After all is said and done -- and we don't yet know if it is as there are still three outstanding lawsuits --we are left with the question: Who profitted from the most expensive trial Saskatchewan has yet seen? The list is long: it includes many lawyers and no falsely accused
REGINA -- A settlement has been reached with one of three remaining plaintiffs suing over malicious prosecution in the Martensville child sex abuse case.
Justice Minister Frank Quennell announced the $150,000 settlement with RCMP officer Darren Sabourin on Monday.
Emotions run high as Ron and Linda Sterling leave courthouse after being cleared of all charges
The province will pay $67,000 of that amount, with the rest being paid by the Martensville and Saskatoon Police Services or their insurers, he said.
"This case has caused suffering and upheaval in the lives of many, many people for more than a decade. This is truly a regrettable situation and I extend my sympathy to Mr. Sabourin," said Quennell at a news conference at the legislature.
Sabourin's lawyer, Morris Bodnar, spoke on his client's behalf.
"He's relieved that the government finally has, through this settlement, acknowledged that he was wronged, that he was improperly prosecuted and that he was an innocent man. That's really his bottom line," Bodnar said in an interview from Saskatoon.
The Martensville case stems from the early 1990s, when group home operators Ron and Linda Sterling, a youth and five police officers were charged with 180 criminal offences alleging ritual sex abuse against children at the Sterlings' day care in 1992.
The plaintiffs were tried and acquitted on all charges. Charges against some of the police officers, including Sabourin, were stayed after the Sterling acquittals. The entire file yielded one conviction of sexual assault.
The stories of murder, animal mutilation and Satanism made by children were proved unfounded and the methods of police and prosecutors came under heavy criticism.
After the launch of lawsuits for malicious prosecution, the province paid $925,000 as part of a $1.3-million settlement reached in November with Ron and Linda Sterling and the plaintiff, who was a youth at the time. One of the police officers, John Popowich, sued and in 2002 was awarded $1.3 million.
Quennell said the Martensville case occurred in a period when the justice system throughout North America was learning how to deal with child victims and witnesses.
"The justice system's knowledge and ability to deal effectively with child witnesses continues to develop. Knowing what we know now about child victims and witnesses, a case with the same circumstances as this case would have been handled differently," he said.
In March, the provincial cabinet approved an order-in-council that set aside $450,000 for potential settlements with the three remaining plaintiffs in the Martensville case: Sabourin, Jim Elstad and Ed Revesz.
Quennell said no settlements had been reached yet with the remaining two plaintiffs but he hopes they will be completed in the next year.
He could not comment on the government's earlier approach but he said he has been willing to settle the case since he became justice minister in late 2003.
Bodnar said the two sides had been "within a whisker" of settling Sabourin's case at the time the order-in-council was passed.
The settlement in a lawsuit stemming from a 1992 child sexual abuse case that provides a small payout to a couple and leaves lawyers with about 80 per cent of the money raises "red flags," says a Saskatoon lawyer.
"In a matter like this, in a general way, I would have to say I am astonished that the client would receive 20 per cent," said lawyer Robert Stevenson, an expert in complex civil litigation.
"There are red flags in my mind based on experience . . . but I assume there would be some extraordinary factors to support that kind of outcome."
Lawyer Geoff Dufour, who represented Ron and Linda Sterling and a youth plaintiff in the malicious prosecution case brought against the government, declined to comment on his arrangement with his clients.
"The financial arrangements between myself and my clients is between myself and my clients," he said Tuesday.
The Saskatchewan government announced Monday it will pay the Sterlings and the youth $925,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
Justice Minister Frank Quennell said Monday that $735,00 will be paid to the plaintiff's lawyers, leaving the couple with $190,000. The Sterlings, the youth and five police officers were charged with criminal offences after bizarre allegations of ritual sex abuse against children they cared for in their Martensville home day care surfaced. They were later tried and acquitted on all charges.
Stevenson acknowledged a need to be informed of the basic facts in the case in order to have an opinion on a matter such as legal fees, and said it would "be a disservice to comment specifically without that information."
But he did admit the amount paid to the lawyers seems high.
"I'm plaintiff counsel and normally it would be reversed -- it would be 80 per cent to the client and 20 per cent to the lawyer."
