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Two editorials from January, 2004

After the cameras go away and...below

A working class hero is something to be

Richard Klassen and the Fifth Estate crew

The Fifth Estate crew was back to interview Rick for the season's closer "After the camera's went home" which will look at three stories which The Fifth Estate broke into the national media.

It is hard to believe that over three years have passed since Associate Producer Howard Goldenthal first contacted us. When CBC looked into the background, they found in their files footage which reflected a story quite different from the one we had been telling. The show Harvey Cashore produced, "The Scandal of the Century" won a piece of the Michener Award, a Gemini and the prestigious Justicia which is given by the Canadian Bar Association and Federal Justice.

The Justicia was given at a dinner banquet in Saskatoon during the Bar Association's national convention. It received a small mention on CBC radio and not a single mention from any other media in the province. There is a daily talk show on CBC Saskatchewan. We have tried to get this story on that show for years. Richard Klassen has now been on The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti and has been a regular guest on John Gormley's talk show on CKOM before and after the civil trial. He has been available for media and easy to find.

When we camped on the legislature lawn last summer, we received coverage from the print media but there was scant TV coverage. At the request of The Fifth Estate, a CBC camera man came and took some disinterested footage but did not bring a reporter to talk to us.

It was Richard Klassen who made the necessary applications and worked with the court registrar to get permission for the media to have recording equipment in court for the civil trial. Kathy Fitzpatrick from CBC radio took full advantage of this and filed a series of excellent daily reports. She is now the one CBC person in Saskatchewan who really knows this story.

John Gormley was outspoken on CKOM after he read Judge Baynton's judgment. He pointed out that problems with the Saskatchewan Justice system dated back to David Milgaard and pointed out problems during governments from both parties, suggesting it was systemic and not specific to the NDP.

We would go further and suggest that the CBC as the national broadcaster has also been part of the problem. Reporters have been too quick to accept press releases from police and justice officials at face value. The government spin doctors, Deb McEwan and Jeff Bohatch have gained their confidence and plant misinformation among them.

No government can get away with what Justice Departments in Saskatchewan for the past 30 years have been getting away with without the co-operation, indeed, complicity of the media.

A working class hero is something to be
John Lennon

Richard KlassenThe StarPhoenix feature this week-end (which is not yet available online) provided a first person insight into the incredible struggle that Richard and Kari Klassen underwent from the time of their arrest until now.

The sweetness of the victory, that being Richard Klassen's presentation of the case in civil court and Judge Baynton's decision at the conclusion of that victory is made all the more sweet because it is a class victory.

It is a working class victory and Richard Klassen is a working class hero. He is wearing it well.

The charges against the Klassen family had been stayed for two years when we first linked up in 1994. In possession of some videotapes and a few documents (he had received some scattered, unnumbered pages from Marilyn Thompson's notes, some of Carol Bunko-Ruys' reports on the children, and not much else) he had received some help from Marjaleena Repo. He had written letters to all the proper authorities and had filed complaints against Brian Dueck Brian Dueckfor having allowed the Ross girls to be continually molested by their older brother during a 43 month period before, during and after the staying of the charges.

He had already filed his lawsuit.

Rick's father Peter was in prison after having been pressured to plead guilty to four charges of sexual interference, three of which he clearly had not committed. Rick had the evidence of this innocence and wanted to have the expired time for appeal extended on the basis of this evidence. Reg Parker, a local lawyer who believed that Peter had a strong case, had prepared the papers for the appeal court. It would save money if Rick would deliver the papers to Regina himself.

I offered to drive.

Peter KlassenIn fact, there were two trips to Regina prior Peter's appeal. It was on those road trips that I really got to know Rick Klassen. We shared our life stories. Among my other friends, my adventures had seemed exciting. Compared to Richard's, they were pale and silly. They were amazing stories of his adolescent years as a young runaway, living under the Broadway bridge, escaping from Kilborn Hall, doing battle with his father, how loyalties had been formed and betrayed, touching times with his mother and his grandparents (on his mother's side), his time in prison doing federal time, helping produce a play while in the Regional Psychiatric Center, as well as stories about his father's side of the family, Mexican Mennonites about whom I had known nothing, rich tales of survival by people who had little but intelligence and stubborn insistence upon living their lives on their own terms.

Rick politely listened to my offerings and said he envied that I had travelled. For my part, I could not believe the stories he told me were not somehow exaggerated. As we got to know each other better, on many more road trips, and over many gallons of coffee and not a few cases of beer, it became clear to me that I could not with any conscience write about any of this. This was Rick's story and he must tell it himself. Not only was he not exaggerating any of it, he had played some aspects down for my tender benefit.

I did my writing on behalf of Peter Klassen. I prepared a thoroughly documented letter which I sent to the Parole Board, the Human Rights Commission and anywhere else I could think of. I did not receive so much as a letter notifying me that my letter had been received.

