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The Klassen story
Breaking through to the public

What did Klassen case cost?

The province finally has settled the Klassen-Kvello malicious prosecution suit, but the stink lingers on.

It won't dissipate anytime soon, so long as the province keeps secret the amount of the settlement. We only know that it's somewhere between the $14M asked by the families and the $1M initially offered by the Justice Department. My guess is that it's a lot closer to the latter than the former. The actual amount has been kept secret, however, under the terms of an unconscionable confidentiality agreement.

This is public money. Not government money. Not Justice Department money. Public money. Our money. How dare the government spend our money to fix its own grievous mistakes and then refuse to tell us how much?

A quick recap: The Klassen and Kvello families, 12 people in all, were wrongfully charged and prosecuted 14 years ago for multiple counts of child sex abuse. This in spite of there being no credible evidence against any of them.

Subsequently exonerated, the families filed and won a malicious prosecution suit against the Crown prosecutor, the Saskatoon city police officer and the therapist who were instrumental in the travesty. It is taxpayers, however, who get the bill. And now we're told that the total will be forever concealed. It's secrecy on top of arrogance on top of malice.

Who asked for the confidentiality agreement, we do not know. That, too, is confidential. But we can guess.

The Klassen and Kvello families have nothing to hide. They've previously been very open and up-front. The amount of the settlement is a measure of their innocence. You'd think they'd want to trumpet the amount from the rooftops. The provincial Justice Department, by way of comparison, has been obstructionist all along. The amount of the settlement is a measure of the prosecution's misconduct. Of course, the department wants it kept secret. It's yet another in a continuing series of huge embarrassments for Saskatchewan Justice.

The Klassen and Kvello families cannot be faulted in any way for agreeing to non-disclosure of the settlement. Having had their lives ruined for no good reason, they owe nothing to anyone. The province, however, owes to the public a duty of accountability. This is not exactly consistent with a Justice Department spending large amounts of our money in secret to fix a mess of its own making.

If we don't know the cost, we can't know how badly the department screwed up. Unfortunately, that seems to be exactly the point.

That the department would even think of concealing this settlement suggests it has learned nothing from this experience. Never mind the seemingly endless parade of malicious prosecution suits, these being only the latest. Never mind that the department is so far batting zero in defending these suits. Never mind the millions paid out in settlements. The thinking over there seems to be that it's business as usual.

Matthew Miazga

It doesn't help appearances that Matt Miazga (right) the senior Crown attorney who led the malicious prosecution against the Klassen-Kvellos, remains on the job. It helps even less that Justice Minister Frank Quennel has expressed full confidence in Miazga, as have his fellow Crown prosecutors. They all seem to think he did nothing wrong. This does not bode well for anyone else in Saskatchewan who is falsely accused of a crime.

Fortunately, the Court of Queen's Bench has higher standards. Presiding Justice George Baynton found Miazga in this case to be not only malicious but indifferent to the truth. There could be no more damning indictment of an officer of the court. But it's all hunky dory over at Justice, where Miazga has not received so much as a reprimand. On the contrary, he gets a vote of confidence from the justice minister, among others. Meanwhile, taxpayers get stuck with the bill when we weren't even at the restaurant. Now they want us to pay with a blank cheque. It's pathological.

Oddly enough, there is no legislative requirement that compels the province publicly to disclose its spending on Justice Department cleanups or anything else. Provincial Auditor Fred Wendel said in an interview that the settlement cannot be hidden from his scrutiny, but making it public, or not, is up to the government. He makes no secret of his own preference.

"Any payments of public money should be made public," Wendel said. This would seem self-evident to everyone in Saskatchewan, except the governing New Democrats. What are the odds?

If the settlement is to be revealed, it will have to be dragged out.

An access-to-information request for the terms of the deal is already before Information and Privacy Commissioner Gary Dickson. He cannot compel the government to reveal anything, however. All he can do is make recommendations. His powers are further limited by the numerous legislated exemptions the government can use to deny access requests. Among them is solicitor-client privilege. Never mind that solicitor and client in this case both work for us, the public. Supposedly.

Another attempt to expose the secret spending will come this fall, when the legislature's public accounts committee reconvenes.

"The Justice Department mishandled this case and mishandled it badly," said committee chair Elwin Hermanson.

How badly, no one can know without knowing the amount of the settlement, the Saskatchewan Party MLA said in an interview.

