Focus On

Security issues come to fore as suspect arrested

Thursday, March 05, 2015 @ 7:00 PM | By Cristin Schmitz

Was the motive for the brutal slaying of retired Tax Court Chief Justice Alban Garon buried in his court’s own files for more than seven years after he and two others were found dead in his Ottawa condo in 2007?

Could police have nabbed his suspected killer many years earlier had the chief justice kept a ‘crackpot’ file, i.e. copies of letters he received from people who seemed delusional, unhinged, or threatening?

The questions remain unanswered after the stunning arrest last month of a 59-year-old Ottawa businessman whose tax appeal was thrown out by the Tax Court in 2001.

Ottawa police charged human resources consultant Ian Bush on Feb. 20 with first degree murder in the deaths of Garon, his spouse Raymonde, and the Garons’ close friend and neighbour, Marie-Claire Béniskos.

Police cited a link between DNA evidence they found at the Garon crime scene on June 30, 2007, and at the Ottawa condo of Ernest Cote in December.

Bush is accused of trying to murder the 101-year-old Second World War veteran during a Dec. 18 home invasion. Cote managed to free himself after being beaten, and duct-taped to his walker, with a plastic bag over his head. Investigators noted similarities to the crime scene where the Garons and Béniskos were found beaten, with plastic bags around their heads, according to media reports.

“The Tax Court of Canada judges are pleased to see that an arrest has been made after many years of investigation,” Tax Court Chief Justice Eugene Rossiter told The Lawyers Weekly in an e-mail. “This was a terrible tragedy which occurred almost eight years ago, and the shock and sorrow which arose at the time still resonate with the court to this day.

“An arrest is just the beginning. This matter will conclude when a person is found guilty of having committed these horrific crimes.”

The chief justice did not, however, answer questions about whether Tax Court judges now, as a security protocol, keep their own separate records of all suspicious correspondence.

Garon apparently did not. According to news reports, in 2001 he received a letter from Bush that he ordered placed in Bush’s court file. The judge was not himself involved in Bush’s case. Yet it summoned him by name to appear before “the Higher Court of Humanitarian Justice” at a suburban Ottawa address, which turned out to belong to Bush’s mother.

That 2001 letter apparently did not emerge from Tax Court files until 2014 — after DNA evidence pointed to Bush. In the meantime, investigators spent hundreds of hours poring over Garon’s court cases, finding no motive or suspects. In 2008 they offered a $100,000 reward, $25,000 of which was put up by judges and other friends of the Garons.

“Given the nature of the Tax Court of Canada’s jurisdiction, the court and its judges often receive correspondence which may seem unusual,” Chief Justice Rossiter said. However, he did not comment further, other than that the Tax Court “has its own security measures in place for judges, and these will continue.”

Garon’s successor, now-retired Tax Court Chief Justice Donald Bowman, told The Lawyers Weekly he did not himself keep a separate file of suspicious correspondence. “As Tax Court judges we don’t seriously expect to get attacked,” he said.

In light of the Garon murder, it might however be prudent to keep a separate file of odd or suspicious letters, he added.

Now counsel to Dentons in Toronto, Bowman has vivid memories of watching police and emergency vehicles arrive at the gated Riviera condo complex where both he and Garon resided.

“It was quite a shock to us all,” he told The Lawyers Weekly. “My reaction [to the arrest] is obviously one of relief, assuming they have arrested the right person.”

Bowman, who was interviewed several times by police, said he has “no idea of anybody who would have a motive to murder Alban. All I know is that he was a very affable fellow and I liked him. We got along well, and I can’t imagine who would want to murder him.”

When the murder occurred, his colleagues were shocked, Bowman recalls. “Judges on the Tax Court simply don’t have this sort of thing happen to them,” he said, noting tax matters are generally not as emotionally charged as criminal cases, for example.

When Chief Justice Garon received Bush’s letter summoning him to a bogus court, “he had no reason whatsoever to believe that it could be used as evidence or something like that,” Bowman says. “It was crazy, but it’s not inconceivable that Chief Justice Garon didn’t think that justified putting it in a special file.”