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A justice minister who doesn't know the meaning of justice

Editorial: May, 2004

If Frank Quennell is any example of what former Justice Minister Chris Axworthy called "evolving," Saskatchewan is ready to kiss justice good-bye!


I published an astonishing document which appeared on the Opinion page Friday aong with the response to it. The most recent articles and letters appear first; the Quennell/Crofford document is at the bottom of this page…

The Sarah Gibb article Where angels fear to tread to which two government ministers are responding.

Frank Quennell has overstepped all ethical boundaries by using his office to comment on a case which is before the courts. I will also say that he did not read the Gibb piece carefully -- or else he doesn't know how to read. He says there are mistakes in the article. There are not. He also does not address the main point of the article: Another Saskatchewan family was ruined because members of the justice department and Social Services failed to properly investigate rumours and spiteful allegations, choosing instead to recklessly pursue child apprehensions and prosecutions of innocent people.

This is yet another situation which should not have happened -- and because it happened, many Saskatchewan citizens have been adversely affected. Two of those who have been damaged are women I have come to know and respect for their courage and hard work: Sarah Gibb and Rebecca Vopni.

I have much more to say, and will say it soon. For now, read the letter signed by our pathetic attorney general/justice minister, and cosigned by the minister of the agency formerly known as Social Services -- and weep.

Gibb's feature appeared March 27. On March 29, a ministerial order was granted to override "privacy concerns" in order to respond to the article. The paperwork justifying this order did not address the concerns of the children who were apprehended. It does, however, refer to "another high profile case." This would be the Klassen/Kvello case.

Sarah Gibb had done a week-end feature on the Klassen family two months before the Where Angels fear to tread investigative piece which was also run as a week-end feature.

In both these cases, the Crown deviously obtained judicial orders which were so sweeping that it was almost impossible for the media to report any details of the case. The hypocrisy of the publication bans is clear as we now see the government taking three weeks to have their lawyers justify the breaking of their own orders.

Those orders are to protect the government from legitimate public scrutiny. That is the only purpose they serve. Non-publication orders continue after the court has finally dealt with the matters in question. Injusticebusters know that there are many other files which contain evidence of government abuse but which cannot be examined in public because they have been ordered sealed. Forever.

In the course of the seven-week Klassen/Kvello civil suit, many documents which were previously sealed were made public as they became part of the Plaintiff's case. There remain other documents -- mostly those from Social Services, now called Human Resources and Employment -- which the public has not seen. These documents would show that Susan Pasieka's actions in apprehending the children in the unnamed family mimicked those of Carol Bunko-Ruys in the apprehension of the foster children from Pam Shetterly, Diane Kvello, and Dale and Anita Klassen.

The only appeals which should be going on in these cases is an appeal to public reason. Of course the public cannot make any reasonable judgment when the government is allowed to pick and choose which aspects of the case it gets to see.

There has been no evolution -- at least insofar as prosecutors and social services people acting more openly and honestly about child apprehensions. The investigations continue to this day to be shoddy. Near St. Thomas, Ontario this week, a new trial has been ordered for an Amish woman which has all the earmarks of the type of hysteria we have been accustomed to in Saskatchewan.

There has, perhaps, been some evolution on the bench. Certainly Judge George Baynton's decision was revolutionary in that it gave the plaintiffs' and the defendants' evidence thorough scrutiny and did not assume those in authority to be truthful just because they were in authority. Other judges are looking more closely at Crown evidence. The Crown has lost credibility and it will not regain it by continuing to cover up and justify its mistakes.

The tiny mind of Frank Quennell cannot get past picking at the bones of the Melfort family. Only yesterday he told reporters that he scrupulously avoided discussion of the one case -- an appeal of Judge Gerry Allbright's ordering of a new trial for FV. He said he has no interest in the outcome. Hmm. He is justice minister. He is attorney general. He did not have to appeal.

The latest episode in this story is Lorne Calvert standing by his Justice Minister. --Sheila Steele, April 27, 2004

Calvert defends Quennell

REGINA -- Premier Lorne Calvert brushed off demands Tuesday from the Saskatchewan Party that he fire Justice Minister Frank Quennell for writing a letter to The StarPhoenix commenting on an article published in March dealing with a sexual assault case.

"The minister of justice (on Monday) asked me do I seek his resignation? My answer was an emphatic no," he told reporters.

