The burden of innocence

In his first interview since Ontario decided not to compensate him for an overturned murder conviction and nearly 10 years in prison, Robert Baltovich tells author Derek Finkle that he's not finished with the province just yet

Robert Baltovich outside the University Courhouse at 361 University Ave. in Toronto after he was acquitted of the murder of his girlfriend, Elizabeth Bain (File photo). Photo by Tibor Kolley Tibor Kolley/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Derek Finkle

From Saturday's Globe and Mail (correction included)


Q:Were you surprised that the Attorney-General decided against compensating you for what you've been through?

A: Long before my acquittal, the Crown had many opportunities to do the right thing and stop the prosecution in its tracks, [so] at a certain point, you learn to not count on anyone to necessarily make the right decision.

Q:Mr. Bentley conceded that the justice system had failed you and that there were regrettable delays in your case but that, ultimately, "the Crown and police acted with integrity and in the best interests of the administration of justice." Is that your take on it?

A: I have a bit of trouble with how the decision was worded. The Crown and the Attorney-General should have realized a long time ago that the case against me never really existed. So to suggest that it's a matter of the justice system sorting itself out is a misnomer. It's one thing to say that justice took its course, but it's another thing to say that, at the end of the day, someone was treated justly.

There has to be more room in any compensatory scheme for mercy and for sympathy. Not that I'm looking for anyone to feel sorry for me, but you can't deny the fact that these cases have a monstrous effect on people's lives.

Q:Do you think the Attorney-General is trying to set some sort of precedent?

A: I definitely think this decision was made with future cases in mind. In some respects, I think he's drawing the line, saying that from this point on, anyone who finds themselves in a position where they might have a case for compensation will have to go the civil route.

Q:What are your plans now in light of his announcement? Are you considering civil action?

A: It looks like that's the route we're going to take. That's the route we have to take. In the meantime, hopefully I can find a job.

Q:Since you were released on bail, you've managed to obtain a number of post-graduate degrees, including a master's degree from the University of Toronto, and have worked at places like the ROM, the Toronto Star, and even with the Ministry of Natural Resources. Since your acquittal in the spring of 2008, though, you've been unemployed. Do you have any sense of why that is?

A: We live in an age now when people can find out who you are and what your legacy is simply by typing your name into Google. There's no question that the media attention my case has received - even though much of it has been critical of my conviction - has seriously compromised my ability to earn a living. I was able to acquire quite a bit of momentum career-wise after my release on bail in 2000 because the media attention on the case died down quite quickly. A lot of that changed in 2004 when my appeal was heard, but I got lucky for a few years. Now the stain that stays with you in cases like mine has finally taken control and it arises in ways people could never imagine.

Q:Is there anything else you feel you should be compensated for?

A: You lose the ability to lay down a legacy for yourself, both professionally and personally. You lose the ability to form relationships. To marry and have a family. Your reputation is something that is very easily lost. It's difficult to quantify. Mistakes make it to the front page; corrections get buried.

Q: The government of Ontario compensated Steven Truscott with a $6.5-million payment after the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the verdict against him in 2007. The Attorney-General has said that the "rare and unusual" circumstances of the Truscott case don't apply to your wrongful conviction. Do you agree?

A: The Truscott case is certainly exceptional in the sense that in the late fifties and early sixties it captured people's attention and imagination in a way that no case has since.

But if you look at the decision to compensate Truscott, what you see is that whatever distinctions they claim exist between his case and mine, one could make a very compelling argument that the case to compensate me is equal, if not greater than that of Truscott. The Court of Appeal even went so far as to say that were a trial capable of being held, he could have been convicted.

In my case, the Crown didn't walk into court and say, "We believe Baltovich could be convicted again but we choose not to prosecute." They said, "We don't believe Baltovich can be prosecuted because we simply don't have any evidence to offer."

Q:Is an acquittal in our society no longer synonymous with innocence?

A: The courts have been quite clear in saying that an acquittal equates to innocence. If you are acquitted, the law says you are innocent.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Editor's Note: An earlier online version of this article (and the newspaper version of this article) incorrectly stated that the Ontario Court of Appeal chose not to acquit Steven Truscott and ordered a new trial for Mr. Truscott. This online version has been corrected.




Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre


Mr. Bentley and the province of Ontario have NO interest in justice. Together they flagrantly abuse their fiduciary obligation to the citizens of Ontario by willfully turning a blind eye to legal rights and by installing legislation, that removes legal rights and makes the justice system virtually impossible except for those with money and politically correct influence.

The province of Ontario, Mr. Bently, are forcing Robert Baltovich to sue for "malicious prosecution and or abuse of process", the Ontario Government have made lawsuits for malicious prosecution, almost impossible, the Crown , the judiciary are totally protected from criminal and civil liability.

The only chance Robert Baltovich has of a successful law suit is one for negligence and abuse of process and possible some other novel and interesting claim that might just have a remote chance of success.

The more one has to do with the Judiciary and legal system of Ontario, the more it makes you want to puke.

We live in sick times, with legal rights being eroded on a slippery slide into what people a few generations back would have regarded as an impossible horror movie.