‘Wrongful arrest’ in homicide case, lawyer says

NOTE: This story appeared, edited to space, in the Winnipeg Free Press, March 18, 2019. The version below is a longer one with full comment from police and the prosecutor’s office, as well as more from lawyer Martin Glazer. It is the first in what will be an ongoing series I’ll be investigating over the coming months.

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A veteran Winnipeg criminal defence lawyer is again sounding the alarm over police procedures after his client was recently arrested and jailed in a homicide case where the victim’s cause of death is undetermined.

Winnipeg_20190318_B003 (1)Juhyun Park, 44, is accused of first-degree murder in connection with the death of his wife, Eunjee Kim, 41.

Kim was found unconscious in an apartment suite on Daer Boulevard early on Jan. 9.

Winnipeg police initially accused Park of manslaughter, but upgraded the charge to the most serious in the Criminal Code on Feb. 8. They offered no explanation of why or what had changed.

Park is facing a mandatory life sentence without parole for 25 years if convicted.

His lawyer, Martin Glazer, told the Free Press an autopsy has revealed no anatomical cause of Kim’s death.

Meanwhile, crucial toxicology tests underway at an out-of-province RCMP laboratory could take up to six months to come in, Glazer said he’s been told.

That’s a delay which shows there’s a systemic problem police should account for in homicide cases where cause of death isn’t immediately at hand, Glazer said.

Police should have waited for conclusive results before charging Park, Glazer believes.

“If the scientific investigation is incomplete then the overall investigation is incomplete,” he said. “In my view you have a wrongful arrest in this case because it’s premature.”

Park has no criminal record, remained at the crime scene until police arrived and was injured by a stab wound in the leg, said Glazer.

He faces the prospect of many more months in jail awaiting trial if he’s denied bail. Park came to Canada from Korea in 2017 on a student visa and was studying to improve his English. Kim, his wife of 17 years, had only been in Winnipeg a couple of days before she died, Glazer said.

Emails Glazer sent to the Manitoba Prosecution Service show he’s been repeatedly requesting more information about how Kim died since Jan. 15. No further information on this point has been forthcoming from the Crown, he said.

“Given the absence of a cause of death in this case I am renewing my request for a stay of proceedings,” Glazer wrote to the Crown on Feb. 12. “As you can appreciate once the toxicology results are available and if it turns out that my client’s wife did not die as a result of foul play then he will have spent a substantial period of time in custody for no reason,” wrote Glazer.

“I question the existence of reasonable and probable grounds to justify his arrest for homicide in the first place … At the very least it appears to me that the arrest in this case was premature and that the police should have held off until a cause of death was determined.”

Murder charge reverses onus to accused persons

He has urged the Crown to either stay the charge — allowing them a year to keep investigating and then re-lay it if warranted— or consent to Park’s release on bail. The Crown has refused, Glazer said. A contested, day-long, bail hearing is set for Tuesday in the Court of Queen’s Bench. Because the charge is murder, it’s Park, not the Crown, who must satisfy the judge he can be released into the community pending trial.

In a Feb. 11 email to Glazer obtained by the Free Press, the director of the provincial medical examiner’s office said the RCMP testing on biological samples “will take a considerable period of time” — between four to six months.

“In a complex case of this nature, where the police investigation remains active and new information (for instance, the deceased’s medical history) may come to light, it would be irresponsible and dangerous for the pathologist to produce a definitive cause of death without being able to consider the results of all additional testing that is pending,” Mark O’Rourke wrote.

Glazer doesn’t deny police are doing their jobs. But he questioned the “cart before the horse” situation he believes has unfolded.

“The problem is in this case is a lack of medical diagnosis, and without it, police aren’t given the tools they need to make the final call,” he said. The Supreme Court of Canada has said police should err on the side of caution and keep open minds before laying charges.

“Don’t presume the cause of death is nefarious, that’s what I’m saying,” Glazer said.

Glazer said he was not in a position to discuss other evidence police may have gathered and deferred to them.

‘Autopsy and toxicology results are just part of the overall investigation’: WPS

And while declining to discuss specifics of the case, Winnipeg police said Friday it’s not uncommon to lay homicide-related charges before autopsy results are in.