But Wes Pue, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, said the amount may not be so high.
"If you imagine a very good lawyer, who has a staff to pay, an office to run . . . their billing represents a proportion of the entire enterprise, not just what they take home and put in their pocket," he said.
"If you take whatever that business billing amount is for a competent lawyer and multiply that over a number of hours over a number of years, it's not that hard to get up to high figures."
This should be taken into consideration with the amount of time put into the case and lined up with the costs on the other side, he added.
"Typically governments aren't constrained by expense as much as other people are . . . it could have been fairly extensive legal firepower and costs go up when you encounter that on the other side."
Kirsten Logan, secretary and co-ordinator of administration for the Law Society of Saskatchewan, said there have been few complaints from the public about legal charges.
Logan said although the society cannot divulge what lawyers can and cannot charge, ultimately a court can review a lawyer's bill and determine whether it is appropriate.
There is an ethical and legal requirement the fee be fair and reasonable, said Stevenson.
That includes taking into consideration time spent on the case, the difficulty and importance of the matter, whether special skill was required and provided, comparable charges of lawyers of equal standing in like matters and circumstances, the amount involved, results obtained and any agreement between the lawyer and client.
Linda Sterling refused to comment on the settlement. The Sterlings and the youth will also share a $250,000 settlement from Martensville police and a $175,000 settlement from the Saskatoon Police Service.
At first glance, these stories would not seem to be related. What relates them is Jane Lancaster's arrogance. Jack Hillson was counsel for Helen Ross during the preliminary hearing and trial which found Ross, Ross and White guilty of sex crimes against the Ross children. Many people still confuse the Foster Parent case with the Martensville case. However, they were two piggy-backed cases. It would be fair to speculate that if Lancaster was providing privileged information to the crown in the Martensville case, that she had already done so with the Foster Parent trials. How many cases were lost because prosecutors were getting strategic information from Lancaster, the boss of their lawyers? This is a scandal waiting to be investigated.
REGINA -- Saskatchewan's top prosecutor says his department did not pursue a labour complaint made by a former MLA because the matter was already in civil court.
Murray Brown, director of prosecutions for Saskatchewan Justice, says politics had nothing to do with his decision to pass on Jack Hillson's case.
Hillson was the Liberal MLA for North Battleford up until last fall's election when he was voted out.
But he didn't get his job back as a legal aid lawyer when he lost his seat.
That was a violation of labour laws -- at least according to a memo sent to Hillson by the provincial Labour Department.
On Monday, the Saskatchewan Party used the memo to accuse the government of not enforcing its own rules.
But Brown says that prosecutions under the Labour Standards Act are expensive and should only be used as a last resort.
Former Liberal MLA Jack Hillson is suing the province, claiming it refuses to honour a promise to reinstate his job with the Saskatchewan Legal Aid Commission (SLAC).
"People have been guaranteed a right that they can enter public life without having their careers destroyed. The Legal Aid Commission is flouting that law," said Hillson, MLA for the Battlefords from 1996 to 2003 and once a member of a NDP-Liberal coalition government.
Hillson's statement of claim, filed with the Saskatoon Court of Queen's Bench on Thursday, says he is "being deprived of a livelihood which he had practised since October 1986."
He joined the commission, an agency of the Saskatchewan government, that year as area director of the North Battleford regional office.
Hillson, who lost the Liberal party leadership race to David Karwacki in fall of 2001, is seeking damages for "mental anguish, pain and suffering as a result of the humiliation, embarrassment and distress" caused by the commission "denying (his) statutory rights."
He also wants an injunction restraining the commission from hiring anyone to fill his position and "punitive damages exceeding $200,000."
Because he is well-known in North Battleford, Hillson claims he "couldn't step outside the house without a dozen people asking me what I'm doing now.
" 'Nothing,' was all I could say," he said in an interview.
The commission has not yet filed a statement of defence but intends to do that, according to Rob Gibbings, chair of the commission's board.
"The commission is satisfied that throughout, it has acted both ethically and legally with regard to the matter with Mr. Hillson," Gibbings said.
He said he could not comment further on the matter until a defence is filed.
Hillson is looking forward to reading that defence in hopes it sheds some light on the reason he is being denied employment.
