As for the search for truth, I know from my own painful searching,
with its many blind alleys how hard it is to take a reliable step,
be it ever so small, towards the understanding of that which is truly significant. Albert Einstein
It all began to disintegrate October 30, 2013 – day before Halloween. Six months after the Appeal hearing.
I heard the telephone ring. It was Global News, a call from Tamara Forlanski. She was wondering what we thought of the decision of the Appeal Court.
I told her that we knew nothing about this new decision.
I put the phone on speaker and Tamara quickly briefed both of us on the breaking news that the Appeal Court judges had overturned the guilty conviction of Mark Edward Grant and were calling for a new trial.
We were stunned.
Then Tamara read from the actual judgment, “… that Chief Justice Glenn Joyal had denied Grant his rights to a complete and full defence by prohibiting the Defence from presenting evidence about an unknown suspect to the jury.”
“What evidence?” I wondered aloud.
“Evidence of a strikingly similar incident that had occurred some nine months after Candace’s murder when Grant was already in custody for an unrelated crime,” she read.
The boxcar incident!
The whole trial was disintegrating because of the boxcar incident…. Pauline Woodrow?
Stupefaction! Supreme stupefaction!
I’m not sure what I said after that to Tamara. I think I might have said that we have no comment because we hadn’t known about the ruling – except that we were glad to hear the decision. It had been six months of waiting.
This Appeal Judges’ decision felt like that ball straight out of left field – that unexpected move that leaves one breathless in a movie – that trick ending, so clever – usually accompanied by suspense-filled music that leaves you wondering why you didn’t see it coming.
Except this wasn’t a trick move at the end of a movie. There was no suspense-filled music or drum roll.
A “new trial.” The time! The money!
And then the reoccurring guilt – “if only I had picked up Candace, none of this would be happening.” If I hadn’t been born there would be more Canadian money to feed the starving in Africa. Everyone would be better off.
It’s the gremlins in me. The tricksters, according to author Brene Brown, who whisper all of those terrible things in our ears that keep us afraid and small. I seem to have a lot of them – especially at moments like this.
I thought of Judge Glenn Joyal and the Crown Brian Bell. This decision could be devastating for them, to their careers and to their families.
We managed to reach Bell and Himmelman – and they said they were completely surprised by the decision.
“I’m flummoxed,” said Himmelman.
I loved the word.
Much better than stupefaction.
It became the word that defined that moment.
What an insult to the entire process – all the witnesses and especially the Judge! I’ve been told not to worry about their feelings, that no one is hurt or insulted and that they are all professionals and are used to this kind of thing – but I was insulted for them.
Especially when, against all odds, the Crown had won the case. Now all that fine work had been undone in a flash.
Minutes later – another telephone call. It was CBC, Sean Kavanagh, reporter. I told him that we hadn’t even had a chance to tell our children. Empathetically, he suggested that I just set a time for the press to come all at once.
Three o’clock I decided… that would give us time. He agreed.
I compiled a tweet, not a press release like the old days – just a tweet. “Just heard the news. We will be open to conversation at our house…. at 3:00 p.m. if you have questions.” I wondered if they would come.
We quickly called our adult children. They were surprised but, being so involved with their own lives, they just thanked us for letting them know and told us to keep them informed.
Finally Monica Dyck from Victim Services was able to reach us – flabbergasted like us. She was extremely apologetic that she hadn’t been able to warn us – but we just smiled. By this time, we knew her heart. She had always been there for us. As hard as she tried, she could never control the media – no one can – no one should.
After a quick debrief she emailed us the 46-page decision, which at first glance was incomprehensible, not only because of the legalese but also because of our inability to concentrate on something that complex at the moment. We had a few things to do to get ready – and then it was three o’clock.
We tried to formulate a coherent response but we couldn’t. “Wing it,” my husband and I decided finally – shrugging our shoulders. The words would come.
We looked outside. It was a lovely fall day – remarkably warm. It’s the type of day we treasure and relish in Winnipeg. I noticed that there were still some leaves on the trees, on the driveway – and even on our front porch.
