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John Popowich

Congratulations, John Popowich, the first of what we expect will be many Saskatchewan million dollar settlements. Chris Axworthy admits he settled this one because it looked like the gov't might lose it, but they will keep defending themselves against the Klassen suit because he thinks they can win? He clearly states the case that in Saskatchewan justice, winning or losing is more important than right or wrong.

It took 10 years to clear name

John Popowich

John Popowich 28-year veteran sergeant of the Saskatoon Police Service has now seen/lived both sides of the law

John Popowich's decade-long fight to clear his name is over, and he celebrated by taking his family out for supper Tuesday evening.

"It's been an excellent day. I'm very happy. It's been 10 years in the making," Popowich said before sitting down to his steak dinner.

Popowich received an apology and a $1.3-million settlement from the provincial government Tuesday. He was wrongly prosecuted for ritual child sexual abuse in Martensville in the early 1990s.

"It's been devastating. It's been hell. Being called a sexual predator is the bottom of the barrel," he said.

"Money is not the issue. Having my name cleared is why I did this."

Popowich said his family has been incredibly supportive, and his true friends have stuck by him.

One daughter lives in Saskatoon, while the other is flying in this week from Indianapolis. His entire family is planning to attend an upcoming meeting where Justice Minister Chris Axworthy will apologize on behalf of the government.

A native of the east-central Saskatchewan town of Ituna, Popowich is a 28-year veteran sergeant of the Saskatoon Police Service. He has been on sick leave, and will take the next few weeks to decide his future.

Popowich's mother says the provincial government "tormented" her son for the past 10 years before finally admitting he was innocent.

"It's time the public sees that he's innocent. They tormented him, accusing him," his mother, Mary, said in an interview.

"Hopefully it'll clear the air."

Popowich's lawyer, Geoff Dufour, said nothing can make up for what his client has endured.

"I cannot imagine a more heinous charge than sexually abusing young children at gunpoint under the umbrella of satanic worship," Dufour said.

"But he has cleared his name, and has some compensation for the pain and suffering he has gone through. He's an innocent man.

"It's over. Now he can start a new chapter,"

John Popowich

Dufour said it's important the letter of apology from the government stated Popowich was "innocent" rather than simply not guilty.

"That is what John Popowich has been looking for for the past 10 years," he said.

It's one of the largest wrongful prosecution settlements in Canadian history.

David Milgaard, who spent 23 years in jail after his wrongful murder conviction, was awarded $10 million.

Benoit Proulx got $1.6 million after spending two months in jail when it was thought he had murdered his ex-girlfriend.

Guy Paul Morin, who was also wrongly convicted of murder, received $1.2 million. Donald Marshall, a Nova Scotia Micmac who spent 11 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit, won compensation of $270,000 plus a monthly payout.

Dufour said Popowich's $1.3 million award is entirely justified, considering the allegations against him.

"There's absolutely nothing worse you can say about a person," he said.

Dufour said the case was "a massive, massive undertaking" involving roughly 100,000 pages of documents.

The case was scheduled to go to trial in the fall, and four months had been set aside.

He said the case shows an ordinary citizen can take on the vast resources of the state to prove their innocence.

The provincial government is eager to get on with settling a number of the other outstanding lawsuits in the Martensville case. Many of them had been on hold until the Popowich matter had wrapped up.

Lawyers Bill Roe and Lee Cutforth, who represent two of the other plaintiffs, are optimistic the Popowich settlement will mean good things for their clients.

"I'd be hopeful this matter will now proceed," said Roe, who represents Ed Revesz.

"If the evidence in the Revesz matter is similar to the Popowich matter, it would appear (Revesz) would be eligible for compensation as well."

Cutforth, who represents Darren Sabourin, said the Popowich settlement "would seem to indicate a precedent." He said it's now in everyone's interest to proceed with other matters.

Revesz is the former chief of the Martensville Police Department and Sabourin was a Warman RCMP officer. Charges against them were stayed in 1994.

'SINCERE APOLOGIES'

On behalf of the Government of Saskatchewan, I wish to express regret over the injuries you suffered as a result of the Martensville investigation and prosecution.

The Government of Saskatchewan affirms that you are innocent of all charges and that you are entitled to enjoy a reputation as a fully innocent citizen.

I offer you our sincere apologies. I will meet with you and your family in the very near future to extend our apologies in person.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Axworthy, Q.C.

Minister of Justice and Attorney General


Popowich case sparks calls for public inquiry
Cheque, apology not enough: Opposition

REGINA -- Calling the prosecution of Saskatoon police officer John Popowich a "massive abuse," the Opposition on Wednesday demanded an independent public inquiry into a case the province settled this week with a $1.3-million cheque and an apology.

"The NDP government must take full responsibility for the massive abuse that took place in the malicious prosecution of John Popowich," Saskatchewan Party MLA Ben Heppner said during question period in the legislative assembly.

