The human dimension of this story — the depth — is emerging now that Judge Baynton has determined its length and width. We go as far as we can go and when we can't go any further we hope others will follow our big footprints. This trial represents a culmination of the 5½ years we have been on the Internet and the 5 years before that where we tried to get this story to the public. Court seals and publication bans rarely serve the public interest.
He was a house painter with a Grade 7 education and a criminal record when, in July 1991, the RCMP arrested him and his wife for the sexual assault of three children they barely knew. Rather than see his family destroyed, Richard Klassen bought himself a law book and fought back. Now, he's won one of the biggest malicious prosecution cases in Canadian history. He has national and international support, has co-founded a group that fights miscarriages of justice, and is recognized wherever he goes. He even has his restaurant bills paid by complete strangers. But what price have Richard and Kari paid for their day in court? Here, Saskatchewan's most celebrated couple tell their dreadful tale.
Richard: I knew it was the RCMP because I'd seen the car pull up. I thought it was a parking ticket or something, so I told Kari, I said, "If it's for me, tell them I'm not here."
I was used to being arrested, armed robbery when I was sixteen, and later, shoplifting, things like that. So Kari went to the door, and I heard them say to her, "We're here for you as well — from Saskatoon, three counts of sexual assault," and that's when I came to the door, and I said, "I'm here," and everything just kind of fell apart.
There was an older officer and a younger officer. They asked where the kids were. We told them Krystal, our oldest, nine at the time, was swimming with her cousin, and our other two were napping. It was two o'clock in the afternoon.
One of them said, "We have to wait for Social Services, they're on their way."
And I said, "Why?", and he said, "We have to take your kids."
That was it. Kari fell to the floor. She went down right away.
I was bawling and crying and screaming. I remember shouting, "No, no, no," over and over. There were some papers lying on a table and I threw them around, and it got pretty nasty and angry, and I was shouting, "You're not taking them, you're not taking them."
The commotion woke Kayla, our two year old. She came walking out of the bedroom, such a gorgeous girl, beautiful blonde hair. And the young officer, he leaned up against the kitchen cupboard, and he said, "Oh my God, she's beautiful," and he started crying.
Kari: Brady was still asleep. He was six months old that day.
They said we had to wait for Social Services. We had to wait for them, with police officers in the house, we had to wait for them to come and take our kids. Imagine. I don't know how long we waited. It could have been a lifetime. It killed me. As a mother, it killed me.
They told us, for your children, breathe in, breathe out.
Neither of us felt we'd ever see our kids again.
Richard: The two social workers arrived. They were from the Dept. of Social Services in Red Deer, where we were living. They were very polite and assured us they weren't taking our children because we'd harmed them, only because we were being arrested.
They shoved papers in front of my face. I said, "I'm not signing anything." And that's when I found out that it was worse, because I saw more papers in her hand than just for our three kids. I seen that she had a whole pile of them.
And I said, "Who are those for?" The papers were for our other family members, and they were going to be arrested, and their kids taken too.
The social workers tried to calm Kari down. They told us, for your children, breathe in, breathe out. They told Kari to go and gather up clothing for them.
Kari: They didn't say how much to pack. They just said get some clothing, and if they have a special teddy bear or something. So I got all three of them something. My oldest had gotten money from her great grandpa for her birthday, and she'd wanted to buy a teddy bear, so we'd gone out and ended up at London Drugs, and she'd picked out this teddy bear, and she took it with her everywhere. So I got that one for her, and Kayla had her teddy bear that she'd gotten recently, and Brady too, and I got them clothes and diapers.
You try, but there's no reality. Reality isn't reality anymore.
Richard: We begged them. Maybe we could find somebody, like our landlord or somebody, someone who knew them, to take them for the night. They said we couldn't. They said we'd get our children back, but they wouldn't say when.
Kari: Oh, but we doubted that.
Richard: Neither of us felt we'd ever see our kids again.
Kari: They had a grey station wagon, two car seats, and they put our kids in the car seats, and put us in the back seat of the RCMP car.
Richard: Then we all drove off to pick up Krystal and our niece, Jackie, my brother's daughter. That was almost the hardest part, very hard.
There was a lot of crying. A crowd had gathered because another police car had pulled up. Jackie was 10 at the time, and she fought them. She was kicking, she was screaming. We were allowed to get out of the car to talk to Krystal. They told us not to say Grandpa was coming to get her, but we said it anyway.
We said, look after your brother and sister. And we told her we were going on holiday. But she knew that wasn't true. I mean, the police were there.
