Steven Truscott a victim of police tunnel-vision

Saturday, September 1, 2007

I grew up in Southern Ontario, just an hour or so south of the place where Lynne Harper and Steven Truscott lost their lives.

For Lynne, it was a permanent loss, a murder that will never be solved even though so much evidence now points to someone else, a long-dead pedophile.

For Truscott, it’s hard to actually really know how much of his life died on June 11, 1954, when Lynne’s broken body was found and he became the only suspect. He was convicted in a sham of a trial and sentenced to hang, all at age 14.

Like most of us who grew up back then, we knew the Truscott story. Many of us read the first book to challenge his conviction, The Trial of Steven Truscott, written by Isabel LeBourdais and published by a British firm because not one publisher in Canada would do so, including the high-profile Jack McClelland, who often cloaked himself in the cape of freedom from censorship and advocating for the unheard.

Later, of course McClelland opted for the Canadian publishing rights, once the book had made its impact.

I’ve read everything that has been written on this travesty.

I’ve had dinner with one of the producers of the Fifth Estate episode when Truscott, who had built a life for himself under an assumed name, reclaimed his birthright and told the world — again — he was innocent.

It’s good that this horrendous wrong has been officially righted — after 48 years — and the Canadian public now know the police firmly planted their tunnel-vision glasses on their faces back in 1954, decided they had the guilty party and never once looked anywhere else, even though a known and active pedophile lived in the area.

There’s been an alarming number of mistakes made by the police in the last several decades.

In Canada alone, there are 41 known instances, many of them coming in the last two decades.

Names like James Driskell (convicted of murder in 1991, he spent 12 years in prison before being cleared in 2005), Steven Kaminski (convicted of sexual assault in 1992, he spent seven years in prison before being cleared in 1999), Donald Marshall Jr. (convicted of murder in 1971, he spent 12 years in prison before being cleared in 1983), David Milgaard (convicted of murder in 1970, he spent 23 years in prison before being cleared in 1992 after a long, impassioned fight against the government by his mother) and Guy Paul Morin (convicted of murder in 1992, he was cleared in 1995).

This is not a North American phenomenon. Take the time to look at and it will stun you. Then go to and read about the ongoing work in Canada to right wrongs.

It’s there that you’ll read about Wilbert Coffin, who was hanged in Quebec in 1956 after being convicted of murder — although it now appears he was wrongly convicted. Two Canadian groups are looking at this case.

I raise these cases not to point out all the mistakes that have been made. They happened, most can be fixed and some can only be resolved to provide solace to the families.

Instead, I raise it because of a conversation I had with a member of our own detachment last week, one that disturbed me immensely.

I’ve left phone and e-mail messages for Supt. Jim Begley to talk about it, but haven’t heard back from him yet.

The conversation involved complaints I have received in recent months about treatment of people arrested and held in our jails.

In particular, the concerns involve the women’s lockup.

I wanted to know if it is true that blankets aren’t provided, even when it’s cold, and whether the area is usually staffed by male officers, as has been alleged by these complainants.

I wanted to know just what the lockups are really like.

The reply from a local Mountie was to be expected and not really hard to challenge — it’s jail, not a hotel.

Good point, but being the socialist I am, I pointed out that people being held in jail are technically innocent until proven guilty.

And this is where the answers from this officer became frightening.

“That’s the American attitude,” the officer told me. “If we arrest them, we have enough good reason to do that.”

They’re guilty because the cops say they’re guilty? Presumption of innocence is American?

It’s 2007. Isn’t it time for the police to get rid of those tunnel-vision goggles? Maybe if they did, we won’t have any more Steven Truscotts.