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Obligation to report: a credibility issue

During 1992 and 1993, Sam Sambavisam was the centre of a bitter controversy which divided the left in Saskatoon. There is no question that he beat his wife. But when he went for custody of his children, the Court awarded that he be allowed to visit them alone in the family home. This meant that every second Saturday afternoon, his ex-wife had to get out. She quickly decided to get protection from the police and friends to escort her to and from her house on those occasions. Many can testify to the verbal and physical violence which occurred on those occasions. This would be just another squalid domestic tale, fairly common in this abuse-tolerant province. Except that now Sam is running as part of Roy Romanow's team to become a Member of the Legislative Assembly. Does anybody want this cunning man representing them?

-- Sheila Steele

March 3, 1999: Two years ago, after I had finally been released from my four month incarceration in Pine Grove, I was trying to make some sense of things and put my life together. I wrote a chronology of my involvement with Family Court and Social Services.

Torn between my desire to explain to the world, particularly those who had abandoned me after I was charged with growing marijuana, and my reluctance to expose my friends by disclosing information which they might find embarrasssing or prefer to forget, I kept it as part of my private journal. In fact I had first written it in the form of a letter to Mildred Kerr, head of an organization called Equal Justice for all, but although I went to their offices several times with full intention of giving it to her, I never found her.

She had been a friend of Sam Sambasivam throughout the bitterness within the left over his ex-wife's accusations that he had beaten her, and as someone I had always respected, I regretted that I had not ever spoken directly with her regarding these matters. I also had some discussions with Pat Atkinson, Peter Prebble and a former MLA whose name escapes me, but who had the courtesy to respond to a lengthy package I had mailed to all Saskatchewan MLAs.

My first inkling that something was amiss

Written February 15, 1997

In 1988, my friend Lynn Ewing brought to my attention the terrible situation of her sister Bonnie. Bonnie was married to Joe Brander, a second marriage for both of them, and in a wild twist of fate -- the sort of thing which happens in novels and movies but which we don't expect in real life -- they had both previously been married to very strange people. Joe had been married to a woman named Karen and together they had two children. Karen had emotional problems and was jealous of Joe. (For example, once, when Joe tried to leave her, she stabbed herself and phoned 911 claiming he had done it.) He finally left her and she and the children moved to Calgary. He visited the children regularly, or took them camping for week-ends. She and the children eventually moved to Calgary and it was not practical for Joe to see them so often. He eventually married Bonnie.

Bonnie had been married to a man named Gary Oxman. They had a child, Devon, who was born blind. The Ewing family which is well educated and musical all nurtured this child who required a lot of attention. When Bonnie and Gary broke up, he agreed that Bonnie should have full custody of Devon. However, when Gary became involved with a woman with multiple sclerosis who could not have children, he changed his mind and asked for full custody of Devon. Bonnie refused and this is where this star-crossed series of events collided in a bizarre further series of events. In an effort to gain custody of Devon, in whom he had previously expressed no interest at all --Gary hired a private investigator to get information that Bonnie was unfit to have Devon. The investigator struck gold when he found a report taken by Geraldine Nanson, a supervisor in Social Services, that Karen had complained to Social Services that Joe had molested his son during a visit. Joe had never been informed that such allegations had been made. He absolutely denied them. The child had been taken to a doctor several days after a visit from Joe complaining of constipation. Karen had then gone to Social Services and made the complaint, an action which is completely in keeping with her vendetta against him. The report was written, signed and put in a file without any of the facts being verified and without consulting Joe, against whom serious allegations were made and lies written down as though they were facts.

