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Waiting for justice while watching injustice

Editorial: December, 2003

We are waiting. . .and waiting. . .and the Crown is still at it!

'In the darkness of secrecy, sinister interest and evil in every shape have fullswing. Only in proportion as publicity has place, can any of the checks applicable to judicial injustice operate. Where there is no publicity there is no justice. . . . . Publicity is the very soul of justice. It is the keenest spur to exertion and the surest of all guards against improbity. It keeps the judge himself while trying under trial' -- Jeremy Bentham

As we wait for Judge Baynton to elaborate on his initial findings of malice against two senior Crown prosecutors, we have evidence that the office of public prosecutions is not worried in the least. Prosecuter Cameron Scott is poking around, intimidating a family that has already been through the mill as a result of improper disclosure, arrests based on no reasonable and probable cause, and a social worker who feels safe and protected under colour of law.

Melfort is out in the boondocks. News from there is hardly ever reported unless it is something exciting like the trial of the three men for raping a 12 year old aboriginal girl last summer. Social worker Susan Pasieka was involved in that one, too. She immediately apprehended the girl and was part of the chain of custody for the girls' panties, which Crown prosecutor Gary Parker announced, in open court, contained DNA evidence, not from any of the accused on trial, but from the girl's father. Later, this girl was trotted out to testify and was reported as being quiet and equivocal. The judge would acquit two of the men and convict the third, giving him a conditional sentence because it seemed the girl was "a willing participant."

In February, 2002, the preliminary hearing was postponed while the family of the girl was asked to wait outside because, according to Crown prosecutor Cameron Scott, "the evidence was not ready yet." That evidence would have been the DNA evidence. Later, we would learn that the RCMP had watched the girl's father smoking outside the courthouse and grabbed his cigarette butt after he had extinguished it on the ground. This was used to compare with material from the girl's panties, which were turned over to police after the girl got out of hospital three days after the rape. In the meantime, her baby sister had been apprehended by Susan Pasieka. No one protected the interests of the girl in the court room. No one. The Campeau family was destroyed. This was a reserve family with problems which arise from poverty. Their situation became a rallying point for organizations who protest in support of the general principles that racism and violence against women are abhorrent; the specific wrongs which were done to them were not addressed.

The Vopni family -- dismantled by malice by the cops, the Crown and, you guessed it, a social worker

Vopni family

And nobody is protecting the rights of the children who were apprehended from the Vopni family in September, 2001. This apprehension was carried out in broad daylight, but it was out in the boondocks, there was a rumour of sexual abuse and chldren were involved. No one heard about it.

The very nature of the allegations in these cases almost guarantees that no one will ever hear about them. It is embarrassing to the family it happens to and anyone who has ever lived in a small town understands that the rumour mill and social pressure effectively keep covered the facts of what has happened.

The above photograph shows the family -- Mom and Dad, their biological children and the five FAS children they adopted. That's right. The Vopnis adopted five children. At first they had decided that they would like to adopt two children. They placed no restrictions on "what kind of child" they would like to adopt. They had a strong fundamentalist Christian belief and were ready to share their love and their resources. They were a self-supporting family. After they had agreed to take two, they were told there were two more, and then one more. After giving great consideration to what this would mean and how they would manage, they agreed to take them all. It was hard work and they all pitched in together.

As a musical, dancing and sports-minded family, they travelled and won many awards. They became experts in the difficulties of FAS children and devised individual strategies to work around each's limitations. A more comprensive list of their many accomplishments can be found here.

The roof fell in when, at a Bible camp, one of the girls confided something of a sexual nature to one of her campmates. It is not clear just what the confidence was, but by the time it made its way through assorted children and adults to the police, and then to social worker Susan Pasieka, the concensus was that it was actionable. The girl was apprehended and two RCMP along with Pasieka showed up at the Vopni doorstep to apprehend their children.

Charges were laid and several family members went to trial. Eventually the only charge to stick was to one of the sons. The lawyer who defended the charges died shortly after the conviction. It took the Vopnis a while to find a lawyer to appeal that conviction which has now been postponed until March.

Rebecca Vopni got in touch with inJusticebusters and also organized a meeting to bring false allegation expert Dean_Tong to Saskatoon to speak and run a seminar. It was at this seminar where I met Rebecca face to face. We agreed to put the story together for the internet. I conducted a lengthy e-mail interview with Rebecca which she then asked me to withhold from publication for fear she would jeopardize the appeal.

This is a case where investigation techniques -- or lack of investigation -- by police is similar to those used in the Klassen/Kvello/Ross/White arrests and apprehensions of children. For the first several weeks, the Vopni family was kept in the dark. They did not know what allegation(s) had been made, by whom or what might have been done to substantiate them. The most obvious fact, that this was an energetic family which took part in the community, that neither parent had any criminal record, was obviously of no consequence to either the police or the Crown. They had taken an allegation (that they later found out to be mischievous) and used it to blow a family apart.

The Vopnis believed that justice would be done in court. They were wrong. They were certainly relieved that charges against Derek, the father were stayed, and perhaps grateful enough for that small mercy that they did not want to make too much of a fuss about the one conviction which they are now appealing. As we know, a stay is not an acquittal. An acquitted person does not have acquiantances greet them with surprise --"Oh, I thought you were in jail."

I had almost forgotten about the Vopnis until two weeks ago when I posted the story of Tim Sandfort and was thinking of similar cases to link it to. There was the Bice family in Ontario -- and the Vopnis.

On Sunday afternoon, December 14, I received an interesting telephone call. It was from an RCMP constable in Melfort and she had some questions for me about this website. I asked her if there was any particular story she was interested in and eventually she told me it was the Vopnis. She had called me at the Crown's request. Prosecutor Cameron Scott had asked her to look into this. As I pressed her, I understood that he had wanted to establish whether I was in violation of a publication ban. I told her that I was not aware of any ban, that any information I had posted did not come from court documents. She said that she would give my telephone number to Cameron Scott and I told her I would certainly be willing to talk to him.

That got me thinking. What on earth in this case should be subject to non-publication orders? Certainly, everyone in Melfort must have noticed already that the Vopnis no longer had their adopted children. This should not be news to anyone.

The families or institutions where the children are now placed know where the children came from. A great deal of public money is being spent to keep these children in foster or institutional care -- children who were formerly being fully supported by an adoptive family. Maybe the auditor general would be interested in this and the Crown and Social Services don't want him to find out.

The role of prosecutor excludes any notion of winning or losing; his function is a matter of public duty that which in civil life there can be none charged with greater personal responsibility. It is to be performed with an ingrained sense of the dignity, the seriousness and the justness of the judicial proceedings.
-- Mr. Justice Rand (R v. Boucher, 1955)