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Justice system under fire

The StarPhoenix, Canada
Jan. 15, 2004
Betty Ann Adam
www.canada.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Monday January 19, 2004

The Saskatchewan justice system must give equal time to cases of injustice and crimes against marginalized citizens, said the sister of Neil Stonechild, who spoke at a demonstration outside Premier Lorne Calvert’s Saskatoon constituency office Wednesday.

Later in the day, Saskatoon police Chief Russell Sabo did just that. He apologized in person to Richard Klassen, who, along with 11 others, last month won a malicious prosecution lawsuit against Saskatoon police Supt. Brian Dueck.

Erica Stonechild was among about 20 people who participated in the two-hour demonstration. She said it’s too easy for authorities to dismiss the complaints of some people.

“It’s not fair. . . . Undesirable people in this country are not being listened to,” said Stonechild, whose brother Neil Stonechild died in 1990 under mysterious circumstances. A judicial inquiry is looking into his death and the subsequent police investigation to see if there’s evidence to support allegations the police may have been involved in his death.

The inquiry is a “good start” in addressing an inadequate police investigation that was accepted by the police service for 10 years, she said.

At the demonstration, Klassen and co-plaintiff Diane Kvello called on the government to stop fighting them in court and pay damages for the suffering they endured after being falsely labelled as child sex offenders.

“My call is for Calvert to come out and talk about this like a man,” said Klassen.

The demonstrators held placards in view of traffic and milled about in the waiting area of Calvert’s 22nd Street office.

Calvert wasn’t there. He is on a two-week holiday in British Columbia, a government spokesperson said.

Justice Minister Frank Quennell said Tuesday that he was sorry for what the Klassen family had gone through but the government cannot apologize for the nature of the prosecution while the appeal is before the courts.

Klassen, Kvello and members of their families won the judgment last month against Dueck, Crown prosecutor Matthew Miazga and therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys, who were involved in prosecuting them in the early 1990s on false accusations of sexually abusing foster children.

The province has begun the process to appeal the Dec. 30 verdict by Justice George Baynton, prompting protests from the plaintiffs, who believed a previous judge’s order would forestall an appeal until after damages were determined.

Government lawyer Donald McKillop had a different interpretation of the agreement. The matter will be addressed in chambers at Court of Queen’s Bench in Saskatoon on Jan. 21.

The demonstrators also included Quentin Ermine, who suspects that his father’s 1987 murder was never solved because his father was a “street person.”

Robin Ermine was found Aug. 14, 1987, in a west-side residence with three gunshot wounds to the head.

Sgt. Phil Farion of the cold case squad said the file has been reviewed several times in the past 16 years.

Farion said the previous cold case investigator, whom he replaced only recently, gathered the evidence from the case to see whether any of it could be tested using updated DNA techniques. Farion said he is still reviewing the cases to see what can be done next.

Another demonstrator was Sheila Okemaysin of Fort Qu’Appelle, whose husband, Gordon Severight, died in June 1997.

Okemaysim is not satisfied with the RCMP’s finding of drowning as the cause of death. She suspects the RCMP may have been involved in his death.

She took her concerns to the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations special investigations unit (SIU) in 2000.

RCMP spokesperson Brian Jones said the Mounties provided information to the SIU, which was subsequently satisfied with the RCMP findings.

“There was nothing to indicate any police involvement,” Jones said.

Okemaysim still has the option of lodging a complaint with the RCMP public complaints commission, Jones said.

Sabo made a public apology last week but the two men were not able to have a face-to-face meeting until Wednesday, Klassen said.

“I accepted his apology and felt good about it,” Klassen said later.

Klassen said he is satisfied with Sabo’s assurance that a law firm will conduct an arm’s-length investigation into the way Dueck handled the case. It will include complaints Klassen filed against Dueck with the police in 1993 and ’94.

Klassen said he believes Sabo is working in good faith to renew the Saskatoon Police Service, which has been criticized for its handling of several highly publicized cases, including his own.

“I really do believe that this is a good chief and he wants to rebuild the morale and confidence in the (police among the) people.”

A handful of “bad apples” in the police service have given the rest of the force a bad name, Klassen said.

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