Witness recalls she believed children’s story

SASKATOON — Crown prosecutor Sonja Hansen still believed in the “gist” of the Ross children’s sexual abuse allegations, even though she testified she had no confidence in several of the other child accusers.

Hansen told court on Wednesday she still believed in the “gist” of the allegations of sexual abuse that siblings Michael, Kathy and Michelle Ross were making against their foster parents Dale and Anita Klassen and members of the extended Klassen family.

She believed this despite testifying Wednesday that she had virtually no involvement with the Ross children and she was not confident in the testimony of other children who came forward with stories of abuse at the hands of their foster families.

Hansen is being sued for malicious prosecution because of her part in the complex court case based on allegations of sometimes-bizarre sexual abuse by the Ross children and six other foster children that led to the 1991 arrests of their foster families, the Ross’s birth parents and others. Most of the charges were eventually stayed after the Ross children admitted they made up the allegations.

In fall 1991, Hansen was preparing six children, who cannot be named, for a court case against the extended Klassen family. Her colleague Matthew Miazga, who is also being sued, was working with the Ross children on a sexual assault court case against the Ross’s birth parents. The Ross children have allowed their names to be used in the media.

Police officer Brian Dueck and therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys are also being sued for $10 million in damages in the malicious prosecution lawsuit launched by 12 members of the Klassen family.

On Wednesday Hansen took the stand and told one of her lawyers, Jerome Tholl, that she had little contact with Dueck and Bunko-Ruys outside of court and “virtually none” of her work involved the Ross children.

Instead, she testified that she focused on discussing allegations of abuse made by six other foster children. It soon became clear during one-on-one interviews that some of the children could not be trusted to give reliable testimony against some of their alleged abusers, she said.

One child told Hansen that he lied about the abuse because he was mad at his caregiver for “being mean” by making him eat “hot sauce” and he wanted to get back at her.

That same child also recanted some of his allegations of sexual abuse, but Hansen said she couldn’t be sure if that was simply because the boy was nervous.

“I didn’t know if his recantations were genuine,” Hansen said. “I don’t have a crystal ball. I’m not God. I don’t know when someone’s telling me the truth or not.”

Hansen said inconsistencies in a child’s statement did not necessarily mean they were lying.

“Even though children might not be able to give details to precisely when and where and time, they do know that something happened to them and who did it.”

However, this went beyond the usual inconsistencies, she said.

By the time of the Klassens’ preliminary inquiry ended in January, 1992, Hansen only had two child witnesses who alleged abuse against Richard’s sister Pam and his father Peter. Hansen had recommended that all the other charges be stayed and she ruled out the other four children as witnesses.

“I felt I had lost confidence in them as witnesses and I felt I could not offer them to the court as witnesses,” she said.

The Ross children stayed on as witnesses and testified against their birth parents in late 1992. Hansen saw some of their time on the stand and told court on Wednesday that the Ross children had suffered an “almost inhumane” experience. She said she didn’t feel they should have to go through it again in a trial involving the Klassens.

The Klassen case never made it to trial. Lawyers reached a plea bargain and the remaining charges against the Klassens were stayed while patriarch Peter Klassen pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual assault.

Hansen’s testimony on Wednesday was detailed and she was able to clearly remember 12-year-old conversations and dates.

She clearly recalled, for example, that during a conversation with superiors about whether to proceed with a preliminary inquiry against the Klassen family, it was Ellen Gunn, the executive director of public prosecutions, asked her what she thought of the Ross’s allegations. Hansen said she believed in the gist of what the children were saying and Gunn told her and Miazga to go ahead with the case.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Saskatchewan News Network; Canwest News Service, Canada
Nov. 6, 2003
Shauna Rempel
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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday November 8, 2003.
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