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Naked: The truth stripped to the skin

Editorial, April, 2003

simulated wounds

The scene is staged. The wounds are simulated. The sword is glued on front and back and does not go through... really

It is part of our condition to be fascinated with images of human skin. We are titillated with suggestions that someone else is getting access to more skin than we are. In Northern Ontario, Don Smith has been fined $100,000 and his family has been punished by being denied Internet access because he created and sold fantasy snuff videos. The website was accessible only to adults with credit cards. The women who posed for these shots testified at his trial in Fort Francis last October that they were well paid and had fun on the shoot.

simulated wound

The arrow wound is simulated. The arrow is glued on and does not go through.. really

I was there for part of the trial. In fact I was there because Don Smith wanted to use me as an expert to testify about the legality of some stories he had published on his website. Judge Helen Pierce said my expertise wasn't current enough and refused to qualify me. I write this as an unqualified expert. Crown Attorney Howard Leibovich who examined me was a good looking guy. His assistant, Christine Bartlett-Hughes was by his side, flipping her blonde shoulder-length hair. Pierce was definitely taken with the two of them, judging from her face -- the rest of her was chastely covered with robes and feathers. She formulated her harsh sentence very deliberately to "protect women from further exploitation."

Pierce did qualify two experts -- Dr. David Annandale from the University of Winnipeg and Dr. Barry Grant of Brock University. Both had PhDs and were on the stand for at least a day. No worry, at the end of the trial Pierce instructed them to give no weight to their testimony.

Brian Greenspan, a Toronto lawyer whose legal expertise is definitely current, is taking Smith's appeal. When he learned of the case, he was astonished and commented that he thought the matters for which Smith had been illegally prosecuted had been settled in the sixties. Our rights to freedom of expression may have seemed secured but there are always new forces stirring things up. The whip which swung the backlash against exploitation of women is now coming back the other way. The last fifteen years have seen cases of severe abuse of the system with uncorroborated testimony by exaggerating and lying complainants -- and incompetent officers of the court with their own axes to grind and careers to promote.

There is a bad cop at the bottom of the Smith case. Scott Gobeil has become obsessed with destroying the Smith family. He keeps going back to the scene of his crime, harassing the Smiths by phoning Smith's wife's employer. He is not the only cop so obsessed -- there are Brian Dueck in Saskatoon and Thomas Coleman in Tulia, Texas.

But before we get to them, let's pause for a moment and consider the supercops of the world -- the American military -- and ponder for just a moment how far obsessed men with guns and unbridled power will go. They become arrogant and imagine that what they are doing is just. The principle is not even "an eye for an eye" but "blow your head off" for an eye.

How much skin we choose to show is a matter of individual choice and discretion. In Iraq and many middle Eastern countries, they choose to show very little. Even here, where attitudes are very different, a man who would choose to walk through a park naked would be immediately locked up and considered crazy. Teenage boys are particularly sensitive about nakedness.

If a cop here chose to strip a group of teen-age boys they caught stealing in the park, we would get a public inquiry for sure!

Stripped Iragis

On April 25, a Norwegian newspaper published these photographs of U.S. soldiers in Iraq parading naked Iraqi men through a Baghdad public park at gunpoint. The words "ali baba -- thief" are written in Arabic on their chests. " . . . this treatment is an effective method of deterring thieves from entering the park and is a method which will be used again," a ranking U.S. officer said, in defence of the action. He said young Iraqi men had been stealing light weapons the U.S. occupation forces had been storing in the park.

Stripped Iragis

The Guardian this week has exposed the fact that many of the POWs from Afghanistan being held in Guantanamo are, by our definition, children.

Now we've all heard the stories about Islamic justice -- cutting off the hands of thieves etc. It is barbaric and there are organizations trying to bring it to an end. Our own Bill Sampson is in a Saudi Arabia jail where the authorities are threatening to cut off his head. However barbarous we might find the practices of other nations, no where do we give ourselves the authority go into other people's neighbourhoods -- or cultures -- and commit acts of humiliation -- or do we?

Amnesty International has an extensive critique of U.S. violations of international law as an occupying power.

