July 25, 2004
Chief stands by his words
Peel Region’s Chief of Police says there is nothing wrong with remarks he made Thursday that assumes the man charged with murdering 9- year- old Cecilia Zhang is guilty.
Chief Noel Catney made the controversial comments at a news conference when he announced that 21- year- old Toronto resident Min Chen has been charged with first- degree murder in connection with the little girl’s kidnapping and death.
An emotional Catney slammed a photo of Chen onto a table and told reporters: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is not just a murderer. This is the more despicable of criminals. This is a child murderer.”
Several prominent members of the legal community felt the chief crossed the line by disregarding Chen’s presumption of innocence.
By Friday afternoon, Catney released a statement defending his comments and decried suggestions that he put Chen’s pending trial in jeopardy.
“I stand by the comments,” the statement said. “Based upon some five months of investigation, it is my view that I was articulating the majority of sentiment of the community, Cecilia’s family and more importantly, Cecilia.”
The chief went on t o say that he is “deeply committed to the judicial process and it would never be my intent to adversely affect anyone’s right to a fair trail or hearing.
“I am acutely aware of the fact that the charge of first- degree murder is, at the present moment, alleged and is an allegation by the police.”
Peel criminal lawyer Gary Batasar believes the chief’s comments were imappropriate.
“Certainly his comments failed to take into account the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the presumption of innocence,” he said.
“I think (the chief) was upset and emotional, and I’m sure this was an emotionally- charged slip of the tongue.
“if it’s his personal opinion, he should have kept it personal. When he speaks, he represents his police force.”
Toronto criminal lawyer Steven Skurka agreed that Catney made a mistake with his remarks towards the accused. “I’ve never heard of anything like this before,” said Skurka. “The problem is he’s tried, branded, and convicted the person charged before the trial has even started.”
Catney said in a high profile case such as this one, there is a need to be “more candid.”
But Skurka said Catney’s comments may prejudice jurors if in fact Chen elects to be tried by jury.
Catney disagreed, saying jurors wil be fair.
“My confidence is such that if a jury is selected from the over one million residents of the Region of Peel, they will, in a most prudent fashion, make their determination based solely on the facts and evidence presented.”
Several lawyers believe Catney’s comments may for the case to be moved from the GTA.
In his experience, Batasar said, such strong comments are often made when there is “overwhelming evidence against (an) accused (party).”
Meanwhile, police remain tight- lipped about the motive behind Zhang’s abduction/ murder.
There were reports Friday that police are looking at the possibility that this was a crime similar to the abduction- for- profit case involving private school owner and Mississauga resident Thomas Ku, 48, in May 2001.
In that case, visa students Suo Zhiyang and Wang Feng, both 20, were sentenced to 15 years each in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter in Ku’s death.
Both men admitted to making ransom calls of $100,000 to Ku’s family, even after he was dead.
Chen’s next court appearance is scheduled for August 19.