"Mr. Popowich has suffered. His family has suffered. The taxpayers have suffered. And public confidence in the justice system has been very severely undermined."

Justice Minister Chris Axworthy said he wouldn't rule out an inquiry sometime in the future. But he said Popowich himself has said he doesn't want one now.

"I think we've put Mr. Popowich through enough. We should listen to what he said and we should take his advice and respect his wishes."

On Tuesday, Axworthy announced Popowich had settled his malicious prosecution case against the province and numerous other defendants by accepting the compensation and apology.

The government agreed to the deal after Queen's Bench Justice George Baynton made it clear during a pre-trial conference last month that it would be found guilty of malicious prosecution if the case went to trial in October.

To prove a case of malicious prosecution, it must be shown there was an absence of probable cause to commence proceedings against the defendant. As well, an improper motive involving an abuse or perversion of the justice system must be established, according to an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling.

Popowich, who is now on sick leave, was accused of sexually abusing children in the infamous Martensville sex abuse case. The 1992 charges against him were stayed after the alleged child victims were unable to pick him out of a courtroom lineup as the man who assaulted them.

In memos sent to prosecutors at the time, police officials said there was little factual evidence backing the charges against Popowich. An expert retained to analyse the initial police interview done with the alleged victims concluded several errors were made, including leading or suggestive questioning.

Popowich filed his lawsuit in 1994, alleging malicious prosecution, negligence, breach of Charter rights and conspiracy.

Among those named as defendants were the Government of Saskatchewan, the Attorney General of Saskatchewan, justice official Richard Quinney and prosecutors Leslie Sullivan and Bruce Bauer. Quinney, Sullivan and Bauer are still on the job.

Axworthy has said mistakes were made in the Popowich case because prosecutors had a lack of knowledge of how to deal with child sexual abuse cases. He said the government has taken steps to ensure it doesn't happen again by improving its "protocols, rules and regulations."

He told the assembly that prosecutors handle thousands of cases each year in the proper manner.

"The prosecutions department deals with 84,000 inquiries a year, 18,000 of which go to prosecution. Mr. Speaker, this is a job which requires judgment on a day-to-day basis. And in the vast majority of cases, that judgment is unquestioned. In the last 10 years, there have been five cases where these issues (malicious prosecution) have arisen."

Axworthy said the prosecutors involved in the Popowich case -- Sullivan and Bauer -- responded in accordance with their best judgment.

"We have accepted responsibility for their errors and responded with this settlement."

Outside the assembly, Heppner said the government should hold an inquiry into the Popowich case after other lawsuits arising out of the Martensville allegations are settled. He said they should all be examined along with the David Milgaard prosecution and a case in which a boy and his twin sisters made false allegations of horrific sexual abuse against their foster family.

The province has promised to hold an inquiry into the Milgaard case after Larry Fisher, the man convicted of committing the 1969 murder, has exhausted all appeals.

Heppner said the province should consider firing Sullivan and Bauer if an inquiry finds "they aren't totally innocent."

Axworthy said dismissal of the prosecutors would not be appropriate.


$1.3 million settlement in Martensville scandal

REGINA - The Justice Minister is apologizing to a Saskatoon police officer, for the government's decision to prosecute him for sexual assault. Chris Axworthy issued the statement at the same time he announced a $1.3 million out-of-court settlement for John Popowich.

Popowich was one of nine people charged a decade ago in the notorious Martensville sexual abuse case.

The charges against Popowich were eventually stayed. The officer then sued the province for malicious prosecution.

Justice Minister Chris Axworthy says the crown prosecutors would not let this happen now - after what they've learned in the past decade.

"There was plainly some lack of knowledge -- however best -- to deal with cases at that time," said Axworthy. "I think in the intervening ten years, we now have a much more sophisticated view of how we respond to children in these cases."

The Justice Minister says there are more civil suits pending from other people charged in the Martensville scandal.

Given this settlement, Axworthy says he expects to soon hear from those people.


Popowich civil claim to be heard October 15, 2002

Judge denies gov't bid to toss Popowich claim

John Popowich

Saskatoon police officer John Popowich's claim of malicious prosecution against the provincial government in the Martensville sexual assault investigation will go to trial in Court of Queen's Bench in one year, Chief Justice Frank Gerein ruled Monday.

In a 26-page judgment, Gerein dismissed a motion to toss out the civil suit launched by Popowich in September 1994.

Popowich initiated the lawsuit after the Crown entered a stay of proceedings on sexual assault charges against the veteran police officer on June 8, 1993. It's the first of a handful of civil suits initiated after the high-profile case to reach the trial stage.

The investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse at a private unlicensed day care in the community north of Saskatoon led to some 180 charges laid against nine people in late 1991 and early 1992. Only one conviction stood.

Popowich is alleging malicious prosecution, negligence, breach of charter rights and conspiracy.

