This editorial written before the last election suggesting a path to truth for man-of-the-cloth Lorne Calvert and his slimey justice minister, Eric Cline, fell on sterile ground. Calvert won the election and turfed Cline from the justice post and appointed apprentice-in-slime Frank Quennell to the post
Our message to the NDP government:
It is entirely possible that neither Premier Lorne Calvert or Justice Minister Eric Cline is properly briefed on the Foster parent case, the treatment of the Ross children or the Martensville case. They may well be relying on their advisors, like Jeff Bohatch, to keep them informed. It is entirely possible that they have been given a skewed picture of reality. They would both do well to look into these cases for themselves.
Public perception is everything. While aspects of these cases are before the courts, there is so much that is already public that for either Calvert or Cline to continue to remain silent is to commit political suicide.
We are delighted that the multimillion dollar lawsuit is proceeding to court, with all the plaintiffs and defendants intact and comprehensive briefs and evidence filed. Information which is the property of that action is sealed under the Rules of Court until September 8. Nonetheless, there is much that can be discussed between now and then.
Rewind to last June when John Popowich's $1.3M settlement came down. That same week, government lawyer Don McKillop and Saskatoon Police lawyer David Gerrand were in court attempting to have Richard Klassen struck from his lawsuit. The StarPhoenix reported that the government settled with Popowich because the pre-trial judge had noted that Popowich had a good argument to prove malice and the government did not want such precedent to be set.
That bit of information came from the mouth of then-justice minister Chris Axworthy. inJusticebusters have since learned that by revealing the judge's comments, Axworthy violated the rules of court which bind participants in a civil claim to confidentiality regarding any comments made behind closed doors. Because of those same rules, we are not in a position to report on Judge Mona Dovell's reasons for keeping the Klassen/Kvello claim intact as it edges toward the trial date of September 8.
Popowich stated after his settlement that he was satisfied and he did not think further inquiry was necessary. His lawyer, Geoff Dufour told Richard Klassen that his claim was not worth nearly as much as Popowich's because Popowich was a cop and Klassen an unemployed painter. We would point out that Dueck is also a cop. We would further point out that the reasons for settling claims against public officials has little to do with the "worth" of the complainant and much to do with setting examples to be heeded by future officials tempted to frame innocent people to advance their careers. Darrell Night is suing Saskatoon police who tried to kill him. Is his claim worth even less because he was a drunk? Hatchen and Munson have moved today into a half-way house after serving a few weeks in jail. The fact that they were punished is important. The malfeasant cop, social workers and lawyers in the Klassen/Kvello case should also be made to account for their actions. What's right is right and what's wrong is wrong.
The StarPhoenix asked Gerrand and McKillop if they intended to settle the Klassen/Kvello lawsuit now that they had settled with Popowich. Gerrand refused comment but McKillop was candid: According to the SP report,
"His only consideration is taking the most cost-effective route. If there is a 'risk of an adverse judgement,' the government is more likely to settle, he said. . . Other considerations, such as doing the right thing, are likely handled by the politicians, he said." (emphasis mine)
Here we are, eleven months later, and the politicians have failed to do the right thing. That is why we are going to camp on the legislature lawn.
In fairness to these politicians, let us state, as noted above that it is entirely possible that they (Calvert and Cline) have not been properly briefed. Before we arrive on the legislature lawn, they will have had ample time to familiarize themselves with this case -- without breaking any of the rules of court. Calvert, to his credit, is not a lawyer. He is a clergyman and is therefore in a better vantage point to distinguish right from wrong. Eric Cline is a lawyer as was his predecessor in the justice portfolio. Chris Axworthy had demonstrated his bias in this case as early as 1993 when he was provided with the videotapes of the leading interviews with the children and instead of watching them, turned them over to the RCMP who, in turn, along with their Saskatoon compatriots began hounding John Lucas who had provided him with the tapes. Axworthy's briefing notes should be viewed with suspicion.
Axworthy was a federal member of parliament at the time. A few years later, he returned to Saskatchewan with the intention of replacing Roy Romanow as premier. The Fifth Estate's "Scandal of the Century" aired on the eve of the leadership election and Axworthy was defeated by Lorne Calvert. This case was primary, among other opportunistic bungles, in ending Chris Axworthy's political career.
As Saskatchewan is due for another election, the sitting politicians would do well to do the right thing: publicly and candidly acknowledge they were wrong and make proper restitution to all the citizens they damaged. That is their "one shot" at regaining public support. The entire justice system in Saskatchewan from the way police complaints are handled to Legal Aid through the way the Law Society conducts its business to Social Services' powers regarding the apprehension of children to public prosecutions and corrections needs to be scrutinized and fixed. Bob Mitchell, the justice minister before him and Axworthy followed a policy of piling on more layers of bureaucracy with powers of secrecy and building more prisons to house unwitting citizens who fell into the labyrinth. Saskatchewan correctional facilities are full of people who should not be there -- either because they are innocent or because they should be somewhere else (in school or in addiction treatment facilities.) The Klassens, Kvellos and Sterlings would be among them if not for public scrutiny. Those cases recieved the scrutiny because they were so bizarre. We know there are many other cases which did not receive such scrutiny because they were not so bizarre and ended in wrongful convictions.
The converse of the adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" applies. The justice system is broken and cannot be fixed by covering up the places where it is broken.
The cost of fixing this will be a bargain compared to the alternative -- a harvest of bitter, cynical people who have been roughed up by the system. It will be a bargain compared to Spudco and interactive Bingo. The bonus is Saskatchewan people will get something for their money.
In the coming weeks we will be looking at concepts like fair play, egregious acts by public officials and measures which can be taken to prevent injustices such as these in the future. The Saskatoon Police and the Government of Saskatchewan are under our microscope. Interested people all over the country will be watching.
It has been a long ten years, this decade which saw Brian Dueck rise from Corporal to Superintendent while the Ross children grew from pre-adolescence to adulthood and those of us bringing the story to the public pauperized by the exercise. This decade saw two of the plaintiffs die: Dennis Kvello and Marie Klassen, shown above with Peter a year before the charges were stayed in exchange for his coerced guilty plea. She died during his time at Bowden penitentiary where he served the full four years, denied parole because he could not re-enact crimes which didn't happen.
It has been a good exercise for us, though. We have learned a lot. We have learned that many lawyers in this province are hollow men lacking courage. We have learned that hard work and persistence is its own reward. We have kept up with technology and made use of this wonderful thing, the Internet. The truth is the truth and covering it up does not dim its light.
The Internet has enabled us to meet others in Saskatchewan who share our belief in full disclosure of facts which are in the public interest. We invite those we know already and those we have yet to meet to join us on our legislature's lawn on May 15.
--Sheila Steele, May 6, 2003