"I've asked for reasons but they refuse to give one. They only tell me the termination of employment is 'without just cause.' They've put that in writing," he said. ". . . Even if you are legally entitled to do something like this -- which I dispute -- but even if you are, that doesn't answer why you are doing it."
A lawyer by trade, Hillson was granted leave from the commission when first elected to the provincial legislature in November 1996. The agreement was made in accordance with The Labour Standards Act, which secures a person's job and any advancements that would have occurred during the time away.
The agreement, signed by Hillson and commission CEO Jane Lancaster, fixed the leave "to the end of your term of office as a member of the legislative assembly of Saskatchewan."
Section 80 of the act specifically refers to a guarantee for individuals entering elected service. It provides for a benefits package and no loss of seniority annual holidays.
Hillson's long and winding road ended when he was unseated by the NDP in the November 2003 provincial election. When he approached Lancaster, Hillson claims he was told there were no vacancies "and there was a young female aboriginal lawyer that would have to be fired to make room."
He claims there are actually two vacancies in the North Battleford legal aid office, which usually employs five full-time lawyers. One of those belongs to the aboriginal woman, who has since left the post.
"The North Battleford office is really in some turmoil now and cannot do the work it's supposed to do. It cannot properly serve its clients," Hillson said, noting he has talked with employees from the office.
The regional office serves its sister town, Battleford, as well as Lloydminster, Kerrobert, Unity, Wilkie, Cutknife, Spiritwood, Turtleford, Radisson and Meadow Lake.
Hillson met with Lancaster on Nov. 14 to determine when he would start work.
"The conclusion of that meeting was that she would follow up," according to Hillson's statement of claim.
He was summoned to meet her on Dec. 10 and was shown into a room where he was asked for his resignation, states the claim. On Jan. 2, Hillson wrote a letter demanding he be allowed to continue his employment with the commission.
He claims Lancaster offered to pay him seven months' salary to stay at home, worth more than $58,000.
At the end of that term, his connection with the office would be severed.
Hillson has since taken a job with the legal firm, MacDermid Lamarsh, in Saskatoon, for " a fraction of that amount," according to his Saskatoon lawyer Henry Kloppenburg.
Hillson said he never wanted to leave North Battleford, where he and his wife "have set roots with lots of friends." His wife is the head of the North Battleford Library.
"But I just couldn't stand sitting around at home," he said. "I now have a job I like but it is a three-hour commute (90 minutes each way).
"And it's tough starting a new career all over again at my age (59)."
The head of Saskatchewan's Legal Aid Commission is accused of feeding sensitive information to the prosecution in the early 1990s Martensville sexual abuse case.
Crown prosecutor Bruce Bauer, who is now being sued for malicious prosecution, received information in 1993 about Ron and Linda Sterling's defence strategy from Jane Lancaster, who was then acting chair of the legal aid commission, according to documents filed Monday at Saskatoon Court of Queen's Bench.
The Sterlings and an unnamed person, who was then a youth, were represented at that time by lawyers who worked for legal aid and by other lawyers who were paid by legal aid.
Those lawyers reported to Lancaster.
A handwritten note made by Bauer while the case was ongoing "appears to indicate that Jane Lancaster was providing details of our application to Mr. Bauer," said a sworn statement by Ron Sterling, which was among the new court documents.
"The applicants did not authorize their lawyers to communicate details of their strategies to the Crown prosecutors," says an application prepared by the Sterling's current lawyer, Geoff Dufour.
Lancaster declined to comment on the allegations specifically Tuesday but said generally, legal aid doesn't give out information about its clients.
The Sterlings and the unnamed person are suing Crown prosecutors Bauer, Leslie Sullivan, police and social workers for malicious prosecution.
They and five police officers were charged with 180 criminal offences, which arose out of bizarre allegations of ritual sex abuse against numerous children who had been cared for at the Sterling's home day care.
The plaintiffs were tried and acquitted on all charges, as was former police officer John Popowich. Charges against the other police officers were stayed after the acquittals. The entire file yielded one conviction of sexual assault against a person not party to the lawsuit.
The stories of murder, animal mutilation and Satanism were proved unfounded and attention turned to the methods of police and prosecutors.
Investigators had elicited the allegations by asking the children leading questions and prosecutors had gone ahead with charges despite police misgivings about the veracity of the claims.
