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Klassen story: Pre-judgment publicity and announcement of victory

Klassen vindicated: Monetary compensation still to be determined

Richard Klassen

Richard Klassen and 11 other plaintiffs wrongly accused of ritual abuse against three foster children in the early 1990s were victims of malicious prosecution, a Court of Queen's Bench judge has ruled.

"I've always said we were innocent, and I knew that coming into this," Klassen told reporters during a press conference on Tuesday, where his relatives and supporters cried and hugged nearby.

"I'm happy for this judgment, and my faith in the justice system in Saskatchewan has been renewed," he said.

In 1991, Klassen, his wife and others were accused of sexually abusing three Saskatoon-area foster children.

The bizarre allegations included detailed accounts of satanic ritual abuse, which included animal and human sacrifice, as well as claims the children had been forced to eat feces and drink urine.

Police arrested 16 people in 1991, but charges against 12 individuals were stayed in 1993, while Richard's father Peter Klassen pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual assault. The birth parents and a family friend were found guilty, but the decision was later overturned by the Supreme Court.

The children later recanted almost all of what they had alleged, and the oldest foster child, Michael Ross, was found to be abusing his younger twin sisters, Michelle and Kathy.

Klassen and the others then sued, alleging malicious prosecution. Those suing included Richard Klassen and his wife Kari, Klassen's sister Pamela Shetterly, the estate of his deceased mother Marie Klassen, his brother John Klassen and John's wife Myrna, his brother Peter Dale Klassen and his wife Anita, who were the Ross children's foster parents, and four plaintiffs that cannot be named.

They claimed justice officials knew they had no case, but proceeded anyway.

In their defence, lawyers for police, prosecutors and a therapist stated the officials were simply doing their jobs.

On Tuesday, Justice George Baynton of the Court of Queen's Bench released his decision on the malicious prosecution lawsuit.

Baynton found that child therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys, Crown prosecutor Matt Miazga and Saskatoon police officer Supt. Brian Dueck -- who was a corporal when the case broke -- had maliciously prosecuted the plaintiffs.

Meanwhile, the malicious prosecution suit against Sonja Hansen, the second Crown prosecutor, was dismissed, as was Hansen and Miazga's counterclaim against Klassen for defamation.

"The case was labelled by the media as the 'Scandal of the Century'," Baynton said in his 189-page decision.

"The real scandal, however, is the travesty of justice that was visited upon 12 of those individuals, the plaintiffs in this civil action, by branding them as pedophiles even though each of them was innocent of the horrendous allegations and criminal offences charged against them."

While the plaintiffs sought in excess of $10M in damages, monetary compensation wasn't addressed in Baynton's ruling.

Lawyer Robert Borden, who represented all of the plaintiffs except Richard Klassen, said every plaintiff will have to establish damages relative to his or her own situation.

Borden said he and Klassen hope to meet with representatives from the Department of Justice and the Saskatoon Police Service and "settle this this week.

"It's just a matter now of allowing these people their good compensation and allowing them to get on with their lives. Let's not drag this out any further," he said.

For Richard Klassen, who has struggled for years to clear his name, Tuesday's judgment came as a shock, since he had "honestly" expected to lose the civil trial.

Because he represented himself, he was afraid "judges would be reluctant to give a self-represented litigant their day in court."

However, "this judge carefully listened to me, and allowed me to lay forward the evidence, like someone who had legal experience," Klassen told the media.

Although Klassen now feels "vindicated," he plans to continue to lobby for change in the justice system. For example, he believes malicious prosecution should be included in the Criminal Code, he said.

Klassen also plans to fight for a "fair settlement" and said that "apologies should come immediately.

"The government owes a lot of apologies to this province, and they need to start bringing these apologies forward," he said.

"They fought us, they took us to court and here we are. They owe me an apology."

Don Morgan, the Saskatchewan Party's justice critic, agrees.

When the children recanted their stories, the government's focus should have shifted, he said.

"They should have said, 'We were wrong. We're sorry. We made a mistake.' "

Lawyer Don McKillop, who represented Miazga, Bunko-Ruys and Hansen, said it is premature to make a decision about an apology.

As for an appeal, McKillop said "it's very clearly something we will be looking at.

"But no more so than you always do when get a trial decision that goes against you," he added.

Saskatchewan's justice minister, Frank Quennell, was not available for comment Tuesday.

The Saskatoon police service, meanwhile, did not issue a formal statement.

