Case closes in Ivan Henry wrongful-conviction trial

Ivan Henry, who was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault in 1983, leaves B.C. Supreme Court during a lunch break in Vancouver, B.C., on August 31, 2015.
Ivan Henry, who was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault in 1983, leaves B.C. Supreme Court during a lunch break in Vancouver, B.C., on August 31, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER – The compensation trial of a British Columbia man wrongfully imprisoned for 27 years is over, with Ivan Henry’s lawyers saying he deserves millions and provincial counsel insisting he sealed his own fate by representing himself.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Christopher Hinkson reserved his decision Thursday on whether Henry should receive up to $43 million for his time behind bars.

Henry, 69, is suing the province after he was acquitted in 2010 of 10 sexual-assault convictions. The federal government and the City of Vancouver settled with Henry earlier this year for undisclosed amounts.

Crown lawyer John Hunter said the case boils down to Henry’s ill-informed decision to represent himself in court in 1982 and that awarding him millions of dollars in damages would send the wrong message.

“It should not be the case that if you decide to self-represent and things go badly that you’re going to get a chance years later to have an autopsy of the whole case … and at the end of the day there could be a big payday for you.”

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Henry should bear some responsibility for his conviction after he repeatedly refused legal counsel during his sexual-assault trial, Hunter said.

“The message that should go out is that, ‘Yes, we’ll all try to make sure the trial is fair. But you need a lawyer. You need a lawyer if you’re charged with a serious criminal offence.'”

Henry fired three of his lawyers and refused two more made available to him through legal aid during his original trial and sentencing hearing, insisting that he would speak on his own behalf.

Provincial prosecutors shouldn’t be liable for mistakes made by Vancouver police even if they were aware of officer misconduct, he said during closing arguments Thursday.

Henry isn’t entitled to damages from the province for police errors because he’s already settled with the City of Vancouver and, by extension, the police department, Hunter said.

“If we (the province) are being criticized for not disclosing something that the police did or didn’t do, we’re being criticized in respect of acts attributable to police, and the plaintiff has waived damages with respect to acts attributable to police,” Hunter told court.

“But whatever the police did or didn’t do the Crown knew about it,” countered Justice Hinkson.

“The fact that the Crown may or may not have known about it is beside the point, because of the waiver,” Hunter replied.

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Henry’s acquittal focused on potentially useful evidence Crown or police withheld, including sperm samples that didn’t match Henry’s blood type, contradictory victim statements and a compromising letter sent from a victim to an investigating officer.

The Crown argued Henry’s decision to rebuff legal counsel means he wouldn’t have known what to do with the additional evidence even if it had been provided to him, despite his repeated requests.

Henry’s lawyer John Laxton skewered that assertion.

“At its lowest level this amounts to saying: “It doesn’t matter that we refused to disclose information, he’s too dumb and stupid to have been able to do anything about it,” Laxton said.

“This is a very sad comment on our judicial system.”

— Follow @gwomand on Twitter

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