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From boxes of documents, a picture emerges

Connecting the dots

Editorial, February 2003

inJusticebusters dot com went online in June, 1998 with the goal of publicising a single story: The Foster Parent wrongful prosecution case which was eventually picked up by The Fifth Estate and has come to be known as "The Scandal of the Century".

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During the two years we plugged away at keeping alive that single story, the main features of which were under a court-ordered publication ban, we found other stories of police and prosecutorial wrong doing to publish or link to. Stephen Truscott | David Milgaard | Guy Paul Morin | Donald Marshall | Thomas Sophonow | Chris McCullough | from Canada and many U.S. cases.

A pattern began to emerge. There were pockets of dirty cops and prosecutors all over the country. They relied on keeping disclosure out of the hands of the accused and often secured judicial seals to ensure their convictions. Judges were particularly keen to issue bans over cases involving woman and children. The Young Offenders Act, and, then, rape shield legislation were helpful to them in covering their illegal tracks. Injusticebusters set about to find other cases which fit this pattern. We publicized the Stinchcombe decision which directs prosecutors to provide all relevant evidence to the accused. We encouraged others to come forward. Many did. Most were afraid to go public because of advice from their defence or civil lawyers.

inJusticebusters broke the ban and provided The Fifth Estate with videotapes which showed a cop and a social worker manipulating children to tell lies. The Fifth Estate was threatened with legal action but went ahead and broadcast the show. No charges were laid.

Another pattern showed up. Defence lawyers were cooperating with prosecutors and government lawyers to keep the lid on disclosure. Whether the disclosure involved criminal charges or discovery in civil claims, hardly anyone in the legal community was eager to buck the system. Across the country individuals were representing themselves, often after having given thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars to lawyers who did not help them. Collaboration of defence and prosecution lawyers was directed towards concealing evidence from judges. Prosecutors sought to conceal exculpatory evidence; defence lawyers often did not believe in their clients' innocence and feared "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" would work against them.

I know that when I hired Ed Holgate to defend my pot cultivation charges, he told me not to tell him certain things because I "wouldn't want to burn my lawyer". I had no intention of involving him in any lie; I wanted to get the charges in proportion to the "crime". My next lawyer, Don MacKinnon almost arranged a plea bargain with the Crown who reneged on the deal and then laid new charges. I had been present for the plea bargain but MacKinnon would not come to court with me to testify against the Crown. You have to understand Sheila, that the Crown is not bound by anything until it has gone before a judge, he told me.

I still don't understand. How could anybody understand? Do we not hire lawyers to protect us from this kind of mischief?

(It turned out that the Crown in this case had been decieved by RCMP corporal Wendell Sawinsky who wanted to make me an example in an early attempt at seizure of all my assets. Seizure of assets of people through "proceeds of crime" prosecutions have now become routine. Cops have recently been prosecuting many people for phony internet porn possession and seizing their computers for police use. Defence lawyers have not been helpful here, either. A further note on this is that although the judge had no choice but to give me some prison time, I received the minimum sentence possible. The police tampered with the central registry to make it impossible for me to get to a halfway house. When that was cleared up the Saskatoon Police delayed clearing the way for me to return to Saskatoon. Part of the condition was to place me under a gag order and an undertaking to not take part or be near any demonstrations of any kind.)

The passive attitude of defence lawyers has put a lot of innocent people in prison. The police and crown in Melville put a false case before Judge Larry Kyle and hit the jackpot with a conviction and 16 year sentence for Leon Walchuk. His defence lawyer should have screamed to the media as Robert Borden did in the Foster Parent case. Less dramatic but equally serious by sheer force of numbers are the hundreds of young, unemployed people imprisoned first for minor infractions and then thoroughly criminalized as they miss court dates or get involved in pathetic schemes with cronies they met in the system. Legal Aid lawyers just help the Crown push them through the proverbial revolving door.

The arrogance of the legal community has been challenged by a few brave judges. Peter Cory made excellent recommendations in his inquiry into the Thomas Sophonow case. Judge Klebuc did not look kindly on police who did shoddy investigations. Often by the time a judge gets the picture a person is being unfairly treated, it is too late.