"He has written publicly to express concerns about a newspaper article in which he believes that there may be some concern the public may begin to question the protection that is offered to children. Out of that concern, he wrote.

"It's not a usual thing that he or any attorney general would do, but in this circumstance, out of his concern, he wrote. On that basis I have no reason, no reason, to ask for the resignation of the attorney general."

But the Saskatchewan Party again hammered at Quennell in question period on Tuesday, saying he should step down because he inserted himself into a criminal trial that is before the courts by writing the letter with Community Resources Minister Joanne Crofford.

Opposition justice critic Don Morgan said it is inappropriate for Quennell to say anything about the court case.

"In this situation, the minister of justice is commenting on the credibility of witnesses and he's commenting on the level of co-operation police received from witnesses and he's discussing the actions of the police during the investigation. These are all part of ongoing criminal investigation and criminal trial," he said.

Quennell said the letter he and Crofford wrote did no such thing and commented only on the March 27 article.

In the letter, published in Friday's StarPhoenix, the two ministers make references to "two separate, credible reports of child sexual abuse," the representation the family had by private counsel and that three judges considered the criminal matters and none raised concerns with respect to the actions of the police, prosecutors or social workers.

There were three cases mentioned in the article. One of them is under appeal by the Crown, which has concerned the defence lawyer in the case that the outcome could be affected by the letter.

Quennell under fire for letter
Minister defends comments on article

The Saskatchewan Party has called for Justice Minister Frank Quennell's head for writing a letter to The StarPhoenix commenting on an article published in March dealing with a sexual assault case.

In a letter jointly signed by Quennell and Community Resources and Employment Minister Joanne Crofford, the ministers say they had to take the "extraordinary step of replying to the story" in order to maintain public confidence in how the province deals with child protection and sexual assault issues.

Crofford told the legislature she signed a special order under the Child and Family Services Act authorizing the release of information on child protection proceedings that would normally be protected by law.

The attorney general is the highest justice official in the province and is responsible for seeing that justice is carried out -- both for the accused and society, said Don Morgan, the Sask. Party justice critic.

"And that is why the justice minister never comments publicly on criminal cases that are before the courts," he told the legislative assembly.

In the opinion piece published in Friday's StarPhoenix, the two ministers make references to "two separate, credible reports of child sexual abuse," the representation the family had by private council and that three judges considered the criminal matters and none raised concerns with respect to the actions of the police, prosecutors or social workers.

On Monday, Quennell told the legislature the letter didn't address the case that is still before the courts, but instead commented on the March 27 article.

It is imperative for the ministers to respond because the article may have prevented other victims from coming forward with their complaints or it may have resulted in case workers being too embarrassed or intimidated to do their jobs, he said.

"I have no commentary on the trial or the appeal decision or the appeal that is underway," Quennell told reporters outside the legislature. "That would be inappropriate.

"My comments are about the article."

And there would never have been a letter to the editor written "had due diligence been done in writing (the article)," said Deb McEwen, a spokesperson for the Justice Department.

But Robert Borden, the lawyer who represents the family involved in the case, is hard-pressed to identify where those inaccuracies might be.

"The story is accurate and clearly that is the position of my clients," Borden said in an interview. "There is nothing that I know of in that story that is inaccurate, however -- as it relates to the ministers' letter -- there is a plethora of misstatements."

Borden is concerned that by bringing the matter into the public realm after justice officials made the decision to take one of the cases to the Court of Appeal, Quennell may have influenced the outcome.

When the original article appeared, the Opposition avoided asking questions about it because some matters were still before the courts and it worried about jeopardizing the case, Morgan said in an interview after question period.

"If you are going to comment at all, you wait until after the facts have been dealt with in court."

When the minister wrote the paper to complain, however, he not only put in doubt the outcome of the trial, he may have given the accused a case before the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that would allow him to get off altogether, Morgan added.

Two of the three cases referred to in the article are no longer before the court, McEwen said. The ministers' letter also made no reference to anyone's names and didn't question witness statements or the actions of officials in the one remaining case.

And before the letter was sent it was scrupulously reviewed to make sure it would not put the other case in jeopardy, she said.

"I can tell you the letter was drafted here in the Department of Justice and it was reviewed by both the director of public prosecutions and the deputy minister to assure it did not threaten any ongoing (court cases)," McEwen said. "The letter was very carefully written to make sure it doesn't do that."

