After ten years of fighting we were able to savour victory -- even if only for a few days…
January 1, 2004 - The StarPhoenix today devoted most of the front page and many inside pages to this story which has been growing for years. Randy Burton's column and an editorial underscored the significance of the victory and called for action.
Television coverage was no less impressive. The day of the judgment, both CBC and CTV gave lead-story coverage. Harvey Cashore, who produced the Fifth Estate story which cleaned up on broadcast journalist awards in 2001, spoke live on Newsworld, calling Richard Klassen (right) the most brilliant guy he had ever met whose "street smarts" had out-litigated Saskatchewan's top lawyers.
Cashore also noted the difficulty of getting this story to the Canadian public since almost every aspect of the story was under publication ban. The Fifth Estate took the chance of defying the ban, and, as Harvey would be the first to acknowledge, they were able to do it because inJusticebusters had done it first. Harvey did mention the website - once, near the end of his interview -- and the result was over 1000 hits to the site that day. (I would reckon that the CBC website gets that number of hits in a minute).
On John Gormley's talk show, Wednesday morning, Richard Klassen (right) spoke about his cancer diagnosis and the addiction to dangerous pills he had acquired leading up to and during the trial. A first rate addiction counselor had offered him help before the show was even over.
Richard also answered the questions which have been in many people's minds regarding money. He named his mother and father-in-law, Carol and Robert Larson, who had spent approximately $400,000 to keep Richard's family and the lawsuit afloat, pointing out that as Saskatchewan farmers, they had had to go deep into debt to do it. They had not previously wanted any publicity because they live in a small town and the people there are inclined to believe people are guilty if a prosecutor says they are. Richard was nervous after he had blurted out their names, but in the sunshine of this victory, Robert and Carol were not upset. I take this opportunity to thank them, as well. And I personally thank my mother, son and a few friends who have footed the bills for the website and kept me from starving throughout these past economically tough years.
The announcement that injusticebusters intends to relocate to Winnipeg is true. We will continue with the work we have been doing and we will be in a position to expand our work more effectively from a central Canadian location. We have also received much more meaningful support from Winnipeg people fighting injustice than we have in Saskatoon.
On CTV and CBC December 31, James Elstad's lawyer spoke of the importance of this decision to his client, whose lawsuit for malicious prosecution in the Martensville fiasco has been in limbo for ten years. There are several other such suits which will benefit from the decision. Nonetheless, lawyers in Saskatchewan continue to be very grudging in giving us any kind of acknowledgment, preferring to see it as some kind of lucky fluke. On the other hand, our e-mail box is over-flowing with congratulations from people across the country -- and, indeed, around the world -- who understand the significance of this decision and appreciate the effort which has gone into it.
We wish all the other Saskatchewan people whose cases will benefit from Judge Baynton's decision the very best outcomes. We urge them to challenge their lawyers to show courage and tell them not to settle for anything less than is fair.
This is not a lucky fluke. This was our apprenticeship. We have developed a big box of skills and are anxious to apply them wherever they can be helpful.
The role of the Internet and technology in general in speeding the wheels of justice cannot be overstated. The Klassen civil trial was the first where media was provided with daily live tapes of the proceedings. While they were prohibited from playing the tapes, they were able to check their notes and report the proceedings with great accuracy. Richard Klassen asked for and received permission for this to happen during the pre-trial process. This was another precedent which was so successful that we expect it to be repeated. Within one hour of the litigants receiving the final judgment in this case, the full text was available on the Internet. This was quite a change from the days when we had to wait for weeks or pay potloads of money to get such material into our hands to study it and write about it.
The Stonechild Inquiry resumes on Monday. This inquiry is providing daily transcripts of its proceedings online! This is just marvelous. We expect that there will be less patience with cops who lose their notes and memories. Dates should soon be announced for the David Milgaard Inquiry and we will be applying for standing.
Justice Baynton's cooperation with this process is the outstanding example of how things should be done. Because he approached his job as that of an inquiry judge, there is already a significant foundation upon which a full and proper inquiry into this case can be held. There are some stray ends, which for reasons of either rules or resistance, did not yet get laid on the evidence table. But at least half of the work has already been done.
Now we have a whole lot more work to do to make the ongoing process of seeking justice a fair and living reality.
-- Sheila Steele, January 1, 2004
". . . (M)ore like a public inquiry report than a civil judgment" is how Saskatchewan Queen's Bench Justice George Baynton describes the remarkable 189 page judgment he released yesterday.
And, indeed it is. Judge Baynton was the first judge to see the videotapes and hear much of the other evidence Richard Klassen put together during the time between November, 2001 and September, 2003. In November, 2001, Klassen took over his own case and, with the assistance of Angela Geworsky set about to get from the Crown defendants the evidence he knew was there. The following summer there was an intensive series of discovery examinations. And by September 8, 2003, he had a case in order to put before the court.
On December 30, we all reaped the reward of that effort.
In a Canadian court, we have shown for the first time that police, prosecutors and social workers are not immune from prosecution. Punitive damages have yet to be assessed but it is certain they will be significant.
Government lawyer Don McKillop and Brian Dueck's publicly paid lawyer David Gerrand conducted themselves during the pre-trial proceedings and the court itself in much the same way that Matt Miazga and Sonja Hansen had conducted themselves during the criminal proceedings against the twenty people charged with molesting the Ross children. They first made several attempts to have Richard Klassen turfed from his own lawsuit and once they were forced to go to trial, they tried their best to keep the full case from hitting the evidence table.
Throughout the trial, Baynton ruled on the side of openness. More than once, he said that he would rather err on the side of letting in too much evidence rather than not enough. He wanted the full picture and he got it, as much as it was possible to present.
Baynton notes that because of the absence of testimony from Social Services (they were initially named as defendants but managed to get themselves removed) he did not have as full a picture as he would have liked in order to make his decision.
Richard Klassen's call for a full public inquiry into what went wrong in this province in 1991 follows logically from Baynton's comments. The Social Services' workers who managed to avoid having their actions scrutinized would not be able to avoid the scrutiny of a public inquiry.
We cannot trust that they will clean up their act without being ordered to do so. Police have continued with the kind of techniques Baynton describes as bullying (the Ken Cooper case was a good example and Brian Dueck was involved in the bullying, not to mention last summer's beating of Neil Terrance Bear in an elevator by two Saskatoon police officers); prosecutors in Melfort went after members of the Vopni family using techniques very similar to those used by Matt Miazga (right) and Sonja Hansen (right) in yesterday's judgment; social workers are still picking and choosing which parts of their protocol they will follow and which they will ignore.
We have the judgment. Now it is time for some real accountability.
It is just ludicrous that McKillop and Gerrand are talking about appealing the judgment. These two should also fall under the scrutiny of a public inquiry.
The legal community in Saskatchewan is quite shaken by Baynton's judgment. Many lawyers are watching to see what happens so they know which side of the rocking boat to jump over to.
We are not naive enough to think that this historic judgment is going to change anything in Saskatchewan over night. But we know that we have accomplished a huge important step towards cleaning up the mess we were agitating about last summer.
The Internet has had a tremendous impact on the speed with which change can happen. Anyone with access to the Internet can read Baynton's judgment and study it for him/herself. It is written in clear language and it offers opinions which can be used in many other cases. This case, which was carried mainly by a common sense man with no legal education and was ruled upon by a judge with similar common sense simplicity, is headline news across Canada.
On this historic day, the last one in the old year, let us raise our glasses to common sense and simplicity!
Welcome to inJusticebusters. Welcome to a new era, where ordinary people can find justice in our courts! Happy New Year, 2004!
--Sheila Steele, December 31, 2003