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October 27, 2001

CBC producer, prison activist freed by parole board

Corruption fighter

Adrian Humphreys
National Post

(Robert "Rosie") Rowbotham

KINGSTON - Robert "Rosie" Rowbotham, a national CBC radio personality who has exposed prison corruption, was released from a maximum-security institution after a spurious allegation of domestic assault led to three months' incarceration.

After hearing the decision of the National Parole Board yesterday, Rowbotham, 50, warmly embraced Valerie Phillips, the woman who made the allegations and later recanted them.

He then walked away from the razor wire-topped fences of Millhaven Institution near Kingston, Ont., a notorious prison that has handled some of Canada's hardest criminals, and returned to Toronto with Ms. Phillips on first-class train tickets.

Rowbotham, a producer for CBC national radio news, had 10 months left on his parole after nearly 20 years in prison for large-scale trafficking of marijuana when he was accused in July of domestic assault.

Although the allegations were recanted by Ms. Phillips verbally, in writing and in sworn testimony in court, the accusation triggered the revocation of Rowbotham's parole, placing him first in Metro East Detention in Toronto and later Millhaven.

Rowbotham started working at the CBC in 1997 after he was paroled. He had been an on-air guest talking about life in prison, and producers were impressed. He has since contributed to the station's coverage of crime and justice issues, including an investigative project in June about corruption at Kingston Penitentiary.

At yesterday's hearing, Rowbotham told of the July night when Ms. Phillips had been drinking and locked herself in Rowbotham's van, threatening to drive away. She had no driver's licence and was intoxicated. He grabbed a propane tank, broke the van's window, reached in and took the keys, he said.

"What I did was a responsible act. I felt sorry, but I had to do it to protect her and to protect others."

Days after the incident, Ms. Phillips complained to police of an assault but quickly admitted to making the story up, saying the accusation was made under the influence of alcohol and prescription drugs. She had recently been misdiagnosed with liver cancer. The doctor prescribed hundreds of painkillers and Ms. Phillips started compulsively taking the pills, Rowbotham said.

After the allegations were made, however, a zero tolerance policy on domestic violence did not allow for withdrawing the charge. Although granted bail in August and acquitted of the charges earlier this month, Rowbotham remained behind bars.

His job as a journalist raised red flags for the Correctional Service of Canada.

Rowbotham was asked about suggestions he had connected with members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. His only connection, Rowbotham said, was his work as a reporter working on a documentary television program about the gang.

When asked why he did not tell his parole officials about threats phoned to his home because of an investigation he was working on, Rowbotham replied: "Because the piece I was investigating was on the Correctional Service of Canada and I didn't want them to tell their colleagues."

A dozen producers, reporters and on-air hosts from CBC were at the hearing, including Michael Enright, host of The Sunday Edition. His lawyer also presented the board with two-dozen letters of support, including notes from Alex Frame, vice-president of CBC Radio, and Shelagh Rogers, host of This Morning.

Rowbotham will resume his job at CBC, officials with the public broadcaster said.

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