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This feature was published in the Globe and Mail four years before the StarPhoenix feature June 19, 1999. StarPhoenix feature Nov. 2, 2002 | Links have been added by injusticebusters.

Martensville Redux

The kids said they were cut with knives, forced to take part in sex acts with as many as 40 adults, with dogs and flying bats. They were regularly made to eat a mixture of "poop" and raw fish shaped like Easter bunnies. Once, between sessions of eating eyeballs, their parents forced them to watch the neighbours' baby being skinned, buried, dug up, then roasted and eaten.

One of the traumatized youngsters admitted in a Saskatchewan court that the neighbours at first were very angry when their baby was eaten, but later decided to forget all about it.

But the Saskatoon police didn't forget.

Despite the fact that police found no bodies (they didn't look) and received no reports of missing infants, some 40 men, women and children (almost anyone who had contact with the three children) were investigated.

Eventually more than 16 people were charged with more than 60 counts of sexually abusing the children. The Crown was later forced to abandon the case against 12 of them for lack of evidence, while four were convicted and sentenced to jail terms of three to six years. Three of the four are out on bail while appealing their sentences to the Supreme Court of Canada.

At the same time that Saskatchewan's horrific child-abuse case was in court in 1992, another trial of bizarre conduct against youngsters was occurring in Saskatoon, with much the same result: many charged, few found guilty. Is there something terribly wrong with the province's justice system?

These so-called "foster-child cases" bear a marked and eerie resemblance to another ritual-abuse scandal in Saskatchewan, the more famous Martensville case, and occurred at the same time. While the botched Martensville case is the most widely known -- nine people were accused of 180 horrific acts resulting, finally, in one conviction -- other cases of alleged bizarre sexual abuse came before the courts that summer of 1992, the fallout from which continues to reverberate today.

That same year, a judge found a 67 year old grandmother absolutely innocent of being involved in a satanic cult after taking her granddaughter to a Bible camp. The child's mother, a paranoid schizophrenic, claimed the girl was abused in a satanic church.

"The minister in charge of the Department of Social Services proceeded [against the grandmother] in circumstances where due diligence would have discovered her innocence," the judge said in awarding court costs against the government of Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan taxpayers may be on the hook for millions as lawsuits demanding compensation for the damaged reputations of dozens of people wrongly accused of child sex abuse wend their way through the courts. In the foster-children's case, 12 of the accused have filed a $10M lawsuit against the authorities. A $9M lawsuit has been launched in the Martensville case.

Critics say the reputation of the Department of Justice will be difficult to restore -- particularly when people are convicted in secret. In the foster-child cases, core evidence was delivered in virtual secret since the courts, to protect the young complainants, cleared the public from the courtroom during their testimony. After three of the four convictions, one judge ordered all transcripts of the case forever sealed from public scrutiny.

Saskatoon lawyer Edward Holgate, who along with Reginald Parker acts for some of the falsely accused, says the pendulum has swung too far away from legal due process and due diligence in favour of protecting youngsters who may be prone to making false complaints.

"Justice must be seen to be done," he says. "In my opinion there's been a real muddying of the waters with these blanket bans, between protecting the identity of the children and letting the public and the press assess those witnesses and that evidence."

The foster-children's case involves a supplementary issue. Saskatoon resident John Lucas, who complained about police tactics in the matter, has just been jailed for defamatory libel; his wife Johanna has been found guilty of the same offense and is appealing. (Three others were also charged with libel.)

Critics say something is amiss, terribly amiss, in the administration of justice in Saskatchewan when people such as Mr. Lucas are jailed for expressing their opinion.

"It's irony, tragedy and catastrophe all rolled into one," says Saskatoon social activist Marjaleena Repo, who has closely followed several Saskatchewan child sex-abuse cases that have gone strangely awry. "There's no humanity, no justice."

The foster-child cases began 1987 when a deaf couple, unskilled, unschooled, communicating only with signs, were unable to manage their three children and came to the end of their rope.

