Beaulieu free at last
Fort Resolution man exonerated after serving nearly five years

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (May 12/97) - Wilfred Beaulieu knows the value of freedom. And after serving nearly five years in an Alberta prison for a crime he didn't commit, he knows it all too well.

Beaulieu, 37, was convicted on two counts of sexual assault in 1992 on the testimony of an admitted liar and a woman with extensive mental problems.

After a lengthy fight to prove his innocence that went all the way to the office of the federal justice minister, he was exonerated by Alberta's Court of Appeal last Monday after one witness recanted her story about the assault on her and seeing the assault on the other woman.

An appeals court entered an acquittal on one charge and ordered a new trial on the other. Prosecutor Jane McClellan said the court would stay the charge.

A stayed charge can be reactivated within a year, but such actions are extremely rare.

The verdict did not come soon enough for Beaulieu, who had endured a long fight to prove that he didn't sexually assault the women.

"I have no faith in the court system -- I will do everything to stay away from it," he said from his Fort Resolution home Thursday.

Beaulieu came back to his home town just before Christmas after Justice Minister Allan Rock referred the case back the Alberta Court of Appeal in November. By then, he had been in jail for four years and 10 months.

Since that time, he's been working odd jobs and trying to put his life back together. He's just finished a 900-page autobiography.

Admittedly someone who had constantly been in trouble with the law even before the sexual assault charges, Beaulieu said his experiences have taught him a life lesson, albeit in the hardest way.

"I didn't do all this to write a book or anything," he said. "I wrote it to find out where I had gone wrong in life. I wrote 900 pages and studied it, trying to see what had gone wrong."

The book, he said, is a major part of his recovery. "It has helped me focus on the positive in life, whereas I always used to dwell on the negative -- bad feelings and depressed and stuff," he said.

But Tommy Beaulieu said that it was his brother's strong will that helped him get through his time in jail -- time that included a June 1995 assault by a guard at Bowden prison.

"It's good thing my brother has a strong mind," he said. "Someone with a weak mind would have committed suicide or turned bad."

Beaulieu said he had a hard time in prison, partly because of his innocence.

"I wasn't co-operative with staff and I refused to take courses to better myself," he said. "I told them I didn't need it because I was innocent."

His brother, Tommy, paints a picture of a family that went through emotional and financial strain trying to clear their brother's name.

"There wasn't anything for us to do -- it costs money for lawyers," Tommy Beaulieu said.

Wilfred Beaulieu said that he still owes more than $18,000 to his lawyer, Tom Engel. He may be able to pay back the money if and when he receives any compensation from the government for the time he spent in jail.

And Beaulieu is seeking "big time" compensation he said.

Engel said he is waiting to see if either or both the Alberta and the federal government will come up with a deal for Beaulieu. Otherwise, he said, they will seek compensation through the courts. While he said that the amount would be substantial, he wasn't able to put a dollar figure on it.

Beaulieu said the hardest part of the whole situation was knowing that the courts believed two people that lied and then let him languish in prison for years.

Now, he said, he can go on with his life without that kind of burden.