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Frank Quennell, SK Justice Minister

Gov't seeks intervenor status in appeal of malicious prosecution ruling

Frank Quennell

REGINA -- The government has good reason to get further involved in the appeal of a landmark malicious prosecution case relating to false allegations of child sexual abuse, Justice Minister and Attorney General Frank Quennell said Tuesday.

The province has applied to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal for intervenor status in an appeal launched by Crown prosecutor Matthew Miazga and therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys. They are appealing a Court of Queen's Bench decision that found they and Saskatoon police officer Brian Dueck had maliciously prosecuted Richard Klassen and 11 other defendants.

Seems no one has the will to make him account for his malicious and criminal actions

Quennell said the government needs to make sure certain points of law are addressed.

"I believe that the original judgment effectively changed the law on what is malicious prosecution that would adversely affect the investigation and prosecution of cases in the future," said Quennell outside of a meeting of the provincial cabinet Tuesday.

"I'm concerned that teachers, nurses, people in the position of Carol Bunko-Ruys, will be less willing to report sexual abuse of children, that police officers and prosecutors would be unfortunately perhaps, maybe inappropriately perhaps, less willing to do their jobs to the full extent that is appropriate."

The province agreed to pay $1.5M to the 12 plaintiffs as a settlement in June.

Robert Borden, the lawyer who represented most of the plaintiffs who were charged in 1991 with multiple counts of child abuse, said that in numerous meetings with the government, no one ever indicated that it planned to seek intervenor status in the case.

"How does this impact our clients? Our clients will have to address now issues that are raised by the government, issues that might not be related to those raised by Miazga and Bunko-Ruys. This will be more costly and we will have to of course prepare other briefs of law to address the government issues," he said from Saskatoon.

Borden said he would have to consult with all of his clients before he can say whether he will fight the government's application for status. The appeal is expected to be heard in April.

The government is already paying the legal fees for Miazga and Bunko-Ruys to pursue the appeal.

Saskatchewan Party Justice critic Don Morgan said it's not unreasonable for the government to get involved to try and clarify important issues around the role of police and prosecutors.

But the government needs to make sure its actions don't adversely affect the 12 plaintiffs.

In 1991, the plaintiffs were accused of abusing three foster children with bizarre allegations that included detailed accounts of satanic ritual abuse.

The children later recanted their stories, and one of the children was found to be abusing the other two.

Frank Quennell

Quennell releases Klassen settlement details

Saskatchewan's justice minister has released details of a settlement paid to two of the 12 people maliciously prosecuted on false child abuse allegations in the early 1990s.

Richard and Kari Klassen received a share of the $1.5M total payment made from the provincial government to the 12 falsely accused members of the Klassen and Kvello families. Richard and Kari Klassen received a further $100,000 each, and will get another $50,000 each if the government's appeal of the malicious prosecution finding is rejected, Justice Minister Frank Quennell said.

"I'm happy it's been released," Richard Klassen said.

"People will see we didn't get rich. I was never in it for the money -- we just wanted to clear our names."

Quennell can't discuss the final amounts paid to the other 10 plaintiffs because of a confidentiality agreement, he said. There is no such limit on the government in the agreement signed with Kari and Richard Klassen, according to the Justice Department.

Twelve members of the Klassen and Kvello families were charged with abusing several foster children in the early 1990s. Charges were stayed on the eve of the trial, and soon after the group sued various justice officials for their roles in the case.

The three children at the centre of the allegations recanted publicly and again during the trial. In a ruling late last year, Justice George Baynton found Saskatoon police officer Brian Dueck, therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys and Crown prosecutor Matthew Miazga acted with malice in their prosecution of the case.

Settlement talks led to various agreements and averted a damages trial this fall.

Lawyer Robert Borden, who represented the other 10 plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said he's received a letter from Quennell asking to have the settlement figures for his 10 clients made public.

Borden said he hasn't had a chance to speak to his clients, but expects a range of opinions.

Quennell's crew guilty of running up costs

It's a bit much to see Justice Minister Frank Quennell lamenting the legal fees paid by people his department screwed over.

Had Saskatchewan Justice not wrongfully prosecuted Ron and Linda Sterling, among others, in the first place, not a cent would have been paid in legal fees, in out-of-court settlements or anything else. Responsibility for running up these costs rests entirely with Saskatchewan Justice.

And the costs have been horrendous. Settlements of malicious prosecution suits have cost Saskatchewan taxpayers more than $4M so far. I say "so far" because several other related suits remain unresolved. Others were settled for undisclosed amounts. When all the bills are in, the total will likely approach or even exceed $5M.

This staggering amount is a measure of the damage inflicted by Saskatchewan Justice on these innocent individuals. But the minister responsible, instead of looking to his own dysfunctional department, takes a cheap shot at the plaintiff's lawyers. He should be minister of self-righteousness instead of justice. Of course, Quennell didn't mention how much his department has spent defending the indefensible. With so many wrongful prosecution suits dragging on for so long, it would not be a small amount. Meanwhile, government lawyers who should have been prosecuting bad guys were instead tied up for years fighting loser lawsuits.

Ron, Linda Sterling

Emotions run high as Ron and Linda Sterling leave courthouse after being cleared of all charges

The Sterlings, for example, filed their malicious prosecution suit more than 10 years ago. For the province to have settled back then would have cost taxpayers a lot less. It also would have been the right thing to do. The Sterlings, among others, had their lives ruined by Saskatchewan Justice. They were prosecuted for the most heinous of crimes in spite of there being no credible evidence against them. That's pretty much a textbook definition of malicious prosecution.

Instead of admitting a grievous mistake and settling with the Sterlings way back then, the province tried to grind them down. This is the strategy of a bully, not a Justice Department.

Meanwhile, the legal fees that Quennell now purports to condemn, piled up. For more than 10 years the lawyers' meters were kept running, thanks entirely to the government's pig-headedness. It was only on the courthouse steps that a settlement was finally reached, and only then because a trial would have shined a spotlight into the dark, dirty corners of Saskatchewan Justice. Quennell still refuses to admit any government liability in the Sterling case. His position is that no one in the Justice Department did anything wrong. But if that were true, why are we paying the Sterlings $925,000? That seems a tad high for having done nothing wrong. We can only wonder how much it would have cost us had the Justice Department actually messed up.

As it is, Quennell's excuses do not stand up even to superficial scrutiny. The case was complicated, he said. We know more now about how to interview child witnesses, he explained.

Nonsense. Evidence presented during the Sterlings' criminal trial back in 1992 established that, even by the standards of the day, the interviews with child witnesses were totally botched. It's on the record. It's been on the record for 12 years. For Quennell to now suggest otherwise does not reflect well on his credibility.

As for the case being complicated, it may have been in some respects. But that's beside the point. What isn't the least bit complicated is the requirement for actual evidence. Of that, there was none. The case against the Sterlings, and too many others like them, consisted entirely of unbelievable allegations extracted by incompetent investigators from impressionable young witnesses. The Justice Department is where it should have stopped.

What's alarming is that our justice minister doesn't seem to get it. That's why he makes an issue of the Sterlings' legal fees. It's a convenient distraction from a Justice Department that fights for injustice to the bitter end.