Out in the Open

'I don't think you ever really become you again': Robert Baltovich on the court of public opinion

Robert Baltovich went to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, but he’s more concerned about what he sees happening now in the court of public opinion than with flaws in the justice system.

Baltovich says legally clearing your name is one thing; truly restoring your reputation is a much taller order

Robert Baltovich in 1996. This photo was taken in the prison library, where he worked from 1993 to 1998. (Courtesy of Robert Baltovich)
Robert Baltovich knows what it's like have his reputation ruined. He was tried and convicted for the murder of his college girlfriend, Elizabeth Bain — a crime he did not commit. He served eight years in prison for the crime, and it took another decade after that before he was acquitted in 2008. His civil suit seeking compensation is ongoing. 
Robert Baltovich and Elizabeth Bain, Christmas of 1989. (Courtesy of Robert Baltovich)

But as Baltovich tells Out In The Open, legally clearing your name is one thing; truly restoring your reputation is a much taller order.

"It's a very difficult thing to rebuild a reputation and I think one of the reasons for that is because in the court of public opinion there are always going to be people who think because you are charged with a serious crime, that you're guilty, regardless of how it's ultimately handled by the courts."

"It bleeds into so many different aspects of your life."

Baltovich says having his name associated with such a heinous crime continues to affect everything from his employment prospects to his social life, especially when meeting people for the first time. 

This sign was placed on the lawn of family friends Bev and Dave Mirams who lived a few doors away from Brian Raybould, who arrested Robert Baltovich. "They put the sign up to let him know that they believed I was innocent on the day I was released on bail." (Courtesy of Robert Baltovich)

 "I don't want to say the wrong thing, I don't want them to think I get angry easily, I don't want them to think that I might possibly be a threat to them. I've had social situations where people were so shocked, I could tell right away, that didn't even really want to be in my presence." 

Baltovich experienced the stark change before and after Internet saturation, and it has deeply affected him to have everything, true or false, be Googleable.

 I'm even more concerned now for others as I see their reputations destroyed. Because I know from experience that even if [...] ultimately they're cleared, the fact is that information is going to be there forever.- Robert Baltovich

"I think the life of anonymity that people once enjoyed, generations previous, has gone now and that's one of the reasons why I'm even more concerned now for others as I see their reputations destroyed. Because I know from experience that even if, say for example, they're charged for a crime and ultimately they're cleared, the fact is that information is going to be there forever."

He says it's that new reality he finds himself worrying about the most, not the failings of the criminal justice system.

"Wrongful accusations can be devastating to even the strongest person. I don't think you ever really become you again."


This story originally aired on April 8, 2018. It appears in the Out in the Open episode "Reputation".

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