After that, we went to my brother Dale's house, and he was arrested, and we all had to drive to the Dairy Queen, where Dale's wife, Anita, was working.
Kari: And that's when Myrna saw us. Myrna is Richard's other brother's wife, John's wife. Myrna saw us all in police cars, driving toward Dairy Queen. So she ran there to tell Anita, "I've just seen Dale and Rick and Kari in police cars!" and just then, as she was standing next to Anita, Anita got arrested too, in her Dairy Queen uniform.
Richard: Myrna ran home to protect her children, and she got them out just in time. Some friends were visiting from Saskatchewan, and she told them, "Take my kids!"
Just as the police car pulled up for them, Myrna was tying the kids' luggage onto the roof of the van, and she was cutting the rope, so when the police arrive, she's holding this knife, and they're shouting, "Drop the knife, drop the knife," so she dropped the knife, tapped the van her kids were in, and the van drove off.
And that's how Myrna saved her children from being taken. Then they arrested her and John.
We were taken to a holding cell, glass front, like a drunk tank, nothing in it, just a toilet, no mattress. They wouldn't let us make any phone calls until everybody was arrested. That evening, we all went up before a Justice of the Peace, and he said we were remanded in custody and would be transported to Saskatoon within six days.
Anita had to be put in a straitjacket that night.
Dale thought he'd lost her.
Richard: Anita didn't come in right away. They had to put her in a straitjacket for the first night, and Dale could see through the glass into the women's area that she wasn't there, and he thought he'd lost her. He was worried she had died, or gone absolutely mentally crazy.
Kari: I think I went crazy myself that night. I just sat there and cried and cried.
Richard: I could hear her crying.
Kari: You get a kind of flush right through your whole body, and you get shivers and shakes, and I was shaking all the time. Why? Why? Why? You try to rationalize, but you can't.
Richard: Then they took us to a remand centre. Everyone knew who we were because the news was on, three couples arrested in Red Deer for sexual molestation, and there we were, three couples.
So at suppertime when they brought food, people would throw buns, stuff like that, other prisoners. The guards just sit in their own bubble, you have no contact with them. And there was verbal abuse, "We know what you're in for," and my brother said, "Rick, I think we're in a lot of trouble." Just at that moment, a bun or something came flying and just about hit us in the head.
So we stuck together. If one of us wanted to have a shower, as embarrassing as that was, we all went.
After six days, they drove us to Saskatoon. It was a long drive. They had us handcuffed to each other — husband/wife, husband/wife, husband/wife. At Provost, we got switched and handed over to the Saskatchewan RCMP. They were still very nice to us, very decent. We were wearing the same clothes we'd been arrested in, and we hadn't shaved or anything. We looked like we'd been beaten up.
Kari: I don't remember eating the whole time we were in the remand centre. I don't think I did. We were wasted, exhausted.
Richard: It took about seven or eight hours before we arrived at the Saskatoon city police station, and they turned us over to the Saskatoon Police Service.
There, things were very different.
The Saskatoon officers were ignorant. "This is where sex offenders belong," one of them said.
Richard: In Saskatoon, they have a booking centre, and they stand tall, hover over you, and you look very small to the counter, which is quite high.
They were ignorant.
It was, "You in that room, and you in that room, and you in that room."
One of them called us sex offenders. "This is where sex offenders belong."
We were put into separate cells. We couldn't see each other, but we could reach through the bars and we could touch each other's hands.
I asked for toilet paper, but the guard wouldn't give me any. It was all stuff like that. We knew our uncle had dropped off a carton of cigarettes for us, but they made us wait four hours for them. If you asked for a phone call, an hour later they'd bring the phone. They were very aggressive.
My brother Dale and I were in cells next to each other. That was when he broke. We stayed up all night, me talking to him. He was rattling on the bars; at that point, he really broke. I said, "Dale, they're gonna beat you. Don't," and I tried to calm him down.
They're supposed to give you a sheet, but they didn't, so it was very cold.
Kari: They only brought me a sheet after begging for hours. I had shorts on and a T-shirt, and it was just freezing cold.
Richard: Dale and I came up with a plan to keep our cigarettes lit because they won't give you a light after 11 o'clock. So we'd alternate when the guard went by every 15 minutes. I'd have the cigarette on the inside of my hand so the guard wouldn't see it, and we'd keep it lit and pass it back and forth between the bars. So we smoked. And we smoked. We smoked a whole carton of cigarettes in one night.