“This is also the case regarding toxicology results,” police spokesman Const. Rob Carver said in an email. “Charges are based on the totality of the circumstances, and both autopsy and toxicology results are just part of the overall investigation.” When murder charges are laid, he said, a Crown attorney is consulted.

“Only when they are in agreement are they laid,” Carver said. “Police form the opinion that there are reasonable and probable grounds (to charge someone) based on the totality of circumstances surrounding the incident.”

Manitoba Prosecution Service said Crown attorneys assess a case’s legal elements and quality of evidence before laying charges or proceeding on ones laid by police. “All evidence must be considered,” said a departmental spokesperson.

“The Crown also considers what the medical examiner has assessed, including cause of death, and other relevant issues related to the case. In rare cases, for example, a murder or manslaughter charge might be authorized even if there has not been a forensic medical examination, in situations where the body has not been located or is no longer available for autopsy.”

Timelines for forensic testing can vary, the spokeswoman said, but she added the department is “always interested in timely evaluation and accurate results.”

8 months locked up for an unfounded manslaughter: The Robert Maier case

It’s not the first time issues surrounding homicide cases and delays in justice officials obtaining conclusive causes of death has emerged in Manitoba.

In October 2013, Martin Glazer called for a public inquiry after another client spent nearly eight months behind bars charged with a homicide that was later found to be a drug overdose.

Robert Maier, 38, admitted assaulting Ronald McKinnon, 54, hours before McKinnon was found dead in his Balmoral Street suite on Feb. 26, 2013.

But after waiting months for toxicology test results, a pathologist concluded McKinnon died by overdosing on alcohol and prescription pills.

Police initially said an autopsy showed McKinnon died of injuries sustained in the assault.

Questioned after the actual cause of death came to light, police said it was possible investigators were working on the basis of preliminary theory provided to them by a medical examiner.

Glazer at the time wrote then-Manitoba Attorney General Andrew Swan requesting an inquiry to get to the bottom of questions raised in the case.

He said the province refused but would look into what happened in Maier’s case. The prosecution service did review the matter but concluded the system worked as it should have in the end, said Glazer.

Nearly 3 months needed to perform “routine” toxicology test: RCMP data

Current RCMP forensic laboratory statistics show an average of 79 days to complete investigative requests for toxicology examinations — but also a backlog of two hundred so-called “routine” cases.

The data, comprising the period between April 2017 to March 31, 2018, shows RCMP labs were able to meet a commitment date on what they term “routine” toxicology exam requests 61 per cent of the time.

All 12 requests put in as “priority” cases were satisfied by the lab’s promised completion date, the data shows.

The laboratories handled more than 2,500 requests for toxicology examinations over the year-long period.

“Case prioritizations are based on set criteria that include the level of risk to public safety (e.g. whether a suspect is still at large or is a significant flight risk, the level of violence, the likelihood of the suspect re-offending) and/or how the results of the forensic analysis will be used in the investigation,” RCMP said in a statement to the Free Press.

 “The length of time to complete a service request will depend on the type of analysis being requested, the number of samples, and the type of materials that are being submitted for forensic analysis.”

RCMP laboratories handle forensic investigative requests from police agencies across Canada excluding Quebec and Ontario, which have their own labs.

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Youth justice review sorely needed for age-old Manitoba problems

Screen Shot 2019-02-16 at 11.32.38 AM.pngOne has to give Manitoba’s provincial government some credit: they seem to love a big challenge.

That was my initial reaction to the announcement Friday it’s going to review the intersection between Manitoba’s child-welfare and youth justice systems (the ‘CFS-to-prison pipeline’ as it’s sometimes described).

The goal is to end “cycles of crime” for at-risk kids. Read above graphic for the data that prompted the government to raise the need for this review and overall issue.

Without wanting to pre-judge the results, three things jump out immediately:

  • It’s about time this happened
  • The review will likely demonstrate what’s been obvious for a long time
  • Open your wallet

It should not be news to anyone paying even the slightest attention that Manitoba CFS kids make up a huge proportion of youth involved in the justice system (the province said an October assessment of intakes at the Manitoba Youth Centre was 60 about per cent CFS-involved kids — I suspect it’s higher).