The public accounts committee is supposed to review all government spending, but a majority of committee members are government MLAs. They can be expected to follow the party line and block any attempt to make public the embarrassing cost of Justice Department misconduct.

It is small comfort to know that this government is still capable of being embarrassed.

Prosecutions need more care

Somehow, the message has to get through to child welfare workers as well as police and justice officials in Saskatchewan that their zealotry to lock up suspected abusers can end up damaging the very children they are duty-bound to protect.

As The StarPhoenix reported on Saturday, the latest case of hurried justice gone awry involves a rural family torn apart, based on officials acting on allegations of abuse made by two gravely troubled children who'd been adopted by a farm couple.

While no one disputes that social workers and police have a duty to investigate thoroughly any time a child alleges abuse, there have been enough recent cases in the province of tremendous injustice inflicted on families over baseless abuse prosecutions that caution has to be the watchword for everyone involved.

From the malicious prosecution case won by the Klassen and Kvello families to the nightmare visited on innocent individuals in the Martensville sex abuse allegations nightmare, the point has been underlined for public and justice officials to conduct their business in a reasonable manner.

Justice George Baynton, in his eminently sensible Klassen case ruling -- now under appeal by the Crown prosecutors and a therapist excoriated in the judgment -- made the point bluntly:

"The recantations and the recent testimony of the children also demonstrate to social services officials, workers and personnel, as well as to police officers and prosecutors, the real threat to society of overzealous child protection responses fuelled by politically correct or trendy ideologies of the day that are relied upon as a justification to overrule objectivity, reason, common sense and tested and tried legal traditions.

"These kinds of responses not only jeopardize the freedom of innocent people, but they indirectly harm, and at times even jeopardize, the safety and welfare of the very children that are the subject of protection efforts."

As the weekend SP report shows, Baynton's message can't be repeated often enough until it gets through.

While the details in the case of the adoptive family may not measure up to the malice Baynton found in the Klassen ruling, the impact of the charges on the family remains devastating. Along with their reputations, the adoptive couple lost their farm, their home and four of their five adopted children, one of whom has moved from Saskatchewan, vowing never to return.

It's all the result of an investigative process that was shoddy at best -- one which saw the father in the family charged with abuse without benefit of so much as an interview by the investigators, only to have the charge stayed 15 months later. The charges against him and two boys in the family were based solely on the testimony of the two adopted girls, apparently with little regard for their credibility.

One boy was found not guilty 17 months later, when the judge found testimony against him by his sole accuser confusing and contradictory. The other youth's conviction of December 2002 was overturned in March, after Justice Gerald Allbright concluded that relevant evidence about the girl complainant's sexual background had not been available to the trial judge.

Among the questions that remain unanswered is whether anyone at social services withheld the relevant evidence and why the case proceeded to trial when it appears that, almost a year after the family was torn apart and four children were taken away, welfare officials remained unsure whether the girls' allegations were believable.

Experts note that children affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorders tend to provide answers they think their questioners want, by picking up on body language or other clues. Unless the interviews are done carefully by persons well-versed in FAS, the results gleaned by investigators might be of little forensic value.

In this case, as with too many others, it appears that the good intentions of welfare workers, police and legal officials cannot be a substitute for dispassionate investigation, sound training and working with families to provide the help they need instead of rushing to prosecute. Ripping apart a loving adoptive family and fostering out two girls who could most benefit from the stability it provided hardly constitutes child protection or a social service.

"Democracy cannot be maintained without its foundation: free public opinion and free discussion throughout the nation of all matters affecting the state within the limits set by the criminal code and the common law."
--The Supreme Court of Canada, 1938

Wright inquiry helping already

If there's anything positive to arise from the public inquiry into the freezing death 13 years ago of Neil Stonechild -- a grim hearing that occupied about 10 weeks, spread over six months, and shone a light into the darkest crevices of Saskatoon's police service -- it comes from a few promising signs of change.

While it's tough to predict what conclusions and recommendations inquiry commissioner Justice David Wright might offer in the wake of sometimes contradictory, often disturbing and frequently incredible testimony from a variety of sources, it's easy to support Stella Bignell's prayer that no other parent should again have to cope with the same situation.

Given some recent moves by administrators of a police service whose credibility has been shattered not only by the Stonechild affair but the deplorable conduct of a few officers that's branded the force nationally as racist, Bignell's call for change might not be in vain.

