Sask civil trial begins for 12 people falsely accused of foster kid sex abuse

Canadian Press/September 7, 2003
By Tim Cook

Saskatoon -- It began 12 years ago with demonic accusations followed by humble retractions. Now the people at the centre of Saskatchewan's scandal of the century finally get their day in court.

A multimillion-dollar lawsuit, brought by Richard Klassen and 11 others who were falsely accused of ritualistically abusing three Saskatoon foster children in the early 1990s is slated to begin Monday in Court of Queen's Bench.

Among the defendants are two Crown prosecutors, the estate of their former boss, a Saskatoon police officer and a therapist.

Klassen maintains that it was malicious prosecution that tied the plaintiffs to the bizarre allegations. The defendants maintain they have done nothing wrong.

"For me, I have been obsessed - obsessed with wanting to clear my name," said Klassen. "It's to set the record straight."

The whole ordeal, according to published reports and court documents, began back in 1987 when three foster children all under the age of 10 - a brother and his younger twin sisters - were put in the Saskatoon home of Klassen's brother and sister-in-law. The young boy was abusive to his two sisters - both physically and sexually - and he was eventually removed from the home.

That's when he started telling police about horrific abuse that he and his sisters had suffered over their short lives - they were forced to eat eyeballs and feces, to drink blood, to participate in orgies, and to watch as their neighbour's newborn baby was skinned and barbecued in the backyard.

As investigators worked the case, the foster kids were reunited and shortly after, the sisters began to back up their brother's claims.

Eventually the allegations included almost every adult the children had known. In 1991, police arrested 16 people including the child's disabled birth parents, a family friend and many members of the foster family.

The Saskatoon police called it the "scandal of the century" but most of the cases never saw the inside of a courtroom.

In 1993, charges against 12 of the 16 were stayed while one person pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault. The birth parents and a family friend were found guilty, but the decision was later overturned by the Supreme Court.

And as the years passed, each of the children publicly revealed that they had made up the stories.

Since then, Klassen has launched a public campaign to clear his name, picketing government buildings all over the province, releasing information about the case over the web and staging a campout on the legislature lawn.

He has also developed relationships with all three of his young accusers, now in their 20s.

His actions have led to a criminal-libel charge and prompted some of the defendants to counter-sue him.

Still he maintains the government should apologize for the case.

The Justice Department has never acknowledged the children's admission that their allegations were false - only that the charges were stayed because the young victims were too traumatized to continue with the case.

The defendants have tried repeatedly to have the lawsuit thrown out of court, but Klassen has fought off each challenge. At the last hearing, he broke down and wept when the judge ruled the case would go ahead.

Don McKillop, a Justice Department lawyer who is representing four of the defendants, said that while he cannot discuss details of the case, his clients maintain they have done nothing wrong.

"My clients are on the record as having denied being liable to the plaintiffs and that is the position we take into trial," McKillop said. "We hope that is the position that will prevail."

The case has striking similarities to one that was happening around the same time in Martensville, just north of Saskatoon. In that case, 180 charges were laid against nine individuals, including several Saskatoon police officers. Similar allegations of ritual abuse were made by the children.

Only one person was ever convicted of sexual assault. The stories of murder, animal mutilation and Satanism eventually were proved false and the methods of police and prosecutors came under heavy criticism.

One of the police officers that was linked to Martensville, John Popowich, has since been paid $1.3 million by the province to settle his malicious prosecution lawsuit.

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