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Court rejects favouritism for murdered lawyer’s daughter

|Written By Kendyl Sebesta

The child of a criminal defence lawyer and a computer expert who were shot to death in their home in Ancaster, Ont., in 1998 won’t get more favourable treatment from the courts than the man once accused of murdering them, the Ontario Superior Court has ruled.

‘The courts cannot favour one client over another and have a duty to ensure everyone is treated fairly in court,’ says Adam Dodek.

Setting aside a 2011 order by Master Donald Short, Justice Ted Matlow determined in Gravelle v. CTV Television Inc. that the desire of Kristen Gilbank Savoie to move a defamation action against her and several other defendants to Hamilton, Ont., from Toronto shouldn’t have received a favourable response from the court over a competing action brought by the plaintiff simply because her mother had been an officer of the court.

Matlow suggested any favouritism by the court toward Gilbank Savoie would deny Andre Gravelle, the man once accused of murdering her parents Lynn and Fred Gilbank, of his right to a fair hearing and would have a chilling effect on the court’s fundamental principles of law.

“However, no matter how much sorrow [Short] felt, it was wrong for him to give effect to his unfounded belief that the court had some special duty to the child of the murdered barrister,” wrote Matlow in his reasons.

“The message given, despite the master’s attempt to soften it with the language contained in paragraph 49, was that lawyers and their children are entitled to be treated by the court more favourably than others. However, nothing could be further from the truth.”

Gilbank Savoie had sought to move a defamation action brought by Gravelle against her and several CTV reporters. She argued the action should take place in the Hamilton area, where her parents were murdered, rather than Toronto.

Short agreed and granted her motion in January 2011. He found that although there were concerns with moving the action to Hamilton, a properly instructed jury could deliver a true verdict. Short also noted the court should heavily “consider the circumstances and in particular, the desires of the daughter of one of its officers.”

Lynn Gilbank, a criminal defence lawyer, and her husband Fred were shot execution-style in their Ancaster home in the early hours of Nov. 16, 1998. Police charged Gravelle with their murder in 2005. The charge against him was subsequently withdrawn in 2006.

Gravelle has since launched a lawsuit seeking relief and damages from Gilbank Savoie and nine other defendants for statements about his alleged involvement in the murders. According to Matlow’s reasons, Gravelle has denied any involvement in or knowledge of the murders.

Following the charge against Gravelle, CTV had run a special about the case on the documentary program W5. Gilbank Savoie and several others spoke about the murders and Gravelle’s alleged involvement.

The ruling is welcome news to some legal experts who say Matlow’s decision plays an important role in protecting the fundamental principles of Ontario’s courts.

“Justice Matlow was absolutely correct,” says Adam Dodek, an Ottawa lawyer and legal ethics professor at the University of Ottawa. “The courts cannot favour one client over another and have a duty to ensure everyone is treated fairly in court.”

But Allan Hutchinson, a legal theorist at Osgoode Hall Law School, says that although Matlow’s decision was correct, there should still be consideration for crime victims who may have been targeted for their profession.

“Taken starkly, Justice Matlow was right,” says Hutchinson. “But I do think the victim could have gotten a reading that was slightly more benevolent.

There are rules in place which try to protect members of the court and they may require greater consideration in these cases.”

Still, Dodek says the court also has the duty to ensure consideration of a victim’s profession doesn’t outweigh the rights of the accused.

“It shouldn’t matter who the victim of a crime is,” he says. “All cases before the court should be treated fairly and impartially. On the same hand, a person who is accused of a crime shouldn’t be treated unfairly either.”

None of the allegations in the defamation matter have been proven in court. The court has yet to set a date for the trial.

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