Monday, January 24, 2011

Besmirched by False Allegations – Acquittal is Cold Comfort

S.R., who was acquitted of several sex assault charges after a Durham judge ruled his accusers were not telling the truth, forcefully declared his innocence from the day he was arrested until he was cleared in court.

“The lies came out, but it took four years to get there,” he said. “Somebody has to be held responsible for what happened to me.”

He could sue his accusers, or the police, but that takes a lot of money. And the police have a viable defence at the ready: when accusations of serious sexual assault were brought to their attention, they simply did their job in making the arrest.

“I don’t want to take my money and hand it to a lawyer,” S.R. said. “I’m just getting back on my feet.”

Ray Collingham is hoping to sue. His defence lawyer, Graham Clark, has assembled a list of what he says were breaches of Mr. Collingham’s Charter rights following his arrest.

“I almost wept when I saw the video of Ray’s interview (with detectives),” Mr. Clark said. “The entire tenor of the interrogation was that he would be convicted.”

Of course, Mr. Collingham never would have been arrested had his former gymnastics student not made accusations of sexual assault. Perhaps surprisingly though, Mr. Collingham doesn’t harbour bad feelings toward the boy, who is now 19; he feels the boy was pressed to make false allegations by his mother, with whom Mr. Collingham clashed prior to the accusations coming to light.

“I understand he was put into this situation he didn’t want to be in and couldn’t get out of it,” Mr. Collingham said.

But he does feel anger toward the boy’s mother. Evidence at trial suggested she had manipulated e-mails between Mr. Collingham and her son to fabricate sexual overtones that Mr. Collingham testified weren’t there.

“Nothing happened to her at all,” he said.

Suing the police for a wrongful arrest is a lengthy, uphill battle, according to Maurice Kondell. The Whitby man was rising through the ranks of the Wendy’s restaurant chain — he had become the first African Canadian franchise owner — when he was arrested on allegations of sexual assault made by young female workers at his Oshawa store.

The charges against Mr. Kondell and another man were tossed out in 2006 when it was revealed that the accusers were conspiring to launch a lawsuit against the restaurant chain, throwing their credibility into doubt.

The judge apologized to the accused men before pronouncing them free to go.

Mr. Kondell filed a $5-million lawsuit against Durham police in early 2007. The case remains unresolved.

“I feel like my life is on hold,” Mr. Kondell said in a recent interview.

Despite the cost involved and the length of the civil process, Mr. Kondell is sticking with his claim. And he advises others who feel they’ve been prosecuted on flimsy allegations to do the same.

“The advice I would give would be to seek recourse — get a lawyer and file a claim,” he said.

“If we sit there silent, it will continue.”

Mr. Clark, who represented Mr. Collingham at trial, said there currently exists no mechanism, short of a lawsuit, for those who are prosecuted on false allegations.

“There is no recourse,” he said. “And acquittal is cold comfort in these circumstances.

“I believe there are systemic problems that perpetuate injustices that are hard to address,” Mr. Clark said.

“When shoddy investigations occur, bad things happen and it’s hard to correct them.

“It’s impossible.”

This story appears about halfway down the page in the link.