In an interview, spokesperson acting Insp. Al Stickney said police want to take the time to carefully read through Baynton's lengthy ruling.

"This is a large document of 189 pages that neither I nor anybody else at the police service has had time to go over and assess what implications, if any, it has for the police service," he said.

But after years of hardship, several emotional members of the Klassen family were ready to express their feelings and talk about the pain they endured.

According to Richard Klassen, some individuals have suffered mental breakdowns, while two of the plaintiffs have died, "certainly from a lot of stress."

For one plaintiff, whose two children and now-deceased husband were also accused, "the pain will never go away.

"I can't give my heart to anybody anymore, because I hurt so deeply. I don't even trust neighbours," said the woman, who could not be identified.

"I had promised my husband on his death bed that I would do anything I could to clear our names, and for our children's sake, to let them have a proper life and go on.

"We were accused of doing things were never did, with kids I never saw in my life. And our lives have been taken away because of it," said the woman, her voice breaking with emotion.

In separate interviews, Richard Klassen's wife and sister also talked about how proud they were of the job he has done.

"I'm so filled with pride for my brother. He's a fantastic person. He's worked hard," said Shetterly, who was also a plaintiff.

Klassen's wife, Kari, said she had confidence her husband "could present the case that he did.

"I am so extremely proud of him. If it hadn't been for him, there wouldn't be a lawsuit," she said.

"I was telling him 'You're going to win this.' And he did. He won," added Klassen's smiling daughter, 14-year-old Kayla.

For some, such as Shetterly, Baynton's judgment presents an opportunity to begin healing.

On Tuesday morning, her thoughts turned to her family.

"I thought of my brothers and my sisters and all that we've lost, and I thought of all the things that have happened, and the smoke has cleared," the Outlook resident said.

"We are still standing. And that's tremendous."


Klassen keeps addiction, cancer diagnosis secret

Most observers were impressed by the way Richard Klassen eloquently argued his own malicious prosecution case.

With a Grade 7 education and zero legal training, the former house painter was the only one of the dozen plaintiffs representing himself. Klassen had spent most of the past 10 years researching his case and learning the rigid rules of court.

His performance was impressive, successfully fighting off several motions by justice officials to have the case thrown out.

On Tuesday, Klassen and the other plaintiffs won their civil suit against three of the four defendants, in a decision by Justice George Baynton. Baynton's strongly worded decision called what the plaintiffs lived through -- the accusations of sexual and ritual abuse, the year and a half of living under a cloud of pending charges -- a travesty of justice.

But behind the scenes of this high-profile trial, and behind Klassen's discipline and tenacity, lay a pair of secrets.

In the fall of 2002, Klassen made a very private revelation to Saskatchewan News Network on the condition SNN not reveal his condition until after the decision in his civil trial.

At that time, Klassen had been working more than 12 hours a day from his rented Saskatoon office, much of it with assistant Angela Geworski and lawyers Robert Borden and Ed Holgate, who represented the other plaintiffs.

Despite his commitment to his case, he told the reporter, "I just want this to be over. I want to get out of here and never come back. I'll take any offer."

When asked why he'd give up so easily after so many years of hard work, Klassen's eyes filled with tears.

"Because I don't know how long I have left. I've got cancer," he said.

The prostate cancer was serious, and his doctor told him he needed surgery and other interventions right away. Klassen said he didn't know what to do.

At the next meeting with SNN several weeks later, Klassen said he'd make up his mind. The lawsuit meant too much to him and to the other plaintiffs -- many of them his own family members -- wrongly accused of child sexual abuse.

Saskatchewan people had to see how the justice system failed them, and Klassen wanted to make sure it didn't happen again. He would keep his cancer a secret to all but a few people, and fight the case all the way, he explained.

But that meant delaying his surgery indefinitely.

"Surgery would have made me miss weeks and weeks (of preparation on the case). And I wasn't going to walk into court with a catheter or something. The trial was my first concern," he said.

During the trial, Klassen left court frequently to go to the bathroom, likely because of an infection related to the cancer. He was often sick, telling reporters outside court it was likely just the flu.

Walking up to the second floor courtroom was also painful at times, he said.

With the trial over, Klassen has finally gone back to his doctor for another blood test to tell him how serious the cancer has become.

Some men can live with prostate cancer unaffected for many years, but others do not.

"If it's still operable and my chances are good, I'll get the surgery. I'm hoping for the best," he said in a recent interview.

"I'm so scared. I don't know what's happening to me."

It was during this recent interview Klassen revealed his second secret.

