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Frank Quennell, SK Justice Minister

Quennell won't let mess drag on

Frank Quennell

Make no mistake that Justice Minister Frank Quennell is ready to step in to resolve the mess at the Saskatoon Police Service in the wake of the Neil Stonechild inquiry.

Quennell on Tuesday clearly was signalling the Saskatoon police commission and Chief Russell Sabo that, unless they get their act together ASAP, provincial government intervention will be a matter of when, not if.

The only real question is: How?

What was also crystal clear Tuesday is that the action Quennell intends won't be the immediate, guns-a-blazin' approach that some in Saskatoon argue is necessary to clean up their police service.

"My expectation is that the Saskatoon police commission will be responding to the report," Quennell told reporters on his way into the weekly cabinet meeting. "I have asked for a plan of action from the local leadership.

"That plan of action is going to be reviewed by the Saskatchewan Police Commission — as is their responsibility under the Police Act — and we will be moving forward."

While he stressed that the Saskatoon police commissioners and others "need the opportunity to demonstrate some leadership," Quennell repeatedly stressed that the provincial police commission has a role here. And he added, somewhat ominously:

"I want to see a plan coming out of meetings that are starting this month."

Of course, some will question the wisdom of the justice minister becoming involved in such matters, especially given his track record.

You may recall the decision by Quennell's department in January to appeal Justice George Baynton's highly critical ruling on the malicious prosecution of 12 innocent members of the Klassen and Kvello families on sexual abuse charges. Baynton accused Crown prosecutors of "the lack of any regret or remorse for what was done to the plaintiffs."

Not only did Quennell's office appeal the judge's damning decision but the justice minister also stressed that "no apology" would be forthcoming to those involved in the case: "It's not the position or practical for my office to be extending apologies where prosecutions don't proceed," Quennell explained. "That's how the system works."

Given that he wound up apologizing later and given that Justice shelled out $1.5M to the plaintiffs, the system didn't work — not for the Klassen-Kvellos, Quennell or for us.

That said, it does appear the minister has learned from the experience. In fact, Quennell has been one of the few principals in this story who has demonstrated any consistency or aplomb in his position.

"The death of a 17-year-old boy is a tragedy," Quennell said last month as he immediately accepted commissioner Justice David Wright's findings and recommendations in the Stonechild inquiry.

"It deserves our attention. It deserves our very best efforts.

"We may not always be able to determine with certainty what happened in the case of a tragic and premature death, but we must try our best."

While stressing that evidence presented to the Wright inquiry "did not meet that standard" needed to press criminal charges, Quennell added that the file remains open. And he further stressed that he had initiated discussions with Sabo and the Saskatoon police board to establish a plan to respond constructively to the report. Tuesday, he was not wavering.

Now, contrast that with the leadership Saskatoon is seeing from Sabo, who initially accepted Wright's conclusion that Stonechild was in the police cruiser of Constables Larry Hartwig's and Brad Senger and that they had the time to drive him to the edge of the city.

"This community has waited a long time for a resolution on this. I want to expedite this," Sabo said.

But on Saturday, the chief reportedly told members of his force that he personally didn't believe Hartwig and Senger — who have been suspended with pay but who face dismissal from the force today — were responsible for Stonechild's death.

Coupled with Mayor Don Atchison's admission that he only recently read the report, what we have here is a rather serious leadership void that must be filled if confidence in the Saskatoon Police Service is to be restored.

It's here that you have to admire the position that Quennell has taken.

While he acknowledged that blowing up the Saskatoon Police Service by bringing in the RCMP — something that requires a major legislative change and would be costly — isn't his preferred option, it's important to note that Quennell didn't totally rule out the option.

He only said that it would be "premature" to talk about replacing the city police with the RCMP. That's quite different from ruling it out altogether . In a story that's been all about hair-splitting, that's an important nuance.

"There should not be any question about my commitment and resolve to see changes here," Quennell told reporters. "And what is necessary will be done. But I don't want to do more than is necessary. I believe a measured response is an appropriate response."

While that may sound a bit too MacKenzie-King-esque for some tastes, it's exactly where the justice minister should be at this point. He's struck a diplomatic balance among respecting loyalty within the Saskatoon police union, respecting the local police board's autonomy to handle this issue itself and making it known that the province will step in to find a solution if they won't.

Saskatoon police and civic officials should know that Quennell is ready to step in. The only questions are, When and How?


Frank Quennell, Q.C.
New Justice Minister playing an old game

The response to Frank Quennell's performance yesterday was varied, but none was positive.

CTV local news ran a poll: Do you agree with the Justice Minister's decision to appeal the Klassen judgment. At noon today, the response was Disagree: 87% | Agree:13%. By six, those disagreeing constituted 89%.

John Gormley's talk show on CKOM heard from people with the whole range of responses. One lawyer supported Quennell's decision, accusing Gormley of interfering with the course of justice which must proceed properly and methodically. He also accused the Klassen supporters of lacking perspective and interfering with the right of individuals to appeal to higher courts.

This was very much a minority view.

At inJusticebusters, and among our visitors who are closely watching this drama unfold, many of whom have been following it for many years, we have always stood for the proper and orderly unfolding of the court process.

We have also seen an Appeal Court judge tell a defence lawyer to "Sit down and shut up." We watched Appeal Court judge Marjorie Gerwing show clear bias during a hearing for Peter Klassen to extend the time limit for appealling his conviction in the infamous "plea bargain" which was talked about in the recent hearings.

This was not a plea bargain but a metaphorical gun to the head of a broken man who served four full years when it was clear that three of the four crimes he pled to never happened. She flirted with the prosecutors and compared with them golf greens in Regina and Waskesieu as she hurried the witnesses through their testimony so she could get in her car and drive north for some R & R.

What should have been an orderly unfolding of the court process in this case was at no time civil, or proper, and there were many situations which were not even brought before Judge Baynton's court. There was enough, though. He got the picture. He watched the tapes. He listened carefully to the testimony. He took careful notes. From his notes he made determinations on credibility.

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