Shocking comments about respected defence lawyer Lorne Goddard raise questions about Alliance leader's fitness for office
Red deer, Alberta – it’s still early November, but a chilling, sub-zero wind blows across the plains and a crisp blanket of snow already covers this quiet central Alberta town.This is Stockwell Day country, the cradle of western dissent that nurtured the Reform/Alliance party, and the place where the slick, ready-for-prime-time pol honed his so-called “campaign of respect” when he was the Tory MLA for Red Deer North.
While many locals are hometown-proud of Day for sticking it to those lying, cheating eastern politicians, you can still find folks in this close-knit rural outpost of 65,000 who are wary of their crusading homeboy.
I’ve come west to catch up with one of them – Lorne Goddard, a local defence lawyer and school board trustee who is suing Day for defamation.
The story of this court case that has shaken Goddard to his moral core tells us much more than we want to know about the secret soul of Stockwell Day, revealing the former Alberta treasurer to have a perilously immature concept of how the justice system works, and raising questions about whether he has the sophistication for national leadership.
The set-to begins with Day’s obsession with sexual deviance. This week he’s expanded on his good-and-evil view of the world, calling for stiffer penalties, bigger prisons and throwing away the key for three-time sexual offenders. He also indulged his compulsions in Toronto, as police hauled in an ex-con child molester who was in the company of a 13-year-old, turning the city’s horror into campaign fodder.
And he demonstrated the same unidimensionality in last week’s TV leaders debate when he promised to use the notwithstanding clause to prevent decisions like the controversial one in British Columbia, where Robin Sharp had his child-porn possession charges overturned on constitutional grounds.
Most Canadians are shocked to hear such crude crime-baiting, but it’s nothing new to the people of Red Deer. Last year, when he was still the Alberta treasurer, he used his powerful pulpit to make political hay out of a particular defence that lawyer Goddard mounted on behalf of client Kevin Valley.
Valley, too, was an ex-con pedophile, only he was charged with possession of child porn. And in a dangerous case of politicizing a judicial defence, Day wrote to the Red Deer Advocate suggesting that because Goddard used the charter – the Sharp argument – for his client, the lawyer and school trustee must personally believe it’s OK for a pedophile, or even a teacher, to possess child porn.
“He is reported to have said that he actually believes the pedophile had the right to possess child porn,” Day wrote in his controversial letter to the Advocate in April 1999.
He goes on to say in the letter that “Goddard was elected to protect children. Also, by extension, Goddard must also believe it is fine for a teacher to possess child porn. Perhaps even pictures of one of his own students, as long as he got the photos or video from someone else.”
The letter, many agree, shows a shocking misunderstanding of the system of judicial defence, confusing a lawyer’s obligation to find the best legal argument for his client – even if he’s a convicted pedophile – with the views of the lawyer himself.
Besides demonstrating his ignorance and using his political office to send a chill into Alberta courtrooms, Day had, in just a few lines, called into question the untarnished reputation of the church-going family man and respected school board trustee who has served Red Deer for 18 years.
Although he later apologized to Goddard and then launched a personal Web site to clarify the intent of his comments, Day’s statements have split the community.
While some supporte Day’s foray, others believe he crossed a line.
“It’s polarized people on a really hot-button issue,” says Darren Lund, a local high school teacher and former member of Alberta’s now-defunct multicultural commission. “No one is for sexually exploiting children. Nobody. But I think it’s so dangerous to make lawyers afraid of whether they defend the good criminals or the bad criminals.”
In a letter to the editor of the Advocate, even the crown prosecutor in the Valley case defended Goddard’s conduct during the trial. As well, the current federal Liberal candidate in Red Deer, Walter Kubanek, who also happens to be the local chief crown prosecutor, echoes the potential chilling effect Day’s position could have on the legal profession.
“We have lawyers because they are independent of their clients’ personal views and they’re professionals,” Kubanek explains to me, sitting in his campaign office. “When a government member goes out and tars a lawyer with his client’s beliefs, that’s a direct threat to the legal profession and the rule of law.”
Goddard, who recently settled with the Advocate, is seeking $600,000 in damages from Day. The trial was supposed to start earlier this month. But Day’s lawyer, Robert Thompson, managed to get the trial adjourned until after the election. However, pre-trial arguments continue this week in a small, out-of-the-way courtroom in Edmonton.
Since Alberta taxpayers are footing Day’s defence bill, the Alliance leader can drag out the case as long as he wants. In his defence, Day is arguing qualified privilege, fair comment and freedom of expression.
