Toronto Star

Oct. 25, 2001, 02:00 EDT

Jailed CBC personality tests positive for TB

Parole board moves up hearing for Rowbotham

Tracey Tyler
The Toronto Star

PRISONER: Robert (Rosie) Rowbotham is in jail awaiting parole hearing.
A CBC radio personality who has been stuck in jail fighting a bogus criminal charge and a parole suspension has tested positive for tuberculosis, his lawyers say.

Robert (Rosie) Rowbotham, 50, who was acquitted of spousal assault earlier this month, is showing signs of exposure to the TB bacteria following a standard skin test administered upon his admission to a Kingston-area prison last week, his lawyers Moishe Reiter and John Hill said yesterday.

Reiter said he suspects Rowbotham became exposed in the Metro East Detention Centre, where he was incarcerated for nearly two months after being charged with assaulting his common law wife, Valerie Edwards, in late July.

He had been granted bail on Aug. 3 but was forced to remain in jail until his trial because the National Parole Board had suspended his parole in light of the new charges.

Correctional institutions can be breeding grounds for TB. In 1998, a federal study found one in five inmates entering the prison system tested positive for the bacterial infection. Last December, five Hamilton jail guards were treated for exposure to the disease.

However, Julia Noonan, a spokesperson for the provincial corrections ministry, said cases of actual tuberculosis in Ontario jails are rare: typically less than 10 a year show up among the approximately 80,000 inmates who pass through the doors. A positive test doesn't necessarily mean full-blown TB has developed.

When he was charged last summer, Rowbotham was on parole from a 20-year sentence for running a major marijuana trafficking operation.

At his trial earlier this month, Edwards, who has a criminal record for perjury, recanted her allegations, telling the court she called 911 in a drunken, drug-induced stupor and accused Rowbotham of abusing her because she wanted to retaliate for him leaving her.

After being acquitted by the judge, Rowbotham was escorted back to jail to await a parole board hearing into whether his parole should be reinstated. He was transferred last week to Millhaven, a maximum-security federal prison outside Kingston, where the hearing was scheduled for Nov. 23.

In the meantime, however, his ongoing detention drew criticism from Canadian Alliance MP Randy White and in editorials. On Tuesday, the board said it would be able to move the hearing ahead to tomorrow, citing the cancellation of some other hearings.

It's news that Rowbotham's friends and colleagues have been waiting to hear.

"I'm puzzled as to what he's doing there in the first place, on a number of counts," Michael Enright, host of CBC radio's Sunday Edition, said in an interview last week.

The parole board "seems to be saying we don't care what the judge said or what the court ruled," said Enright, adding that sending Rowbotham toMillhaven also seems particularly unfair.

"The man is in his fifties. He is a diabetic. He's being treated like some 19-year-old crack dealer. I just find it really bizarre," he said.

Hill said the board can either release Rowbotham on parole, keep him in prison until early next year, when two-thirds of his remaining sentence will have expired, or return him to the community subject to conditions which could include living at a halfway house.

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