The motion to dismiss Popowich's suit came from the Government of Saskatchewan, the Attorney General of Saskatchewan, director of prosecutions Richard Quinney, Crown prosecutors Leslie Sullivan and Bruce Bauer, the Martensville board of police commissioners, former Martensville police officer Claudia Bryden, Corman Park police service chief Wayne McGillivray, former Martensville police chief Michael Johnston and former Saskatoon police officer Rodney Moor.

The government had applied to have the lawsuit dismissed, in part because Popowich filed it outside the one-year limitation period.

Popowich maintained he failed to file his suit within that period because he feared reprisals.

Although his sexual assault charges were stayed, the matter could have returned to court had the Crown felt it warranted in the year following the Crown's decision.

"He discloses how the trial and the events leading up to it had an adverse effect on him emotionally and mentally, even to the extent of major episodes of depression. Those events had a negative impact on the whole of his life. All of that remained with him even after the stay of proceedings was entered," Gerein wrote.

"While in that state he was reluctant to commence an action for fear it would trigger a recommencement of the criminal proceeding.

"I cannot say that this fear was justified, but I am satisfied that it was real." The civil trial is scheduled to begin March 18, 2002 in Saskatoon, and is booked for three months. It will be heard before a jury in Court of Queen's Bench.

Popowich's lawyer, Geoff Dufour, said he is pleased with the ruling. He declined further comment.


Police had doubts on charging Martensville cop in sex case: court documents

REGINA (CP) - Even before police officer John Popowich went on trial in the Martensville child sex case, investigators had doubts about his guilt but were overruled by prosecutors, say court documents.

Popowich's 1993 trial was abruptly halted and the charges stayed after three child complainants couldn't pick him out of a courtroom lineup. The judge declared him "absolutely innocent" and a victim of mistaken identity. Popowich is now suing police and the Saskatchewan government for malicious prosecution.

The prosecutors, in a statement of defence, have said malicious prosecution did not occur.

The officers' doubts about Popowich's guilt were included in an affidavit filed recently by him in Saskatoon Court of Queen's Bench as part of the lawsuit.

"I believe John has been wrongly identified," Saskatoon police Sgt. Arnie Mainland wrote in his investigator's notebook at the time. The notebook and other documents referred to by Popowich were disclosed to the court as part of the lawsuit.

"(In) 20 years of dealing with (defence lawyer) Morris Bodnar, I have never experienced this concern over a client - he deeply believes John (Popowich) is innocent," he wrote.

RCMP Sgt. Rick Pearson, the lead Martensville investigator, wrote he believed Popowich was honest in his denials: "I left the discussion with John with the gut feeling he was truthful with us."

Prosecutors, however, dismissed the concerns.

"We have reviewed the identification evidence which resulted in charges being laid against Popowich and it is compelling," prosecutors Leslie Sullivan and Bruce Bauer wrote in an April 1993 letter to Richard Quinney, head of public prosecutions.

Quinney himself, under questioning from Popowich's lawyer in the lawsuit, agreed that at the time he referred to the officers' written comments as "cover your ass notes."

Popowich, a Saskatoon police officer, was charged along with eight others following allegations of sex abuse at an unlicensed day-care service run by Ron and Linda Sterling in Martensville, just north of Saskatoon.

The allegations by the children included being subjected to bizarre rituals, watching people have their eyes plucked out, being forced to drink blood and being forced to perform sex acts.

In the end, only the Sterlings' son Travis was convicted, on two counts of sexual assault. Ron and Linda Sterling were both acquitted of 16 charges of physical and sexual abuse.

Popowich's documents also reveal that during the investigation, lead investigator Pearson tried several times to persuade prosecutors to allow the officer to undergo a lie-detector test.

Several others accused by the children had been allowed to take such tests and were cleared after they passed.

"As there have been a number of suspects identified by children and later eliminated by police investigators, we believe it is important to utilize any investigative aid possible which will assist in determining the truth, not only for Cpl. Popowich, but for any persons charged in the case," Pearson wrote in a March 1993 letter to prosecutors.

Prosecutors denied the request.

They said it was policy not to administer lie-detector tests after a suspect has been charged and noted they would proceed with the charges regardless of the outcome as lie-detector results are not admissible in court.

After receiving the denial, Pearson wrote in a follow-up report: "The position of police investigators differs significantly in that we are seeking the truth as opposed to looking only at what will support the charges currently before the court."

The lawsuit, launched in 1994, is not expected to go to trial until next fall.

It is one of a number of lawsuits filed by those charged and exonerated.

In those cases, the prosecutors have also said in statements of defence that they acted honestly and in good faith and proceeded on the basis that the evidence showed a reasonable and probable grounds for a conviction.

Several of those named in Popowich's suit have filed countersuits, arguing he has since defamed them.

In one case, Sullivan and Bauer are suing Popowich and his lawyer for comments made in TV interviews about the case.