OTTAWA — Lawyers representing a man suing the Manitoba government for wrongful conviction say the negative feelings towards their client in Winnipeg remain so intense that he could not find a local lawyer to represent him.
Mark Edward Grant filed an $8.5-million lawsuit against the province and the Winnipeg police this week alleging they engaged in a negligent investigation and malicious prosecution that left him wrongfully found guilty of murdering 13-year-old Candace Derksen.
Lawrence Greenspon and Tina Hill, two Ottawa-based lawyers representing Grant, said Thursday that although their client was found not guilty in a second trial in 2017, his Winnipeg criminal lawyer still could not find a local attorney to take on the civil case.
“It appears that there are some pretty strong feelings in Winnipeg against Mark Grant and it made getting a civil lawyer to take on his case a little bit more difficult than one might otherwise think,” Greenspon said.
“There is no question that even though he has been acquitted, he is still considered by some people that he may have been acquitted, ‘but, you know, we know he did it.’ That kind of thinking is not only unfortunate, it finds its expression in the way he has been treated ever since.”
Greenspon and Hill said Grant’s life has been a nightmare since his original conviction in 2011.
“His life going forward will never be what it could have been,” Hill said.
Grant was convicted of second-degree murder in 2011, 26 years after Candace disappeared walking home from school in Winnipeg. Her frozen body was found tied up in an industrial shed in January 1985. The cause of death was determined to be hypothermia.
The Manitoba Court of Appeal overturned the conviction in 2013, saying the trial judge had been wrong to exclude evidence of another young girl being abducted and tied up in a shed less than a year after Candace. The Supreme Court of Canada agreed and ordered a new trial in 2015.
Grant was acquitted at a second trial in 2017, where the judge ruled the DNA evidence used to convict Grant the first time was “fundamentally flawed.”
Hill said Grant was repeatedly assaulted, harassed and stabbed during the decade he spent behind bars, and that has continued to happen outside of prison. He also can’t find a job.
They also argue police and prosecutors engaged in an “aggressive” investigation and prosecution against Grant without any reasonable grounds to do so.
“The police improperly developed tunnel vision because of their desire to solve the case,” says the statement of claim filed Wednesday in Winnipeg’s Court of Queen’s Bench.
The allegations have not been tested in court. The defendants have 20 days to respond to the suit and Greenspon said a statement of defence is likely to take a few months. If the case goes to litigation, it will likely take years to conclude, he added.
A spokeswoman for Manitoba Justice said the province hasn’t yet been formally served with the lawsuit.
“Once that happens, we will review to determine our position,” she said. “Since this is an ongoing matter before the courts, we are unable to comment further.”
Officials with the City of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Police Service declined to comment because the case is before the courts.
Candace’s parents have said they continue to believe Grant killed their daughter, but did not want the Crown to appeal after the acquittal.
Wilma Derksen said on her website Thursday that when she learned of the lawsuit, her first thought was that she didn’t want the case to be in the news again.
“I even thought that if I had 8.5 million dollars — I would make this all go away — just to have peace,” she wrote on a post she titled “Never saw this coming.”
Greenspon said his client has enormous empathy for the Derksen family.
“There is no criminal decision or civil action that is ever going to truly give the Derksens closure,” he said. “To think otherwise is really imaginary.”
—With files from Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg.
This report by The Canadian Press was originally published on Oct. 17, 2019.
Mia Rabson , The Canadian Press