Wrongfully convicted B.C. man seeks damages after 27 years behind bars
Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, August 31, 2015 3:05PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, August 31, 2015 10:15PM EDT
VANCOUVER -- The wrongful conviction of a British Columbia man who spent nearly three decades behind bars hinged on a flawed police investigation and Crown prosecutors who were willing to go to extremes to prove they'd found their man, a court has heard.
Ivan Henry's lawyer John Laxton was in B.C. Supreme Court on Monday to argue that his client deserves compensation after he was mistakenly convicted in 1983 of 10 counts of sexual assault and spent 27 years in prison.
"It has been suggested that Henry simply fell through the cracks of an imperfect system. In our submission that is a very naive interpretation," Laxton told the court. "He didn't fall through the cracks. He was pushed."
It took more than a quarter century and upwards of 40 applications filed by Henry and his daughters before the B.C. Court of Appeal ultimately quashed the convictions in 2010.
Reading a piece of correspondence between two Crown lawyers from 1982, Laxton said one of the prosecutors wrote that "the accused is so obvious," before insisting that if "one girl" could successfully identify Henry they would be able to link the remaining cases together against him.
Laxton also presented sections of a handwritten letter from one of the complainants sent to the private address of a police officer involved in the investigation, revealing what he described as an inappropriate relationship.
"I didn't want to let you down. I didn't want to disappoint you," read Laxton, describing the comments as reasons offered by the woman for identifying Henry as her attacker.
"You have a very special place in my heart and I think of you often," Laxton read to the court. "Take care of those blue eyes and don't work too hard."
The positive identification came from a photo of a police lineup that showed Henry being held in a chokehold by officers, which Laxton described as "seriously flawed and unfair."
"This is the bedrock point of the failed police investigation," he said.
Additional information that wasn't disclosed to defence included sperm found on several of the complainants, which Laxton said had a blood type that failed to match his client's.
"That evidence would have exonerated Henry," said Laxton.
Henry's wrongful-conviction lawsuit names the federal government, the province and the City of Vancouver.
The courts initially prevented Henry from holding prosecutors liable for negligence following his acquittal. But the Supreme Court of Canada overturned that decision earlier this year.
Cases of wrongful imprisonment are typically settled out of court in Canada, Laxton told the court.
"This is the first time a victim of such an egregious wrong has found it necessary to bring his claim for compensation to court," he said. "It will be a precedent that should never have had to be necessary."
Henry was present in court on Monday, sitting calmly alongside one of his daughters in the crowded public gallery. He said he was happy with the proceedings so far but declined to comment further.
The trial is scheduled to last 100 days. Henry's daughter Tanya Olivares is expected to testify on Tuesday.