McEwen also pointed out that it's not uncommon for a justice minister using information that is a matter of public record to comment on an issue in the media, but that the decision to use Section 74 of the Child and Family Services Act was unusual.

Tim Quigley, a law professor at the University of Saskatchewan with expertise on criminal law, agrees it isn't unusual for ministers to make public comments on articles that appear in the press.

It is more unusual, however, to have two ministers co-sign a letter, and while it may be unusual for an attorney general to make public pronouncements on matters that could be considered before the courts, it isn't illegal.

John Courtney, a political scientist at the U of S, isn't sure it was a wise political move for the justice minister to make, he said in a separate interview.

"I worry about the precedent this could set," Courtney said.

It is particularly troubling that the ministers took the unusual step of issuing the minister's order under Section 74 to allow them to make statements that would otherwise be protected, he said.

In her statement accompanying the minister's order, Crofford says it is her opinion "the benefit of the disclosure of the facts outweighs any invasion of privacy that could result from the release because of the need to maintain public confidence in appropriate Child Protection proceedings and to avoid harm to any children involved in disclosure of abuse, including children with disabilities."

No minister would take this step unless it was felt something had to be done, and that came about because of the "inaccuracies" in the article, McEwen said.

The Opposition is expected question the minister on details of the story again this week while Borden is recording the letters and debate, perhaps with the view of presenting it to the Appeal Court in order to have the case thrown out.

FASD effects ignored by investigators

The only flaw with the story Another family destroyed (SP March 27) is the second title Where angels fear to tread. It should have been Where fools rush in.

A key element of this tragic situation is that the two girls making the allegations are the unfortunate victims of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The original social worker on the case tried to refute this fact, the government powers still try to ignore it, and the court systems are unprepared and not educated to deal with it.

FASD does not affect the procedure, policy and protocol or legalities, but it most definitely affects what is fact and what is fantasy.

Sarah Gibb obviously did more research for her story than the social workers did for their investigation. She quotes experts in the field of FASD. They give facts based on research that coincide with what friends and family of Tom and Jessica have observed for years. Children who are victims of FASD think, relate and speak differently from other children. To base an investigation on their interview and ignore presentations of truth is a grievous error.

Nothing in the story would give the impression that suspected child abuse should not be reported. The story's theme is the tragic outcome of a biased investigation.

Tom, Paul and Jonathan were always treated as guilty until proven innocent. Tom's charges were stayed, Paul was found not guilty, and a judge found that evidence had been withheld in Jonathan's case that could change the outcome in a new trial.

Joanne Crofford and Frank Quennell are obviously worried about public opinion; they should take the complete, unbiased, original disclosure to the experts in the Fetal Alcohol and Drug Unit in Seattle and request a thorough examination and report.

Then, new educational programs should be developed to be mandatory for all social workers. This mistake has happened far too many times.

Paulette Lisoway


Ministers' attack on story unfounded
Kids' families have rights too

Justice Minister Frank Quennell and Community Resources and Employment Minister Joanne Crofford (Story could damage abused children's rights, SP April 23) accuse me of having written an unfair and inaccurate article about the child protection system in Saskatchewan (Another family destroyed, SP March 27).

The ministers' letter contains significant errors, which I would like to address.

My story concerned a Saskatchewan family who lost three adopted children after two of them accused family members of sexual abuse. For the record, I can substantiate every line of that article. Based on weeks of research, I'm also certain there are no significant omissions.

The ministers claim the story contained the following three errors:

"As an example, it says police laid charges within hours of becoming involved."

Not so. My story said police decided to lay charges within hours of becoming involved. On the day the kids were removed, the RCMP investigating officer told family members, during videotaped interviews, that charges would be laid. This was before the alleged victims had been medically examined, before the accused had been interviewed, and before the police had even looked for corroborating evidence (not that they ever did).

"(The story) suggests that the psychologist's report was not properly disclosed to the defence counsel."

This implies I accused the Crown prosecutor of impropriety. Not so. I accept that the prosecutor disclosed the report to the defence counsel as soon as he received it, shortly after one of the accused was found guilty. The report matters because it contained information that might have led to an acquittal. My question was simply this: Was anyone from Social Services made aware of the contents of the report in time for the accused's trial? The psychologist testified that she often discusses her reports informally with Social Services before submitting them, but couldn't recall whether she'd done so in this case. Therefore, my question remains.