The woman, 28, had a serious drinking problem. One day she ran away with her lover, leaving a son, 8 and two daughters, both 5. (Months later in court, when she was found guilty of sex abuse, one lawyer said that "If all of our mothers were like [her] it is doubtful we would ever have a special day in their honour. Her drinking, her fighting with her husband, her long absences from the home and her declaration to the social worker that she wanted the children  apprehended do not suggest a capable and committed mother.")

The father, 56, was a rigid man who, after his wife's departure, often locked the three children in their rooms because it was the only way he could control them.

Saskatoon social-services authorities, who had been monitoring the situation after the girls were seen at hospital in 1984 for suspected malnutrition, swiftly made the youngsters permanent wards and handed them over to the care of foster parents.

The foster parents were working class people who took in foster children to augment their income. Various members of their extended family are said to have cared for almost 300 foster children over the years.

Within a few months of the children's arrival in their new home, the foster mother suspected that the boy had sexually abused one of his sisters. He was developmentally slow and extremely badly behaved. He also was a cross-dresser who seemed especially sexually knowledgeable for his age.

A psychiatric examination six months after he arrived in the foster home found the boy was suffering an adjustment disorder, caused by his removal from his parents. He also had an attention-deficit problem. The examining psychiatrist suspected the odd-looking blond-haired boy may have been sexually and psychologically abused while living with his natural parents. (He later denied this.)

The report also suggested he was preying upon his sisters (later social workers actually heard him molesting the girls.)

The foster mother, with whom the children stayed from 1987 to 1990 complained to the authorities about the boy. For her trouble, she was among the first to be charged with sexual assault. "She was supposed to be the satanic-abuse queen and she takes the children to be examined because she's a conscientious person who's just doing her best, says Ms. Repo. "Isn't it a rather odd thing to do if you're an abuser? Why would you incriminate yourself?

Videotapes show Sgt. Brian Dueck of the Saskatoon police vigorously interviewing her after she was arrested at her place of employment. In an effort to get her to confess, she was reminded by the officer of a sexual assault she suffered at 14. "Kids don't lie do they?" the officer is seen asking her as she breaks down.

In 1990 the three children were moved from Saskatoon to a second foster home in Warman, Sask., just outside Saskatoon. It was here that they began to tell their stories of abuse. The new foster family suspected something was wrong when their dog showed signs of being sexually abused by the lad, now 11.

The children said their abuse had begun with their natural parents and had continued at their first foster home. In all they alleged some 40 individuals had abused them.

The authorities stepped in. An 18 month police investigation culminated in July, 1991, with a total of more than 60 charges against the 16 adults, including the natural parents, the mother's lover, the first foster parents and the extended foster family.

By January, 1992, as the first Martensville -related charges were emerging, a judge in the foster-children's case ruled there was sufficient evidence against the extended family to proceed to trial.

Some critics have suggested it was because the case occurred simultaneously with the Martensville affair that the Department of Justice felt comfortable proceeding with these cases, even though there was little or no corroborating evidence to support the wild claims of the children.

Indeed, rumour and innuendo swirled in the spring and summer of 1992, as the Martensville affair blew open, and the government of Saskatchewan did nothing to stop them. In fact, the politicians did the opposite. Premier Roy Romanow and Janice Mackinnon, then social-services minister, hurried to Martensville, near Saskatoon to assure residents everything possible would be done for them in their time of crisis.

The claims of the youngsters in the foster-child cases were horrific. They said they were forced to partake in wild sex orgies, that the girls were penetrated with knives and forced to drink blood and urine. They said dogs and babies were killed and eaten and "screwed".

She was in a wheelchair and was supposed to have chased the kids up the street for sex

Some of their sex-assault allegations were made against a 61 year old man from the extended family of the first foster parents. A Mexican Mennonite who reads and writes little English, the man was convicted and is serving five (sic) years for sexually abusing the three youngsters and another girl. A man with a previous sex-related conviction, he claims he did not know the gravity of the charges.

The charges, authorized by the Crown on the strength of information sworn by Sgt. Brian Dueck, also extended to his entire family, his adult children and his 57 year old wife who has since died.

