No Quest for Karla
If people’s trust in all things lawyer-related was not already in doubt, the announcement last week from Nova Scotia’s provincial attorney general that it was bringing in Ontario lawyer Murray Segal to “investigate” and “make recommendations” about the Rehtaeh Parsons sexual assault-induced suicide should be the coup de grace.
While its worsening long-term memory deficit has never inhibited our mainstream Canadian news industry from accepting PR spin and other forms of digital bullshit at face value, in this instance, the lack of diligence is glaring.
For example, one web-based journalistic agency came up with the following circumspect and superficial background fodder on the Nova Scotia government’s Parsons case review nominee:
Segal is a veteran lawyer who acted as Ontario’s deputy attorney general for eight years. He is a certified specialist in criminal law and holds bachelors of civil and common law from McGill University….According to an online bio, Segal has previously advised the Ontario government on several important public inquiries, including the Ipperwash Inquiry to the Walkerton tainted water investigation and a review into the wrongly convicted Guy Paul Morin. Segal is a veteran of such high-profile cases and his investigation will focus on why it took so long before police were able to lay charges.
That’s not to say the online bio source is inaccurate. It’s more a case of it not being “the whole truth” about who Murray Segal is.
No mere “advisor”
Granted it is technically correct to say that Segal “has previously advised” a succession of provincial regimes in Ontario for two decades, in “several public inquiries” including Guy Paul Morin, Walkerton, and Ipperwash. But nowhere near as fulsom as disclosing that Segal was himself an integral and high level mover and shaker in the MAG Crown Law Office during all those years and decades during which the Ontario criminal justice system was rife with a veritable “how to” pantheon of wrongful convictions and miscarriages of justice in those notorious affairs and several others to boot as assistant deputy and deputy attorney general of Canada’s largest criminal law bailiwick.
So what the editors and their reporters have left out of this feel-good treatment of the soon-to-be re-re-investigated Parsons case is even a cursory exposé of the c.v. and, dare we say, real-time experience and track record of the man hired for big bucks to make things right. While Segal’s splashy private website sings his praises featuring a choir of former and current legal bigshots and semi-retired judges, a detailed review of the reviewer’s criminal litigation antecedents is conspicuous by its absence.
And much less flattering.
So who is Murray Segal, you ask?
Anyone out there who remembers a serial killer circa, the early 1990s, named Paul Bernardo? How about his psychopath of a bride, Karla Homolka? Remember her?
The one who actually helped her monstrous hubby lure and kidnap his sex murder victims, including her own kid sister, to whom she administered a stupor-inducing cocktail and then watched being raped by hubby Paul before asphyxiating?
Well, it was Murray Segal, who recently maxed out his Ontario public sector pension before going into “private practice,” who was the provincial Crown attorney put in charge of prosecuting the case, by then provincial deputy attorney general (now an Ontario judge) Michael Code.
According to his not-at-all-hard-for-journalists-to-find LinkedIn profile, Segal enjoyed progressively more senior and more powerful positions in the Ontario Crown behemoth between 1990 and 1996 under various monikers–Director of the Criminal Law Division of the Crown Law Office and Chief Prosecutor for the province.
And, for the better part of the following decade, Segal was nothing less than “responsible for all criminal prosecutions and appeals in the largest prosecution service in Canada, as well as the development and implementation of criminal policy for Ontario….the prosecution of over 600,000 criminal charges annually, including all major cases and appeals in the province, through a team of over 1,000 Crown lawyers” and, if all that weren’t the mark of an underachiever, “Also responsible for the policy framework for Ontario’s approach to criminal prosecutions and the recruitment, training, and professional advancement of staff.”
It was Murray D. Segal, author of legal tomes on everything from the rules of the road to criminal disclosure who devised and helped sell the infamous 1995 “deal with Devil” that saw the bloodthirsty Miss Karla allowed to plead guilty to the lesser offence of manslaughter in return for a measly jail term of 12 years. And, to be sure, no man’s laughter would have been louder at that auspicious moment in the annals of Canadian Justice than Bernardo’s.
But only because the unfunniest of plea deals was predicated on the failure of police and prosecutors to prove Homolka’s involvement in the murders and the coldblooded artifice that Karla Homolka was herself a victim of Bernardo’s twisted homicidal psyche and suffered from trauma to such an extent that her complicity in the rash of sex killings was quasi-involuntary.
