Skip to main content

Dead now more than two decades, JoAnn Wilson's voice is only a whisper, arguably a whimper, at the ongoing early-parole hearing here of the man convicted in her savage murder.

He is Colin Thatcher, her former husband, and his presence here is both physical and robust.

He is in the prisoner's box every day, looking healthy and tanned and acutely alert to the proceeding, characterized this week by his lawyer Darin Chow as representing "for my client 20 years of work" -- surely a most unusual description of a life sentence for murder.

Mr. Chow made the remark to explain his reasons for the lengthy questioning of Don Macdonell, the long-time federal parole officer who spent almost four full days in the witness box, interpreting for the jurors the opaque workings of the Correctional Service of Canada.

Mr. Macdonell did a sterling job. Despite his decades of work in the bureaucracy and exposure to hardened inmates, he has retained his humanity and humour, and was able to put in plain English what message the jurors might take about Mr. Thatcher from the plethora of documents about his time in prison.

As he said at one point yesterday, when he was asked to quantify the level of Mr. Thatcher's potential dangerousness, which is a real issue for these jurors, "Mr. Thatcher is a low risk to anyone in this courtroom."

Gerry Gerrand was not in the room yesterday to hear the remark, but had he been, he might have found in it cold comfort.

There was a time, as trial transcripts from Mr. Thatcher's original trial show, when Mr. Gerrand would have qualified as an exception.

The transcripts -- eight volumes of which are exhibits at this hearing -- include Mr. Thatcher's own testimony at trial.

There is a passage where he was being questioned about a taped conversation he had had with an associate named Gary Anderson who, as the evidence accepted by the trial jury revealed, Mr. Thatcher had attempted to enlist in arranging a hit on his former wife.

On the tape, Mr. Thatcher had made vague statements to Mr. Anderson that appeared to incriminate him in Mrs. Wilson's slaying, and he was being taken through the tape, line by line, by his then-lawyer.

Part of that questioning went like this:

Q: "Mr. Anderson then asked you, 'How's your feelings with your old buddy Gerry?' He laughs. You say, 'Gerry eh?' He says, 'Gerrand.' You say, 'Oh.' 'Kinda mellow t' him?' You say, 'No. Ah, guy I could do, that guy I could do.'"

Mr. Thatcher replied at the time that he was using rancher slang, and that the remark "meant nothing", certainly not, as might be inferred, that he could have blown Mr. Gerrand away.

As it happened, Mr. Macdonell left the witness box late yesterday, his testimony complete, and who was the next witness, but Mr. Gerrand.

He is 72 now, a portly white-haired fellow who is in the process of winding down an exceptionally distinguished law career; as he said, a smile creasing his gentle face, "I'm a recovering lawyer."

For about three years beginning in January, 1980, Mr. Gerrand was also the lawyer for Mrs. Wilson, then Mrs. Thatcher.

The couple was embroiled in a battle over custody of their two youngest children and a split of their matrimonial assets, and it was a fight that went far beyond even the acrimony so common to family court.

As became clear even in the brief evidence Mr. Gerrand gave yesterday, Mr. Thatcher fought his wife viciously and at every turn, repeatedly ignoring several judicial orders to hand over their son Regan, and simultaneously appealing every single court decision, all of which in the end were in Mrs. Wilson's favour.

Under questioning by prosecutor Bill Burge, Mr. Gerrand was led to various portions of Mrs. Wilson's evidence given at one of those many long-ago court proceedings, and it was in these quiet exchanges that her voice, at last, began to be heard.

Among the excerpts, Mrs. Wilson's remark that her husband "was very aggressive and cross"; that "I was afraid of him, very much afraid of him"; that "I was physically afraid of him, and I don't mean just a punch in the eye"; that in the months before she left him, he had several times locked her out of their house, often slamming the door in her face, at least once physically tossing her outside; that he told her "he would fight me to the end of his resources" for their children; that "he kicked me hard"; that he "told me I didn't have a chance" and that "his lawyer would make mincemeat out of me"; that once, when she fled to a basement bathroom and locked herself in, he splintered the door; that "he thinks he's above the law, and that the law is for somebody else"; that once, after he returned from a trip with a woman with whom he was having an affair, he accused her of "giving him a venereal disease."

Ultimately, he said, Mrs. Wilson agreed to a negotiated property settlement much below the court-ordered $800,000.

"That followed," Mr. Gerrand said, "an attempted murder of Mrs. Wilson in her kitchen on May 17, 1981." That day, as the jurors have already learned, she was shot in the shoulder and seriously injured.

As they moved through the documents, there were many references to various writs of habeas corpus for Mr. Thatcher to produce the child Regan. The phrase is Latin for "that you have the body."

At one point, Mr. Burge asked if Mrs. Wilson was ever successful in gaining the court-ordered custody of the boy, and Mr. Gerrand replied, and it seemed a précis of Mrs. Wilson's dreadful end: "She was never successful."

JoAnn Wilson was murdered on Jan. 21, 1983, in the garage of her Regina home.

She was bludgeoned with a curved instrument no fewer than 47 times, then shot for good measure behind the right ear.

Mr. Gerrand is able to testify about their dealings because Mrs. Wilson's widower, and the executor of her estate, has waived solicitor-client privilege.

But he is also here, in some less formal way, to speak for the woman whose battered body no writ can ever again produce.