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How a Canadian man's fight for 'justice' reached a bloody end in the Philippines

An undated photogragh of Canadian national John Pope.

Reuters/Cebu court

In 1970, John Holdridge Pope thought his war was over. The 24-year-old had deserted his U.S. Army officer training, fled to Canada and renounced his citizenship to protest the Vietnam War. But his battles didn't end.

Instead, he bounced between provinces and became a self-styled advocate, writing letter after letter to newspapers. He was anti-Vietnam, pro-capitalism and anti-feminism. As years passed, the letters continued. In Canada and the Philippines, where he lived in retirement for several years, he kept writing, filing complaints and appealing to the media. Mr. Pope soon saw corruption all around him. The injustices, as he saw them, became innumerable.

After years of painting himself a victim, Mr. Pope took a violent turn on Tuesday when he opened fire on his foes in a courthouse. What began as a condo-board squabble left a pediatric surgeon and his lawyer dead, a prosecutor fighting for her life and Mr. Pope himself dead, killed by officers responding to his rampage, according to a police report obtained by The Globe and Mail.

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The crime shook the city of Cebu, which is now beefing up courthouse security, though there had been warnings. In one letter last year, Mr. Pope told local media to "not be surprised to see an escalation of the problems as the dying person fights for justice."

His American relatives were nonetheless caught off-guard. Their most recent letter from him arrived a couple of weeks ago, and Mr. Pope had focused on his "greatest joy," supporting the children of an unidentified female friend.

"There was nothing in the letter whatsoever that revealed what happened. That, to me, was a shock. He talked mainly about the children and their schooling and how they were doing, and this comes as a total surprise," one relative said in an interview.

A portrait of Mr. Pope's Canadian life has begun to emerge. He had citizenship, carrying, until his death, an expired Manitoba driver's licence. He identified as a retired journalist who once worked for the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives (the party has a record of employing a man with that name briefly in the 1990s, but was not sure it was the same John Pope).

He chose the Philippines because he travelled there during college and enjoyed the people and way of life, the relative said, but he long clashed with authorities and vaguely told his family about legal troubles he feared would lead to his deportation.

Foremost among the trouble was his long-simmering fight with Dr. Reynold Rene Rafols, who once lived in the same condominium complex in Cebu City, the second-largest municipality in the country.

Mr. Pope approached Dr. Rafols, a pediatric surgeon and father of two who was president of the residents' association, on something "crazy" and "minuscule" that wasn't acted on, according to one local report. Mr. Pope later complained about mysterious knocks on his door and accused Dr. Rafols of harassing him. Mr. Pope would throw stones at the doctor's townhouse, one report said. Mr. Pope was also reportedly arrested with a pistol near Dr. Rafols's clinic last year.

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"This guy, Rafols, once came to my apartment at 2 o'clock in the morning, with two armed police officers and an armed bodyguard, with their guns out, and swung a baseball bat inches from my face," Mr. Pope told reporters during a court appearance in 2011.

As his legal difficulties mounted, Mr. Pope became convinced that the police and justice systems were corrupt and unjust. Worried that his struggle was hurting his health and frustrated by the media, he compiled the lengthy dossier about his troubles.

Mr. Pope and Dr. Rafols had been due in the Palace of Justice in Cebu City on Tuesday as part of the court proceedings to deal with one of Dr. Rafols's complaints. Mr. Pope, one day shy of his 67th birthday, entered the courtroom and shot Dr. Rafols and his lawyer, identified as Jovian Achas. Both were shot in the head and died immediately. A photo of the aftermath shows two bodies sprawled in the small courtroom, its floor spattered with blood.

Mr. Pope then went to another room, finding and shooting Maria Theresa Calibugan Casino, an assistant city prosecutor reportedly handling one of his past cases. Ms. Calibugan Casino, 40, was shot in the neck, but remained alive in hospital Tuesday evening.

Mr. Pope then reportedly left the courtroom, searching for two other prosecutors, Oscar Capacio and Nicolas Sellon, according to the police report. He couldn't find them before being confronted by two policemen, who shot Mr. Pope in the head, left thigh and left upper arm, the report says. Mr. Pope died in hospital.

The shooting prompted concern about safety in the courts. The report states that Mr. Pope had been frisked before entering the court, leading to questions about how he had managed to get at least one gun into the room. According to one theory, he may have carried it in a folded newspaper that was not checked by guards.

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With reports from Josh Wingrove and Rick Cash

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