injusticebusters logo

The Klassen story
Breaking through to the public

Malicious prosecution

Saskatchewan Justice Minister Frank Quennell has remained silent to date on the findings that a Crown prosecutor acted with a police officer and a child therapist to maliciously prosecute a dozen citizens in a case dubbed the "Scandal of the Century" in 1991.

Sixteen people were charged with the sexual abuse of children in a case that involved allegations of Satanic rituals, skinning of babies, eating of eyeballs - charges laid on the word of children whose accusations were rewarded by gifts from investigators. The Saskatchewan judge who ruled that 12 had been victims themselves said the real scandal was the "travesty of justice" that had occurred. Mr. Quennell needs to show how he will prevent such a miscarriage from recurring.

Of the 16 people charged in the case, three who went to court had their convictions later overturned. One man plead guilty to sexual abuse in a plea bargain with prosecutors. The children who made up the stories, more than a decade ago, have grown up and have recanted.

Remarkably, unbelievably perhaps, this is the second time faith in Saskatchewan's justice and police authorities has been rattled by a malicious prosecution against people charged with the ritualistic abuse of children. In 1992, a year after the first "Scandal of the Century", the Martensville day-care allegations rocked Canada with lurid details of Satanic cults imperiling young children. Police were warned to be on the watch for high priestesses who could be identified by tattooed wrists. Nine people were charged in the Martensville case; the two who have been found guilty had their convictions overturned. Another man, a police officer, sued for malicious prosecution; last year the province settled with him, having been warned by a pre-trial judge it would lose.

Baal

Both of the men who led the malicious prosecution actions were spurred by a need to clear their names. They and the others charged have been scarred by the mere accusation they preyed upon society's most vulnerable. A former justice minister apologized to the Martensville accused, but no action was taken against those responsible. In the most recent case, both the police officer and the Crown attorney remain employed.

It may be that the refinement of techniques for questioning children will prevent young people from being led to false accusations. It may be that the widespread paranoia of the 1980s about Satanic cults that sacrifice babies and prey sexually upon young people has passed into history. None of this will prevent the next frenzy of insupportable charges and prosecutions against innocent people. The justice minister needs to ensure that necessary systemic reforms have been implemented to ensure the integrity of police investigations, and that prosecutorial staff will test evidence to ensure it supports a charge. A critical piece of this process is to show that those in authority who fall down on their jobs are appropriately held to account. This is Mr. Quennell's most immediate task.


Gov't refuses to apologise

The provincial government has no apologies -- just sympathy -- for the Klassen family falsely accused of abusing foster children and will appeal a malicious prosecution judgment in a case dubbed the "Scandal of the Century."

"It's clear from the judgment that there has been a great deal of suffering in the lives of many people over more than a decade," said Justice Minister Frank Quennell in a prepared statement. "I extend my deepest sympathy to all of those involved, the plaintiffs (the Klassen families), the witnesses and the defendants."

However, he said, "It is our position that the Crown prosecutors did not commit a wrong and there is no reason they would be required to apologize in that circumstance."

Although the government wasn't a direct party to the suit, Quennell said he backed the decision to appeal.

Quennell instructed his officials to appeal a day after Saskatoon police Chief Russell Sabo called a press conference to apologize for any role the police service played in the investigation and prosecution of the 12 falsely accused. He promised a review of the case by an outside law firm.

Brian Dueck

In December, Court of Queen's Bench Judge George Baynton found that child therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys, Crown prosecutor Matt Miazga and Saskatoon police officer Supt. Brian Dueck -- who was a corporal when the case broke -- had maliciously prosecuted the Klassen plaintiffs. The Klassens had been accused of the ritual abuse of three foster children more than a decade ago.

They are seeking in excess of $10 million in damages.

The decision to carry the case forward both disappointed and confused Richard Klassen, who represented himself throughout the trial.

"They tortured us for 13 years; I guess they are going to continue for another one or two," Klassen said in an interview in Saskatoon after Quennell's Regina press conference.

Matthew Miazga

Sabo said he launched an investigation into Dueck's role in the case, adding that Dueck will not conduct police work until that investigation is concluded. Quennell, however, said the justice officials involved -- including Matt Miazga (right) -- are continuing to their duties.