In May, 1994 Peter Klassen was produced from Bowden Penitentiary for the hearing before Appeal Court Judge Marjorie Gerwing. It was during this hearing that the deep class divisions inherent in the Saskatchewan Justice system became starkly visible to me. Reg Parker, who argued on Peter Klassen's behalf, was not the loquacious and eloquent man who I had heard expound on the law over coffees at the Bessborough. Mr. Parker had been in these court rooms before and he was already beaten down. One by one, he as he called Peter's children and their wives to testify how they had been tricked into allowing Peter to submit himself to the plea agreement, it became clear that Gerwing was not only not interested but that she was eager to compress what had been scheduled as a two day hearing into one so that she could make this trip from Regina into a long week-end.

She treated Matthew Miazga with great deference. From Jay Watson, she heard how it was ethical to plead a client guilty even when that client is insisting on his innocence. There was strong evidence that had Peter Klassen himself or any members of Peter Klassen's family been apprised of the evidence which had been disclosed to them only long after the fact, he would not have entered into any plea agreement. This should have been sufficient to persuade the court to extend the period during which he could appeal.

Throughout this day, I observed how the Klassen family was treated. They were treated like interlopers into a system which was designed for a class to whom they did not belong.

In late August of that year, when Richard organized a demonstration to protest a white-washing of a finding from an Alberta judge that there had been no official wrong-doing regarding David Milgaard, I was proud to join him. Throughout the spring and summer, I had been gradually shut out from most avenues of socializing where I had previously been welcome. My assertions that children had been coached to lie in both the Klassen case and in Martensville were met with hostility and scorn by people who had previously thought me to be an intelligent observer of social problems.

This was clearly a class issue in NDP country. Serge Kujawa had said that the "integrity" of the justice system was worth the sacrifice of David Milgaard; I was now being told that the mantra of "believe the children" was worth more than a whole family. Editorial: One would wonder if that opinion would change if that one person were a son or daughter?

Rick Klassen and I were arrested the second day we demonstrated. The first day, we had picketed and leafleted at the provincial court house without incident so the next day, we went to the sidewalk in front of Queen's Bench court house and then took our signs to the Saskatoon Police station. The sign I carried named Dueck and Bunko-Ruys. We received a warning from the police and I was already a block away, carrying my sign upside down when I was arrested. I was appalled. We were held for 30 hours before we made bail.

It was during our preliminary hearing the following February that Rick's mother's health took a turn for the worse. We were both indicted and around the time we received the indictment, she died. She was 56 years old.

Rick represented himself at our preliminary hearing and I was represented by Don MacKinnon, who was eager to file a writ of certiorary on my behalf. He used tiny differences among our conduct and demeanor at the time of the arrests to make his argument. He turned it into a pissing contest between himself and Rick. When the judgment came down, that my certiorary application had been won and Rick's had been lost, he telephoned Rick before informing me.

I had been "saved," restored to the educated class where I belonged. Rick had been put in his place.

Throughout this time, Rick and I spent a lot of time in downtown Saskatoon, going to court, getting information, even going to the campus. I witnessed the patronizing attitude which he received in places where I was comfortable. I became less comfortable in those places.

Krystal KlassenKeeping Rick's family safe was paramount throughout this time. His oldest daughter, Krystal was treated terribly at her school in Westview. The family moved to Harris, a small town where they hoped their children would be safer. In February, 1997 Peter Klassen was released from Bowden having served every day of his four year sentence. He could not receive early parole because in order to apply for such a convict must admit his guilt and show remorse. Since Peter Klassen had not molested the Ross children he could not comply with this. Now that he was released, with his wife dead, Peter had nowhere to go. He moved to Harris, to a semi-detached unit he shared with his daughter Pam, who had also been devastated throught this process. (Pam had lost her adopted son, Mikey, on the day of the arrests and had been hospitalized several times.)

Contrary to what was reported in the National Post, Peter was not found to have had any connection to the Ross children and they are all emphatic in their denial that he ever molested them.

A handbill was circulated in Harris warning the community that a released child molester was in their midst. All hope for Krystal escaping the persecution she had experienced in Saskatoon was dashed. Rick Klassen's home was vandalized. He retreated to Manitoba in 1999, after we had established and secured this website.

Most of the rest, as they say, is history -- or at least it is now on the public record.

A working class hero is something to be and that is what Rick Klassen has become. He went into "their" court and won a clean judgment on "their" terms. The hard work he devoted to preparing himself and his case for court are good stories in themselves. There are few lawyers who have accomplished what he has done, carry the main burden of a seven week trial and receive a positive judgment.

But it is not among the "educated class" that Richard Klassen is a hero. It is among ordinary people, who see in him the same spark that they feel is inside themselves: an identification with the painter who triumphed over the malicious cop, the malicious therapist and the malicious crown prosecutor. It is a triumph which no heartless bureaucrats or last-ditch appeals can take from him -- and, vicariously, from us all. He did what they said was impossible --- and that means it can be done.

It is not surprising that Rick Klassen is not comfortable with adulation and celebrity. Who would be?

He is, I understand, quite comfortable with the knowlege that a lot of ordinary people will be more confident to study justice. And claim it.

--Sheila Steele, January 17, 2004