There are absolutely no decent services for addicts and otherwise troubled youth although there is a large and cynical bureaucracy of "workers" who get their paychecks by referring these people from one useless agency to another.

The methadone program, for instance, provides no meaningful counselling for their clients who are prescribed a powerful, addictive drug which can only work in the context of a support network. Very often a judge will order treatment. Rarely will a judge find out his orders carry no weight. One cannot blame the judges believing there are actually programs that help people. There used to be a few. The drug counselling programs which are run by corrections are absolutely useless.

Last year the Supreme Court ruled police could not hide their criminal misdeeds under publication bans. CBC's Disclosure then broadcast the [ obsolete link] George Mentuck and Olivia Edgars tapes (14 minutes) which showed police in Manitoba and British Columbia fabricating evidence. This year Disclosure has exposed the Reid method of interrogation and its willful misuse by shady cops.

Often our local police and prosecutorial misdeeds are not picked up by the national media. Only when they get to a higher court do we hear about stories from other jurisdictions. As long as we hear about only a few cases we can be comforted that misdeeds are not widespread. When we hear about the similarities of misdeeds all over the country, indeed the continent, we are not so comfortable. We start to connect the dots. Patterns emerge. Conclusions are inescapable.

inJusticebusters is posting and connecting these dots and keeping the stories and connections up there for all to see. Similarities between police wrongdoing in Saskatoon, Edmonton and Winnipeg are apparent. We can see how crown prosecutors have different standards in different jurisdictions. We can trace the patterns of unfairness and injustice. We can also point to those cops and crowns who do their jobs properly.

Saturday was International Woman's Day. I didn't celebrate. I was busy posting information about one woman, Monique Turenne who has been mischievously charged with murder based partly on the shenanigans of two other women, her former sisters-in-law. I also posted some information about a woman in Edmonton who seems to be hiding behind court seals to put her ex away. And the horrible story of Mark Cook in Texas. I went back and read a page I had written three years ago on what I perceived to be a victim machine created by women who wanted lots of rights but no responsibilities. I reflected on Christine Bartlett-Hughes and her dishonesty in the prosecution of Don Smith and his family. I wondered if Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon were marking the day. It felt like grief.

In Saturday's news two judges, a man and a woman from different U.S. states dismissed the evidence in the Candyman entrapments.

The Klassen/Kvello and Martensville lawsuits have strong representation of both genders on both plaintiff and defendant sides. Justice has no gender. We hope it has some intelligence. There have been some faint flickerings of brain activity. May the force be with us.

Richard Klassen was told when he first protested the treatment of his family when the charges were stayed that the case was "political." The decade which has followed has shown that to be true. How deep do dirty politics in Saskatchewan go? We'll just have to keep connecting the dots until we find out. Political as the case may be there has not been a single politician willing to take it on.

--Sheila Steele, March 10, 2003

Saskatoon's 9/11

It is almost a year since that beautiful September morning when I was preparing to go to court to bear witness to the trial of the Saskatoon police constables who had taken Darrell Night to the edge of town in -25 degree weather and left him there. Night survived but two others, who had recieved similar "moonlight rides", Rodney Naistus and Lawrence Wegner did not.

The contrast between the splendid September weather and the frigid January night we would be called upon to remember was striking. I was getting my notebooks together and absently watching Canada A.M. on TV when it happened -- the image of the first plane hitting the first tower and twenty minutes later, the second.

I felt the same frightened chill I had experienced 38 years earlier when, while shoppng in Dayton's department store in Minneapolis, the news was broadcast over the intercom that JFK had been shot. If I didn't respond with appropriate hysterical sorrow, I might be centred out as sympathizing with the assassin. I didn't and in some ways, I was. As a member of Fair Play for Cuba, I was called upon to help hide protect the local president of our organization who would have been surely attacked amidst the early rabble-rousing speculation about who had been responsible for firing those shots in Dallas (yes, I still think it was shots -- not a single bullet).

Court of Queen's Bench judge Eugene Scheibel asked both Crown and Defence if they wished to proceed with the Hatchen-Munson trial on Sept. 11, and, to everybody's credit, they did.

-- Sheila Steele, September 5, 2002