THE ADVOCATE 137
VOL. 78 PART 1 JANUARY 2020
FATHER FAGAN OFFERED TO HELP*
By His Honour Judge Cunliffe Barnett
Many years ago when I was in Ocean Falls for a circuit court
sitting, I heard of a most remarkable case: R. v. Gerald Wilson.
In 1964, when Gerald was a boy of 16 years, he was
accused of a small theft and tried before the lay magistrate
from Ocean Falls. The trial was held at Bella Bella aboard the police vessel
Tofino. Although Gerald came from a good family and had never before
been in trouble, he was summarily raised from juvenile court to adult court
and then sent off to jail. Fortunately this travesty was undone in the Court
of Appeal a few months later.
I acquired some papers about the case and kept them. I considered the
case to be a terribly clear example of the sorts of injustices the British
Columbia justice system used to inflict upon native Indians. I knew from
my own experiences that Gerald’s case, although starkly extreme, was not
In November 1989 I had an opportunity to talk to Tony Gargrave about
Gerald’s case. He had acted upon the appeal and recalled the case well; it
had been his first appearance in the Court of Appeal. Tony said that he
would dig out his old file, and after doing that he wrote a poignant recollection,
“Father Fagan Asked for Help”. It was published in the March 1990
issue of the Advocate.
The story that follows was written by Gerald Wilson himself. I have done
some editing (with his approval), but I have not changed the story or the
words used to tell it.
Gerald Wilson is now a man of 42 years. He lives in Alert Bay, where he
is employed as a counsellor. He has no criminal record. When I talked to
him about these events, he told me that he has never forgotten them. He
told me that the night before his ordeal began, he had been down at the
docks in Bella Bella trying to assist in the rescue of some boaters who had
run aground. The next day he heard that the police wanted to talk to him.
They told me that the sergeant wanted to talk to me down on the RCMP.
vessel Tofino. It was about 8:45 p.m. when Sergeant Brenner finally
showed up and started questioning me. I told him my whereabouts the
night before. He kept questioning me and said that I was seen breaking
* Reprinted from (1990) 48 Advocate 581.