Convicted killer Colin Thatcher challenges Saskatchewan profits of crime law

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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REGINA - Convicted killer Colin Thatcher says the Saskatchewan government doesn't have the right to take the money from a book he wrote about his case because he believes he was framed and couldn't possibly write about a crime he didn't commit.
Thatcher was in a Regina court Thursday to challenge the province's new Profits of Criminal Notoriety Act. The law says criminals can't make money by recounting their crime stories, but Thatcher argued that it doesn't apply to his book "Final Appeal: Anatomy of a Frame."
Thatcher - who has always denied killing his ex-wife JoAnn Wilson in 1983 - said the memoir is about his dealings with the justice system, not about the crime.
"I'm hardly, my Lord, hardly going to be recounting a crime that I didn't commit," Thatcher said to Justice Ted Zarzeczny of Court of Queen's Bench.
Wilson was bludgeoned and shot in the garage of her Regina home, just steps away from the Saskatchewan legislature.
Thatcher, a former Saskatchewan cabinet minister, spent 22 years behind bars. He was released on parole in 2006 and now lives on the family ranch near Moose Jaw, Sask.
He said government officials were aware of his intention to publish the book for more than two years, but did nothing to intervene until last spring. That's when public discussion about the book prompted the government to rush through legislation in May.
The government is trying to collect the $5,000 advance that Thatcher was paid by the Toronto-based ECW Press and to seize any profits from book sales.
Under the law, the proceeds would go to victims, their family members or a victims' fund.
That could benefit the three children Thatcher had with Wilson. They have stood by their father as he proclaimed his innocence. Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan has said there's potential for that to happen, but it has not been decided who might get the profits.
Thatcher, who represented himself in court, said the government is trying to punish him with retroactive legislation.
"I wrote a book that was completely within the law and completely within my rights," he said.
"I entered into a perfectly lawful contract with a Toronto publisher and everything that I had done until this act was passed was perfectly and completely within the law.
"There is no fancy writing trying to get around any legislation. What you see is exactly my intention, I was not trying to avoid anything. I had a certain, definitive purpose in mind when I wrote it. My intention was not to recount the crime of which I am convicted," he said.
Thatcher also argued that the law is unconstitutional because it violates his freedom of expression. He said it adds a penalty to the criminal conviction that infringes on personal liberty.
"Although the act being applied to 'Final Appeal' does not ban publication, it severely limits my freedom of expression through imposing an absolute financial penalty on my work of analysis, my criticism of the operation of the administration of justice," said Thatcher.
"Seizure and confiscation of any revenue must be considered a serious hindrance to freedom of expression," he said.
But the Crown argued that the book falls under the legislation.
Darryl Brown, one of two lawyers for the Saskatchewan government, said the definition of "recollection" in the legislation applies for several reasons. Brown noted that various chapters in the book talk in great detail about the murder weapon.
"We know that without that crime there would be no book," said Brown.
"We know that the crime has incredible notoriety, it's very famous, it's been indicated in various places as perhaps Saskatchewan's most famous case. We know that fame and notoriety sells books."
Brown said the book is "essentially all about the circumstances related to the crime."
Graeme Mitchell, director of constitutional law with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice, also argued that Thatcher's expression rights have not been violated.
"We're not saying he cannot write his book, we're not saying a publisher who is inclined to do so - as he was fortunate to find one - is not entitled to publish it," said Mitchell.
"What we are suggesting is that they are not entitled to a profit from that endeavour."
Zarzeczny reserved his decision.
Outside the courthouse, Mitchell acknowledged that if the justice finds that the book is not covered by the law, the charter issue is moot. The charter issue will only arise if the book is found to fall under the law, Mitchell explained.
Four other provinces - Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Alberta - have similar legislation, but it's never been challenged in the courts.

Organizations: Queen's, ECW Press, Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, REGINA, Moose Jaw, Sask. Toronto Ontario Manitoba Nova Scotia Alberta

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