Saskatoon Police Service Supt. Brian Dueck and Crown prosecutor Matthew Miazga — maliciously prosecuted the 12 plaintiffs.

Baynton called their conduct "irresponsible," saying that they "consistently ignored and suppressed" evidence and that they didn't even believe the case they were trying to make against the 12 people.

He questioned Miazga's and Dueck's honesty on the witness stand when they testified as defendants during the lawsuit trial last fall. Carol Bunko-Ruys (right) chose not to testify in her own defence.

Carol Bunko-Ruys

"The plaintiffs did nothing to deserve what the defendants wrongfully caused to be done to them," Baynton wrote. "The defendants have no one to blame but themselves."

Following the ruling, the government appealed the case to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal. That appeal will likely be heard sometime after the September trial to decide on compensation.

Calvert may offer his apology at today's meeting, as Justice Minister Frank Quennell did at a meeting earlier this month.

But the scars of the past 13 years can only begin to heal, say the wronged plaintiffs, when they receive their apology directly from Matt Miazga, Dueck and Bunko-Ruys. Some of them are literally going mad while they wait.

Matthew Miazga

The plaintiffs include Dale and Anita Klassen, the couple who agreed to care for the three troubled foster children — Michael, Michelle, and Kathy Ross. The children fabricated wild stories of abuse against Dale and Anita Klassen, and the false allegations widened to include the 12 plaintiffs and others.

The children have since admitted none of the 12 plaintiffs ever abused them.

The others are Dale's now-deceased mother, Marie, his sister Pam Shetterly, Anita's sister Diane Kvello and now-deceased husband Dennis, his brother John Klassen and wife Myrna, his other brother Richard Klassen and wife Kari, and two others who cannot be named because they were youths at the time.


Drug addiction, suicide attempts

Richard Klassen's problems have been well documented, but he continues to slide downhill.

He's made the case his mission, and has dedicated every waking moment to clearing his and his family's name since the day the charges were stayed in 1993. On that same day, his father, Peter, pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual assault against the three Ross children and one other girl. The three Ross children now deny Peter ever abused them. He spent several years in jail as a result of his guilty plea.

Richard recently was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and has been trying unsuccessfully to kick an addiction to sleeping pills and other medication.

Like others in his family, he attempted suicide in the weeks following the ruling.

Last week, Richard cracked. He felt an overwhelming need to get away, so he drove through Saskatchewan's worst storm in years. He went to Calgary, Edmonton and several other cities before his family rescued him in Kerrobert.

He won't be attending the meeting because he's in British Columbia. He and his family, as well as his assistant Angela Geworsky, drove there several days ago to take a break from the pressure of the case while Richard tries to kick his sleeping pill addiction.

He hasn't taken a pill for more than four days. He hasn't slept for more than 15 minutes at a time during that spell.

"When we won, we thought it was over," he said.

"But we feel like we lost. They're playing mind games with us."


Paranoia, depression and hallucinations

In a telephone interview this week from his Red Deer home, Dale Klassen said when Baynton ruled in their favour in December, he and Anita were relieved. But that didn't last.

"It's like we won, but then we realized we haven't won. The plaintiffs haven't apologized, and now they're appealing," Dale said.

"They've fought us tooth and nail all the way."

Anita sits languishing in the psychiatric ward of a Red Deer hospital. This stay — one of many over the past 13 years — has lasted more than a week, and there's no indication she'll be well enough to come home to her husband and children any time soon.

"We're just trying to keep our head above water. I'm losing faith," Dale said.

Anita's paranoia, depression and hallucinations have worsened in recent weeks, as she can't understand what's happening. She sometimes can't recognize friends or family members.

This most recent episode was triggered when the couple drove to Saskatoon for a Feb. 9 meeting with Quennell.

Several of the plaintiffs attended, including Dale, but Anita couldn't handle the stress of the event and stayed in their hotel.

On the way home to Red Deer the following day, Anita began to hallucinate and see police cars following them. Dale tried in vain to assure her they were alone.

When they drove onto their street in Red Deer, Anita believed there were police cars in their driveway to arrest them, even though there were none.

Dale just kept driving to the hospital and Anita was admitted. She's been there ever since.

"How are we supposed to live like this?" Dale asked. "Every day feels like an eternity."

The problems go far beyond Anita's mental health. The couple has three grandchildren, and they are afraid to hug them, kiss them or play with them for fear of being accused of abuse.

They've lost many of their friends, and have pushed other friends away because of their fragile mental state.