And it was Murray Segal–the man now entrusted to get to the bottom of the three-ring legal circus of investigative and prosecutorial bungling in the Rehtaeh Parsons case in Nova Scotia–who played the pivotal role in the Homolka plea bargain (Segal was dubbed a “plea bargain specialist” in many accounts of the case) that relied upon the opinions of a battery of forensic shrinks that Homolka had been traumatized and thereby victimized by Bernardo in order to make her twelve-year bid less unpalatable. And, more critically, Segal needed Homolka’s testimony at Paul Bernardo’s murder trial to ensure at least his conviction.
Twelve-year sentencing kiss
And it was Murray Segal and his tightly-knit Crown Law Office crew who were there when the infamous photo showing a black-eyed Karla sporting the proof of her domestic trauma at Bernardo’s hands was brandished like a smoking gun. The better to paint the false portrait of a spouse battered into becoming an accomplice to grisly school girl sex killings.
Another Less Fortunate Criminal Lawyer Named Murray
Unfortunately, no sooner had Segal, the “legal veteran,” inked the outrageous covenant with Karla–with the help of his long winded Buddha-friendly boss, then deputy AG (now a $260k per annum Ontario judge) Mike Code–than the wobbly wheels came off the “sweet deal.”
After an evident breakdown in the lines of communication between the sundry southwestern law enforcement shops tasked with the Benardo investigation, came the surfacing of a videotape made by the murderous couple themselves which graphically implicated Karla as an enthusiastic participant in her sister’s demise.
Much gnashing of teeth in the Big Smoke as the egocentric law-talking elites in Osgoode Hall–the castled headquarters of Ontario’s law society–set about shifting the public’s increasing sense of dismay and indignation onto one Kenneth Murray, Paul Bernardo’s defence lawyer from whose solicitor-client clutches the VHS tape was delivered.
And it came to pass that the Other Lawyer Named Murray was set up–through a combination of his own desire to protect his demonic client, Bernardo, an incoherent set of half-baked professional “rules” about what to do when your client hands you an evidentiary hot potato of incriminating evidence, and a phalanx of prosecutors stampeding to offload public outrage onto a less powerful scapegoat.
But even after Murray (surname) was acquitted of the criminal charge of obstructing justice by hanging onto and keeping mum about the video, the Ontario law society then tacked on its own vengeful and self-justifying disciplinary proceeding which it eventually was forced to abandon, both because of Murray’s acquittal on the criminal offence and the more embarrassing fact that most criminal practitioners shared the view that there was no easy precedent or standard by which Murray’s conduct could be judged.
Miscarriage of what, now?
And through it all, Murray Segal never wavered, never lost a night’s sleep, and never missed out on an Ontario MAG promotion or paycheque. Instead, and unlike Kenneth Murray, Segal’s public legal career flourished. Segal, who separated from his wife and two children during the Bermardo-Homolka tribulations and trial, moved in with his law student on the case, Michal Fairburn, whose career also flourished.
Osgoode Hall insiders will know that Segal’s squeeze eventually matriculated to a rank level where she was delegated to co-handle politically sensitive cases such as the Ontario AG’s belated apology for the wrongful 1994 murder conviction of William Mullins-Johnson.
And throughout Segal continued to thrive, even as his tightly controlled prosecutorial empire lurched from the exposure of one miscarriage of justice after another–Morin, Baltovich, Mullins-Johnson, Phillion, Truscott, the list seemingly without end.
Even when Segal was named by one errant Ontario judge for breaching the Charter rights of Julia Elliot in a 1998 murder case, his stock never dropped. A complaint from Segal’s office through AG Michael Bryant to the federal judicial authorities led to the judge being publicly excoriated and he was later forced to resign.
Only in the Third World, you say?
To be fair–and LOON‘s editorial board is nothing if not fair–perhaps it can be allowed that the reason for the toothless, mindless acceptance of the porridge being served up about Murray Segal as the potential saviour of the justice system’s latest failure of integrity in Nova Scotia is that most journalists and their editors are truly afraid of powerful men like Murray Segal. Men who remain powerful, and in some instances, vindictive, long after they graduate from the echelons of public office.
In Segal’s case, that kind of spinelessness is not without a basis in reality. When some of the more enterprising of journalists dared to revive public scrutiny of the Deal With You-Know-Who, they also were brought to heel and muted as critics.
