Susan Klassen’s death came up in the House of Commons Tuesday during a debate over changes to the Criminal Code about the use of personal records in sexual offence cases.
Reform MP Ian McClelland was the last to speak after the afternoon discussion. In his Edmonton Southwest riding, he’s heard much about the Klassen trial in Whitehorse.
“It is important to look at the mindset of a society which allows the law to put the rights of the accused far ahead of the rights of the victim. ... We must balance the rights of the victim with the rights of the accused. As I read it, that is what this legislation is all about,” he told the House. The government’s Bill C-46, the production of records in sexual offence proceedings, was read a second time Tuesday. It was referred to a legislative committee on justice for further study.
Its aim is to restore the confidence of sexual offence victims in the criminal justice system, Gordon Kirkby, parliamentary secretary to Justice Minister Allan Rock, said in beginning the debate.
“We must take the opportunity to craft a law which articulates that both the complainant and the accused are worthy of the law’s protection,” Kirkby said. The Reform MP informed the House about the facts of Klassen’s death in November 1995 near Whitehorse at the age of 36. Her husband, Ralph, strangled her, and, last month, was sentenced to five years in prison.
Manslaughter is when a person accidentally kills someone, not choking someone, then strangling them with a pillow case, said McClelland. The common root between the Klassen case and the Bill C-46 debate is when provocation makes assault - often against women - permissible, he said. “...Then we are in a situation where a person who brutally kills someone is able to say: ‘I did not mean to, therefore, it was manslaughter. I did not mean to rape this girl. I did not break into her house and rape her. I was provoked into raping her because she was there.’ ”
McClelland also spoke about the reaction of 300 Yukoners who marched in minus 38 degree weather Jan. 24 in honor of Susan Klassen. “They were not marching just for Susan Klassen; they were marching out of frustration and rage at a judicial system that would allow provocation to be used as the excuse for killing. Provocation. My God.
“How on earth could anybody use provocation as why they killed somebody by strangulation so hard that they bruise their thumbs and then smother them with a pillow case?”
Susan Klassen, an occupational therapist, had attended school in Edmonton, McClelland noted.
“She probably was not an angel. None of us is. Was whatever happened in the relationship between Susan and her husband sufficient provocation for this person to kill her and then plead manslaughter because of provocation?”
Bill C-46 is about Parliament’s fiduciary responsibility to Canadian citizens and to protect innocent persons from being victimized in the trial process, he said. Producing personal records of sexual offence victims has discouraged reporting and participation of victims, said Kirkby.
“Bill C-46 amendments will significantly improve the situation for complainants and witnesses of sexual offences. In a nutshell, we are proposing a two-stage test for the production of records, which places the onus on the accused to establish the threshold of likely relevance of the records requested.” Bill C-46 would not prohibit the production of records, said Kirkby.
“An accused cannot plunder through irrelevant personal records for tidbits of information which can either be exploited or unhelpful, safely ignored. But nothing prevents the accused from calling as a witness a person who has material evidence and asking relevant questions.”
The Klassen case has had a high profile outside the Yukon. It was discussed on the national CBC radio program Morningside two weeks ago, and received front-page coverage, with a photo of the Whitehorse marchers, in last Wednesday’s Edmonton Journal.
By KARAN SMITH Star Reporter