CM . . . .
Volume V Number 11 . . . . January 29, 1999
The bread had to be out of the oven by 8 p.m. Shirley took Ruby down to Apartment 4, completed her domestic chores, then went back to Kim's suite.Most Canadian citizens' knowledge of the criminal court system is likely limited to the content of television programs, principally American. In actuality, most criminal trials lack the drama and showmanship portrayed on the small screen; however, in She Was Only 3, Montgomery, a former Crown prosecutor in Manitoba, tells a gripping story, one that is more horrifying and disturbing because it is true. On Friday, September 13, 1985, three-year-old Ruby Adriaenssen was abducted, sexually assaulted, and brutally killed, her semi-nude body left to be discovered in a Winnipeg garage. Within a day, police had a confession from John James Jr., 17, but, because of James' age, a legal dispute over admission of evidence under Canada's Young Offenders Act ultimately led to three trials and the passage of more than five years before Thomas was convicted of the lesser crime of manslaughter, rather than first-degree murder. Initially sentenced to 22 years, James, upon appeal, received a life sentence which meant the possibility of parole eligibility in 1992. Because of the provisions of the Privacy Act and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, Montgomery cannot ascertain Thomas' present whereabouts.
As the case's prosecutor, Montgomery's "bias" is obvious, but his concern goes well beyond his disgust at a confessed killer's ultimate light sentence to a more generalized lament about how the Canadian Court System has seemingly placed the "rights" of the accused, particularly "young offenders," significantly ahead of those of the victims. Readers are allowed to draw their own conclusions as Montgomery chronologically presents the book's contents principally via court records. The inclusion of a great deal of "conversation" makes the work read quickly, and it sometimes feel like fiction, rather than fact. This misperception, however, can be quickly reversed by the reader's turning to the eight pages of black and white photographs, three of them containing four police pictures of Ruby's body, taken at the crime scene. While possibly quite disturbing to some readers, these photographs were just some of those shown to the jury, and they serve to bring home the enormity of the crime, something that often seemed overlooked in the ritualized behaviour of the Court.
While She Was Only 3 will likely have its greatest readership amongst adults, mature adolescents should have the opportunity to confront the issues the book raises.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in Literature for the Adolescent in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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