Dixie Chicks

The Dixie Chicks have chosen a delightful way to express themselves in response to the backlash against their anti-war stance. In England, they had expressed the idea that George Bush wasn't good enough for Texas, in a bit of light hearted posturing with which I empathize. I would rather Texas be identified as home of Natalie Maines and her sister chicks than what it is: home of George Bush and Tulia. As yet it is not.

The justice system in Texas is a template for what ours could become, unfortunately. It is true, they have the death penalty with which they punish both the innocent and the guilty. Thomas Coleman, the Tulia equivalent of our own Brian Dueck still has 13 of his his falsely accused peoople locked behind bars while Dueck's victims are condemned, like the ancient mariner, to walk the earth forever, telling to anyone who will listen the story of how they were set up, arrested, branded as skinners, financially ruined and had their lives hideously transformed. A new New York Times opinion piece points out that not only Coleman but his superiors should be punished for this travesty.

Anita KlassenDitto for Saskatchewan. Dueck was sneaky and malicious as he set up the Klassen/Kvello family but he could not ever have pulled off his vicious deeds without the help of his superiors, the Department of Social Services, and the representatives of Her Majesty: Matthew Miazga, Sonia Hansen, Richard Quinney, various justice ministers and a couple premiers. For now Dueck is a top superintendent in the Saskatoon Police Service, Hansen has her safe job as a local prosecutor and Miazga is off in Alberta as a visiting prosecutor in the high profile murder trial of Pincher Creek RCMP Const. Mike Ferguson. One has to question Miazga's ethics and question any conviction he succeeds in securing after his ruthless treatment of twenty-five Saskatchewan citizens. Quinney died last month, still unrepentant for having okayed the false prosecutions of the Klassens and Kvellos as well as the Martensville people.

Anita Klassen reported to Social Services and the Crisis Line as soon as she suspected that one of the three siblings she was fostering had raped his sister. The police investigated and confirmed her suspicion. Two years later, the same boy and his sisters made allegations of sexual abuse against her, after having been coached by Carol Bunko-Ruys and Corporal Brian Dueck. Her life was stripped away from her. It took eleven years of fighting to finally clear her name through civil litigation. She isn't naked in the mug-shot shown here but she sure feels like she is!

The racism of Tulia, Texas has also been echoed in Saskatchewan with our Native drunk-dumping scandal. Lawrence Wegner's case is still in the news as the inquiry which whitewashed his murder is seen for the sham it was. Hatchen and Munson have been convicted and are, I believe, still in prison but there are more dirty cops in the Saskatoon Police Service besides Dueck and them. Dueck, a talented evidence manufacturer is proudly at work while the new chief, who was brought in to help clean up the force's stained reputation, is suspended as a sexual harasser on complaints none of us are allowed to see. We could really use the spirit of the Dixie Chicks here in Saskatchewan: right now!

Chief Russell SaboChief Russell Sabo is alleged to have remarked about an employee's perfume. That got him a six-going-on seven-week suspension.

Now let's remember what Dueck did: he arranged for three children, eight year old twin girls and their ten year old brother to sit with various adults (the Thompson's, social worker Bunko-Ruys, plus several court rooms full of people) and talk dirty. The more penises and vaginas of innocent adults they could claim to have touched or been touched by, the more the adults approved and encouraged them. Their former foster mother, Anita Klassen kept a diary of her time with the children. This diary shows adult caring and responsibility.

Dueck tracked Anita down at her place of work in Red Deer, Alberta and took her the RCMP station where he used the Reid technique on her for over an hour. He brought up embarrasing incidents from her younger days and humiliated her to the point where she had a nervous breakdown before his very eyes. Then, several weeks later and with the go-ahead from Matthew Miazga he had her, along with her husband and five other Red Deer people arrested, held for six days and then brought to Saskatoon to be charged with sex crimes against the children amidst a media frenzy orchestrated by Dueck.

Anita and the other members of her family were put though a month long preliminary inquiry where the children were again encouraged to talk dirty in court. They were indicted and ordered to stand trial. On the eve of the trial date the charges were stayed, although Matthew Miazga implied to the media that they were not really innocent but the trial could not go on because the children were traumatized.