Shortly after Gary's investigations uncovered it, this report became the basis for Joe being ordered out of his house and being allowed no further contact with Devon. Bonnie was pregnant with Joe's child and working full-time as well as taking care of Devon. This presented a serious hardship to her. As well, she was warned that when her baby was born, Social Services might take the baby from her if she allowed Joe have contact with it. Since no formal charges had ever arisen from the report, Joe was not allowed to see it or to challenge it. However, his family had to live with the consequences. (As it turned out, Gary Oxman went too far, abducting Devon from school and taking him to B.C. resulting in an R.C.M.P. manhunt and Devon's return. Gary's case lost credibility and after spending a lot of money on lawyers, Joe was allowed to return home. They have gone on to have their own family and have chosen to put this behind them, although that report marking Joe as a sex offender still sits in his file at Social Services.)

Joe and Bonnie no longer live in Saskatoon. They have Devon and two daughters of their own and prefer not to think about this nightmare episode of their lives.

The Sambasivam thread

Shortly before I attended the Family Court sessions and became aware of Bonnie and Joe's case, I had had a discussion with Lottie Kopperud (who has sinced passed away) who told me about a "wonderful man from Sri Lanka" who was living in her house. She described his situation as being persecuted by a crazy wife. Her characterization of this woman was so impassioned and negative that I asked he if she had ever met the woman or talked to her. Lottie alleged the woman neglected her children, went on tirades, and offered a list of crazy behaviours. She said no, she hadn't talked to her and relied on the husband's credibility; I told her that very often if a woman is crazy, it is because a man has helped to drive her so, strongly indicating that I thought the man's wife had a side to the story that deserved to be heard.

Around this time Marj Cloak happened to mention to me that she had received a letter from Marjaleena Repo regarding a Sam Sambasivam who was a wife beater and this is the first time I put together that this was the same man who was living at Lottie's.

Lottie's daughter Marj, my friend, who was returning to Canada from Belize, independently discussed with me her concern about Sam living in her mother's house. She had heard he was a wife beater and was concerned. Because of my involvement with Joe and Bonnie I knew that such allegations are not always true and I did not want to be part of a destructive rumour mill.

Despite past differences with Marjaleena, whose successful campaigns to drive all smokers out of meeting rooms I had taken particularly personally, I called her up to ask her. She assured me it was all true, showed me court documents, and when Marj came to Saskatoon that summer, the three of us got together with Arloa, Sam's ex-wife, to discuss it. All of this arose out of Marj's concerns about her mother. I arranged a meeting of about 20 women who heard Arloa's story and I wrote a letter to Saskatoon MLAs on her behalf.

What I found to be the most compelling and urgent aspect of Arloa's story was her concern that Sam was having sexual intercourse with his daughter. This concern was based on Arloa's assertion that Mark Koenker, who was an acting church minister in Sutherland, as well as being a candidate for the NDP (and now an MLA) had disclosed to her that Sam had confided to her that he thought it was all right for a man to use his daughters if his wife was not available.

It was Majaleena's relentless efforts to have Mark confirm this so that appropriate action could be taken, and Mark's refusal to do so, which caused a great deal of acrimony among people in the "left" and resulted in a schism between those who believed Sam and those who believed Arloa.

Of course, in Saskatchewan, which I find has many aspects of a small town because of its small population, those who were on Sam's side tended to be the mainstream left and those who were on Arloa's side were the people around Marjaleena and Citizens Concerned about Free Trade. By the same token, because we are living in this small town, we should be able to sort these things out.

I backed off on acting as an advocate for Arloa for three reasons.

  • The first is that she raised allegations that Sam was part of a Satanic cult and was under the influence of Rev. Colin Clay, whose theories about the prevalence of Satanic cults I find hysterical and dangerous. (I agree with Marjaleena on this point).
  • The second is that she did not challenge Sam's insistence that she sell her house and split the proceeds with him, which I believe she was not obliged to do, or at the very least. she could certainly have fought it in court and won.
  • The third is that it seemed to me she let her children go too easily -- I intellectually understood her reasons for putting them into the care of Social Services, but as a mother myself I could not empathize with this in any way. When she accused me of "using" her to promote my own (unrevealed) feminist agenda, and found my criticisms of her lawyer, Jane Olsen unacceptable, I stopped being her advocate. I must admit that I felt used.

