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Home Front

Perception versus Reality

Statues The integrity of
government prosecutions
and the crisis in
public confidence.

By Peter Mansell

Imagine that someone commits a crime in your name. You have no idea this is happening – until years later when he gets caught and your life becomes a nightmare.

The authorities offer the culprit a way out. All he has to do is testify that you told him to do it. “If you do this,” the police tell him, “we will arrange immunity for you. But your testimony must advance our case against the person whose name you were using – or you can be charged.”

Fourteen years and millions of dollars in legal defense costs later, the wheels of “justice” grind to a halt. You are found guilty and ordered to pay a quarter of a million dollars fine. The thief goes free.

Yet this is not an “imaginary” story. The above actually happened. Not in some dark iron curtain country. And not under some Asian military dictator.

It was in Canada.

ow often have you heard of a court putting out its own press release at the end of a trial or hearing? Legal experts consulted by Freedom have rarely if ever seen such a practice. Yet on April 18, Ms. Victoria Kondo, Executive Legal Officer to the Chief Justice of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, issued such a release—inviting reporters to call her for more information about the court’s ruling in a case involving the Church of Scientology.

Why did the court feel the need to tell the public what their ruling meant?

With the Church of Scientology playing an ever-more-prominent role in ecumenical and community activities, many Canadians may be unaware of the ongoing conflict with the Ontario government that has lasted 14 years over events that took place more than two decades ago. But the case is of interest to all Canadians concerned about preserving their Charter rights and freedoms.

The Canadian public is aware of the recent exposure of tainted prosecutions, where the Crown prosecutors and the police purposely tried to manufacture public opinion against an accused in order to forward a perception of guilt.

To do this they relied on informants who were known liars and criminals. They disregarded evidence of innocence and focused the power of the justice system against an accused they had decided was guilty. They persuaded witnesses to testify falsely and thereby gain a conviction.

We’ve decided you’re guilty — now we’ll make it stick

The Court of Appeal acknowledged that it was senior executives of the Church of Scientology International, the mother church of the Scientology religion, who first became aware that renegade individuals had, between 1974 and 1976, committed unlawful acts in the course of earlier conflicts with various departments of the public service.

The Court noted that “substantial efforts were made to remove the people involved in the illegal acts [from the Church]. Important changes were made to the structure of the [Church] corporation to ensure that this kind of conduct would not be repeated. The senior officials who took over responsibility for the Church, repudiated the illegal acts and made it clear that such conduct was inconsistent with the teachings of the Church of Scientology.”

What the court failed to note however, is that Crown prosecutors and the police were aware of the actions of the renegade individuals as early as 1976, but failed to prosecute as at that time they would not have established a connection with the Church.

The Court of Appeal affirmed a lower court decision holding the Church responsible for the acts of these individuals—despite the fact that the Church discovered the offenders and took immediate action to remove them long before any official action was commenced. In its reasoning the court cited, among other things, the need to protect “the integrity of the public service.”

In fact, the ruling does just the opposite. The Court may have protected the public service, but not its integrity. Holding a Church accountable under criminal law for acts it knew nothing about, committed by individuals not under the Church’s supervision and in violation of explicit Church policy, is a travesty of religious freedom. (For the entire history of the case, see Freedom’s special report, “A Conspiracy Revealed.” Copies are available upon request.)

A Study Conducted last june suggests that public servants look at themselves in a distorted mirror.

In its ruling, the court admits that there are criteria that must be met in order to hold an entire corporation liable for the actions of individuals. Those criteria were not met. The legal principles could not be applied. Instead, in this case, the court found that the Church should be found guilty anyway.

This is despite the fact that the evidence from the Crown’s own witnesses was proof that the criteria were not met. That evidence was clear that the Church had no authority over those renegade individuals and had not delegated any authority to them to take the actions they did.

The court, however, ruled that it wasn’t “pragmatic” to believe that evidence. Yet the court conceded that the legal doctrine was created so that one could not “saddle the corporation with the criminal wrongs of all of its employees and agents.”

For those interested in law for law’s sake, the Court’s 143-page ruling may present any number of academic challenges. But for anyone with a more basic concept of justice, the facts of the case can be reduced to far fewer words.

Perception versus Reality continued...

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