It should not be news that there’s a staggering number of kids in CFS care (between 10-11,000 depending on who is counting).

It should not be news that the vast majority of kids in care and in jail are Indigenous.

The evidence shows this has been the state of things for years and years.

For those left in doubt, a handy primer on the evolution of these major issues in terms of youth justice is an excellent 2018 Manitoba Law Journal article, “Too Bad, So Sad,” by criminologists Russell Smandych and Raymond Corrado.

The piece examines policy changes and youth justice reform in Canada from 1995-2015, through the (importantly, here) advent of sweeping, but extremely politically-charged, legislative changes brought about by the advent of the Youth Criminal Justice Act in 2003.

Around 2007, the then-Conservative federal government held roundtables on the issues in implementing the YCJA, and a report summarizing the findings of “youth justice and child welfare professionals from across the country” was written in 2008 (more than a decade ago).

While the article is nationally-focused, Manitoba’s situation looms large in it given the dire state of the youth crime problem here. It’s worth a full read, but I’ll pull out a few things of note:

“A common refrain in the report was the concern about the lack of sustainable funding to support restorative justice and diversion programs. Roundtable participants consensually agreed in principle concerning “the need for systems… to be better resourced to support children and families as they enter the youth justice system, while at the same time all of the provinces and territories “identified a lack of local resources, or sustainable resources to implement the programs and services necessary to fully embrace the YCJA.” Pointedly, in one session, “the YCJA was referred to as a Cadillac on a Volkswagen budget.”

For Manitoba specifically:

“[o]n paper the legislation has a lot of options and flexibility but in reality there are no resources on the front end or the back end; they are all in custody”

(I note, somewhat dryly, that the Justice report referenced here summarizing national and regional concerns was only released way back when via an Access To Information request. TO the province’s credit, it says the current review will be made public).

Delving deeper into the roundtable report specifically, the Manitoba section further elaborates on the situation in 2008-ish:

Screen Shot 2019-02-16 at 9.13.20 AM

To be clear, this report is talking specifically about the youth justice system, and not CFS per se.

But given the correlation of who the clients are in the system, it’s pretty clear — our justice system lacks the funding, supports, cultural awareness and programming options needed to try and meet the needs of the kids in (either) system.

The important logical inference is: if so many kids in the jails are CFS-involved, and there’s not enough of these urgently-needed things at hand for the justice system to lean on to try and help them, then there’s not enough in the CFS system either.

Anecdotally (I know it’s not evidence), as a journalist who tried diligently to cover youth-related justice matters as much as was possible (limited editorial interest), the systemic poverty was abundantly apparent. Readers only need look back in this blog’s archive a bit to see tales of how this played out in reality.

So, long story short, it’s about time this review happened. Kudos to the province for that. I worry it’s going to be limited in scope — but it’s not lost on me that a constitutional law expert is among those doing the review.

Here’s the issue: there’s a philosophical problem inherent that needs to be handled carefully.

Should the youth criminal justice system — even one with the overarching goal of rehabilitating kids —get directly involved with child-welfare system-related concerns? Should Crown prosecutors?

It may seem a pointless question, given that so many of the issues a youth justice court deals with are intrinsically linked to child-welfare matters of concern.

But the drafters of the legislation, which basically is the rulebook by which youth criminal justice is done, seem to have not wanted the two to meet.

In the 158-page YCJA, there’s but two specific references to ‘child welfare’ — one, that a court can make a referral at any point to a child-welfare agency to assess whether a young person needs child welfare services (the ratio of who makes up the system makes this tautological).

Two, that a child welfare agency with conduct of a child can access youth court records.

That’s it.

But yet, as Smandych and Corrado’s research suggests, if we’re truly interested in improving justice outcomes there’s no choice but to somehow get everyone playing the same sandbox:

“The related policy challenges are enormously complex because to a considerable extent potential solutions require the intensive coordination of a federal criminal law with a wide range of other federal laws (and programs) along with parallel provincial/territorial laws involving health care, mental health, housing, education, and employment.”