Quennell said he continues to have faith in the way prosecutions are carried out and, particularly, in the way Miazga does his job, based in part on his personal experience with the prosecutor.

There is a need for clarity in the law about malicious prosecutions, said Quennell, and the only way to do that is to appeal the judgment.

Carol Bunko-Ruys

Besides appealing Baynton's interpretation of the evidence and the law, Donald McKillop, a justice official lawyer representing Miazga, Hansen, and Carol Bunko-Ruys (right), said he will also ask the Court of Appeal how to proceed with the case in light of an agreement signed by all parties in the dispute in March. According to the deal, regardless of how the suit turned out, the issue of costs would be dealt with before any appeal could go ahead.

David Gerrand, the Regina lawyer representing Dueck, said Thursday no decision has been made on whether the officer will appeal. In most cases, parties to a suit have 30 days to launch an appeal but that March agreement complicates matters, he said.

Don Morgan, the Saskatchewan Party justice critic, was surprised the government was trying to sidestep this deal and had refused to apologize, he said.

The issue of whether an appeal should be launched on the question of what constitutes malicious prosecution should be separate from the issuing of an apology and the paying of compensation, he said.

When the government opted to pay compensation to David Milgaard, who was wrongfully convicted of the 1969 murder of a Saskatoon nurse and spent more than 20 years in prison, it was done because that was the right thing to do for an individual so grievously harmed by the justice system, not because of a court settlement, Morgan said.

That's what should have been done in this case, once the government realized the serious harm it had done by pursuing the case then failing to apologize for it, he said.

"One of the troubling aspects of this case is that it could happen to any citizen of this province," he said.

The Klassens were completely innocent and their only crime was being foster parents to some of the most vulnerable people in society, Morgan said.

While Klassen was disappointed by Quennell's decision, he and his family is determined to carry on, he said.

"What option do we have? We didn't go this far and get a favourable judgment to quit now."

Members of his family began crying on hearing of Quennell's decision and some are frightened by it, he said.

Klassen and other family members have also had to pay for counselling to help deal with the trauma of the case, he added.

But he is still ready to battle and, as of this morning, he will be asking for a ruling on whether the province can renege on its agreement to address costs and compensation before an appeal would be allowed, Klassen said.


Saskatchewan offers Klassen no apology

Saskatchewan Justice Minister Frank Quennell offered no apology Thursday to the 12 members of the Klassen family falsely accused of abusing foster children, announcing that the provincial government plans to appeal a Dec. 30 judgment that the 12 were victims of malicious prosecution in the case.

"No apology," Mr. Quennell told reporters. "It is our position that the crown prosecutors did not commit a wrong and there is no reason why they would be required to apologize in that circumstance."

Justice George Baynton ruled Dec. 30 on a lawsuit filed by the 12 that the plaintiffs were maliciously prosecuted by Saskatoon police Superintendent Brian Dueck, therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys and Crown prosecutor Matthew Miazga, calling the case a "travesty of justice."

Government lawyer Don McKillop said Thursday he will appeal the malicious prosecution finding on behalf of his clients -­ a decision the Attorney-General of Saskatchewan has decided to support.

"It is our view that the judge erred in his judgement," Mr. Quennell said. "This judgment significantly changes the criteria for malicious prosecution from the one outlined by the Supreme Court of Canada and therefore has grave consequences for the administration of justice in Saskatchewan.

"We need clarity on the law -­ and the only way to obtain that is to appeal the judgment."

Richard Klassen told CBC Newsworld he wasn't expecting an apology to come Thursday.

"It was not something I was expected from the Saskatchewan government," Mr. Klassen said. "They took us this far.... I think the damages will go forward and I fully intend to proceed on with the damages trial."

"We were vindicated on one hand ... and then on the other hand they're saying they did nothing wrong. Clearly there's a difference here and I guess the system goes that way. I will continue to fight."

Mr. Quennell did offer his sympathy to all of those who have had their lives consumed by the case.

"It is clear from the judgment that there has been a great deal of suffering and upheaval in the lives of many, many people over more than a decade," he said. "This is truly a regrettable situation and I extend my deepest sympathy to all those involved."