After admitting to Wright that he misled the public in May 2003 by making false statements to the media concerning two city cops implicated in Stonechild's death, deputy police chief Dan Wiks has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

And Const. Brad Senger, one of two officers implicated by an RCMP taskforce investigating the circumstances of Stonechild's death, faces disciplinary action after admitting that he'd obstructed justice by falsifying a breathalyser test result in another case.

However belated, the message coming at least from the upper echelons of the beleaguered police service is that any police misconduct will be taken seriously. It's a welcome departure from an arrogant attitude of infallibility that has permeated police ranks for too long, a mindset even now evident in the comments of police association president Stan Goertzen regarding Wiks.

"Did he deliberately try to mislead (media)? I'd be real surprised. Should he have been clearer? Possibly."

That Goertzen's comment came after Wiks admitted to Wright that he'd misled an SP reporter about the RCMP's recommendation to charge Senger and Larry Hartwig (Senger's partner in checking out a complaint about Stonechild on the night of his death), indicates an attitude among cops of infallibility that needs a quick change.

One need not look far beyond evidence from the inquiry and at least one related incident of police conduct to realize just how dismissive the service has become of the public it's supposed to serve and how long the problem has persisted.

Consider that city police set up a surveillance team outside the inquiry locations, with plainclothes officers keeping tabs on those attending the inquiry, including taking videotape. Rather than a measure to "provide the best security and safety to anybody and everybody who could be attending the inquiry itself," as a police spokesman suggested, this seemed an intimidation tactic to discourage citizens from watching a proceeding that proved embarrassing to the force.

Starting with the testimony from former chief Dave Scott to the evidence of Keith Jarvis, lead investigator in the Stonechild case, it's easy to understand why the police service might have found the inquiry distasteful.

Testimony by Scott, like that of many other cops who appeared before Wright, revealed a vague memory of the Stonechild case. The force's media relations officer at the time of the death, Scott in his testimony showed that police misled the public by dismissing the Stonechild family's concerns by claiming that "a tremendous amount of work" went into the investigation.

Jarvis's testimony showed that he'd spent less than three days investigating the death -- a demonstration of shoddy police work at best and, at worst, a callous disregard for the mysterious death of a young aboriginal man who the RCMP later concluded likely was in Saskatoon police custody immediately before his demise.

Ironically, it was Scott who a decade later as chief had to suspend two police officers who went on to serve jail terms for abandoning a trouble-making Native man on the city's outskirts, in the vicinity where the frozen bodies of two aboriginal men had been discovered just days before. The RCMP investigation, the Stonechild inquiry and the national infamy that surrounds Saskatoon's police service have their genesis in what officers Ken Munson and Dan Hatchen did to Darrell Night that January night in 2000.

The Wright inquiry's value well exceeds its $2-million cost, if only by bringing about an attitude adjustment at the Saskatoon Police Service.

Quennell must do right thing

Richard Klassen

Anyone who saw the pained look on Saskatoon police Chief Russell Sabo's face when he announced an external investigation of one of his officers knows how tough it can be to do the right thing.

Sabo not only stood in front of the TV cameras and Saskatoon media to say the scathing assessment by Justice George Baynton of Supt. Brian Dueck's handling of the Klassen case made it clear the chief needed to apologize to the victims but he later faced Richard Klassen in person to repeat his contrition.

Given the rocky road Sabo's department has travelled over the past few years, doing the right thing was more than a public duty. It was imperative to bring confidence back in a service that is essential to the well-being of Saskatoon residents.

That's not to say that Sabo abandoned one of his officers in order to do the politically expedient. He placed Dueck on medical leave and hired an outside law firm to do a complete review of the officer's work.

No public servant should expect more or less.

But by making it clear that Dueck would not be working in his capacity as a police officer until his conduct, so roundly condemned by Baynton, would be reviewed, Sabo told Saskatoon citizens that he believed their interests were paramount.

It also didn't take Sabo long to decide -- he read the 189-page judgment and knew, whatever the outcome of the external investigation, he had to apologize and make it clear to the people he serves that they could trust his department not to repeat the mistakes of one officer.

It's unfortunate that Attorney General Frank Quennell doesn't seem to understand the importance of doing the right thing. He insists the government is backing an appeal of Baynton's decision because it believes the judgment changes the standard for malicious prosecution.