Not a small order — one could theorize that the YCJA could need rewriting to accommodate a new reality. That’s perhaps why the presence of a con law expert to conduct the review is intriguing.

In any event, we’ll see how that end plays out. It’s hard to envision any kind of workable solution to this problem that doesn’t involve vastly greater coordination and honest cooperation between Health, Families and Justice.

But it’s an urgent problem that concerns everyone, so I’m hopeful.

I suspect in large part it will come down to money (doesn’t everything?).

I repeat: open your wallet.

If the funding for early-years intervention and family supports are there ASAP, it’s possible to foresee a decline in youth crime over 12-15 years.

If funding for psychological, FASD, and addictions services are increased for the kids currently in the system, it’s theoretically conceivable we could start to see improved justice outcomes and lower recidivism in 10 years.

But the evidence is there, as it always has been: If we’re really going to make the system better and meaningfully intervene in kids’ lives — it’s going to take massive political will, innovation and cash.

A non-expert’s thoughts on things that may be helpful… 

  • A lot of discretionary power in how youth cases get handled lies in the hands of the federal and provincial Crown prosecutions services. Maybe a close look at how the Crown’s roles and how that discretion is exercised could be revealing. Are cases that should get diverted being diverted? What’s the role of community youth justice committees these days? Should prosecutors be freed up in some way to focus on the worst of the worst violent crimes and young criminals?
  • One of the big reasons kids spend time in jail is for breaches of bail or probation orders. A close look at court-ordered conditions and how kids are being set up to fail because of them may shed some light on how to reduce remand custody rates. But again, the breach issue is directly influenced by the quality of support systems for youth on bail or probation — overtaxed/ under-resourced is a common complaint.
  • A study of youth Corrections and its needs could be helpful. There’s no point ordering a young person be supervised, abide by a curfew and get into counselling when there’s not enough corrections workers to be conduits for those services.
  • One of the major issues that should arise too is social worker workload and their ability to show up to advocate for jailed kids. And, it must be said, that workers sometimes feel relieved when a client gets locked up because they’re in a so-called safe place, so urgency to see them out of custody can be limited. But that’s using the justice system for a child-welfare purpose, and currently not the way things are supposed to happen.
  • Have we reached a point where a CFS “duty worker” should be present in youth court much like Legal Aid criminal defence duty counsel? That raises massive issues in itself, in terms of CFS agency coordination and information sharing. Not to mention such an idea would likely have to involve the (long-awaited) upgrade to the CFS computer system so that worker could access required information with ease. That’s perhaps upwards of a $100 million expense alone. Yikes.
  • Always happy to hear your thoughts. -30-

Police disclosure and Manitoba crime coverage

Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 1.39.56 PM
(CFOJA Graphic)

In a thought-provoking opinion piece today, Melissa Martin writes about the high rate of femicide in Manitoba (second-highest among Canadian provinces as per 2018 data from the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability).

One passage in the piece struck me in particular (emphasis mine):

“This fact should be noted, for the record. Of the 148 women and girls lost to violence in Canada in 2018, only 16 did not have their names released; Manitoba is highly overrepresented in its number of publicly unnamed victims. Why?

That’s nearly half the women killed last year in Manitoba, their stories slipped out of the broad public record. News coverage of their deaths is sparse, limited mostly to rehashes of the scant details from the official RCMP releases.

Without knowing their names, or their stories, they are known to us only as numbers, as data points to be gathered. Anonymous, unmentioned, they are soon forgotten by the broader public — though never by those who loved them.

Maybe it’s easier to look away, to forget, to not ask too many questions. Maybe it’s easier to shake off a headline when it doesn’t have a life story attached. Maybe it helps us believe the violence isn’t as bad in Manitoba as it is.”

Using the data from the above report, I made a very quick spreadsheet which revealed a few potentially interesting things.

Of the 13 femicides in MB last year, at least six of the victims went unnamed by RCMP. Winnipeg police appear to have identified the victims in their related investigations (Five of 13).