A little before three o’clock the first journalists arrived at our home. Apparently, Twitter works! Our pastor, Gerry Michalski, who had also seen it, showed up with three Lindt chocolate bars. He said they were symbolic. The chocolate bar seasoned with chili was for the shock. The one seasoned with sea salt was for the healing and the orange was for the celebration that would happen when this was all over…the hope. When we told him about the journalists, he said he would stay to support us.
We went outside to invite the journalists to come into the house but they said there were going to be too many of them. They thought it would be wiser to wait outside and begin setting up there. We have a kind of porch in the front of our house, complete with wicker furniture and even a coffee table. They said it was perfect.
Not knowing quite what to do, we went back inside and waited. When it looked as if everyone had arrived, Cliff and I stepped out of the house. The tiny, wicker coffee table was covered with microphones and our porch railing held back a bank of cameras. It was surprising to see our front porch transformed into the perfect place to stage an impromptu media scrum right out of the movies.
It was a bit awkward at first as we sat down. Our lack of planning was showing, so I just started talking about our first reactions. “We’re in kind of a shock and chaos,” I said, which was an understatement.
Cliff followed me with something sensible.
I was nervous, and when I am nervous, I talk too much. Poor Cliff couldn’t get a word in edgewise, but he is very patient.
Our words were halting, measured, as we processed it right there in front of the media scrum.
When it eventually came to the question about the accused, Mark Edward Grant, I think I responded with something like, “He is our least concern….” Then I realized my answer might sound very uncaring and irresponsible to some. I backtracked. It wasn’t that I wasn’t concerned about justice or holding each offender accountable, I said – it was just that there were other things more important to us at this moment.
What was more important? I don’t know if I said it clearly, but it was that this judgment was undoing what had been so carefully decided by a conscientious Judge and 12 capable jurors who had been carefully screened and selected.
The questions continued. Then there was one question that found my heart. “What do you think of going through a trial again? How does this make you feel?”
I let myself imagine sitting through the trial for the second time, and I felt this huge wave of tiredness – unimaginable exhaustion. Not only for me but for everyone else who would have to take the stand again.
“Weary,” I answered. “Exhausting!” They all nodded.
Actually, I think they were weary of it all as well.
Finally, a pause in the questions signalled it was over. We thanked everyone for coming and slipped inside.
Just as we were beginning to debrief with Gerry our pastor, one of the news reporters, Sean Kavanagh from CBC, knocked on the door. “I have another question.”
We invited him in.
“What do you think of Mike McIntyre being implicated?” he asked.
We knew from our brief glance at the written decision of the Appeal Judges that, if this case did go to a retrial, the quote from the juror in McIntyre’s book would be considered a breach of secrecy. He could be reprimanded for including it in his book, Journey for Justice.
If anything I blamed myself. I now regretted not reading the book more carefully when I had been asked to peruse it before it went to print. I had just been concerned about the accuracy of our story and not concerned about the whole.
“I don’t know,” I said. I really didn’t know. It all felt like a loosely knit sweater that was beginning to unravel. Once questioned, the whole trial would be up for inspection. Everything would be questioned – and everything doubted again. It is hard to keep such negativity in check.
After Sean left, Bernie, a friend, came in with a lemon brownie loaf. We just laughed at the concept of lemon brownies. The greater gift was laughter – healthy laughter.
The next day, October 31, Halloween, the headlines in the Winnipeg Free Press read, “Explosive ruling in notorious killing: parents of slain schoolgirl in shock after Manitoba’s Court of Appeal overturns second-degree murder conviction in decades-old case….” The headline led into an article by James Turner, “Parents rattled by court ruling.”
The pictures published in the newspapers showed me squinting into the sun looking very weary, angry and dismayed. I certainly didn’t look my best. And I wasn’t at my best. I was tired.
I was not in the mood for this.
But after everyone left, I sat down with the 46-page Appeal Decision and read it carefully.