Popowich sued and, two years ago, was awarded $1.3 million. The four other police officers, Darryl Ford, Darren Sabourin, Jim Elstad and Ed Revesz, who were also charged, are pursuing their own malicious prosecution lawsuits.
The new court documents include a sworn statement by Ron Sterling, who explains that in early 1993, his legal aid lawyer, Don Mullord, considered applying for a change of venue for his trial.
Mullord intended to commission a public opinion poll to demonstrate that Sterling would not be able to get a fair trial in Saskatoon. Mullord sought budget approval from Lancaster. Documents attached to the file reveal Lancaster approved an expenditure for the polling of "4000 plus 500" on April 8, 1993.
However, on March 5, 1993, Bauer made written notes about a telephone conversation with Lancaster.
"The note appears to indicate that Jane Lancaster was providing details of our application to Mr. Bauer," Sterling's affidavit says.
Attached to the affidavit is a copy of Bauer's note, written in point form: "t/a Jane Lancaster, re polls -- her information is second or third hand, using sociology department at U of S; intent is to see if publicity influenced people -- based on polls of June, expense 5,000-10,000 range, doesn't know who picks the questions, she simply authorized the expenditure . . . time line: authorized them to make arrangements -- on March 18 will know what time line is."
On March 25, 1993, Bauer and Sullivan wrote a four-page memorandum to Richard Quinney, who was then head of public prosecutions, about what they referred to as "the change of venue problem." Bauer anticipated he would require up to $20,000 to oppose the change of venue application.
In the affidavit, Sterling also says Lancaster discussed his financial situation with Bauer.
Sterling was informed on Feb. 3, 1993, he would be granted legal aid assistance, after the family ran out of money. He refers to a note by Bauer made the same day, in which Bauer writes that Lancaster "wants to make sure that all the money is used up before legal aid kicks in."
"I was unaware that Jane Lancaster was providing information to the Crown prosecutors until disclosure was made during these civil litigation proceedings," Sterling says.
He never authorized his lawyers to provide details of his defence strategy to prosecutors, he says.
"I assumed that whatever we discussed with our lawyers would remain between us and them, and would certainly not be disclosed to the prosecutors who were trying to put us in jail.
"Nor did I authorize my lawyers to discuss my financial situation with the Crown," he states.
Sterling's affidavit also refers to an attached note Bauer wrote Dec. 8, 1993, about the Crown's decision to proceed to trial without first holding a preliminary hearing to determine if there was enough evidence to take the matter to trial.
That move, on Dec. 7, had surprised and worried the Sterlings because they thought it would impair their ability to properly defend themselves at trial.
Bauer wrote in the Dec. 8 note: "blind-side to defence and it makes me chortle."
Dufour has applied to the court to order the legal aid commission to produce all documents and computer records pertaining to the Sterlings.
These include all notes, correspondence, e-mails, memoranda, telephone attendance records to or from Lancaster, or any other legal aid staff, pertaining to them.
Dufour also wants all of legal aid's files related to the Sterlings' request for legal aid.
Bauer's willingness to accept information about the plaintiffs from Lancaster is an indicator of his malice, Dufour argues in the application.
Lancaster said Tuesday that the commission is trying to find its files from that period, which are stored off-site.
She declined to comment on the specific allegations.
REGINA -- The provincial government broke its own laws when the Saskatchewan Legal Aid Commission (SLAC) failed to rehire former Liberal MLA Jack Hillson to his former position, according to a Labour Department document brought forward by the Saskatchewan Party on Monday.
And the Opposition questioned why the provincial Justice Department's public prosecutions branch chose not to prosecute the case when it was referred to the department.
Saskatchewan Party justice critic Don Morgan said Justice Minister Frank Quennell should refer the case to an agency outside the province to determine whether legal aid broke the law and whether a prosecution is warranted.
While SLAC is an independent agency, it is fully funded by the government and the minister has an obligation to ensure it lives up to provincial law, he said.
"Mr. Quennell would be well-advised to take control of some of the things in his department . . . this is a situation where he knows that that agency has not complied with the law, there's civil litigation pending, he should take steps to ensure that it's dealt with," Morgan told reporters at the legislative assembly.
