In July 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Williamson threw out Kenneth Williamson’s convictions for buggery, indecent assault and gross indecency on Byron Ruttan because it had taken 35 months for the case to go to trial. Normally, victims of child sexual abuse are shielded by a court order banning publication of their identity. In August 2017, Mr. Ruttan requested that a judge lift the order so that he could tell his story. The judge agreed.
His story as conveyed to Sean Fine will break your heart. Mr. Ruttan, a fatherless child, was twelve years old at the time of the abuse. Mr. Williamson was his court-appointed big brother, a student at Queens University who later became a teacher. For decades, Mr. Ruttan lived with the effects of the abuse on himself and on his own family (including his children). In 2008, after telling his probation officer what had happened to him so many years before, Ruttan spoke with the police and charges were finally laid against his abuser.
To read why the case took so long to proceed through the courts is to weep. Although his abuser admitted some of the offences and a jury found him guilty of them all, the case is a classic example of how and why the courts repeatedly failed to provide the justice his situation required. I have never read a better rendition of the problem. The story is as searing as the photos taken by Fred Lum which accompany it.
2. Quebec’s Bill 62, forcing women with face coverings to show their faces to give and receive all government services.
By a vote of 66 to 51, the Quebec legislature on October l8th passed Bill 62, An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality and… to provide a framework for requests for accommodations on religious grounds… . Unprecedented in North America, the law extends to provincial and municipal services, to public transit, daycare, libraries, medical care, and more. Although popular in the rural areas of Quebec, the new law has aroused a storm of protest in Montreal (where the majority of face-covering women in Quebec live) and throughout the rest of Canada. The debate continues in the press and around dinner tables.
Toronto criminal lawyer David Butt wrote an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail on Friday, October 20th, entitled “Quebec ban on face coverings is doomed in court.” His is likely the mainstream legal analysis on the issue, that the law is “a blatant violation of religious freedom guaranteed by the Charter of Rights,” an example of gender discrimination, and more. He explains that any limits which governments impose on such freedom must “be reasonable and carefully tailored to pursue legitimate social objectives” that alleviate some valid harm. Here, what evidence is there of any harm? And the law is vague and so potentially over-reaching that no one knows what it means or how it will be implemented.
So why, he asks, would the Quebec government pass a law which so obviously violates the Charter? Because it is politically useful to cater to majority public opinion, leaving it to the courts “to do the politically unpalatable, but necessary, work of striking down bad laws that violate… minority rights.” He concludes that such political calculation does not excuse the Quebec government which “is catering slavishly to the meanest urges of the voting mob” and encouraging “the infuriatingly persistent social tendency to tell women what their choices mean, and then impose that meaning on them.”
3. Bribery Charges under the Ontario Elections Act thrown out of court.
On October 24th, Judge Howard Borenstein, of the Ontario Court of Justice in Sudbury, acquitted Liberal operatives Patricia Sorbara and Gerry Lougheed of bribery charges under the Ontario Elections Act. He did so on a motion for a directed verdict, before the defence was even called to lead any evidence. As defence counsel Brian Greenspan told the press, “These are rare events. They occur when prosecutions ought not to have brought at the outset… when the law states very, very clearly that there was simply no evidence upon which any reasonable jury could possibly have convicted.” This is a definitive legal result which the opposition parties, who have made considerable political hay over the charges, would prefer to ignore.
Geoffrey Stevens, former managing editor of the Globe and Mail, compared the Sudbury prosecutions to that of Mike Duffy in a piece entitled, “A tale of two senseless and unnecessary political prosecutions,” which will appear tomorrow in the Waterloo Regional Record. I quote: “On the face of it, the two prosecutions… have nothing in common beyond the fact that both involved political figures and allegations of bribery.
“There are, however, other similarities.
“Both involved charges that should never have been laid, because there was no evidence in either case that offences had actually been committed. But the police and prosecutors in both cases found themselves under pressure to bring the designated miscreants to trial despite the lack of evidence. In the Duffy case, pressure came from the office of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his disciples in Senate who were desperate to shed responsibility for the expenses scandal before the 2015 general election. In the Sudbury case, the police and prosecutors were keenly aware of suggestions that they can be used as tools by the powers at Queen’s Park. What better way to assert independence than to lay charges against supporters of the Liberal government?
“The two prosecutions came up against a similar obstacle – sets of rules that were outside the normal scope and scrutiny of the criminal law. In the Duffy case, it was the infinitely flexible expense rules of the upper house… . In the Sudbury case, the obstacle was the internal procedures of a political party. The two Liberal operatives were accused of trying to bribe a by-election candidate to stand down so that the party could field a candidate whom it believed had a better chance of winning. What the police and prosecutors did not understand – but the judge did – was that there was no candidate to be bribed. Andrew Oliver, who had lost the riding in the 2014 provincial election, wanted to run again. But the party leadership wanted someone with a better chance of winning… . Thus Oliver could not be a Liberal candidate… when Pat Sorbara and Gerry Lougheed offered to arrange a job or a provincial appointment, they were just trying to sooth and retain the loyalty of a disappointed supporter. They were not offering a bribe. They were merely offering a bit of patronage… . But while bribery is illegal, patronage is not, although maybe it should be. It is the oil that keeps political machines operating.
“In both cases, the judges were adamant. In the Sudbury affair, Judge Howard Borenstein shredded the prosecution case. He found it so weak that he would not even call on the defence to present its case. In Ottawa, Judge Charles Vaillancourt threw out all 31 charges against Duffy [and], in a 308-page decision, declared Duffy to be the victim of a “mind-boggling and shocking” abuse in the democratic system [and]… the chosen scapegoat in an elaborate coverup that extended into the Prime Minister’s Office. Now Duffy is suing for $7.8 million in damages. Two questions remain. How much will he collect? And when will the Trudeau government announce a settlement, issue an apology to Duffy… and dump the whole mess back in the lap of the Conservative party.”
***** Thanks to Geoffrey Stevens for permission to quote his article which I have edited to fit into this post. *****