One of the lessons I learned through this was that it is important to always check information, and to double-check it. I am also sorry that I did not have the courage to call Sam himself and speak with him, although I did identify myself to him on one occasion. We were present at a demonstration at City Hall and I made myself known to him. He and his new wife, Joan, spoke briefly to me, told me Sam had taken the counselling the Court had ordered for him and that the matter was behind him. Given the state of counselling in this province, this is cause for some concern.

I have gone on to work with other people who have been and are presently going through the court mill because they have been charged with unsubstantiated reports coming out of Social Services. Frankly, as far as Sam goes, there are some questions in my mind suggesting he may have been victimized to some degree by this process, although I do still believe that he beat Arloa. (I base this belief on the fact that Marjaleena claims he told her that he did.) I am no longer actively interested in this particular case. My continuing interest is in the way social services workers have made and continue to make allegations against people based on no more than the word of a distraught client -- and that they then claim expertise to know the truth of such matters without having to check the facts -- a claim which I think no human being can make. -- end of journal entry.

During the last three or four years, Canadian standards have shifted to a much more relaxed attitude toward privacy. Of course, the passage of time strips away a lot of intensity, so I am comfortable with posting the above bit of "private journal" because I think it does more good to publish it than to keep it "secret", if in fact anyone is interested. This page was first put up in March of this year. Now as Sam is about to step into the spotlight, I am updating this on May 15. Marjaleena Repo and I brought Sam's behavior to the attention of Murray Dobbin at a candlelight vigil a few days after the women were murdered at the Polytechnic in Montreal. Murray and Larry Haiven talked to Sam and wrote an article about abuse "in the movement" for Briarpatch magazine.

I have watched the cavalier manner which social workers in Saskatchewan like Carol Bunko-Ruys and Ruby Lafayette, who have access to extremely sensitive information about Saskatchewan citizens and use that information to their own advantage without seeming to give a thought to the meaning of the word "confidential".

The way Nova Scotia Children's Aid Society has abused its information to persecute Lisa and Bernard McCarthy and steal their child(ren) scares me. I find it even more scary that these are just cases that I happen to know about, without having made much effort to get the information. Thousands if not millions of Canadians are smarting from small or larger abuses by the Social Services and Family Court systems. And most of them think that what happened to them is an isolated incident and that perhaps they were somehow to blame. We are all reluctant to expose those we love to the possibility of public humiliation; we have all been raised under a cloak of phony secrecy which makes us fear that it will be discovered that we pick our noses or masturbate or that we once did some indiscreet thing which we would prefer to have forgotten.

Well, if the President of the United States and Monica Lewinski and our own chief justices can survive, so can I and so can we all. There are no Satanic cults in Saskatchewan, as far as investigation has shown. What there is, though, is a terrible tolerance of child poverty, routine neglect, throw-away foster children and phony secrecy which has somehow got confused with honour. Winter 1999

Update, Nov. 2001: In the $10M lawsuit against Saskatchewan officials, a lawyer named Gerrand took over from Barry Rossmann this spring, defending Saskatoon city and police officer Brian Dueck. He belongs to a lawfirm of which his father is a partner. The elder Gerrand is also privacy commissioner for the province, but keeps his law practice. This conflict has been raised in the media but nothing has been done about it.

In the two years since this page was first posted, Saskatoon has received national notoriety for the terrible poverty on the west side (where Brian Dueck is now the Superintendent) and the drug problems and child prostitution which go along with that. It was two years ago that Darrell Night survived a police "dumping" on the edge of town and told his story to the nation. This helped bring attention to other aboriginal people who had been picked up drunk and then treated worse than stray dogs.

Several did not survive and the police maintain that those deaths were accidents -- that somehow or other these people just "wandered" to remote locations getting lost on their way home from parties and froze to death.

Racism, present all along is now palpable at every level of Saskatoon society.