I really tried to understand the legalese – which was hard. I will try to summarize it quickly. Again, I won’t be recording it in its entirety, only the gist of it.
Apparently the accused had raised ten grounds of appeal which was a different number again than we had first assumed. However, the decision dealt with only five of these grounds. The 46-page decision, which had been written by Justice Michel Monnin and agreed to by the other two Judges, introduced these five concerns:
- that the verdict was unreasonable,
- that the Judge erred in not providing W.(D.) instructions to the jury,
- that the Judge failed to reflect a proper balance of the evidence,
- that the Judge failed to instruct the jury adequately concerning the overwhelming DNA profiling evidence,
- and that the Judge erred in not allowing the accused to lead evidence of an incident of similar nature.
Most of the 46-page decision was devoted to the Unknown Third Party Suspect and/or Similar-Fact Evidence. It took up 27 pages.
Monnin believed that the Trial Judge had relied too strongly on the “vive voce” (living voice) testimony of Pauline Woodrow to the exclusion of all the other evidence before him, including two prior statements that would have justified according to Monnin, “at minimum, an issue for the jury to decide as to whether she was in fact abducted and left tied in a box car in 1985.”
Monnin wrote that “if there is any or some evidence which could leave a jury with a reasonable doubt as to the accused’s guilt, the accused will have met the required evidentiary burden.” Because of the similarities of the case, it had an “air of reality.”
Monnin believed ... “The accused should have been allowed to place the Pauline Woodrow incident evidence before the jury and the jurors would then have had to address its impact on the Crown’s burden to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.…This legal error is sufficient to set aside the verdict and order that a new trial be held,” he concluded.
After making the case for a new trial, Monnin added his other concern regarding the book Mike McIntyre had written, Journey to Justice. “I must state that I consider the juror’s conduct and the invitation of the journalist to communicate with him to be both unwise and lacking in judgement on both of their parts…. Both the juror’s and the journalist’s conduct may well be in breach of the jury secrecy rule: the member of the jury for disclosing and the journalist for aiding and abetting the juror.”
Again, at this point, I felt responsible. Hindsight is 20-20 of course, but if this does go to a retrial we – the juror, Mike and myself – shall all regret that it came to this, I suppose.
And yet I don’t regret that wonderful evening in our backyard.
I don’t for a minute think that the jury took their role in all of this lightly. They struck me as very caring, conscientious and responsible citizens. I don’t think they could have lived with themselves if they had knowingly come to the wrong conclusion, whether it had been guilty or not guilty.
I think the juror’s words were an emotional response to a traumatic time which we had all shared. We identified with her trauma – and we were healed with each other’s words.
I think there is tremendous merit in telling our stories to people who understand.
There is that one statement in the 46-page document that gives me pause. “It seems to me that this evidence, which I view as very relevant, could provide the basis upon which a reasonable, properly instructed jury could acquit, especially given the nature of the evidence called at the trial,” Monnin writes.
I noticed only the words “especially given the nature of the evidence.”
“Especially!” That is the word. To me it is clear that they thought the evidence presented to the Appeal Judges wasn’t sufficient for them to convict. They weren’t convinced.
I understood. A day and a half of summary at an Appeal Hearing wasn’t enough to lay out the intricacies of a very complicated and nuanced trial. How could it? But should it need to…?
There was something about this decision that didn’t make sense to me…
I hoped the Appeal Judges were right – because if they weren’t – they had just undermined our entire jury based justice system.
On November 22, 2013 we met with the appeal lawyer, Ami Kotler, on the 14th floor of the Woodsworth Building on Broadway – Monica Dyck, Cliff, my husband, and I.
We had known from the beginning that the prosecutors had three options. They could elect to re-try Grant for first-degree murder, ask the Supreme Court of Canada to overturn the Appeal Court's decision or elect to drop the case on the grounds there is no reasonable likelihood of conviction.
We began the conversation with debriefing the past event. Ami said it best. “They are good people, but they got it wrong.”
