By Les Sillars
Calgary police and prosecutors are slammed for ignoring an alibi
Men accused of domestic violence have complained for years of being convicted on the unsupported say-so of their female spouses because of a pervasive anti-male bias in the legal system. There are some suggestions, however, that the tide may be turning slightly. This summer a Calgary man was acquitted of assaulting his wife after it emerged at trial he had an airtight alibi that neither police nor prosecutors had bothered to investigate. An irate Judge Bruce Fraser ordered the chief crown prosecutor to consider charges of perjury and mischief against the complainant.
At about 10 p.m. on March 31, 1998, Calgary police received a call from Calgary resident Nawega Salem. She told the officer that about 8:30 her estranged husband, Nabil Ghanem, accosted her on the sidewalk, pushed her around, slapped her, swore at her, and tried to snatch her baby from her arms. The confrontation supposedly took 10 or 15 minutes.
The officer, a Constable Dubar, took a statement from the complainant and then went to Mr. Ghanem’s residence. The accused told the officer that he had been home all evening and had a witness. Const. Dudar declined to investigate the alibi, arrested Mr. Ghanem, and charged him with assault.
The case came to trial in June. In his written decision, Judge Fraser noted that the trial testimony of the complainant, Nawega Salem, and her mother, Fatima Salem, was vague and contradictory. When asked about the inconsistencies between her trial testimony and her written statement, Nawega replied, “If I wanted to, I could have read this before I came to court today.” Furthermore, three credible witnesses testified that Mr. Ghanem had been at his residence all evening. This alibi was disclosed to the Crown prior to the trial.
The court also heard that an hour before the complaint was lodged, Mr. Ghanem had had his wife served with divorce papers and an order preventing her from leaving the province with their child. Judge Fraser found the evidence of the accusers was “quiet frankly, false,” and concocted to gain leverage in the anticipated custody battle.
(picture) MESA’s Sleiman: Courts are becoming less credulous.
The shoddy investigation put an innocent man “through the agony of a criminal trial and the expense of having to defend himself. If that’s what police officers think ‘zero tolerance’ means, then their training is sadly lacking,” said Judge Fraser.
The judge, Calgary’s former chief crown prosecutor, then ordered current chief prosecutor Jerry Selinger to consider charging the complainant and her mother, suggested that Mr. Selinger investigate why the Crown did not check the alibi, and instructed that a copy of his comments be forwarded to Calgary police Chief Christine Silverberg.
Three weeks ago a police spokesman insisted that full investigations are standard policy. Mr. Selinger did not respond to an interview request. As for the Ghanem family, “well, you see, I’m back with her now, so I guess I wouldn’t be interested in [being interviewed] for the story,” Mr. Ghanem says. “It would only make things difficult.”
Gus Sleiman, president of the Men’s Educational Support Association (MESA), believes that the courts are slowly becoming more cautious about the stories of some women who claim to be victims. Calgary criminal lawyer Don MacLeod says that it is difficult to say there is a trend. “What is rare, but not unheard of,” he says, “is a judge whose feelings about the credibility of a witness are strong that he orders the Crown to investigate perjury charges.” It is even more notable, Mr. MacLeod adds, that Judge Fraser saw fit to censure his former colleagues in the crown prosecutor’s office.
Copyright, Alberta Report