The Saskatoon Police department apologized to the Klassen family at a press conference Wednesday.

"The judgment in this case vindicates the plaintiffs for the criminal charges they faced," Chief Russell Sabo said. "Based on the information contained in the judgment, as the chief of police of the Saskatoon police service, my sympathy goes to each and every person that was wrongfully charged and I extend my apologies to them for any part that the Saskatoon police service played in this case."

The Klassen family members were falsely accused 12 years ago of abusing three young foster children in bizarre ways -- forcing them to eat eyeballs, drink blood, participate in orgies and watch newborn babies get skinned and buried.

The whole ordeal, according to published reports and court documents, began back in 1987 when three foster children all under the age of 10 -- a boy and his younger twin sisters -- were put in the Saskatoon home of Mr. Klassen's brother and sister-in-law.

The young boy was abusive to his two sisters -- both physically and sexually -- and he was eventually removed from the home.

That's when he started telling police about horrific abuse that he said he and his sisters had suffered. As police worked the case, the children were reunited and shortly after, the sisters backed up their brother's claims. The children have all since revealed the stories had been made up.

Saskatoon police called it the "Scandal of the Century" at the time, but most of the cases never made it to trial. By 1993 most of the charges were stayed.

While monetary compensation was not mentioned in Judge Baynton's ruling, the Klassen family is said to be seeking at least $10-million in damages.

"We all want our lives back and we can't get it back," Mr. Klassen said. "This is hanging over our heads and I don't know if any dollar figure is going to help that, but certainly I want this case over."

Mr. Klassen maintains that a full public inquiry into the case should be called.


Saskatchewan won't apologise to falsely accused

REGINA - The Saskatchewan government refused today to apologize to 12 people falsely accused of sadistically abusing foster children in Saskatoon.

Justice Minister Frank Quennell also said the province will challenge - all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary - a recent civil court decision that found the 12 members of the Klassen family were maliciously prosecuted.

"No apology," Quennell told a news conference at the provincial legislature.

"It is our position that the Crown prosecutors did not commit a wrong and there is no reason they would be required to apologize in that circumstance."

He noted the Justice Department is not part of the lawsuit and was barely mentioned in the judge's decision.

Richard Klassen, the family member who spearheaded the lawsuit against investigators, was furious.

"What am I supposed to do? Hang myself on a light post in downtown Saskatoon to get my point across?" he said.

"I think I did right. I think the judge said I did right by coming to the courts where it belonged and I won. What more do they want from me?"

The Justice Department's stance is in stark contrast to the one taken by the Saskatoon police department.

Yesterdayk, police Chief Russell Sabo apologized to the 12 members of the Klassen family and promised a review of the case by an outside law firm.

The Klassens were charged in 1991 with abusing the children - a brother and his younger twin sisters - in bizarre and demonic ways.

The children said they were forced to eat eyeballs, drink blood, participate in orgies and watch newborn babies get skinned and buried.

Saskatoon police called it the "Scandal of the Century" at the time, but most of the cases never made it to trial.

By 1993 most of the charges were stayed to avoid further ``trauma" to the children.

But, as the years passed, the children came forward publicly and recanted their accusations.

The boy, who had been abusive to his sisters himself and was removed from the family's care, said he had made up the allegations because he was frustrated and wanted to be reunited with the girls. He said he coerced the sisters into backing up his fantastic tales of abuse.

Until the ruling last week by Queen's Bench Justice George Baynton, no official had acknowledged the family's innocence. Sabo's apology was the first.

Baynton called the case a "travesty of justice."

"It is almost beyond belief that none of those involved in the prosecution of the plaintiffs stood back, so to speak, and asked themselves if any of this made any sense and whether it could reasonably be true," Baynton wrote in his 196-page decision.

Richard Klassen represented himself in the lawsuit.

Over the course of the ordeal his health has deteriorated. He has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, which he has yet to have treated in any major way, and he has developed an addiction to sleeping pills.

He said he fears that fighting an appeal will kill him.

"They are probably hoping that," Klassen said.

"But I'm ready to go. If they want to go, let's go."