Then Ami said that he and Liz Thomson had decided that they are “applying for leave to take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.”
He would inform the Defence in the next few days.
Preparing the application would take him a couple of months. He would then submit his brief to the Defence who would also take a couple of months to prepare his arguments. He expected his submission to be ready for the end of February 2014.
Meanwhile, Mark Edward Grant was already slated to appear in assignment court December 11, 2013, pending decisions and outcomes. It was as if it was all starting over again. Grant was now also eligible to apply for bail.
Since he was no longer being held in a federal institution, we would not receive notification of his whereabouts if he was moved. All we were told was that he was in one of the provincial institutions – probably the Winnipeg Remand Centre. But he could also be kept at the Headingly Correctional Institution, Brandon Correctional Centre or even Milner Ridge Correctional Centre.
We knew we were now into another period of waiting – simply waiting.
Here is another blog – just random thoughts.
Gratitude: December 2013
After the news came out that the Appeal Judges had overturned Grant’s guilty verdict, I wondered how the people in Winnipeg would feel about us. This was very much a Winnipeg story. Would they resent more money being spent uselessly on the trial? Would they think we were now vindictive, wanting to accuse an innocent man?
I wanted to hide, but we couldn’t.
So we resumed our lives. One of our habits is have breakfast at Smitty’s Pancake House once a week to coordinate our daybooks.
We received immediate sympathy from one of the waitresses, and when it came to pay, she told us that it was “on the house.”
Another example was our theater night. After a busy day, Cliff and I met at a central location in the city, The Original Pancake House at The Forks, for a quick supper before going to the drama. It was cold outside – something like -28 degrees Celsius.
Even the restaurant felt cold and not as welcoming as usual.
It was also a slow night in the restaurant, only two other couples that I could see. One couple, sitting almost directly across from us, ate rather quickly and left. I noticed them particularly because of the woman's stylish hair color and unusual cut. What could have been a disaster on almost anyone else gave her an air of artistic sophistication that I couldn’t help but admire.
The other couple was sitting further back. She had lovely gray hair, smiled as we passed them on the way out. I wondered vaguely if they recognized us from the news.
Getting ready to leave, I went to visit the washroom. As I was washing my hands, the woman with the lovely gray hair entered and immediately approached me. “Are you …” she whispered my name tentatively, politely.
“I’m going to cry…” she said, as her eyes welled up with tears.
We just hugged – two strangers in the washroom. Two mothers knowing what it meant. She had lost a son to suicide.
“But I can’t believe you are smiling,” she said. “I can’t believe you can still laugh.”
It was what I needed – affirmation that we were heading in the right direction.
I’m not sure what I said. I think I might have just shrugged my shoulders. “Life is bizarre. What can we do?” And smiled some more. I remember she was smiling as I left.
I found my husband standing off to the side by the wall, looking a little confused.
He beckoned to me. “I have to tell you something. That couple across from us….”
I nodded. “The stylish couple, unique hairdo?” I thought that they had left much earlier,
but apparently they hadn’t.
“They paid for us. When the man offered, I told him that it was for two of us – and it might be more than he expected. But he insisted anyway. I didn’t know what to do – just thanked him – still kind of protesting. Then his wife joined him, and she said, ‘We are praying for you.’ Imagine that… they are praying for us.”
We both stood there trying to take it all in – aghast, shaken, feeling guilty, happy, bewildered and cherished. Then gratitude. Gratitude is the last powerful light that drives away the darkness.
Two couples – four strangers – had just stepped into our lives and made it better for us – and then disappeared without waiting to be thanked.
We walked out into the night to find our car – a frozen block of steel and glass.
Yet, Winnipeg felt warm.
There it is!
Pure, beautiful gratitude!
Disintegration – I’m taking it in stride. Bret Easton Ellis
By the way to protect the vulnerable in this story - I am changing their names.
Thank you for reading this first draft. I do apologize for the formatting.
Please write me at email@example.com for any comments - corrections, insights or alerts.