The children were not traumatized by any of it. They loved the attention. The falsely accused all came from deeply religious backgrounds whose teaching dictated a high degree of modesty. One of them, who was featured on the Fifth Estate "Scandal of the Century" documentary stated she did not know the meaning of the words Dueck used when he first questioned her. Humiliated? Traumatized? You bet. I have been told that Anita still has not spoken of the torture she endured as Dueck questioned her. Her husband, Dale, is extremely shy and has hoped for the last ten years it would all just go away.

It was Anita's brother-in-law, Richard Klassen who launched the lawsuit in 1994. That lawsuit is coming to pretrial Thursday, May 1, 2003. I got involved with this story in 1993. In August, 1994 Richard Klassen and I were arrested, held and criminally charged with defaming Dueck when we tried to get the story to the public during a protest of a commissioned report on David Milgaard clearing officialdom of any wrongdoing. A few weeks later, Dueck would go to extraordinary effort to frame Richard Klassen on a twenty year old alleged sexual assault on convicted double murderer Beryl Stonechild. He failed in this malicious act of defamation. But he has certainly spread the vicious rumour of it among his cohorts.

Of course that turned out to be wrong -- settlement and apologies would come three years later, although not from Saskatoon police. Their day of reckoning is yet to come, but come it will. Marie Klassen, shown at the demonstration where we were arrested, died six months later. We promised her we would see this case through to the end and we will. The lawsuit is coming to trial and the website has garnered a lot of credibility for publicizing cases that don't sell advertising for papers -- and keeping them alive until they start selling papers again.

I began this sermonette by musing about skin and our fascination with it. Culture and circumstance determine how much we dare show and which parts we must keep covered. There is modesty and there is false modesty. Recently our culture has been preoccupied with cleavage -- both bum and breasts. It's what sells stuff right now. Shortly after this site was launched I posted a picture of myself flashing some tit. It was a bit bold, a bit brazen, even a bit embarrassing. For many months that posting was responsible for most of the hits to the site. Is it bad taste? I don't know. How can we possibly distinguish good taste from bad, "art" from "smut," smutty art from arty smut -- in this media sewer of which the Internet is a small part? What we can know is right from wrong -- and that there is a boundary separating the two, no matter how slippery that boundary might be. When we know we are close to it, we should reflect and consider.

If Dueck had stopped and considered for a single coffee and donut during those first months of his investigation, he would have realized he was on the wrong track, chasing after innocent people -- and he would have stopped. If Miazga had looked at his evidence before authorizing the arrests, he would never have given the green light. Carol Bunko-Ruys? It is possible she has some difficulties with boundaries, as evidenced by her advice to keep the children together after she knew they were sexually active. They are responsible for crossing the boundaries they chose to cross for whatever reason and the consequences for them should be significant enough to stop them from ever doing such a thing again. Those who are tempted to do likewise must know that they are courting harsh consequences. Me? I flashed a bit of skin but I thought about it first.

Don Smith, in the case I opened this sermonette with, consulted legal sources before setting up his website. He did it as an artistic, commercial enterprise. There is a world of difference between transactions among consenting adults and authorities framing innocent persons to advance their careers.

If it takes skin to sell justice, then skin it shall be. Skinner is a jailhouse term for sex offenders. A lot of innocent people in Saskatchewan and beyond have been branded as skinners. Such smearing loses its potency when brought into the disinfecting sunlight.

There are almost one million stories in this naked province and there also are, as they say, many ways to skin a cat, whatever that means. Maybe by the end of summer, some sanity will have prevailed. In September the Klassen/Kvello lawsuit comes to trial, Don Smith's appeal will be heard, Abdulahi Mohamed's case will have moved forward and Monique Turenne will be closer to her day in court and the 13 year old Neil Stonechild case will be spotlighted once more. Before the whip's lash can come anywhere close to centre, a strong message must be sent to the cops, crowns, social workers and judges who abuse citizens that society will not tolerate their abuse of process. In Saskatchewan, the Spudco and scandals have shown the government has the money to settle. Eventually we will get an honest commission of inquiry which will lay it all out. We hope. --Sheila Steele, April 28, 2003