British Columbia

Ivan Henry wants up to $43M for wrongful imprisonment for 27 years

Ivan Henry deserves as much as $43 million in compensation after being wrongfully imprisoned for 27 years on sexual assault convictions, his lawyer has argued in B.C. Supreme Court.

Henry's lawyer urges B.C.'s chief justice to send 'strong message'

Ivan Henry, who was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault in 1983, deserves as much as $43 million in compensation, his lawyer has argued in B.C. Supreme Court. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Ivan Henry deserves as much as $43 million in compensation after being wrongfully imprisoned for 27 years on sexual assault convictions, his lawyer has argued in B.C. Supreme Court.

John Laxton is calling on Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson to send a "strong message" to deter the Crown from making such a devastating error in the future and to vindicate a man falsely labelled a serial rapist for decades.

"No amount of money can restore to him the decades he has spent behind bars," Laxton told court Wednesday.

"However, a monetary award may offer some compensation of his long period of wrongful imprisonment and the many lost life opportunities it entailed.

"There are few scenarios that can shake the public's confidence in the justice system more than those alleged by Mr. Henry."

Henry, now 69, was acquitted by the B.C. Court of Appeal in 2010 on 10 counts of sexual assault involving eight women. He is suing the province and alleges the Crown withheld key evidence as he defended himself in a 1983 trial.

Laxton said in closing arguments that Hinkson has "almost unlimited discretion" in determining the amount the province should pay. But he outlined several wrongful conviction cases to establish a range from $20 million to nearly $43 million.

One case he discussed at length was that of Steven Truscott, who was wrongly sentenced to death at age 14 in 1959 for the rape and murder of a classmate. In 2008, the Ontario government awarded him $6.5 million for the 10 years he spent behind bars.

Laxton said that in 2015 dollars, that amount rises to over $7.2 million, or $722,000 a year. Multiplying that amount by 33 years — the time Henry spent in prison plus six years of unnecessary litigation — would get his client nearly $24 million.

'Strong message needs to be sent'

He asked the judge to add an amount for vindication and deterrence, as well as the fact that there was no fault attributed to Crown or police in the Truscott case. That would bring the total deserved by Henry to $33 million.

"A strong message needs to be sent, and we're looking forward to seeing you [send] that strong message," Laxton told the judge.

He applied similar math to several other cases: David Milgaard, who received $10 million for 22 years, meaning about $20.2 million for Henry; Thomas Sophonow, who received $2.6 million for 45 months, translating to about $29.6 million for Henry; and Guy Paul Morin, who got $1.25 million for 15 months, meaning a whopping $42.9 million for Henry.

Henry's claim is primarily for non-financial damages. The $1.5 million in income he's estimated to have lost is a minor claim against the "life he has lost" as a result of being imprisoned, the lawyer said.

He endured beatings from fellow inmates, constant oversight by guards and a "medieval" parole system that would have forced him to confess to crimes he didn't commit in order to obtain his freedom, Laxton said.

Henry "will never escape the stigma" of being called a serial rapist, despite his acquittal, he added, pointing to Vancouver Rape Relief's recent failed attempt to challenge Henry's "factual innocence" in court.

"The complainants should have been blaming the police and the Crown, not Mr. Henry. But, and this is the problem, Henry was and will always be the easier target."

The province is expected to deliver closing arguments next week. It is the only remaining defendant after the federal government and the City of Vancouver recently settled for undisclosed amounts.