In question period, Morgan presented a Sept. 30 letter to Hillson from a Labour Standards officer saying his investigation found "the Legal Aid Commission did not allow you to continue your employment contrary to the requirements of Section 80 of the Labour Standards Act."
It states further that after an analysis on the merits or ability of public prosecutions to pursue Hillson's reinstatement by way of a prosecution, "it is the public prosecutor's assessment that other options to resolve this dispute should be explored as a prosecution will not be undertaken."
Quennell told reporters he did not know why the public prosecutor chose not to take the case because the branch works independently of the minister's office. "I haven't interfered in any way in that decision, either before it was made or after," he said, adding there is no reason to bring in an outside agency to look at the case.
Quennell said he's not overly concerned by the letter because Hillson is pursuing his case through a lawsuit, which is the most common practice in such cases.
"Usually there wouldn't be in a case like this a request for prosecution," he said.
Given legal aid's independence, Quennell said it would be political interference for him to get involved with Hillson's case.
But both Morgan and Liberal Leader David Karwacki said Hillson's case appears already to be embroiled in politics.
"That is clearly the message coming out of this," Karwacki said.
"If you seek office for someone else, you end up jeopardizing your career . . . it's just not right, regardless of who is in power."
Hillson served as area director of North Battleford regional legal aid office and was granted leave in 1996 when he was elected to the provincial legislature.
The agreement, signed by Hillson and the commission's CEO, Jane Lancaster, fixed the leave "to the end of your term of office" as MLA.
Instead of getting his job back after his defeat in last November's election, however, Hillson was advised his employment had been terminated and was offered severance.
The former MLA, who now works for Saskatoon law firm MacDermid Lamarsh, has alleged his termination violates the provisions in the Labour Standards Act which provides job protection for people entering political service.
He is now seeking punitive damages of more than $200,000 in a civil suit, which is likely to proceed to pre-trial early in the new year.
"I think the letter speaks for itself," said Hillson, who was reluctant to comment Monday because of his impending court case.
Rob Gibbings, the Saskatoon lawyer who is chair of the SLAC, said he could not comment because he was not aware of the letter.
Four people cleared of sex abuse charges in the 1992 Martensville case could be ready to go to trial on their malicious prosecution lawsuit at this time next year.
Ron and Linda Sterling, who operated a home day care, former Martensville police officer Darryl Ford and an unnamed person who was a youth in 1992, are proceeding with the lawsuit they launched in 1996 against police and prosecutors, their lawyer Geoff Dufour said Tuesday.
Those plaintiffs and three other police officers, Darren Sabourin, Jim Elstad and Ed Revesz, who are represented by other lawyers, had hoped to avoid going to trial after former police officer John Popowich won a $1.3-million settlement in June 2002.
Popowich and the others were falsely accused in the sensational case that featured allegations of ritual sex abuse, Satanism, animal mutilation and murder.
After the Popowich settlement, then-justice minister Chris Axworthy said he expected it to be "the first in a series" of settlements with plaintiffs in the matter.
Plaintiff lawyers forwarded proposals to the province in hopes of quick resolutions but those hopes faded after more than a year with no response from the government.
In July, government lawyer Don McKillop applied to have disclosure from the Popowich trial made available to the remaining plaintiffs to save them having to ask for the same information.
Dufour said he has reviewed those documents and is ready for the next step in the legal process: examinations for discovery are scheduled for the first two weeks of March, when Crown prosecutors Bruce Bauer and Leslie Sullivan will be questioned.
Dufour hopes that all examination for discovery hearings will be complete by June.
"And then that would set the pace for a pretrial conference in the fall and hopefully, a trial starting about this time next year," Dufour said.
The case, which involved bizarre allegations of ritual sex abuse against numerous children who were cared for at the Sterling's home, resulted in 180 charges being laid against nine individuals and drew international media attention.
The entire file yielded one conviction of sexual assault.
The stories of murder, animal mutilation and Satanism eventually were proved unfounded and the methods of police and prosecutors came under heavy criticism.
Investigators had elicited the allegations by asking the children leading questions and prosecutors had gone ahead with charges despite police misgivings about the veracity of the claims.
The remaining lawsuits name Saskatoon and Martensville police officers, their police boards, prosecutors Bauer and Sullivan, the government of Saskatchewan and the attorney general.