Last summer, with the trial looming and his cancer diagnosis weighing heavily, Klassen couldn't sleep at night.

"I started going downhill. I'd go three, four days without sleeping."

His doctor prescribed one-half a sleeping pill when needed, but Klassen was soon addicted, popping four every night.

"I'm still doing it. I can't sleep unless I do it."

Klassen was also prescribed an anti-depressant -- one pill per day. But soon he was taking up to 30 at a time.

To conceal his addiction, he would go to several different doctors for his pills, he said.

In the weeks before the trial, he was hospitalized twice for overdosing. His stomach was pumped and he was kept overnight for observation.

Once the trial began, Klassen appeared composed and calm in court. He was, but only because of the medication.

"I was in constant fear my case would fall apart. I thought I'd just choke and not be able to speak.

"Without those pills, I'd have been crying all the time."

Klassen is still addicted. He's tried to quit several times since the trial ended, but knows he needs professional help.

"I've got to get off of this stuff. I can't do it on my own."

Klassen is faintly hopeful the anxiety and sleeplessness will subside now that the case is over. But there's also the cancer, which adds another question mark to his future.

"This has been the most terrifying time of my entire life."

Whatever happens with his health, Klassen is determined to continue to fight what he sees as flaws in the justice system.

He's already planning a move to Winnipeg.

He's written a letter to the city's police chief, telling him he's coming to lobby on behalf of another man he believes was wrongly accused.

"That'll be my next fight. I'm ready for another one."


Saskatoon judge rules 12 accused were real victims in foster kids abuse case

SASKATOON (CP) - Twelve people who were falsely accused of ritualistically abusing three foster children more than a decade ago were the victims of a malicious prosecution, a judge has ruled.

Richard Klassen and 11 others were charged in 1991 with abusing the children in bizarre and demonic ways - forcing them to eat eyeballs, drink blood, participate in orgies and watch newborn babies get skinned and buried. Saskatoon police called it the "scandal of the century" at the time, but most of the cases never made it to trial. Charges were stayed and the children recanted their accusations.

Klassen and the others sued the investigators and, on Tuesday, Queen's Bench Justice George Baynton ruled in the plaintiffs' favour.

"The case was labelled by the media as the 'scandal of the century'," Baynton said in his ruling.

"The real scandal however, is the travesty of justice that was visited upon 12 of those individuals, the plaintiffs in the civil action, by branding them as pedophiles, even though each of them was innocent of the horrendous allegations and criminal offences charged against them."

The ruling applies to three of the four defendants in the civil lawsuit: The lead investigator - Saskatoon police Supt. Brian Dueck, who was a corporal when the case broke; a therapist, Carol Bunko-Ruys; and Crown prosecutor Matthew Miazga.

The case against another defendant, Crown prosecutor Sonja Hansen, was dropped.

Baynton cited several reasons why the prosecution was malicious, including a lack of reasonable cause.

"In my view, proceeding with charges in such an extraordinary case in the absence of reasonable and probable cause constitutes a strong presumption of malice," Baynton wrote.

He said evidence suggested Dueck was "blinded by his zeal to turn the wild allegations of the Ross children into a high-profile case that would portray him as a diligent and unrelenting protector of abused children.

"It is almost beyond belief that none of those involved in the prosecution of the plaintiffs stood back, so to speak, and asked themselves if any of this made any sense and whether it could reasonably be true," Baynton wrote.

The plaintiffs had sought $10 million in damages, but Baynton did not rule on compensation. Robert Borden, the lawyer for 11 of the plaintiffs said he hopes an amount can be worked out between the two sides within a week.

Klassen, who represented himself at trial, was relieved by the judgment.

"I have a whole new faith in the Saskatchewan justice system," Klassen said, adding he will lobby to have malicious prosecutions included in the Criminal Code.

One of the Klassen-family plaintiffs, Pamela Shetterly, said it was her mother's last wish that the family name be cleared.

"Her dying breath, her last sentence to her children, was clear our names and I felt that when we got this verdict . . . there was just a shout from up above," Shetterly said through tears. "I believe that she hears this."

Another plaintiff, who can't be named because her two children were charged as young offenders, remembered her husband, who was also one of the accused.

"I promised my husband on his deathbed that I would do anything I could to clear our names and, for our children's sake, to let them have a proper life," the weeping woman said. "My whole life has been turned upside down."

In a written statement Dueck's lawyer, David Gerrand, said the ruling will be reviewed before a decision is made on an appeal.