"She was in a wheelchair. She was supposed to have chased the kids up the street for sex," says one family member who also was charged, along with her family (including two teenagers.)

As for the natural parents and the mother's lover, last month the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, after considering the matter for 17 months, decided in a split decision that the sex-assault convictions against them should stand. They are appealing to the Supreme Court.

In the Court of Appeal ruling, a dissenting view was given by a third judge, Mr. Justice William Vancise, who said the convictions were unreasonable and must be quashed. He called the allegations "bizarre" tales that "strained the bounds of credibility" and he found "serious doubt" as to the guilt of the accused.

Moreover the trio did not have a trial in which "the legal rules have been observed." He said the youngsters appeared to be abused all right -- but not necessarily by those sentenced to penitentiary time.

Soon after the charges were dropped in January, 1993, against 12 of the accused -- virtually the entire foster-parent family -- they filed a $10M lawsuit against Saskatoon police, prosecutors, social workers and the Department of Justice, alleging malicious prosecution.

"We're innocent," says the sister-in-law of the foster-parents.

Says another of the 12, "Our names are on the public record. Our names are on file with social services. Except we've done nothing."

"I've been around enough of these cases to know that most of the allegations come about as a result of implanting things in the children's minds and by leading questions," says Reginald Parker. "To me, the whole thing together says there is something terribly wrong with Canadian justice in Saskatchewan.

Others who have followed the foster-child cases contend that all the accused are innocent. And those tainted by the charges say a combination of suggestible children and questionable tactics by police, social workers and therapists created a momentum that could not be stopped. Add to this the extreme measures taken by Canadian courts to protect child witnesses with blanket publication bans and the atmosphere is ripe for an abuse of justice.

"We are human, too," said the natural parents in a written statement at the time of their trial in December, 1992. "Just remember children do lie when some older person tells them wrong stories."

Experts testifying at the Martensville trials were highly critical of the interviewing techniques used by police and social workers. And likewise in the foster-children cases, the interviewers were single-minded in their belief that something dark and terrible had happened. Exactly what was less clear.

One of the wrongly accused said a police officer told neighbours "not to have anything to do with us. . . .He told people he had ways of making kids talk."

A journalist, Debbie Nathan of El Paso, Tex., who has researched so-called ritual- abuse cases in the U.S. says the Saskatchewan cases bear the classic features of ones that have resulted in a mixed bag of acquittals and convictions in the face of abundant rumour and an absence of evidence.

The upshot, says Ms. Repo, is that too many innocent people in Saskatchewan are falling prey to a witch-hunt mentality. "We happened to have the right mix of mental-health professionals and police officers who have been attending seminars . . . if you have enough gullible people in powerful positions, the result is inevitable.

"There's a whole group that's gotten away with fantasies that support their religious and intellectual prejudices -- Christian fundamentalism and errant feminism. These are the white knights -- the ethnic cleansers of the community. It all comes together in one noxious, toxic soup."

But in the end there is another group of victims.

"The children." she says. "It's a horrifying story when you think about how disturbed those children are by now."

It's possible there could have been sexual abuse -- but it could just as easily have been the delusions of a disturbed child."

And as one lawyer put it during the trial of the children's natural parents, "The children have suffered much. Their past contains considerable pain and possibly some very dark secrets. But there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever substantiating the wild allegations of the children against [the accused] and there is much that points in a different direction.

In the wake of all the failed prosecutions, Saskatchewan Justice Department officials have been unwilling to offer much to assuage a concerned public. In the view of bureaucrats and politicians, everything worked as it should. "I think the process has been seen to work as it does, says one senior bureaucrat. "This is how it's designed." The prosecutors, social workers and police have filed statements of defence in the lawsuit denying any wrongdoing.

Saskatchewan Justice Minister Robert Mitchell says he sees no reason for a judicial inquiry into Martensville or any other child abuse case, although a recent Angus Reid poll says 60 per cent of Saskatchewan residents would support one.