Apology extended in Saskatoon abuse scandal

Saskatoon's police chief has publicly apologized to 12 people who recently won a malicious prosecution lawsuit over false allegations of sexual abuse.

"My sympathy goes to each and every person who was wrongfully charged," said Russell Sabo to those affected by what the police at the time called Saskatchewan's "Scandal of the Century."

"I extend my apologies to them for any part that the Saskatoon police service played in this case."

A law firm has been hired to see if any of his department's investigators violated the Saskatchewan Police Act, he said.

"Wow. Thirteen years to hear those words and we never thought we would," Richard Klassen, one of the most high-profile plaintiffs, told The Canadian Press. "It's a great step toward the healing process."

Robert Borden, lawyer for the other 11 plaintiffs, said the apology satisfied his clients, but noted it wasn't from the investigator who went after them, but the police department.

No response has been made to the ruling yet by the Saskatchewan government, although Deputy Premier Clay Serby indicated Wednesday that one would be coming in the next few days.

The case began in the late 1980s, but a judge ruled last week against three of the four people named in the lawsuit.

Those individuals included Police Supt. Brian Dueck, who was a corporal at the time of the original investigation, therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys and Crown prosecutor Matthew Miazga.

Sonja Hansen

Another Crown prosecutor, Sonja Hansen (right), was absolved of responsibility.

Dueck began a paid medical leave Monday. Sabo said Dueck won't be working while the law firm's review is being done.

The case began in 1987 with allegations by a young boy, who was put into a foster home with his younger twin sisters. All were under the age of 10.

The boy was removed from the home for being emotionally and physically abusive to his sisters. In an attempt to get back into the home, he told police about abuse suffered at the hands of the family. And his sisters backed up their brother's story.

Under prodding from investigators, they told fantastic stories about drinking blood, eating eyeballs and participating in orgies.

In 1991, police arrested 16 people, including the disabled birth parents of the three children and members of the extended foster family.

One person pleaded guilty to sex assault as part of a plea bargain to spare the others.

Three others -- the birth parents and a family friend -- were found guilty but the decision was overturned by the Supreme Court.

In 1993, charges against 12 of the 16 were stayed by the Crown on the grounds it wanted to avoid further trauma to the children.

It turned out that several Crown prosecutors had serious doubts about the childrens' credibility and that Dueck had to work to find one to take the case.

In his judgment, Justice George Baynton described the entire case as a "travesty of justice," and that he was shocked investigators didn't scrutinize the childrens' statements more closely.


Margaret Wente: Scandal of the Century

Margaret Wente

In 1987, Anita and Dale Klassen welcomed three foster children into their home - Michael Ross, 7, and his five-year-old twin sisters, Michelle and Kathy. Their birth parents were deaf, alcoholic and dysfunctional, and all three children had been sexually abused. They had severe behavioural and emotional problems. Michael was the worst. He had to be kept under constant supervision to prevent him from abusing his sisters. He would sexually assault other kids whenever he was left alone with them.

The Klassens treated their foster children as their own, but Michael proved too much for them. Anita begged social services to remove him, and at the age of 10, he was finally sent to another foster home. Furious at being separated from his sisters (whom he continued to molest whenever he got the chance), he accused the Klassens of sexually abusing him. He got his little sisters to pile on with allegations of their own.

The stories were obviously the concoctions of deeply troubled children. But not, according to a court judgment, to the zealous lawyers at the Crown attorney's office of Saskatchewan, or to the Saskatoon police, or to the child therapist, who swallowed them whole and apparently egged the children on for more. Their extraordinary spree of prosecutorial and therapeutic misconduct resulted in the arrest of no fewer than 16 people. The defendants were charged with more than 70 counts of sexual assault, including a bizarre array of lurid crimes. The bill of indictment included the sexual violation and murder of babies and animals, cannibalism and other unlikely perversions. The media quickly named it the Scandal of the Century.

Among the accused was Dale's brother, Richard. For the past 12 years he has fought tenaciously to clear his name and that of his family, and it is he who has become the public face of the case. Last week, he and all the rest were spectacularly vindicated when they won a malicious-prosecution suit against their tormentors.