"Supt. Dueck is disappointed with the result of the civil action," the statement read in part.

Saskatoon city police declined comment pending a review of the decision.

Crown lawyer Don McKillop, who represented the three other defendants, said it was too early to say whether the judgment will be appealed.

For the plaintiffs, the ordeal began in 1987 when a boy named Michael Ross and his younger twin sisters Michelle and Kathy, all under 10, were put into the foster home of Klassen's brother and sister-in-law.

Michael was abusive to his two sisters, both physically and sexually, and was eventually removed from the home.

In an effort to be reunited with his sisters at the new foster home, he told police about the horrific abuse they had suffered at the Klassen home, court heard.

As investigators worked the case, the Ross kids were reunited and the sisters began to back up their brother's claims.

Eventually the allegations included almost every adult the children had known and most of Klassen's extended family.

In 1991, police arrested 16 people, including the disabled birth parents of the three kids and many members of the extended foster family.

But in 1993, charges against 12 of the 16 were stayed by the Crown on the grounds it wished to avoid further trauma to the children.

Klassen's father, Peter, pleaded guilty to one count of sex assault against each of the children as part of a plea bargain.

In his decision, Baynton noted Peter had a previous conviction for sexually assaulting two children in 1989.

The birth parents and a family friend were found guilty, but the decision was overturned by the Supreme Court.

The children have since publicly revealed they made up the stories. They are now in their mid-20s and have not sought a publication ban on their names.

During the civil trial, court heard that Crown lawyers had doubts about the children's credibility and that Dueck approached more than one Crown to take the case.

Terry Hinz, a former prosecutor, told court he asked Dueck to track down the babies who were killed. Dueck told him the killers were "brood mares" - women who breed children specifically to sacrifice them.

"It made me feel I was transported back into the 17th century reading about the Salem witchcraft complaints," Hinz testified.

In rebuttal, the defendants argued that mistakes or negligence on their parts don't amount to malicious prosecution.

Dueck testified he never doubted the children had been abused, he just didn't believe some of the more bizarre allegations.

He also testified that he was following a widely recognized protocol to believe children are being honest when they disclose information about sexual abuse.

The case had striking similarities to one that was unfolding around the same time in Martensville, just north of Saskatoon.

In that case, 180 charges were laid against nine people, including several Saskatoon police officers. Similar allegations of ritual abuse were made by children but were later found to be false.


Front page of the Globe and Mail

Abuse saga ends: 'We won, we won, we won'

Judge finds Crown and others liable after 12 wrongly charged with sex crimes

A Crown attorney, a police officer and a social worker are liable for a "travesty of justice" in which a dozen innocent people were wrongly accused of sex crimes, a judge has ruled.

The groundbreaking decision by a Saskatchewan court yesterday found that the three officials extracted wild stories from troubled children about orgies, eating eyeballs and barbecuing babies, and pursued a prosecution while ignoring or concealing evidence that the accusations weren't true.

Richard Klassen, one of the falsely accused, paced around his motel room in Saskatoon yesterday morning as he waited for the decision. He had been sleepless all night, despite taking five strong sleeping pills.

When he read the judgment from Mr. Justice George Baynton of the Court of Queen's Bench, he was nearly incoherent with relief.

"We won, we won, we won," a tearful Mr. Klassen repeated into his cellphone, just minutes afterward.

Judge Baynton will decide damages and costs later. Mr. Klassen and the other plaintiffs are seeking more than $10-million for malicious prosecution.

The first effect of the decision, Mr. Klassen said, is that he might finally get some sleep. "My wife and I are going to bed," Mr. Klassen said in another interview yesterday. "You're talking to a man who's been up for 36 hours." His family already feels less burdened by the stigma they have carried for years, he said. "To be called a child molester in 1991 was devastating, and it was something that never went away. It's something that lasted for 13 years, and today is the first time we have ever officially been vindicated."

The defendants' reaction to the decision was muted. Saskatoon police superintendent Brian Dueck, the lead investigator in the case, was singled out in the judgment for hiding relevant facts and conducting "no real or meaningful investigation."

He released a terse statement through his lawyer.

"Superintendent Dueck is disappointed with the result of the civil action," the statement said.

"The decision will be carefully analyzed to assess its implications and to determine if there will be an appeal." Don McKillop, a lawyer for the other defendants, said that they are all travelling for the holidays and he gave them only a general description of the ruling.

"I don't think anybody would expect anything other than disappointment from them," he said.

