VANCOUVER—A man who was wrongfully convicted on sexual assault charges has been awarded more than $8 million by a B.C. court after spending nearly 27 years behind bars.
In a 130-page ruling released Wednesday, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson of the B.C. Supreme Court criticized the Crown’s decision to withhold key evidence that he said Ivan Henry was entitled to receive.
The judge said it demonstrated a “shocking disregard” for Henry’s charter rights.
Henry, 69, sued the City of Vancouver, the province and the federal government after being acquitted in 2010 of 10 sexual assault convictions.
“Crown counsel’s wrongful non-disclosure seriously infringed Mr. Henry’s right to a fair trial,” Hinkson wrote in his decision.
“If Mr. Henry had received the disclosure to which he was entitled, the likely result would have been his acquittal at his 1983 trial … and certainly the avoidance of his sentencing as dangerous offender.”
The judge outlined a series of police notes, reports, lab information, interviews, witness statements and Vancouver police property and exhibits that wasn’t disclosed to Henry before or during his trial.
The Crown also didn’t tell Henry or his lawyer that a police detective believed one of the victims had been assaulted by a different person, says the decision.
The judge said material information and evidence was intentionally withheld and that the Crown knew or ought to have known that this would compromise Henry’s ability to defend himself.
Crown lawyer John Hunter argued Henry’s decision to rebuff legal counsel meant he wouldn’t have known what to do with the additional evidence even if it had been provided to him, despite his repeated requests.
Hinkson rejected Hunter’s argument that awarding Henry millions of dollars in compensation would send the wrong message by reinforcing the notion that a lucrative payday could await self-represented defendants if their cases go awry.
“The fact that Mr. Henry was self-represented at trial heightened rather than diminished the responsibility of the Crown to provide him with the disclosure he had a right to receive in order to make full answer and defence,” Hinkson said.
Henry’s lawyer, John Laxton, argued that his client deserved as much as $43 million in compensation.
Henry’s daughter, Tanya Olivares, declined comment on her and her father’s behalf. Henry suffered a heart attack in March and is recovering from heart bypass surgery he had eight weeks ago.
Wednesday’s ruling orders the provincial government to pay Henry $530,000 for lost earnings, $56,700 in special damages and $7.5 million for “vindication and deterrence” when it came to Henry’s charter rights being violated.
The award is in addition to undisclosed settlements reached last year with the City of Vancouver and the federal government.
Hinkson also ruled that any contributory negligence over investigative failures made by Vancouver police is negated by the Crown neglecting to disclose much of its evidence.
B.C. Attorney General Suzanne Anton said the Justice Ministry will review the decision in the weeks ahead.
“It is important to recognize that Canadian law on disclosure has undergone significant developments since Mr. Henry’s criminal trial,” she said in a statement.
“The legal obligations for police and prosecutors in making disclosure to the defence are now much more robust and clearly defined.”