Fair enough, but it's one thing to appeal the case even though Quennell has observed that the government is not party to the malicious prosecution civil suit filed by the Klassen family. It's another to agree that the evidence before Baynton was proper and the family is innocent, but proceed with an appeal before settling on restitution. It's particularly egregious to do so when it breaks an agreement among lawyers that compensation would proceed even if there were an appeal.

Quennell and the department could have exercised their moral responsibility to do the right thing by apologizing and working on a formula for compensation without putting at risk the attempt to seek legal clarity on what constitutes malicious prosecution.

Quennell appears confused about who he serves. A minister of the Crown owes his primary loyalty not to the party or to the bureaucracy but to the people. Given the overwhelming indictment in Baynton's judgment -- and given that even Quennell isn't taking issue with the recognition the Klassens were innocent or with the evidence -- it is important that he reach the inescapable conclusion already made by most of Canada.

His words made it clear that he puts greater emphasis on the personal relationship he's had with some of the defendants than he does on the wisdom of the judge who weighed all the evidence in the case.

Sabo's decision to apologize, on the other hand, was clearly a recognition that doing the honourable thing won't threaten justice but will bring integrity and confidence back to the entire force.

The longer Quennell takes to decide to apologize and issue compensation, the greater the personal and financial cost will be the Klassens and Saskatchewan taxpayers. The longer confidence in the minister and his department is strained, the harder it will be to regain it.

It has been 18 days since Justice Baynton made his ruling. How much longer, Mr. Minister, before its implications set in?

Gov't owes Klassen family an apology for witch hunt

The voice was empty of meaningful words. The voice of the government that leads the province threw out words that were almost cruel in their emptiness. All anybody wanted to hear, all anybody expected to hear were two words. Those two words would have meant so much to the people the government, in the end, was responsible for hurting so badly.

The words were, "We're sorry."

The government refused to allow those words to pass through its lips. It chose instead to cower. The government has lost its conscience, and has become bigger than anything. The government, I heard yesterday afternoon through the anger of somebody, is showing its moral ineptness, its emptiness, its ignorance.

The government should have apologized to Richard Klassen and everybody else who had their reputations ruined, their lives thrown into utter disarray, because of a ruthless persecution by a crown prosecutor, the police and a child therapist. There is nobody in this province who does not know what happened. Everybody knows that in 1991, more than 10 years ago, 16 people, including Klassen, were charged when three children -- a boy and his twin sisters -- began to tell stories of abuse in their foster home. The children told stories of being forced to engage in sexual acts, drinking blood, eating eyeballs and watching newborns being killed and buried. It was bizarre, so incredible, but a government prosecutor bought into it, and war was declared on an innocent family.

One person pleaded guilty to sexual assault. Three others were convicted, but the convictions were overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada. The charges against the other 12 were stayed.

In a 98-page decision last week, Judge George Baynton said Crown prosecutor Matthew Miazga, Saskatoon police officer Brian Dueck and child therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys maliciously prosecuted 12 members of the Klassen family, even when it was obvious the evidence could not be supported by fact. It did not matter in 1991. The witch hunt was started and it was allowed to continue.

The scathing decision by the judge last week threw the ball right into the front door of the provincial government. The Department of Justice reacted with a shrug. The justice minister, Frank Quennell, voted into the government by the people of Saskatoon, said the government was not going to apologize and that none would be coming.

Nobody knows any more what this government is all about. It wears all the tattered signs of a government that has lost its way, that after four straight terms in office is tired and bankrupt of ideas, and ignores the opportunity to do something that should have been done. Apologize to the Klassen family. Instead, it emerged from the marble palace wrapped in the flimsy shroud of ignorance and that is not playing well in this province.

Across this country, nobody can believe the coldness the government is showing to the Klassen family in the wake of last week's scathing indictment found in the white hot language of the judge's decision. How could it ever happen that the Saskatchewan justice system was allowed to go so unchecked and so unstopped?

There seems almost an ignorance in the halls of the government over just exactly what the judge's decision said. There never were reliable grounds for the prosecution of the case to proceed, and yet it did proceed, and lives were ruined, and innocent people were labeled as pedophiles, perhaps the most vile of names we have. And it is the provincial government which is ultimately responsible for it.

Justice was not served in Saskatchewan.

Explain that.

Explain how it is that when it is obvious to everybody what happened here, the provincial government does not get it.

The ruthlessness of the persecution of the Klassen people seemed even to stun the judge.

The truth was put into a dark closet.

