(This column was published in the North Shore News on Feb. 18, 1998)

 

Bennest deal still stinks

By Leo Knight

THE final chapter in the William Bennest debacle has now been written, ironically by one of the main characters.  

 

Last Thursday, the attorney general's office released a review of the sweetheart deal Bennest received in his child pornography/sex assault case.  

 

Bennest, the former Burnaby elementary school teacher arrested by Vancouver Police in September 1996, walked away from the justice system a free man in October 1997 after a plea bargain arrangement conducted in a pre-arranged secret lunch time sitting of Judge Bill Kitchen's court.  

 

Following the public outcry the attorney general announced an appeal of the conditional sentence received by Bennest. I argued at the time that the AG needed to review how and why the deal was done, simply appealing the sentence only perpetuated the deal itself.  

 

Ultimately, the Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Ernie Quantz, was delegated to review the case. But instead of having someone independent conduct the review, he requested regional Crown counsel Austin Cullen report on the matter.  

 

Considering the deal was approved by Cullen's office, if not Cullen himself, this seems a little like having Bill Clinton investigate allegations of sexual impropriety against the President of the United States.  

 

Inevitably, Cullen's report, released last week, not only exonerated his office, as was entirely predictable, but brilliantly managed to taint the police involved in the investigation for leaking "discredited and unreliable information to the media distorting the nature and strength of the case against Bennest."  

 

The effect of this broadside by Cullen will keep the cops diving for cover trying to protect their careers from the vindictive officials responsible for the ultimate protection of Bennest, essentially silencing any further criticism from within.  

 

The police officers involved in this investigation, at least at the field level, only began privately complaining after the deal was done and they realized they were actually victims of an elaborate deception crafted by the Crown to ensure the deal with Bennest was done in secret, lest the nasty media tell the public about their sordid actions.  

 

When news of the arrest broke, the police, through their official spokesman, Anne Drennan and the inspector in charge of the vice squad, Ken Doern, were very circumspect about the information they released to the media.  

 

In fact, Doern went out of his way to write a letter to the Burnaby school board on Sept. 9, several days after the arrest of Bennest, to assure the board.  

 

Wrote Doern, "at this time there is no concrete evidence that William Bennest physically or sexually touched or abused any student of Clinton elementary school."  

 

Doern deliberately kept from the board the fact that one of the students, a 12-year-old boy, had been the subject of Bennest's sick sexual fantasies and had been videotaped by his principal in a suggestive manner. The result of this omission was extreme anger by members of the board and parents of Clinton students when the full facts became known.  

 

In reviewing Cullen's report, one notes a singularly glaring omission. The report visits the legal reasoning employed by the Crown in agreeing to the deal.  

 

While I would argue vociferously against some of these points, the three-page report ignores entirely the whole disgusting machinations of the Crown to keep the deal secret.  

 

It was this attempt at secrecy that caused much of the protest and the very reason some police officers may have spoken to the media. Yet, there's nary a word about any of this in Cullen's report.  

 

There are also apparent untruths in the report. Cullen states in his report on several occasions the "police investigators agreed with the Crown's decision to stay this charge." I could be wrong, but I have been told that the only police officer consulted by the Crown was Doern. This was told to me by Doern himself.  

 

Cullen attempts to suggest that the primary investigators were consulted on the deal. If this is true, then why were those same investigators denotified for their Crown pre-trial interviews, only to be re-scheduled for three days after the deal was done and the plea bargain arranged? Surely, if they were consulted then they would have been aware of the deal and not showed up blindly for their interview only to be told "thanks for coming. You can go now."  

 

Cullen also goes to great lengths to discredit the original informant in the case, identified in the report as "John Doe #2."  

 

Certainly the man is a street prostitute. True, there may have been some inconsistencies in his evidence. He was relying on memories fogged through drugs provided by Bennest over several years. What the heck did ya expect?  

 

But central to this issue is that he provided information which was the basis for the search warrant executed by the police.  

 

Everything the informant said would be located by the police was found by police. Doesn't this, in itself, provide the corroboration Cullen says in his report was needed to substantiate the informant's evidence?  

 

The deal still reeks. The smell is now overpowering with this thinly disguised, vindictive report which seems to scream "cover up." In doing this they have targetted the only people who can claim the moral high ground in this case: the police who conducted the investigation.  

 

Personally, I'm disgusted. Not surprised though. Just disgusted.

 

  -30-

 

 

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