Manitoba

Mark Grant sues Crown, police for 'wrongful conviction' in Candace Derksen murder

The man who spent a decade behind bars for the murder of Winnipeg teen Candace Derksen but was acquitted in a retrial is suing police and the Crown prosecutors office for $8.5 million.

Grant found guilty by jury in 2011 but acquitted in judge-only retrial in 2017

Mark Edward Grant is interviewed by police shortly after he was arrested in 2007. (Court of Queen's Bench)

The man who spent a decade behind bars for the murder of Winnipeg teen Candace Derksen is suing the police and the Crown prosecutors office for $8.5 million in damages, in what he calls a wrongful conviction.

The suit on behalf of Mark Edward Grant was filed on Wednesday and cites "negligent investigation, malicious prosecution, breach of his Charter rights and wrongful conviction."

The lawsuit claims the disappearance of Candace Dersken was "handled poorly by the Winnipeg Police Service from the onset," and that police had "tunnel vision" and decided that Mark Grant was "guilty" and "aggressively" looked for ways to prove Grant's guilt. 

According to the statement of claim, Winnipeg police originally thought Derksen was a runaway, and likely missed important evidence and promising leads from the very beginning of the investigation. 

It also claims Crown prosecutors at the time "failed or refused" to re-evaluate the case when faced with evidence that the DNA was flawed.

Candace Derksen was 13 when she went missing in the Elmwood area of the city. Her frozen body was found almost seven weeks later in a brickyard storage shed near the Nairn Overpass. (CBC)

The suit names 13 defendants including the government of Manitoba and former Winnipeg police officers.

Derksen was 13 when she went missing while walking home from her school, Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute, on Nov. 30, 1984, in the Elmwood area of the city.

Her frozen body was found almost seven weeks later in a brickyard storage shed near the Nairn Overpass, less than 500 metres from her family's home.

She was wrapped in blankets and her hands and feet were bound with twine. The cause of death was exposure.

Grant was charged in 2007 and a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder after a trial in 2011.

A retrial was ordered after his defence team argued possible evidence of a different killer was improperly excluded from the first trial. In October 2017, the judge-only retrial found Grant not guilty.

Lawyer says Grant abused in prison

Grant's Ottawa-based lawyer Lawrence Greenspon said his client has always showed compassion for the Derksen family.

"At one opportunity he had to address Wilma Derksen, Candace's mother, his words were, 'I'm sorry, but I didn't do it,'" he said.

Greenspon said his client has maintained his innocence from the beginning.

"Mark Grant spent more than 10 years in jail for a crime he didn't commit," Greenspon said.

"The evidence that was used to convict him was completely unreliable."

Grant's lawyer said because of the nature of his conviction, he was frequently the target of abuse in prison, including being spit on, finding feces in his food, and being stabbed four times.

Even after he was acquitted and released, Grant has been the victim of public attacks from members of the public who still believed he was guilty, his lawyer said.

The law firm in Ottawa is taking on the case because no civil lawyer in Winnipeg was willing to, Greenspon said.

"It appears there are some pretty strong feelings in Winnipeg against Mark Grant," he said.

'It's just hard on everyone': Wilma Derksen

Wilma Derksen said she was surprised and disappointed to learn of the lawsuit on Thursday.

"It's just hard on everyone," she said. "And that's where I think this process is very harmful."

Derksen said she feels terrible for the police and investigators who have been working hard on the case all these years.

"That where I ache, I just wish their work wouldn't be questioned," she said.

"I think they all did a marvelous job. Even some of the failures that came out were still good, well-intentioned efforts, so I just have great respect for everybody on the system.

"So to question that in whatever form is just hard," she said.

This photo shows the shed where Candace's body was found in January 1985. (CBC)

Derksen said the lawsuit is especially difficult as family and friends continue to heal from the loss.

"I just wish I had $8.5 million to shut this whole thing down, just in frustration."

Winnipeg police would not comment on the lawsuit because it's before the courts.

In an email to CBC, a spokesperson for Manitoba Justice said the province "has not yet been formally served in this matter.

"Once that happens, we will review to determine our position. Since this is an ongoing matter before the courts, we are unable to comment further. " 

With files from Nelly Gonzalez and Marina von Stackelberg

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