The government is running the lives of almost one million people in Saskatchewan. They got to run our lives for another four years by using fear against the voters in the election of Nov. 5. They made the voter afraid of what would happen to the province if they ever allowed the Saskatchewan Party to get into office.

"Trust us," the government said.

The people did, just the way Richard Klassen trusted the justice system and figured he would get a fair hearing. It took more than a decade before he was fully able to feel vindicated. And for this, he gets no apology from the government.

The NDP, the party that wants everybody to believe it is the only party of social conscience, is looking like a government that now into its fourth straight term of office is dead. It looks like a government that has risen above everybody and has lost touch.


Quennell typifies NDP arrogance

Murray Mandryk

"I also read pages and heard hours of testimony of (police officer Brian) Dueck, (Crown prosecutor Matt) Miazga and (Crown prosecutor Sonja) Hansen. The same that I said about (therapist Carol) Bunko-Ruys applies to each of them. In my respectful view, the lack of any regret or remorse for what was done to the plaintiffs is a strong indicator of malice on the part of each of the defendants, including Hansen."

-- Justice George Baynton in his 196-page decision on the Klassen malicious prosecution case.

Maybe it's specifically a Department of Justice thing -- a department that tends to isolate itself from the normal rules of conduct (and, sometimes, the normal civility) which make other government departments significantly more accountable to the public they serve.

Or maybe it's part of a much bigger problem with an aging and increasingly more arrogant NDP government. Despite earning a renewed mandate just two months ago, it seems more out of touch with its public than ever.

Whichever the case, the way in which rookie Justice Minister Frank Quennell and his department handled the government's response to the wrong done to 12 people in the Klassen case has greatly harmed not only the government's credibility but public faith in the justice system.

The problem isn't so much that the department has decided to appeal Baynton's eloquent ruling on malice, which certainly underlined the "lack of any regret or remorse for what was done to the plaintiffs."

Actually, the department has the same right to appeal as any losing defendant would. And, distasteful as it may seem just now, the department is obligated to look out for the interest of taxpayers who will foot the damage bill in this civil case.

Moreover, the department has legitimate concerns about the chill the ruling may place on Crown prosecutors.

Despite all the complexities accompanying rulings such as this, there's always one really good place to start when attempting to understand them: the truth.

In this case, the truth is that 12 innocent people were accused by Saskatchewan Justice of the most heinous crimes imaginable, before Miazga stayed the charges against them saying the child complainants were too traumatized to testify.

"The real scandal, however is the travesty of justice that was visited upon 12 of those individuals, the plaintiffs, in this civil action by branding them as pedophiles even though each of them was innocent of the horrendous allegations and the criminal offence charged against them," Baynton wrote on the first page of his decision.

And from Page 1 on, the judge launched into a damning indictment of the Justice Department's handling of the entire case.

Richard Klassen and the 11 others were clearly victimized by a therapist acting as police investigator and a police officer acting as a social worker. They were victimized by those who over-zealously applied select parts of the "Saskatoon protocol" on handling sensitive investigations involving child abuse, as they succumbed to hysteria over devil cults and the reigning politically correct notion that children, regardless of how severely damaged, always tell the truth. "Duped" was the word Baynton frequently used to describe the investigators.

Meanwhile, the investigators, who supposedly had the interest of the children at heart, seemed not at all alarmed by the incest occurring among them, he noted. Equally victimized were the children who were not protected from themselves.

Baynton's judgment was almost as critical of the Crown's conduct -- not least Miazga's decision to pursue the charges after another Crown prosecutor (unbeknownst to Miazga at the time) had already told Dueck there wasn't sufficient evidence to lay charges.

It is crystal clear from Baynton's decision that the justice system failed these people.

The truth is that the 12 were victims of police and prosecutors who saw patterns of behaviour that simply weren't there. The 12 were victims of a collective tunnel vision and a severe breakdown of the justice process. Senior officials at the Regina head office, detached from the investigation, failed properly to review the case before the charges were laid.

So, the government's call here should have been simple. The right thing to do was not hard to see.

The first words out of Quennell's mouth on Thursday should have been: "I'm sorry." Richard Klassen and the others are clearly owed an apology for his department's failings.

Instead, we heard Quennell stress that "no apology" would be forthcoming.

"It's not the position -- or practical -- for my office to be extending apologies where prosecutions don't proceed," Quennell explained to reporters in Regina. "That's how the system works."

Well, frankly, sir, the system didn't work. Your office failed these 12 people. And instead of being honest and forthright Quennell and his department continue to stonewall on any admission that they could possibly have made a mistake.


