Justice Minister Phil Goff has won the first-ever Bent Can Opener Award from the New Zealand Skeptics, for “refusing to open the can of worms that is the Christchurch Civic Creche case”.
For the past ten years, the Skeptics have made an annual Bent Spoon Award, in remembrance of spoon-bender Uri Geller, but the group felt that a change in implement was necessary for this year’s “winner”.
“The Christchurch Civic Creche case raises some very real concerns about a whole raft of justice issues,” says Skeptics Chair-entity Vicki Hyde. “We recognise that it is a can of worms for the minister, but it is one that needs to be opened if we are to continue to have confidence in our justice system.”
The Skeptics have monitored the Christchurch Civic Creche since before it happened — six months before Peter Ellis was arrested, the group had predicted that a New Zealand case would follow on from the then-developing US examples of claimed major child abuse incidents involving Satanic overtones at preschool facilities.
“When the Civic Creche case broke, the initial allegations seemed reasonable enough — we know, sadly, that child abuse does happen and is something that desperately needs to be addressed,” says Hyde. “However, we were concerned to hear of allegations of various classic Satanic ritual abuse elements, including a number of truly bizarre or impossible events. Combined with questionable interview techniques, the then-prevailing belief in recovered memory theories, and the social context of the case, it looked like it was our prediction come true.”
Hyde points out that the Skeptics are not suggesting that the children involved in the case are liars. What concerns this group are the underlying processes that were involved in the collection, selection and presentation of evidence that led to the conviction.
“Our official name is the New Zealand Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, and we consider that the scientific underpinning of the evidence is questionable enough to justify closer scrutiny, so that we can all learn from what happened and be more confident in the future regarding abuse convictions,” says Hyde.
The award was officially conferred at the annual Skeptics Conference, which also included an extended session where Victoria University psychology researchers presented their work on memory formation, fallibility and falsification (see next issue).