Along with Supt. Dueck, the others found liable were therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys and prosecutor Matthew Miazga. A claim against Crown prosecutor Sonja Hansen was dismissed.

The lawsuit is believed to be the first successful one in Saskatchewan against a Crown attorney for malicious prosecution, and the judge noted that the case was part of a troubled period in the province's justice system.

In the mid-1980s, many justice officials realized that they were not taking children seriously enough when they made allegations of abuse, the judge wrote. In response, the police, prosecutors and social workers in Saskatoon developed a protocol for handling such complaints.

"As with many well-intentioned responses to social problems in our society, the protocol may have gone too far in its laudable objective by creating another potential social problem of the same magnitude," Judge Baynton wrote.

The defendants wrongly interpreted the protocol to mean that the children's allegations were enough to launch a prosecution without supporting evidence or an assessment of whether the accusations were reasonably credible, the judge wrote.


Judge ready to rule on Saskatchewan's 'scandal of the century'

SASKATOON (CP) - As he prepares for a ruling in a lawsuit that sprang from allegations of ritualistic child abuse, Richard Klassen says the tension is almost too much to bear.

Klassen and 11 others were accused more than 12 years ago of abusing three young foster children in bizarre ways - forcing them to eat eyeballs, drink blood, participate in orgies and watch newborn babies get skinned and buried.

At the time, Saskatoon police called it the "scandal of the century," but most of the cases never made it to court. Charges were stayed and accusations were revoked.

On Tuesday, a judge will hand down his ruling in a lawsuit Klassen and the others filed against the lead investigator - Saskatoon police Supt. Brian Dueck, who was a corporal when the case broke - a therapist, Carol Bunko-Ruys, and two Crown prosecutors, Matthew Miazga and Sonja Hansen.

"I've never been so scared in my life," Klassen said Monday. "We put all our eggs in one basket and it is sitting there for the judge.

"If I lose, I don't know what I am going to do and if I win, I don't know what I am going to do. I am twisted."

Justice George Baynton must decide whether the defendants were malicious in their pursuit of a case against the plaintiffs.

Lawyers for the defendants, David Gerrand and Don McKillop, declined to comment until after the decision is released.

For Klassen and the rest of the plaintiffs, their ordeal began in 1987 when a boy named Michael Ross and his younger twin sisters Michelle and Kathy, all under 10, were put into the foster home of Klassen's brother and sister-in-law.

Michael was abusive to his two sisters, both physically and sexually, and he was eventually removed from the home.

In an effort to be reunited with his sisters at the new foster home, he told police about horrific abuse they had suffered at the hands of the Klassens, court heard.

As investigators worked the case, the Ross kids were reunited and the sisters began to back up their brother's claims.

Eventually the allegations included almost every adult the children had known and most of Klassen's extended family.

Even a wheelchair-bound elderly woman was accused of chasing down a child and forcing him to perform sexual acts.

In 1991, police arrested 16 people, including the disabled birth parents of the three kids and many members of the extended foster family.

But in 1993, charges against 12 of the 16 were stayed by the Crown on the grounds it wanted to avoid further trauma to the children.

Klassen's father, Peter, pleaded guilty to one count of sex assault as part of a plea bargain to spare the others.

The birth parents and a family friend were found guilty, but the decision was overturned by the Supreme Court.

The children have since publicly revealed they made up the stories. They are now in their mid-20s, have appeared many times in public to talk about the case and have not sought a publication ban on their names.

During the civil trial, which began in September and ran to mid-November, court heard that Crown lawyers had doubts about the children's credibility and that Dueck approached more than one Crown lawyer to take the case.

The plaintiffs argued that the children's stories were "riddled with inconsistencies," and evidence that Michael was abusing his sisters was ignored to focus guilt on the adults.

In rebuttal, the defendants argued that mistakes or negligence on their parts don't amount to malicious prosecution.

There were also widely recognized protocols in place that instructed police to always believe children are being honest when they disclose information about sexual abuse, court heard.

Klassen represented himself in court despite only having a grade school education. He said he feels good about the case he presented, but the doubt tears him up.

"I am not a skeptic, but I am doubting myself now that it has gone to trial," he said. "Did I say enough? Did I present enough to get through? Is the law on my side?"

No matter what the decision, Klassen said he plans to leave Saskatchewan for Manitoba. He wants a public inquiry to be called to find out what went wrong.

"I don't know if I can put it behind me. It's been 13 years," he said.

"I am a bit upset with being called a child molester. It was what I was last labelled with, and I want vindication of that."

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