People have every right to wonder about the justice system

The snow fell softly in the morning, wedding itself to the naked limbs of trees, covering cars parked outside, bringing fresh light to the dull sky. On Wascana Lake, in one of the most amazing of scenes ever pictured in this city, huge trucks carrying dirt roll along the makeshift dirt roads, the deepening of the lake continuing 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The choreography of this operation is amazing to the untrained eye.

It is just another day in the life of the city.

The newspaper continues to fill its letters to the editor page with words about the closing of the three city libraries, and it remains a story that will not go away until some kind of final resolution is found, which in this mess, may well be impossible to find. The process has sabotaged sensibility, and the nerves are frayed everywhere.

The return to reasonable weather eases the short tempers that were taking over in the city that is expected to be the leader among all major Canadians cities in economic growth in 2004. This, from the Conference Board of Canada. It is much better than hearing that we will lead the country in auto thefts, break-ins and murders. It is much better than hearing the provincial government is looking at increase the provincial sales tax.

But there is enough in the news that is happening to cause the stomach to turn and the head to shake.

The people in the streets who look to the judicial system to protect them are left to scratch their heads and wonder just what is going on. There is the judge who, because of the Canadian Charter of Rights, found himself with no choice but to side with a man charged by RCMP after his vehicle was searched and drugs, drugs and more drugs were found. The man, who police felt was transporting the drugs from British Columbia to be sold somewhere to young people, was set free because his rights were violated. Even though the car the man was driving was filled with illegal drugs, it was not shown in court that the police had reason to search his car. Did they give him back his drugs? The people wonder, just whose rights are being protected here and whose rights aren't being protected?

By late morning yesterday, the clouds had left and the warmth from the sun was licking off the snow that fell on vehicles. The provincial government stands true to its stance of refusing to apologize to the Klassen family, whose lives were left in tatters by one of the most vicious and misguided law enforcement investigations in the history of this province. It was nothing short of a character assassination of the worst kind, an unwarranted attack that was sped along to its shameful finish by people in the justice system.

The shame of that investigation and all that came spewing forth in the lies that were so easily told and more easily believed from so-called victims covers the whole province. That it happened in the same city where police drove Indians to the outskirts of Saskatoon in the deadly cold of winter and left them there to fend for themselves brings a carpet of disgrace with it, one that will not easily be brushed clean.

Somewhere along the line, the justice system has lost its footing and now seems stumbling far too often from one disaster to another, from one miscarriage of justice to another, and now that it is all coming out and now that it is being condemned, you can only hope that something will be done to straighten out this mess.

If we cannot rely on the police and on the courts to protect us, then where do we turn?

The day that started dark and with snow and then was bathed in a January thaw carried with it the worries of the people who watch the news and read the papers and find themselves unable to believe what they are reading and hearing.

There seemed to be no end to it, no end at all.

Poor response to Klassen case

From the decision to support fully the prosecutor and a therapist excoriated in a court ruling over a malicious prosecution of 12 innocent people to opting to make the appeal announcement in Regina, Justice Minister Frank Quennell and his government demonstrate they don't "get it" about this troubling case.

Although he emphasized that the government wasn't party to the civil suit by 12 plaintiffs against Crown prosecutors Matthew Miazga and Sonja Hansen, the estate of former prosecutions director Richard Quinney, Saskatoon police officer Brian Dueck and child therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys, Quennell put himself on the line with his unqualified support of Miazga.

Quennell and government lawyer Donald McKillop maintain that Queen's Bench Justice George Baynton made "significant errors" in interpreting law and factual evidence when he found that Miazga, Dueck and Bunko-Ruys acted maliciously in pursuing child abuse charges against the Klassen family members.

Even though Quennell made it abundantly clear that all 12 individuals were absolutely innocent -- Miazga and the Justice Department stayed charges against them after a hellish year of uncertainty and suffering with the explanation that the child witnesses were too traumatized to proceed -- he saw no reason to apologize to them, as Saskatoon police chief Russ Sabo has done.

The minister's rationale that "it wasn't practical" to apologize to the 12 because his department almost daily stays proceedings in many of the 84,000 charges it handles annually is nonsense.

It's not every day that a court finds that a Crown lawyer had abdicated his "legal and professional responsibilities" in a case or suggests that the prosecutor had conducted himself as if he were counsel for child witnesses and the police, and had forgotten that the object of a prosecution is not simply to win.