In the morning, we were all put in front of the judge, behind this glass, and they gave us $250 bail each.
None of us had any money and we didn't know who to phone to get money from. One of the bail conditions was that we couldn't phone my mom and dad, or have contact with my sister, who'd also been arrested and who lived in Saskatoon. So we were kind of strapped.
Just before they were going to take us back to the remand centre for the evening, they told us we'd been bailed out. My uncle had dropped off the bail money. But he didn't stick around.
So we all ended up standing outside on the street in downtown Saskatoon. We had some clothes that Kari's dad had dropped off for us, so we changed into them before we got out, and we took all our dirty clothes and dumped them in a garbage can.
Dale had a credit card so we were able to get enough money for hotel rooms, and we called a cab and went to the Relax Inn. I phoned my uncle to ask about the rest of the family, and that's when I found out my sister was in the hospital after a major overdose, and that was it, I lost it, I finally lost it.
Kari: You turned blue.
Richard: I don't remember any of it.
Kari: You kept saying, "They're gonna commit her, they're gonna commit her," and you sat down and you stopped breathing. Myrna and I were shaking you and tapping your face and everything, and yelling at you, and finally you came back, but you were blue.
Richard: All my sister's children were taken too, and her adopted son was gone. He was only four years old. And she never saw him again.
Kari: And he was her life.
Richard: She was 450 pounds at the time. She's probably 100 pounds now. She went absolutely crazy. She was in and out of psychiatric centres for months and months, actually years.
Kari: She swallows things. The first time it was a teaspoon. They had to operate to take it out. She's swallowed knives, screwdrivers, toothbrushes. She had never done anything like that before. She just went mad.
We found out later than Brian Dueck requested we be held for six days. I think it was just his way of doing a little bit of torture.
Richard: None of us was interviewed during the time we were in custody, and we've never found out for sure why they had to keep us for six days and didn't transfer us to Saskatoon right away.
We were told later, and based on the documents that I have, that Supt. Brian Dueck [one of the plaintiffs the Klassens won their malicious prosecution case against] requested that we be held for six days.
I think it was just his way of doing a little bit of torture.
We didn't stay in the Relax Inn that night. We called our landlord to come and pick us up, which he did, all the way from Red Deer. Then we drove to Outlook to secure our children.
A lot of family members shied away from us, which surprised us. It's not that they believed we'd done anything. It's just that they didn't want to be seen with us. That's why my uncle who bailed us out just dropped off the money and took off. There's still a lot of hard feelings and a lot of resentment.
I was born a Klassen, but my wife married into the Klassens, so I don't blame her mother and father, but I remember her mother standing there saying, "Well, did you?"
I mean, everyone was in shock. Nobody knows what you're like anymore, nobody knows what's going on. People who knew us were saying, "Well, did you?"
So we went into seclusion.
Not able to work, completely isolated. We got kicked out of our apartment, and this was our landlord who believed in us, but his superiors said we had to leave, because there were other people in the complex who didn't trust us.
Kari: We felt ashamed. We knew we hadn't done anything, but still we felt ashamed
Richard: It was hard on the kids. We wouldn't allow any children into our home, or allow them to visit other children, so they were isolated too.
At this point, we still didn't know what the allegations consisted of exactly. Then two weeks before the preliminary hearing in December 1991, our lawyer showed us the videotapes [of the three Ross children being interviewed by Supt. Brian Dueck and child therapist, Carol Bunk-Ruys].
Kari: I was accused of sticking my finger in Kathy's vagina and bum, and Michelle's vagina and bum, and Michael's bum, and sticking his penis in my vagina and bum. He was 10 or 11 at the time.
Richard: I was accused of the same thing, except for the reverse — sticking my penis in their vagina/bum. That's all we heard was vagina, bum, vagina, bum, 75 times, 125 times, 250 times.
My mother was accused of the same thing, a woman in her fifties, in a wheelchair, clinically blind, able to walk only with the aid of a walker. She always had her fists clenched because she was partially paralysed.
On tape, Michael said he had sex with her.
She thought we were all going to jail.
I shouted at Matt Miazga, "I'm never going to let you get away with this. I want my name cleared!"
Richard: The preliminary hearing ended in January 1992, and we were told we'd have to stand trial. Then on Feb. 10, 1993, nearly a year later, the charges were stayed.
I heard Matt Miazga [the Saskatoon prosecutor and a plaintiff in the malicious prosecution case] say they weren't proceeding because the children were too traumatized to testify. That's when I flipped out. I went after Matt outside the court, and I was shouting, "I'm never going to let you get away with this. I want my name cleared!" And Matt was saying to our lawyer, "Control your client."