As well:

  • Arrests were made and charges laid in 12 of the 13 cases. The remaining one was deemed to be a murder-suicide
  • Nearly 40 per cent of those charged in these cases are women and girls. The most common charge laid was second-degree murder, followed by manslaughter. Not one was charged with first-degree murder (potential indication of planning and premeditation)
  • Two of the cases also involved a suspicious fire-setting
  • Media coverage of these cases, as Martin notes, is very skimpy save for one or two of them.

It should be no secret to reporters that Manitoba RCMP are lacking when it comes to meaningful public disclosure (having a Twitter doesn’t count).

D Division’s largely press-release-based culture when it comes to its major crime investigations has existed for a very long time.

Sometimes, there’s valid reasons for staying mum, but not always and certainly not to the extent they do. You can judge for yourself by scanning their press releases here.

They don’t hold regular face-to-face press briefings, so reporters’ ability to ask questions is limited largely to emails and phone calls. I suspect Manitobans overall don’t know 1/10th of what actually goes on in terms of crime in their communities.

(I suspect they’d be very alarmed if they found out the true nature of things, however, that’s somewhat beside the point.)

Here’s a very recent example of public disclosure by Manitoba Mounties:

Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 12.16.31 PM

Two young men dead by apparent homicide in a house in what is a very small community.

That’s all that’s said by police, setting aside who on the force is helping out who.

This happened on Wednesday.

It’s now Saturday  afternoon and RCMP have issued no updates. Is there a homicidal maniac at large in Bloodvein? Who knows?

Better question might be — who cares?

A media scan indicates that only four outlets have published any semblance of information on this matter, and each simply parrots the RCMP release.

Maybe herein lies the larger problem?

The fact that the RCMP is skimpy with investigative information isn’t new. Media reports suggest that their refusal to name victims dates back to 2015 but my practical experience tells me this policy dates much further back than that. They’re very tight-lipped, even in the most high-profile of cases such as the recent terrorism-related case in Ontario.

However, my quick femicide data analysis seems to show that public disclosure by police in these Manitoba cases does not seem to have any bearing whatsoever on the outcome of the investigations themselves.

Again, charges were laid by police in each of the 2018 cases but one, where there was no suspect to charge.

So, in my mind, we’re left with this: If these cases actually matter (I firmly believe they do), then media in Manitoba could do more than simply scratch the surface of them.

This isn’t a critique of Martin, as her noting these cases fall out of memory quickly is bang-on, and her column serves to bring attention to the issue.

Instead, I’m making more of a broad-based observation about the troubled state of provincial crime coverage.

I’d be especially critical of community outlets in areas outside the cities that almost seem to go out of their way to avoid looking into crimes happening in their own backyards, seemingly leaving the harder-hitting stories to major outlets based in Brandon or Winnipeg.

And overall, my view is media spend far too much time letting police dictate what the news is and leaving things at that. Many times it seems if they don’t talk, then it’s as if there’s no story.

Fact is, if the story or issue actually matters, then it matters to pursue it.

If news coverage of these events is sparse, then embrace the power to do something about it.

If the cops are stingy with information? Screw ’em. Go around them.

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Back

jstt0717I’m back after a long hiatus from this site.

I have some crime-reporting-related things I want to do and I figure it’s time to do them.

I haven’t been sitting around doing nothing, though.

Below are some links to recent-ish published work, mostly in chronological order.

Drop me a DM on Twitter (@heyjturner) if you want to chat.

More to come

 

Roulette’s legal chips dwindle

(The multi-plex where gang membersHenderson and Baptiste were killed on Jan 31, 2009)
(The Maryland Street multi-plex where gang members Jesse Henderson and Dennis Baptiste were killed on Jan 31, 2009)

It had all the usual signs of many riveting, yet unbelievably tragic, premeditated murder cases.

Two young, gang-linked men, Jesse Henderson and Dennis Baptiste — mysteriously and savagely cut down in the prime of their lives inside a Maryland Street four-plex after being seen at a cocaine-fuelled party at an Exchange District theme hotel.

A fire set in what appeared to be a failed attempt to destroy evidence at the crime scene. A missing TV set. Some, but not tons, of physical evidence to go on.

Blood everywhere.

And then came months and months of waiting for an arrest as Winnipeg police worked all kinds of different angles to try and get to the truth of things.