Justice George Baynton found against three of the four people named in the suit - Matthew Miazga, the Crown attorney; Brian Dueck, the lead policeman in the case; and Carol Bunko-Ruys, the child therapist. His verdict was extraordinarily damning. "The real scandal," he wrote, "is the travesty of justice that was visited upon the plaintiffs in this civil action, by branding them as pedophiles." He also noted that the defendants were less than forthcoming, and had lost or mislaid important records.

Why the government lawyers ever thought they had a case is a mystery. All they had was the testimony of the Ross children, obtained over many months of leading questioning. At no time were the children instructed to tell the truth. Instead, they were showered with praise and treats every time they found more horrors to "disclose." Brian Dueck told them that he believed every word they said. Incredibly, nobody tried to corroborate anything the children said.

Meanwhile, the therapist, Ms. Bunko-Ruys, insisted that the sisters be reunited with their brother in his new foster home, even though she knew he'd been molesting them. After they were reunited, they cooked up further tales together, and the stories of molestation escalated.

As for the accused, they'd been thoroughly traumatized. They were now social outcasts. Some, including Anita, were emotionally destroyed. No apologies were forthcoming. When the falsely accused launched their suit for malicious prosecution, the government thought it was unwinnable, and fought it tooth and nail for the next decade.

In 1999, Michelle Ross, now 17, recanted and apologized to the Klassens. Her brother, Michael, signed a declaration saying he had made up all the stories. In 2001, Kathy, too, admitted she had lied in court. Undeterred, the government fought on to defend itself. The sisters have now launched lawsuits of their own, claiming that their protectors miserably failed in their duty to protect them.

The settlement (yet to be determined) could cost the government millions in damages, on top of the millions it has already paid out to prosecute the case and, later, defend the indefensible. To Richard Klassen, though, the case won't be over until the government apologizes. It is, he says, only what's due his family. (His mother, Marie, who was among the accused, died during the proceedings.)

So far, there's no sign that the people convicted in this case feel the least remorse for the lives they wrecked, or even acknowledge that they were wrong. Nor have they paid the kind of price their victims did. Supt. Dueck still works for the Saskatoon police, where he is in charge, ironically, of the records division. Matthew Miazga, the prosecutor, still works for the Crown attorney's office. The child therapist, Carol Bunto-Ruys, continued working for the province's social services until recently; her current whereabouts are unknown.


Charges without truth

In the late 1980s and early 90s, Canadians underwent a wrenching re-examination of their collective treatment of children, brought about by a cluster of painful revelations of sexual abuse at previously trusted institutions.

There was the Mount Cashel orphanage in Newfoundland, closed in 1990 after it emerged that schoolboys there were sexually and physically abused by Christian brothers over many years, despite repeated complaints to the authorities. There was St. George's Cathedral in Kingston, Ont., where a choirmaster preyed sexually on his charges for nearly 15 years, even after reports of his crimes to church officials, until one victim's suicide forced the case into the open.

But amid the horror sparked by such cases, something terrible developed: a bandwagon effect. Any allegation at all about child sexual abuse, however outlandish, unsubstantiated or unlikely, was taken at face value. For those unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of the allegations, there was no recourse. They were branded as pedophiles, in much the way nearly two dozen innocent people were branded witches in 17th-century Salem, Mass. In modern Canada, there are no hangings. But reputations were destroyed and lives wrecked nonetheless.

The hysteria peaked in Saskatchewan in the early 1990s in two cases that, though unrelated, bear a gut-wrenching similarity. In the best known, children at the Travis family babysitting service in Martensville alleged they had been hung in cages and forced to eat feces or swallow acid, have sex with adults, dismember other children and engage in human sacrifice. Though there was no evidence to corroborate these tales, 200 charges were laid in 1992 against eight people. Eventually, one man was found guilty of two counts of sexually touching one girl. The rest of the charges were dropped.

The previous year, in Saskatoon, police had charged 16 people with more than 70 counts of sexual assault. Here, too, the alleged crimes were almost inconceivably perverse. Three children told stories of ritual abuse, cannibalism and forced inges-tion of feces, urine and blood. Investigating authorities habitually rewarded the children with treats for making "revelations." Here too, there was no supporting evidence. Eventually, all three children admitted they had made the stories up.

