11/09/2014 10:00 EST | Updated 01/09/2015 05:59 EST

New book offers insider insights into some of Canada's most notorious crimes

TORONTO - From the notorious rape and murder of two Ontario school girls to the notorious wrongful conviction of Thomas Sophonow in Manitoba, from the grisly to the tragic to the weird, Canada has thrown up its share of riveting, horrific and even bizarre criminal cases.

Billed as a Canadian first, a new anthology being published in the coming week aims to capture a unique perspective on the headline-grabbing crimes that gripped the public — both locally and nationally — in their thrall.

That perspective is provided by the men and women who defended, or prosecuted, the accused.

"Tough Crimes — True Cases by Top Canadian Criminal Lawyers" comprises 20 readable essays that detail the crimes along with the writers' ethical and strategic decisions, their reactions and feelings to finding themselves in the media and legal maelstrom that engulfs high-profile, high-stakes cases.

Such cases leave an "indelible mark" on those defending or prosecuting them, retired Supreme Court of Canada justice John Major writes in a forescript.

"The conclusion of a criminal trial," Major says, "is not a closure."

Although decades have passed in some cases, many of the crimes stand out for the grip they held on the public imagination:

The 1977 murder of 12-year-old "shoeshine boy" Emanuel Jaques on Toronto's sleazy Yonge Street strip; the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182 that killed 329 people, initially had 1,185 prosecution witnesses, and took almost 20 years to come to trial; the 1990s killings of teens Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French by Paul Bernardo and wife Karla Homolka that prompted defence lawyer John Rosen to wonder if he really was the "devil's advocate."

"The heinous nature of the allegations and the public's revulsion threatened to impair my ability to do my job properly," Rosen writes.

"I survived by doing what I always understood to be my job: I analyzed the problem facing the client, developed a credible strategy, advocated my position in court and ignored the media hype."

The strength of the anthology lies in its insider view. Its weakness flows from the same point: Bound by solicitor-client privilege or afraid of giving offence to colleagues, the writers stick largely to what is solidly on the public record and, occasionally, descend into insider back-slapping.

Still, their stories showcase both the powerful safeguards of Canada's criminal-justice system and the fatal flaws that can condemn the innocent to decades behind bars.

"No legal system is perfect or mistake-proof," writes Edward Greenspan about a 30-year-old guilty verdict in a Toronto murder case he's convinced led to an ongoing miscarriage of justice.

"Even a seemingly perfect trial can lead to the conviction of a perfectly innocent man."

At times, the puzzlement shines through, as with the whodunit in the apparent murders of two people in 1988 in Red Deer, Alta., who vanished.

The lawyer who successfully defended Jack Wanner in the case, still doesn't know what happened.

"I suppose it will just have to remain a mystery," Noel O'Brien writes.

Calgary-based editors Chris Evans and Lorene Shyba spent two years on the project published by Durance Vile. They say leaving threads hanging was deliberate.

"We didn't mine for answers to unanswered questions as these often provided the energy," they say in their foreword. "Seething frustration is sometimes what the story is about."

Although written by lawyers, the writing seldom strays into legalese.

Instead, they provide a window on their thinking: How do I cross-examine this witness? Do I let my client testify? How do I cope with the horrors? How do I justify defending someone who seems so obviously and abhorrently guilty?

"This book could be used in school classes, law schools and help the public understand what we go through," says contributor Bill Trudell, who defended Stan Koebel, convicted in the 2000 tainted water tragedy in Walkerton, Ont.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled the surname of Emanuel Jaques.