REGINA (CP) – The Saskatchewan government has reached a settlement with a couple who were wrongfully accused in a bogus ritualistic child abuse ring more than 12 years ago.
Justice Minister Frank Quennell announced Monday that the province will pay $925,000 to Ron and Linda Sterling, as well as to a person who was a youth at the time the charges were laid in 1992. The Sterlings operated a home day care in Martensville north of Saskatoon. They were among nine people charged with 180 sex-related offences against children in their care. Only one of the accused was ever found guilty.
“This case has caused suffering and upheaval in the lives of many, many people for more than a decade,” Quennell said outside the legislature.
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“This is truly a regrettable situation and I extend my sympathies to Mr. and Mrs. Sterling and the young person involved.”
The Sterlings, who were reached at their home in Prince Albert, Sask., deferred comment to their lawyer, who did not return messages.
The case against the accused centred on bizarre stories of murder, animal mutilation and Satanism cooked up in the minds of children and helped along by investigators.
The stories were eventually proven to be unfounded and the methods of police and prosecutors came under heavy criticism.
It was later determined that investigators had elicited the allegations by asking leading questions and prosecutors had gone ahead with charges despite police misgivings about the veracity of the claims.
“Sexual abuse is one of the most sensitive and difficult issues dealt with by our criminal justice system,” Quennell said in a prepared statement. “The difficulties are further complicated when the victims are children.”
It has now been recognized that child victims and witnesses cannot be treated the same as adults, he said.
The Sterlings decided to sue for compensation after the province paid former police officer John Popowich $1.3 million to settle his malicious prosecution lawsuit last June. Three lawsuits related to the Martensville case have yet to be settled.
The Martensville case is similar to another one that was happening in Saskatoon at around the same time.
In 1991, Richard Klassen and 11 of his family members were charged after three foster children in the family’s care came forward and told police they had been forced to eat eyeballs, drink blood, participate in orgies and watch newborn babies be skinned and buried.
But by 1993 most of the charges had been stayed and, as the years passed, all of the children recanted their stories.
Last December, a judge ruled that the lead investigator along with a Crown prosecutor and a child therapist maliciously pursued a case against the family.
A $1.5-million payment was made by the province as an acknowledgment of the suffering that the family went though.
A further settlement was reached earlier this year but the details were sealed by a confidentiality agreement.
Also on Monday, the Sterlings filed a lawsuit against their former lawyer, Reginald Parker. They claim he failed to properly represent them between 1992 and 2001 when he retired.
The Sterlings and the unnamed plaintiff allege in their statement of claim that “Parker’s failure to properly advance their claims in a timely fashion severely compromised their ability to obtain a proper or fair settlement or judgment from the defendants.”
The claim also alleges that because the Sterlings lived in relative poverty since they were first prosecuted, “the defendants were able to starve them into accepting a disadvantageous settlement amount.”