It's one thing for Quennell, as attorney general, and Justice Department officials to seek to appeal Baynton's judgment because they believe he unfairly has lowered the bar for actions that constitute malicious prosecution. It's another for the justice minister to declare without hesitation that he supports Miazga's actions after studying this case for nine days and to assert confidently that it wasn't a malicious prosecution and that it wasn't conducted in a negligent manner.

Should the Court of Appeal refuse to consider the appeal or rule against the Crown, or should the case be lost on appeal to the Supreme Court, Quennell will be in a precarious position.

From the perspective of Saskatchewan residents and taxpayers, Quennell's decision to appeal the ruling and put on hold compensation for innocent people who've been made to suffer for 13 years inspires no confidence whatever in Saskatchewan's justice system.

With each passing day, the price tag grows, not only to keep the lawyers busy but to make restitution for damages. Going by the $1.3-million out-of-court settlement reached with John Popowich, a Saskatoon cop made to suffer under a similarly overzealous and bogus prosecution in the Martensville case, there's little doubt that taxpayers will be reaching even deeper into their pockets before this mess is settled.

What the government really needs to do is to conduct a thorough review of its Justice Department to see what has led to such embarrassing and credibility-eroding prosecutions as Martensville, Latimer, Milgaard and Nerland and take steps to fix them.

Instead, what a government that's spending millions to improve the province's image across Canada delivers is the spectacle of a "justice" minister telling a dozen people whose lives his officials have ruined that he has no plans even to apologize to them, let alone atone for the misery they've been put through.

How much the government is in touch with public sentiment on this issue was demonstrated by its initial decision to have Quennell, a Saskatoon MLA dealing with an issue with a huge impact on this city, announce the province's response in a press conference at the lobby of the CIC building in Regina, where Saskatoon media wouldn't have access to the minister.

Skeptics would even question the timing of the announcement, which coincided with the release of the Boughen report on education funding and which would preoccupy Regina media less familiar with the Klassen judgment.

However, by dragging out this case, the government only focuses more public attention on a troubled justice system that needs to be fixed -- and fast.

Justice minister must not dither

Rather than allow his department to continue its tiresome tradition of foot-dragging, it's time that Justice Minister Frank Quennell announces how he'll handle the troubling issues Justice George Baynton raises in a scathing judgment in the Klassen civil case.

Quennell has yet to respond, a week after Baynton ruled that Crown prosecutor Matt Miazga, along with Saskatoon police officer Brian Dueck and child therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys, paid by the Justice department, acted maliciously and unprofessionally in pursuing charges against 12 innocent people.

Apparently, the minister is waiting for Justice officials to conduct a thorough analysis to see if they should appeal Baynton's "big judgment" before he publicly comments. It can only be hoped that Quennell, barely a few weeks into his first cabinet posting at what's undoubtedly the public agency with the worst reputation, will act decisively and not follow the timid path of his predecessors.

The concerns Baynton raises in his no-hold-barred decision about Miazga's conduct are such that the minister needs to put the public interest in maintaining a credible justice system far ahead of departmental posterior covering.

It's one thing for the Crown prosecutors' association to stand by Miazga come hell or high water -- it's what unions do, to wit CUPE 51 in Moncton grieving the case of a city worker and union member fired for showing up at work drunk, carrying a loaded gun and looking for his boss.

But when a Crown prosecutor is judged to have "totally abrogated his duty ... to make an objective and competent assessment of the case," the minister must act quickly to restore the image of a department that's been tarnished for too long. If the Crown Attorneys Association is concerned about its lawyers being found liable for malicious prosecution in the conduct of their jobs, as spokesman Jeff Kalamakoff suggests, it should read why Baynton held co-counsel Sonja Hansen not liable while ruling against Miazga.

"The inescapable inference to be drawn from Miazga's approach, attitude and conduct throughout the criminal proceedings is that he was going to get committals or convictions no matter how unreliable his witnesses were, and that he was not going to let the truth get in the way," Baynton noted.

From Miazga telling Dueck to proceed with charges without satisfying himself about reasonable and probable cause to his ignoring his duties as an officer of the court who represents the Crown and not "legal counsel for a parent, a child complainant, a foster parent and Social Services," there's plenty in Baynton's judgment to give Quennell cause to act.