One poor bastard in particular, true crime writer Stephen Williams, who published two unflattering accounts of Segal’s role in the Bernardo-Homolka affair, later complained when his farmhouse residence was raided by provincial police and he was taken into custody for breaching the years old publication ban on the case.
According to Williams, despite a medical problem aggravated by the sudden appearance of provincial cops at his home armed with guns and a search warrant to seize his computer and writer’s files, he was trucked in the wee hours to a courtroom on University Ave. in T.O. where none other than Murray Segal’s Missus–the aforementioned Michal Fairburn–was allegedly on hand to prosecute the writer and try to persuade to the justice to deny his bail.
Again, according to Williams, Ms. Fairburn was mentioned by name and unflatteringly in his account of the separation of Segal from his wife and family during the Bernardo-Homolka period. If in doubt about the veracity of that allegation, it is open to journalists and others to read Williams’ own version at his website or rely upon the “hearsay” from none other than OpenPolitics.ca, a public interest site.
Williams claims the repeated attempts to prosecute him amounted to retribution for his scathing indictment of the bungling by Ontario Police and the Crown Prosecutors of the Bernardo/Homolka investigation and murder trial. In 2004 Williams recieved a grant from Human Rights Watch to cover his legal defence against charges against him by Ontario Crown attorneys. The charges were eventually dropped.
In a May 12, 2004 story in the Globe and Mail (we told you we were being fair!), which is also posted on the OpenPolitics.ca site, justice reporter Kirk Makin (who wrote a critically-acclaimed book about Guy Paul Morin called Redrum the Innocent) recounted the ire that Williams attracted and skepticism from some notable Tory political leaders like Harper cabmin Jim Flahery about whether Murray Segal and company had indeed indulged in nasty political retribution against Williams:
But Mr. Williams said Mr. Flaherty’s grasp of the situation is typical of his critics. “It is a total misunderstanding of what has gone on,” he said. “Of all the criminal charges against me, none of them have anything to do with the Mahaffys, the Frenches, their lawyers or any crime-scene photographs.” When Ontario Provincial Police raided his farm last year, they seized computers and files belonging to both Mr. Williams and his wife, author Marsha Boulton. Most have not been returned….I feel my life has been threatened because of the destruction wreaked upon me and Marsha, who has nothing to do with any of this,” Mr. Williams said. “They have levelled all of their resources at me, both civilly and criminally, and they are trying to destroy us….It would seem to me that this is a serious black mark on the Ontario government and the Ministry of the Attorney-General and Canada generally,” Mr. Williams added. “On the international stage, they have now been lumped in with repressive, totalitarian regimes such as those in China, Iran and Nigeria — and numerous others guilty of stunning human-rights violations and indignities to free speech and open justice.
How to win “hearts and minds” and influence people…
So although it is undeniable that Murray Segal is a “legal veteran,” from a journalistic or public interest perspective, is it not important for the media to ask precisely what legal campaigns he is a veteran of and how he survived them to become one of the “go to” resource persons for ex post government-sponsored “inquiries” into the very same types of unpalatable and disturbing justice system clusterfucks that are associated with his long-time former employer, the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General?
And whether a forthright answer is in the cards on that account or not, is it not self-evident that Segal’s direct experience with highly publicized, botched police investigations and unsavoury better-than-nothing plea agreements with murderers could prove more of a liability than a boon to flagging public faith in the integrity of the Nova Scotia criminal justice system?
And at that point, before crowing with optimism about the arrival of the “truth and reconciliation” squad, is it not crucial to demand an answer as to who will derive the greatest benefit from this corralling of pricey, “outside expertise”? And to ask critically whether it will truly accomplish its stated, if vague goal (to quote Segal’s recent press release) of “conducting a thorough review that will support on-going efforts to address this important issue”–whatever that means?
This is a tragic case that has captured the hearts and minds of Nova Scotians and Canadians. I am committed to conducting a thorough review that will support on-going efforts to address this important issue.
Or are Canadian journalists and the public happy to sit passively as their elected representatives recycle, for the umpteenth time, a cynical damage control strategy of hiring retired judges, “legal experts”, or game-show hosts to conduct ostensibly independent reviews of hot-button political controversies that end up exonerating a clown-car load of politicians, lawyers and cops who made a mess of the case in the first place?