May 23, 1999
Damn liars make a sham of justice
Innocents suffer when perjurers are allowed free rein to work their maliceBy LICIA CORBELLA
While James has never spent any time in jail and David Milgaard spent almost 23 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit, both men have much in common.
Both are victims of false accusations and witnesses who lied under oath.
James' ex-wife has repeatedly accused him of sexually abusing their adopted son.
After her first allegation was proven false and malicious by psychologists, medical doctors and social workers, James thought that would be the end of it. But no. Even though his ex has proven herself to be a perjurer -- which is a criminal offence -- each new allegation is given as much weight as the first, throwing the nine-year-old boy into limbo and James into unspeakable agony.
Milgaard, of course, was charged and convicted with raping and murdering nursing aide Gail Miller in Saskatoon in 1970. In 1992, he was released from prison following a review by the Supreme Court and then two years ago he was fully exonerated when DNA tests proved that the semen found inside Miller was not his. Earlier this week Milgaard was compensated for the torment he endured with a $10-million tax-free settlement.
Nothing, however, can ever return to Milgaard what he lost -- which is most of his adult life.
In James' case, the bank is moving to foreclose on his southwest Calgary bungalow, he was barred on several occasions from having any contact with his son, who is still in foster care and whom he only gets to see on weekends. To top it off, James is forced to pay an enormous chunk of his salary, $750 per month, to his ex-wife -- the woman who shows her thanks by repeatedly making false accusations against her diligent and decent hard-working ex-husband.
"I'm at the end of my rope," says James with his thick Scottish brogue.
"In June, when I go back to court to get my son back, I'll have been before a judge 49 times. It's ridiculous. Think of the cost to the taxpayer, never mind me. I have $26,000 in unpaid lawyers fees, all spent in the past four years trying to clear my name and get custody of my son," he says, in utter exasperation.
"The social workers and the courts all say they are doing what's best for my son. But my son is in foster care, he cries every weekend when he has to leave me, I'm on the verge of losing my house. Now I ask you, how is that good for my son?"
It's a valid question. A heartbreaking one too.
There is an old saying: 'Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.' Of all of our language's colloquial sayings, it is perhaps the biggest lie of them all.
Words said by liars sent David Milgaard to jail for 22 years and tortured his family for some 30. Words have virtually destroyed James' life, not to mention his son's.
They have traumatized Guy Paul Morin, who was also wrongly convicted of murder thanks to a witness who changed her testimony at the prompting of Ontario police officers.
Why, pray tell, aren't these perjurers -- these witnesses, the police and all the others who know that these witnesses were lying -- in jail where they deserve to be?
Unless this country's judicial system starts treating perjurers the way it should -- and that is as criminals -- there will be many more Milgaards and Morins and James out there.
Perjury is, in theory and in law, a criminal offence. The only problem is, that it is virtually never treated as such. In fact, Canada's criminal code allows a sentence of up to 14 years for perjury and "if a person commits perjury to procure the conviction of another person for an offence punishable by death, the person who commits perjury is liable to a maximum term of imprisonment for life."
Since Canada no longer has capital punishment, clearly this law refers to murder convictions for which the person is sentenced to life in prison, like Morin and Milgaard.
While James is still very much alive, his reputation has been murdered. His ability to be with his son has been slain.
Sadly, James' story is not unique. Many stories similar to his were heard from some 500 witnesses during the two years the joint Commons-Senate committee spent looking into issues of access and custody.
One of the committee's recommendations was to severely punish perjurers.
Justice Minister Anne McLellan, however, has decided to delay reforming Canada's adversarial Divorce Act until 2002.
In that time, many more fathers (mostly), will have their reputations tarnished and their rights to see their children torn from them.
Canadians should all pray that these men don't all start winning compensation claims from our justice departments in the years to come.
That would surely bankrupt us.
Licia Corbella, editor of the Calgary Sun, can be reached at 403-250-4129 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her columns appear Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
Letters to the editor should be sent to email@example.com.
Copyright© 1999, Canoe Limited Partnership.