Plaintiffs in the case are also watching with interest the way the government deals with another high-profile malicious prosecution case, brought by Richard Klassen, Sherry Kvello and their family members.
Lawyer Lee Cutforth, who represents Sabourin, said that while the facts of the Klassen and Kvello case are different, the government has in both cases shown an unwillingness to take responsibility and instead is "really trying to win by attrition rather than on the merits," he said.
Cutforth and Bill Roe, who represents Revesz, said they are also proceeding with their cases.
McKillop was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Richard Gabruch, who represents Elstad, also was not available.
It's Easter 1992 and Const. Mike Swan, armed with a riot shotgun, revolver and assault rifle, is dispatched to the streets of Martensville to confront and do battle with a busload full of bloodthirsty Satanists. Chief's orders, issued directly. Martensville police chief Mike Johnston had summoned Swan and Const. Mel Neufeld to an emergency meeting earlier that same day. Johnston had it on a tip from a source that Satanists from Weyburn and Estevan were driving up to hunt humans in the town of 3,500.
Martensville, a quiet little community north of Saskatoon, is on alert. "We were given explicit instructions they were coming," Swan recalls.
Unusual orders, yes, but not unprecedented. Johnston had the devil on his mind a lot that spring. Martensville police reports from the time are cluttered with his references to Eohippus Draconis, Elderbeast, the Clan, Star of Seven and scarab beetle tattoos.
In a report dated April 16, 1992, Johnston writes how "the indications were that tonight was a very important night with the Occult in the preparation of potential victims." He believed there were two independent groups of Satanists living in the area.
"The group in town is known as The Brotherhood of the Ram, with the Ram being a reference to Satan," he wrote.
"The other group operating around Mennon is also Satanic in nature, however, is a separate Sect known as The Temple of Seth and is generally the upper class types. The two groups use different types of rituals however both can and do offer human sacrafices."
Johnston believed the out-of-towners were coming to "take out" a local family. Swan swallowed his incredulity, "he's our chief and we had to do what he told us," and suited up.
"He called us in and armed us to the teeth. I had a riot shotgun and an FN assault rifle with 30-shot clips, taped back to back. He wanted us to get whatever we could," Swan said in an interview.
"He had us on the lookout, he made it out as if, like, these guys are coming and we're going to be in the fight of our lives that night."
The busload of gun-toting Satanists never did materialize on the streets of Martensville that Easter night.
Const. Mike Swan recalls becoming increasingly skeptical of his orders as he patrolled the empty town.
"And then as the night went on, if we're in such a fight, where's our backup? Where's he (Johnston)? Shouldn't the RCMP be in on this? Saskatoon city police? What are two guys going to do against 30 or 40 coming, armed, in a school bus?"
Within months, disillusioned, Swan and Neufeld concluded the investigation and hysteria over Satanic cults was "a crock of shit" and took their concerns to Martensville mayor Rob Friesen.
The mayor was unswayed.
"Once we made our stand, said this isn't happening, it never did happen, and we can prove a lot of it, disprove a lot of it, they just blocked us. We weren't allowed to see any reports, we weren't allowed to have nothing to do with it because we could blow a lot of it apart," Swan said.
Welcome to the Martensville child sexual assault investigation, circa 1992.
Documents released as part of the civil suit launched by Saskatoon police officer John Popowich, who had sexual assault charges from the Martensville case stayed in 1993, shed new light on what went on behind the scenes in the investigation into alleged child sexual abuse at the small town day care.
The Crown went to trial with 180 charges laid against nine people for sexually abusing children. In the end, only one conviction stood. The province has resisted calls for a public inquiry.
The reports paint a picture of an investigation plagued from the very start by miscommunication, infighting, incompetence, arrogance, politics and religious hysteria.
They show a Martensville police department at odds with its chief, a lead investigator heading toward an emotional breakdown, Crown prosecutors at odds with provincial police investigators, experts at odds with experts and a community at war with itself.
The details emerge through the occurrence reports written by Martensville chief Mike Johnston, an internal analysis of the investigation from Crown prosecutors Bruce Bauer and Leslie Sullivan, the affadavit of Popowich, testimony from director of prosecutions Richard Quinney under examination for discovery and a lengthy judgment from the provincial Court of Appeal.