Not only does he suggest that Miazga ignored the need for prosecutors to be "principled, fair, open-minded and cognizant of the risk of ruining the lives of innocent people by taking unworthy cases to court," Baynton notes that the prosecutor also may have been acting to keep his superiors in Regina happy by zealously prosecuting the case against the 12 plaintiffs.

Essentially, this case seems little different from a previous malicious prosecution suit involving the Justice Department's handling of the Martensville fiasco. After Saskatoon police officer John Popowich settled out of court for $1.3 million, then justice minister Chris Axworthy refused to hold any Justice officials responsible for their callous disregard for the consequences of ruining innocent peoples' lives with baseless prosecutions or to investigate the department's conduct.

Quennell shouldn't repeat that grave mistake.

From David Milgaard's wrongful conviction for murder to the Martensville mess to prosecutor Randy Kirkham's jury tampering in the Latimer case to officials cutting a deal with white supremacist Carny Nerland over the death of Native trapper Leo LaChance, all indications are that the operations of Saskatchewan's Justice Department need a thorough airing.

Appealing Baynton's ruling may buy Quennell and the government some time, but it certainly wouldn't buy the Justice Department the public confidence or credibility it so badly needs.

Investigation must include top officers' role

The sympathy and apology Saskatoon police chief Russ Sabo extended to a dozen people wrongly accused of horrendous child abuse is a "good start to the healing process," as Richard Klassen, who fought for a decade to clear his name, said Wednesday.

Also welcome is Sabo's decision to call in a legal firm to determine if his department's handling of the bizarre case and the conduct of chief investigating officer Brian Dueck had violated regulations in the provincial Police Act.

Dueck, one of three persons who a judge in a $10-million civil trial determined had acted maliciously in pursuing an overzealous prosecution of the accused, is on medical leave and not serving as a police officer at least for the duration of the internal investigation. Queen's Bench Justice George Baynton's searing judgment against Dueck (along with Crown prosecutor Matt Miazga and child therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys), taken in the context of Police Act regulations, suggest that the lawyers Sabo retained will have their hands full.

For instance, the Discipline Code of the act deems it a major offence for a police officer willfully to make "a false, misleading or inaccurate oral or written statement or entry in any official document or record," or to "act in a manner that is unbecoming or dishonourable to the member or to the police service."

The act also says it's a major offence for a police officer to abuse his authority by making an arrest "without good and sufficient cause" or to use "any unnecessary violence to any prisoner or other person" he contacts in the course of his duties.

From Baynton's finding that Dueck proceeded to lay charges against persons without an honest belief in their probable guilt, to what the judge called "reprehensible and uncalled for" treatment of a couple of accused women, to his abusive and brutal questioning of others which put one woman in a psychiatric ward, there's plenty for the lawyers to consider.

However, the probe of the police department's handling of the Klassen-Kvello prosecution will be a mere whitewash unless it delves into how Dueck, then a corporal, could have conducted such a seemingly single-handed crusade against those he perceived to be monstrous child abusers without any superiors questioning or curbing his zealotry.

Were senior officers even aware that Dueck's entire investigation into such a high-profile case consisted mainly of incredible testimony extracted with "shamelessly leading questions" put to a handful of children? As the judge noted, Dueck "carried out virtually no other investigation respecting the allegations of the children and relied almost exclusively upon those allegations to found the charges brought against the plaintiffs."

Baynton concluded that "Dueck consistently conducted himself as if he had tainted tunnel vision," that "his mind was completely closed to any indication that the plaintiffs might be innocent," and that the officer had gone so far as to berate a fellow cop who'd rejected a child's allegations as unbelievable after conducting an interview untainted by leading questions.

Yet, in what's long been a top-heavy police service, a corporal whom Baynton describes as "blinded by his zeal to turn the wild allegations of ... children into a high-profile case that would portray him as a diligent and unrelenting protector of abused children" apparently was allowed to carry on unchecked on a course of action that has shaken public confidence in the department.

In calling for an independent legal review of Dueck's highly questionable actions in this case, Sabo probably is doing what he can to buttress what morale is left in his troubled department. However, the public needs to be told what measures the department has enacted or will enact in short order to put in place a chain of command that functions to ensure that another Klassen-Kvello fiasco cannot be repeated.

Meanwhile, it's been 10 days since Baynton's decision was released, and so far only Sabo has had the gumption to act on his responsibilities. The sooner the Calvert government acts, the sooner credibility will be restored to its sickly Justice Department.