Community Resources - 568
SETTLEMENT REACHED IN LAWSUIT
A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit filed against the Government of Saskatchewan and others by Kathleen and Michelle Ross. The lawsuit is related to abuse the women allege they suffered while in foster care as children.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Government of Saskatchewan will pay the plaintiffs a total of $560,000.
"This situation involved a number of complex factors," Community Resources Minister Buckley Belanger said. "However, the government accepts responsibility and deeply regrets the circumstances that occurred while the Ross children were in foster care. Our primary responsibility is the safety of children. We continue to work with our partners to help ensure safe environments that meet children's needs."
The province has reached a settlement with Michelle and Kathy Ross, twin sisters who were sexually abused by their brother while fabricating bizarre allegations against a Saskatoon foster family who cared for them in the early 1990s.
"This situation involved a number of complex factors. However, the government accepts responsibility and deeply regrets the circumstances that occurred while the Ross children were in foster care," Community Resources Minister Buckley Belanger said in a news release Tuesday.
The government will pay the twins $560,000 under the terms of the settlement. Meanwhile, a court battle is brewing over how much of that money they owe to their former lawyers, Robert Borden and Ed Holgate, who have made a $90,000 claim on the money through a solicitors' lien in Court of Queen's Bench.
The Ross twins were eight years old in 1990 when they spun wild tales of ritual abuse, baby killings and cannibalism to Saskatoon police officer Brian Dueck and child therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys, leading to charges against 16 people -- Richard Klassen, his wife and other extended members of a foster family who were looking after the siblings.
Charges against 12 of those people were stayed in 1993, when Klassen's father, Peter, agreed to a plea bargain to spare his loved ones. Three others were found guilty, though all of the convictions were later overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada. The girls recanted their stories and, following a trial in 2004, Klassen and 11 others won a malicious prosecution lawsuit against the government. The full amount of the damages awarded in their suit have never been disclosed.
The Klassen civil trial heard evidence that Michelle Ross told Brian Dueck and child therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys she and her sister were being sexually abused by their older brother Michael, but were ignored. The trial also heard testimony showing the Klassens told social workers about Michael's sexual behaviour toward his sisters, leading to his subsequent transfer to a new foster home. However, the girls were later sent to join him in the same home after falsely alleging abuse by the Klassens.
Richard Klassen, who remains a close supporter of the Ross twins, helped them negotiate their settlement in recent months and joined them at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. He said the twins and his wife, Kari -- one of the wrongly accused -- have filed complaints with the Law Society of Saskatchewan over the handling of their lawsuits.
"The government announced to us that, in fact, they had attempted to try and settle with the girls one and a half years ago, but that Borden and Holgate never got back to them . . . so we were quite shocked by that," Klassen said.
"They were next to starvation . . . Michelle was living on the streets in Vancouver at the time. They were asking their lawyers to do something, get them to move. There was no movement on it."
In an interview, Borden said his firm was pursuing a higher settlement for the sisters, but was unable to get them to co-operate in those efforts by travelling to Saskatoon to participate in psychological and medical reports needed to back up their damage claims in negotiations with the government.
He said he sent money to Michell and Kathy several times to pay for the necessary travel, but they spent it on other things and repeatedly asked for more because they were broke.
The girls dismissed Borden and Holgate five months ago, returned to Saskatoon and authorized Klassen and another friend, Angela Geworsky, to represent them in negotiations with the province -- an arrangement provincial officials accepted, while cautioning them that Klassen and Geworsky are not lawyers.
"They both worked diligently to try and resolve this matter for us, and as a result of their hard work, Kathy and I are pleased to state that we are satisfied with the results," Michelle told reporters.
Kathy said she and her sister asked Klassen -- whom they call 'Uncle Rick' --- "to help us with setting up an annuity that will see us get a sum of money each month,which will assist us in establishing our future. Our plans now are to move on with our lives, leaving behind the pain and suffering we endured."
Borden said he's prepared to show a judge evidence of the work his firm did for the Ross twins and will accept whatever the judge decides. He has questions about how the settlement was reached, he added.
"How was it that the girls entered into this settlement, and on whose advice? I hope that they had a lawyer acting for them," Borden said.
"I hope that they didn't pay money directly to third parties who aren't lawyers, for assistance. . . . I hope that the girls got an adequate settlement, but I'm not sure that they did."
The dispute over the legal fees is scheduled for discussion in judges' chambers at Court of Queen's Bench on Aug. 1, but likely won't proceed that day because Holgate is away on vacation until the next day, Borden said.