When Vancouver Rape Relief, one of the most vocal women’s groups in Canada, tried to intervene in a 2015 civil suit against the government, lawyer Joseph Arvay called them a “mere busybody” and “a complete waste of time.” Justice Christopher Hinkson rejected the application calling it “unhelpful.”
Undeterred, the organization has now assisted five women in launching their own suit against Ivan Henry, a wrongfully convicted man who was awarded $8 million in compensation for 27 years of imprisonment on crimes he did not commit. Vancouver Rape Relief wishes to argue against Mr. Henry’s “factual innocence,” refusing to accept the rulings of multiple courts which have already determined that he was the victim of injustice.
Mr. Henry has responded to the civil suit, reminding the litigants of the previous rulings of the criminal courts and seeking special costs against them for trying to re-litigate issues already decided in multiple courts.
The women’s lawyer, Scott Stanley, argues that Mr. Henry’s acquittal is not the same as exoneration and considers their lawsuit the Canadian equivalent to the successful suit by the Goldman family against OJ Simpson.
In 1983, Ivan Henry was convicted, declared a dangerous offender, and sentenced to remain in jail indefinitely. While there was no doubt that the women were the victims of a violent rapist, the identity of their attacker has always been the issue before the courts.
Victims identified Mr Henry from a police line-up in which three uniformed officers held him in an head-lock. Mr. Henry kept the now notorious photo on his person the entire time he remained in prison, hoping to win an appeal.
In her 2014 book Innocence on Trial: The Framing of Ivan Henry, Vancouver lawyer, Joan McEwan, details how Mr. Henry’s conviction was eventually overturned. During an investigation of cold cases following the Robert Pickton murders, detectives discovered multiple assaults matching the crimes Ivan Henry was convicted for, which had continued after his incarceration.
DNA testing confirmed that two of the 1987 assaults showed a common profile, with another match found in 2004.
McEwen wrote that Henry had told police, “[p]ut me in a cell for two months and see if it still goes on and then come back and apologize nicely. Say, ‘Ivan, we are sorry.'” Indeed, in May of 2005, another man plead guilty to attacks committed between 1983 and 1988 and was believed by Crown prosecution to be responsible for the sexual assaults for which Ivan Henry had been jailed.
Special prosecutor Leonard Doust was assigned to review Mr. Henry’s case, ultimately resulting in the convictions being quashed and acquittals substituted. In 2010, Crown prosecutors followed Doust’s recommendation to support Ivan Henry’s appeal application.
Given the Crown’s submissions, it is open to the Court to conclude that as matters stand today, no reasonable jury could convict. In the event such a determination is made, the appropriate remedy is to enter acquittals on the counts at bar.
The tunnel vision of police in the investigation that framed Mr. Henry not only resulted in a wrongful conviction, it allowed the real rapist to continue victimizing other women and has, to this day, prevented the women now suing Mr. Henry from obtaining closure.
Instead of helping the women to understand how their memories were altered by the manner in which police conducted their investigation, Vancouver Rape Relief is perpetuating the damage by encouraging them to continue blaming Mr. Henry. Though Vancouver Rape Relief declined to comment for this article, spokesperson Louisa Russell told CTV news “[t]hose women are still living without any justice,” and has encouraged them to continue holding Mr. Henry responsible in their civil suit.
Ignoring warnings from Justice Hinkson in 2015, Vancouver Rape Relief simply seems unwilling to take “no” for an answer.
“The issue has been abandoned. No one is asserting presently that Mr. Henry committed the acts — you want to parachute in and tell the court to address issues the parties have no wish to litigate,” [Hinkson] said.
Despite his acquittal, made possible by the conviction of the correct offender, the five victims now suing Mr. Henry are, in fact, traumatized to see a man who they believe raped them collect millions of dollars in compensation. These are women who each suffered a violent stranger rape who, because of police bungling, have believed for the last 35 years that their attacker was Ivan Henry.
While the Vancouver Police, Crown prosecutors, and the courts of Canada have accepted Ivan Henry’s “factual innocence,” Vancouver Rape Relief refuses to accept that Henry was also a victim in this miscarriage of justice.
The organization is extending the damage done to these victims, encouraging them to chase a self-destructive delusion which may result in the victims paying special court costs on top of the human cost of their original trauma. If these women want closure and justice, they should be pursuing the man who actually attacked them and the police who failed them back in 1983. Instead of denying Ivan Henry his due compensation, Vancouver Rape Relief should concern themselves more with improving police investigations to ensure fewer wrongful convictions occur.
These women were not the victims of Ivan Henry, they were the victims of tunnel vision, and now of an organization that seems to have no desire to help them get meaningful closure.