"The story reports that the father was not interviewed before being charged. In fact, the RCMP gave the father an opportunity to make a statement, but he refused to do so."

Have the ministers seen documents confirming that the father was offered an interview? He says he was not, and his wife knows nothing of such an offer. The father was out of town when his children were removed. He was told to go to the police station upon his return, and was charged on arrival by the officer in charge of the case. He says she didn't request an interview, and the court records make no mention of any attempt to interview him.

These are the only three "errors" the ministers were able to cite out of an 8,000-word article.

The ministers defend the actions of the RCMP and Social Services, stating they acted on two "credible" reports of sexual abuse. But a report sufficiently credible to trigger an investigation may not be enough to lay charges. In the case in question, the removal of the children, the charges and the prosecution were based entirely on the claims of the two children, one of whose statements a trial judge later called confusing and contradictory, not "credible."

The ministers further state that: "A judge of the family court found the children to be in need of protection ..." This implies there was an examination by the family court of the abuse allegations. There was not. The mother was persuaded to give up three of her adopted children in exchange for the return of her biological son, who had been taken into foster care. The three children were found to be in need of protection only because the mother did not know how, and could not afford, to fight to keep them.

The ministers say my article sends the message that children with cognitive disabilities are not entitled to the full protection of the law. My story implies nothing of the sort. Every child is entitled to the protection of the law. The only message my story was intended to convey is that their families have rights too.

Story could damage abused children's rights

Joanne Crofford and Frank Quennell
Special to The StarPhoenix
Friday, April 23, 2004

Following is the personal viewpoint of the writers. Crofford is minister of Community Resources and Employment. Quennell is minister of Justice and Attorney General.

We have a number of significant concerns about both the content and tone of the story Another family destroyed/Where angels fear to tread (SP March 27).

It sends the message that the most vulnerable people in our society -- in this case, children with cognitive disabilities -- are not entitled to the full protection of the law, that their word is somehow less valuable or believable than the word of others in society.

The story also puts into question the credibility of the child protection system.

As ministers of Justice and Community Resources and Employment, we are taking the extraordinary step of replying to the story, with some details of the case, to maintain public confidence in how we take care of children who need protection, so that victims of sexual and physical abuse continue to come forward.

In the case you reported, the Department of Community Resources and Employment, formerly Social Services, and the RCMP acted on the basis of two separate, credible reports of child sexual abuse.

The RCMP and the DCRE have a legislated obligation to investigate reports of child abuse. The RCMP investigates to determine if a criminal offence has occurred, as defined by the Criminal Code. DCRE investigates to determine if a child is in need of protection, as defined by the Child and Family Services Act.

Balance is crucial to ensure children are heard, that the criminal investigation proceeds and due process is provided to the accused person. The actions of the RCMP and DCRE are subject to review and scrutiny. Ultimately, those actions must satisfy the legal requirements of both criminal court and family court.

The family was represented throughout both the criminal proceedings and family court hearings by senior, private counsel and had the full benefit of due process.

The criminal matters were heard by three judges, none of whom raised any criticism with respect to the actions of police, prosecutors or social workers.

A judge of family court found the children to be in need of protection and made an order placing the children in the care of the minister. The family has had the opportunity to have the court orders changed, and still does.

The story contained a number of factual errors. As an example, it says police laid charges within hours of becoming involved. In fact, charges were laid 20 days later.

It suggests that the psychologist's report was not properly disclosed to the defence counsel. In fact, as noted by Mr. Justice G. N. Allbright on the appeal case, the prosecutor provided the psychologist's report to defence counsel as soon as it was received and before sentencing. A criminal trial does not conclude until the sentencing hearing has concluded.

Defence counsel had a number of options on receiving the report, including reopening the guilty finding or asking for a mistrial.

The story reports that the father was not interviewed before being charged. In fact, the RCMP gave the father an opportunity to make a statement, but he refused to do so.

It is clear that The SP made little effort to check the information it published to ensure it was accurate and balanced.

Individuals with disabilities and children are among the most vulnerable people in our society and are entitled to the full protection of the law. This sensationalized, tabloid-style news report will only discourage victims of abuse from coming forward. And, as a result, they will not receive the help and protection they need.

Please write letters to the editor of the StarPhoenix and the Saskatchewan Law Society regarding Quennell's unprofessional and unethical conduct. (And send copies to injusticebusters, please. We have to bring this bozo down!)