The package also includes the detailed debriefing on "Operation Foray" by the members of the RCMP-Saskatoon city police task force created by the provincial government in June 1992 to take over the investigation after the full extent of the allegations and charges became public.
The documents and subsequent interviews show how two events, only weeks part, set in motion the complex chain reaction that became known as The Martensville Nightmare - the hiring of Claudia Bryden (right) Sept. 19 by the Martensville police department and the original child sexual assault allegation taken to Martensville Const. Jim Elstad on Oct. 1, 1991 by a local parent.
THIS IS THE SCENE that greeted Bryden when she first joined the Martensville police department in the fall of 1991 as a rookie constable. Her previous work experience consisted of six months with a rural Manitoba RCMP detachment.
It was a force in turmoil, poorly managed and lacking supervision, according to a review that year by the Saskatchewan Police Commission.
There were members on long-term sick leave, members serving suspensions. The department's two previous chiefs, Darryl Ford and Ed Revesz, had left the office on bad terms but still lived in the small community. The acting chief, Wayne McGillivray, split his duties with the Corman Park Police Service.
Less than three weeks into the job, Const. Elstad, the department's senior officer, passed Bryden a file from the parents of a two-year-old girl. The parents claimed their daughter was sexually assaulted at a local day care and that the accused was Travis Sterling, son of the day care owners. At the same time, Bryden was also tipped to an earlier complaint against Sterling from 1988, the matter left unresolved by then-Chief Ford.
Sterling was charged Oct. 4 with sexual assault and sexual assault with a weapon in connection with the 1988 complaint, 72 hours after Bryden took the file on the 23-year-old Travis.
Bryden then began interviewing other families from the day care to assess the extent of the supposed abuse. Word spread rapidly of her pointed inquiries about the unlicensed Sterling day care in the small town and soon the children were implicating the day care owners and other adults, including members of the RCMP and the Martensville and Saskatoon police forces. At least one parent started his own investigation.
Travis Sterling was re-arrested and charged with sexual assault and sexual assault with a weapon on Nov. 2, 1991. His mother, Linda, was charged with sexual assault, uttering threats and pointing a firearm on Dec. 20.
His father, Ron, deputy director at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre, was charged with sexual assault, uttering threats and pointing a firearm on Jan. 16, 1992.
Disturbed by her findings and concerned with confidentiality as the investigation blossomed, Bryden moved the case files from the police station to her home in February 1992.
The RCMP task force was critical of this move in its assessment of the case. The decision isolated the young officer, contributing to her breakdown that June, and kept her superiors uninformed of developments.
"The fact that Const. Bryden was permitted by Chief McGillivray and later by Chief Johnston to retain the investigational file at her residence is cause for serious concern," said the task force.
"With the file remaining in the Bryden residence, the cause of her emotional breakdown becomes more understandable. As Const. Bryden was conducting much of her investigation away from both the Martensville and Corman Park Police offices, hands-on supervision by a superior officer was minimal at best."
On March 2, 1992 the town hired ex-RCMP officer Michael Johnston as chief of police. Mayor Rob Friesen, now a real estate agent in Saskatoon, said the chair of the provincial police commission sat on the selection committee.
The town asked for assistance choosing a new chief because of its limited resources and the problems identified with the department's hiring procedures. Johnston came highly recommended, Friesen said.
"He came down with flowers and blossoms all the way to the bank. The best thing since sliced bread," Friesen said.
Johnston knew from media reports that the Sterlings had been arrested and were under investigation. Four days into the job, he learned the investigation included allegations of possible police involvement. In an interview, he said that he never learned the full extent of the case until he arrived for his new job.
"They dumped that whole thing on me. I wasn't even aware of it before I got there, right from Maple Creek. To say I have a bitter taste in my mouth would be an understatement."
On March 17, he enlisted Saskatoon police Sgt. Rod Moor to help Bryden in the investigation. They eventually interviewed 13 children who had attended day care at the Sterling home, or visited there.
Neither officer had formal training on interviewing sexually abused children. This inexperience became a key point in the subsequent trials and appeals.
The stories from the children became more bizarre and unsettling with the rumour of a "Devil Church" where the alleged abuses took place circulating through the town. Police, parents and town residents were actively searching for the location.