For Goddard, coming up with the dough to fight is just one of many burdens he’s had to shoulder.
While an Alberta judge warned him last week that talking to the media could affect any amount ultimately awarded for damages if he wins, he agreed to sit down with me in his law office in one of the few professional buildings in the centre of town, across the street from City Hall. The dark-blue-suited Goddard grew up in Ottawa, attended Osgoode Hall and moved west with his wife 25 years ago.
On his cluttered desk, there’s a framed photograph his daughter gave him of the lone, defiant Chinese student protestor in front of a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square.
“Just a little while ago, she gave me a letter saying that she learned about him by watching me practise law all these years,” he says.
Goddard tries to keep a sense of humour about it all. But he’s fidgeting with a rubber band and is obviously on edge. The ordeal has taken a toll.
“It’s a very difficult time. Very difficult,” he says.
It’s affected his wife, his three children, who are all grown, as well as his financial situation.
“It’s a big nut. It’s a lot of pressure,” he says of the legal costs. “This is very expensive.”
Goddard was so distraught at one point last year that he decided to leave his Anglican church and attended a Catholic church for a time (he now attends Oriole Park Missionary Church, which is Evangelical).
“I’m an Anglican and I believe that all people are created equal in the eyes of God and the law. I think that all people deserve to be treated as human beings, and that none of us is greater than the other,” he says.
As for the hit his law practice has taken, he says it’s hard to quantify.
“If somebody doesn’t come in as a result of this, how do you know?” he asks. “My reputation has been damaged by what happened, and I think what he did is a potential threat to every lawyer practising law in Alberta.”
Goddard says he always got along with Day – he recalls the MLA phoning to congratulate him on winning re-election to the board.
And when they met in the street (Day’s constituency office was in the building next door), the two would sometimes discuss school funding.
“Getting the funding from the province was an important part of how we ran the school board,” Goddard says. “So yeah, we were always talking to him and trying to get some money out of him, or get his support.”
Besides opposing funding cuts, Goddard also supported the provincial Liberals. He had also sought and lost the federal Progressive Conservative nomination in 1997. He says he was invited to run again this time, but declined.
“There’s too much going on in my life right now with Mr. Day,” he says.
Although he’s received some negative letters and phone calls, his fellow school board colleagues have stood behind him.
“He felt he was part of the community,” says trustee Bill Stuebing, who wrote to the Advocate defending Goddard. “Now, at Stockwell’s bidding, they think he’s a monster.”
Board chair Cindy Jefferies says Goddard has “been a tried-and-true trustee for 20 years.
“I find it ironic that of all the people on our board, Lorne would find himself in the position he’s in,” she says. “He’s always saying, “What about the kids?'”
But not everybody in Red Deer is prepared to back the respected lawyer.
“Some people think Lorne is a traitor because he’s suing Stockwell,” says Stuebing, adding, “For a lot of people, Stockwell is the voice of moral authority. For Stockwell to take that position, it can have a real impact on your life. Lorne just couldn’t let him get away with that.'”
Ironically, failed school board trustee candidate Diane Macaulay kicked off the controversy last year when she complained to the Advocate that a school trustee shouldn’t be representing a pedophile.
“(Goddard) had a choice,” the stay-at-home mother tells me. “I thought it was a bad choice.”
Day, she says, later “congratulated me for sticking up for the rights of children.”
Local Alliance MP Bob Mills, who meets me in the lounge of the Capri Hotel on Remembrance Day afternoon, says he understands why Day weighed in.
“I can see why Stock did what he did,” he says. “I wish he hadn’t. I’m sure he wishes he hadn’t. He did apologize, and I’m sure he rethought that. ”
Mills was well aware of Valley’s record. He had held a community meeting and distributed Valley’s picture when he was released after serving time on his previous convictions.
Later, Valley would be caught and fined for defacing Mills’s constituency office with swastikas.
“I was scared,” says Mills. “I’m afraid of this guy.”
Valley, who pleaded guilty, was represented for the first time by Goddard on the defacing charges.
When Valley was eventually caught with child porn, Mills wasn’t surprised.
“You can imagine what I felt, knowing now some of the background of this person,” he says. “And then to find that Mr. Goddard, of course, was pushing the BC case – in other words, he was defending this person, but he defended him beyond….” Mills pauses for a moment to choose his words carefully. “He went as far as he could go defending this person.”
As for Goddard’s profile in the community, Mills is dismissive.
“Lawyers are lawyers,” he shrugs. “We maybe don’t like lawyers as much as people in Ontario do.”