"We trust no one. We keep everything at a distance," Dale said.

Anita had no mental health problems before they were arrested in 1991. But during the lawsuit trial, the videotaped interrogation Dueck conducted on her was played.

It showed Anita, wearing her red and brown uniform from the fast food restaurant where she worked, slowly breaking down.

By the end of the interrogation — in which she requested a lawyer several times but was not granted one — she was wailing painfully, curled in the fetal position on the couch.

Since then, Anita and Dale have wrestled with the guilt they feel for taking in the Ross children and dragging their families into this nightmare.

But Dale said the other family members have been very supportive and don't blame them at all.

Dale doesn't want to attend the meeting. He doesn't want to be away from Anita and his family, and his employer has already been very understanding during the various court actions.


Apologies still lacking

John and Myrna Klassen have tried to keep their distance from the case, in part to protect their children. During the arrests in July of 1991, their children were with relatives and were the only ones not apprehended.

Like Dale, John said he won't be driving to Saskatoon for today's meeting.

"I have some serious reservations about it. It is so political," he said from his Red Deer home this week.

"Let's just get this whole thing over with. We've been damaged. Didn't they read the judgment?"

He goes to bed every night thinking about the case, and it's the first thing on his mind when he wakes up.

He, too, wants this ordeal to end soon with an apology from Miazga, Dueck and Bunko-Ruys, as well as compensation.

He wants the three officials to "be held accountable" for what they did to them.


Suicide attempt two weeks ago

Pam Shetterly said she's going to the meeting, and wants Calvert to know the pain she and her family continue to endure.

She refers to herself as "QB271" — the file number of their lawsuit that was filed back in 1994.

"Now the political games begin. We haven't gotten around the (Monopoly) board yet. We haven't been allowed to collect our $200," she said.

Pam has been married five years and lives in Outlook. She is thankful for her husband's support in these tough times, but said she feels like she still can't cope with the stress.

Pam, who also had no previous history of mental illness, has been in and out of hospital for the past 13 years, and attempted suicide again two weeks ago.

The reasons for her pain are complex, but they all stem from this case.

She agreed to take in a foster child with severe physical handicaps. She loved him as her own son for several years, caring for him after countless corrective surgeries and hospital visits.

When she was arrested, the boy was taken away by Saskatchewan's Department of Social Services. Two years later, when the charges against her and the others were stayed, she spent eight months in a psychiatric ward in Saskatoon.

When discharged, she asked to get her son back, but was turned down.

Pam has been told where the boy lives in Saskatchewan, but hasn't tried to contact him. She said it would be too painful for both of them.

"I was a good mother. They ripped him from my arms. I'll never have him again. Never," she said.

When the 12 plaintiffs were given an interim or "ex gratia" payment totalling $1.5 million last week, Pam said she couldn't bring herself to spend any of it.

"This is blood money. It feels like they're paying me for selling them my son," Shetterly said, crying loudly.

The malicious prosecution has also destroyed the relationship between Shetterly and the Klassen siblings.

She is "terrified" to touch her nieces and nephews, and the children don't understand why. They haven't gotten together as a family in years.

Shetterly is also frustrated that her mother, Marie, could not see the day they won the case. Marie died several years ago of cancer.

"If my mother could have defended herself, she certainly would have. It is now our responsibility and we will do that," Pam said outside court during the lawsuit last fall.


'I'm scared of everything'

Diane Kvello, like Shetterly, plans to attend the meeting with Calvert this morning.

She also lost foster children when she was arrested.

"You love these children and then they're taken away because of these lies. We wanted to adopt them," Kvello said in a highly emotional interview.

This case has also caused her to grow afraid of physical contact. Her birth children received little physical affection, and Diane and husband, Dennis, could not even touch each other.

Just before Dennis died of cancer, on his birthday in June of 2000, he asked Diane to lay down in his hospital bed and hold him, but she couldn't.

"Then he died with this hanging over his head. My God," she said.

She contracted multiple sclerosis and fybromyalgia several years ago, and also has numerous mental health issues.

"You're always scared someone's watching you — maybe the phone is bugged," she said.

Kvello is afraid to go to the doctor or a counsellor because she thinks they'll leak any confidential information to police.

She rarely leaves her house. When she needs food, she doesn't go to the grocery store because she's afraid of crowds judging her and of being accused of touching children.

Instead, she shops for food at gas stations, where there are fewer people.

"I'm scared of everything," she said. "This case has destroyed all of us."