Last week, a Saskatchewan judge found a Crown attorney, a police officer and a social worker liable for malicious prosecution in the Saskatoon case. Richard Klassen, one of 12 people who were wrongly charged and the leader of the civil action, has been vindicated. Damages have yet to be determined.

Nothing, no amount of money, no degree of public exoneration can restore the decade Mr. Klassen lost fighting to clear his family's name, or assuage the suffering they endured. Saskatchewan's justice system owes them a debt that can never be repaid.


Accused in sex scandal want gov't apology

REGINA - The 12 people who successfully sued investigators for malicious prosecution in an unfounded sexual abuse case want the Saskatchewan government and police to apologize.

Lawyer Robert Borden said the 12 members of Richard Klassen's family and extended family deserve official recognition that they have done nothing wrong in light of last week's civil court ruling that found they were victims of malicious prosecution.

"These people were wronged. These people were innocent. That is clear," Borden said Monday.

"Surely these parties should have the courage to come forward and say that the judge was right.

"That is not an admission of liability. That is simply doing the right thing."


Apology due to Klassen plaintiffs: justice critic

Although a week has passed since a judge ruled in the Klassen malicious prosecution lawsuit, neither the justice minister nor the chief of police have commented publicly on the matter.

Don Morgan, the Saskatchewan Party's justice critic, says an apology should be given to Richard Klassen and the 11 other plaintiffs wrongly accused of ritual child abuse in the early 1990s.

Morgan said he's surprised Justice Minister Frank Quennell hasn't provided a "formal response" in relation to the Klassen malicious prosecution case yet.

"I mean, he should at least come out and say, 'We're sorry that this has done this to your lives,' " Morgan said.

"And then he should obviously start the wheels in motion to try and resolve it and settle it."

"I mean, you'd hate to see this thing go back to court and have yet another trial conducted, another process, to determine the quantum of damages on it."

Last week, Justice George Baynton of the Court of Queen's Bench ruled that Klassen and the other plaintiffs were maliciously prosecuted by child therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys, Crown prosecutor Matthew Miazga and Saskatoon police officer Brian Dueck.

But while the plaintiffs sought in excess of $10 million, monetary compensation wasn't addressed in Baynton's 189-page judgment.

On Monday, Morgan called the judgment "scathing," and wondered what changes the government plans to make as a result of the lengthy document.

"Right now, on the basis of the judgment, there's enough information there they can change and revamp a lot of the policies and the practices that they have for investigating sexual abuse," he said.

"It's a damning indictment of how things were done in this particular file."

Quennell was not available for comment. A Justice Department spokesperson said on Friday that Quennell was waiting for an analysis of Baynton's judgment from the department.

"There hasn't even been a decision made on whether or not there will be an appeal," Deb McEwen said. "It's a big judgment, and as I say, the department's doing an analysis of it for the minister."

Saskatoon police Chief Russell Sabo will speak about the Klassen matter by the end of the week, according to police spokesperson Insp. Lorne Constantinoff.

Constantinoff said Sabo has reviewed the judgment "for the most part," but he now needs to "consult with other people to find out what should happen."

The Saskatchewan Crown Attorneys Association, meanwhile, continues to stand behind Miazga.

The day Baynton's judgment was made public, the association released a statement supporting him. The association represents provincial Crown prosecutors in Saskatchewan.

"We have a plan to meet as an association, get as many of our members together and decide what else we can do and what else we want to do as an association in response to that judgment," acting president Jeff Kalmakoff said Monday.

Kalmakoff said seeing a prosecutor being found liable of malicious prosecution is "something that's of concern to us in how we do our jobs day-to-day."

He said there are some specific findings he would like to comment on, but currently can't, because he doesn't know if the decision is going to be appealed.

Kalmakoff said the association believes that Miazga has done his job well, and it disagrees with the judge's conclusion.

In their malicious prosecution lawsuit, Klassen and the other plaintiffs claimed that justice officials knew they had no case, but proceeded anyway.

But in their defence, lawyers for police, prosecutors and the child therapist stated the officials were simply doing their jobs.