I thought, no way are you doing this to me. But all the other family members wanted me to shut up. They all said we could be charged again within the year, because they had only stayed the charges, so we shouldn't piss in their cornflakes.
I was even threatened by one of my brothers, "You get us charged and I'll kill you."
First thing I did was to look around for other resources. I heard about the Martensville case, so I contacted people involved in that. I started writing long letters. I wrote to Bob Mitchell, justice minister at the time, but he wrote back saying a stay is as good as it gets, get on with your lives.
Then I found out it was Michael who had been abusing his sisters, and that they were still together. The girls were being raped. And so then I realized this is apples and oranges, this has nothing to do with us. What's happening to those girls, I want it stopped.
I came back to Red Deer, and I said to Kari, we're moving to Saskatoon. We're going to fight this.
We decided to launch the malicious prosecution suit, which we did in 1994, but for years the case went nowhere. So I contacted the defendants' lawyers, told them I was representing myself, purchased a $350 civil law book and started reading.
It was only then I realized I could view all the documents. I went down to Regina, and there's this beautiful office, and five boxes, and I thought, "My God".
So I ordered them all, 50 cents a page. Kari's mom and dad paid for it.
Kari: We were thinking, "How come there's no notes from the police officer, from Dueck? Where's the investigation, where's the evidence? There was nothing.
Richard: Our lawyer said there was nothing. Nothing. But I went down there, and there were boxes of it.
Kari's mom and dad didn't have any faith in me to begin with. I mean, we had lawyers, right? So I had to do a lot of convincing to persuade them to invest in me, and they had to purchase computers and paper and printers. But they kept the faith and we went to trial.
Three, four times I tried to commit suicide during the time I took over. For the last year and a half, I'm surprised I got here. I know it's because of Ange (his assistant, Angie Geworsky), Kari and her parents.
I've become addicted to sleeping pills, although it's getting better. I'm going through withdrawal at the moment. You feel as though your skin is crawling, your legs are always wanting to move at night, you can't sleep, your eyes are wide open, your mind's always running. Hands are constantly wet, like you're washing dishes. I'm nervous and depressed and want to cry a lot. Sometimes I find myself wandering, find myself around town.
Probably the worst thing I've ever had to live with are the violent thoughts I have against myself.
I don't know why I'm so depressed. I have no reason to be. I won.
But in a way, the case kept me going. I didn't know what to do with myself when we won.
I would have killed myself had I lost that judgment. Kari knew I'd decided to do that. I had my pills in my pocket, over 20 or 40 of them.
And then I would have driven my car through the police station front doors, and we would have had an inquest. There was no option. They were going to get an inquest one way or another.
Kari: I was scared out of my mind. It's all I thought about. But I had faith in him, and confidence in him, the way he presented all the evidence, the way he got it all out, the work he did. Incredible.
Richard: I had no faith. I had resigned myself. That was the end for me. What good would I have been to my wife or children if I had lost?
They resurrected me by appealing. They lit a fire under me. After we heard, everybody said, "Rick, you're looking better already."
These people are vicious. I'm a self-represented person. I knew they would do everything in their power to take me out. They are sore losers. I fought them. Now I've won probably one of the biggest malicious prosecution cases in Canada.
And I did it clean. I did it the right way, the judge commented on that. And they can't take it. They can't handle it. If a lawyer had done this, they'd have paid out. We're still hoping the government will just buck up and do the right thing. There's a lot of pressure on them to do so. I suspect if they don't, the NDP will be wiped out here.
There comes a time when [Premier Lorne] Calvert can redeem himself, the police dept. can redeem themselves, we can all redeem ourselves, and get off this Amnesty International list. Let's get Saskatoon back on the map and make it a place that we want to be in. It's the opportunity of a lifetime, the way I look at it.
This is their opportunity to come out, come clean, let's find out what happened, make it right, and hold those accountable that have made the system the way it was.
We can't keep employing people who are crooked. And it's as simple as that.
I'm surprised we got this far. But we've had tremendous support from all over the world, e-mails, letters, even donations. We received one anonymous donation of $2,000 from Luxembourg, and on the money order it said, "In the name of my father. In the name of justice." We believe it came from Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four. That man is a hero of mine.
You also have to understand that I'm a very strong person. And so is our marriage, and our children too. We have a very strong bond.
Kari: Best friends.
Richard: Been through a lot.
Kari: Oh yeah.