Such was the visible the backdrop to Kenneth Roulette’s trial, which ended in his conviction on two counts of first-degree murder.

But behind the scenes, one of the more interesting legal battles I’ve seen was playing out.

In June 2013, Roulette sought to have his charges tossed out, alleging a failure by prosecutors to disclose evidence in the case had effectively ruined his chance at defending against the charges.

The unusual move — in which Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Robert Dewar found there was delay caused by the Crown’s slowness to disclose — didn’t work and the trial went ahead a few months later.

The key evidence against Roulette was testimony from two unsavory witnesses, one of whom was (by time of trial) a deceased crack addict and naturally couldn’t be cross-examined beyond what defence lawyer Greg Brodsky was able to do at a preliminary hearing when Russell Glow was still alive and in witness protection.

It came as zero surprise to me that Roulette quickly launched an appeal after being convicted given the quirks in the case.

But this week, he found out he’d lost that fight too. Here’s Court of Appeal Justice Alan MacInnes’s reasons why that’s so.

It remains to be seen if Brodsky will take the case to the Supreme Court in hopes of winning a new trial for Roulette.

John Dorion, living Manitoba ‘ghost’: Where there’s life, there’s hope?

“I can’t understand why you do what you do. Especially when I hear what happens to you when you do it.” Manitoba Judge Carena Roller

A couple of weeks back, the Winnipeg Free Press published a longer feature I’d done for them, examining the sad life and astonishing, yet low-key entrenched, criminal history of John Calvin Dorion.

(Winnipeg's Old Law Courts Building)
(Winnipeg’s Old Law Courts Building)

Dorion, as the long-form article on chronic offenders describes, was essentially ‘sentenced at birth’ to a life of chronic solvent addiction and poverty along with debilitating illness and injury.

The 40-year-old truly is, as retired judge Ray Wyant aptly described him, “a poor soul.”

But setting sympathy for him aside, Dorion is also one of Manitoba’s most frequent flyers in terms of the jail time he’s served over the past two decades.

Locking this one man up has cost taxpayers a small and still growing fortune.

And other than freeing the streets of his intoxicated nuisance for a few months at a time by jailing him, there’s little else that can be said about the financial ‘investment’ Manitobans and their justice system have made in Dorion thus far.

When I finished researching the piece on Dorion in mid-August he was pending sentencing yet again. There was a plan in place, however, to get him out of Winnipeg to take up life on the El’Dad Ranch in a remote area near Steinbach.

The ranch hosts an alternative justice program, described as “a safe environment for men with intellectual disabilities and involvement with the criminal justice system to learn life skills, experience a community built on positive values and to build positive relationships, with the aim of providing a therapeutic alternative to prison.”

In addition to this (and on-site counseling and addictions treatment), Dorion’s also able to take part in a day program to build skills: chopping wood, caring for animals.

That plan came to fruition Aug. 19.

Funding from the Provincial Special Needs Program (PSNP) was (and is, for now at least) paying the bill.

It bears mentioning that PSNP has had Dorion on their “active” case roster since February 2012, but his offending hasn’t halted.

Leg pain led to urge to huff, defence lawyer says

When time came to freshen up the reporting in advance of publication a few weeks back, it came as absolutely zero surprise that Dorion — despite going to live scores of kilometers outside of the city — was already back in custody charged with breaching a stay-away order from his beloved gas-huffing haunt: the U-Haul lot on McPhillips Street.

He’d come into the city with a worker to see a movie on Sept. 28 and quickly absconded under the guise of going to get a soda.

This led to him being rearrested and returned to the familiar drab confines of the Winnipeg Remand Centre, where it costs Manitobans $196 per day to hold him, if not more, given his medical needs and cognitive impairments.

Why he says he left the theatre? According to his lawyer, the pain in his legs from his prostheses (he lost both limbs to frostbite a few years back after passing out in the snow) drove him to want to get high. So he wandered many blocks to the U-Haul, as he’s done countless times before.

Nevertheless, those 36 days spent as a so-called free man at the El’Dad Ranch was the longest period of time Dorion’s spent away from jail in more than four years.

A week ago today, Dorion was again sentenced, bringing his official tally of criminal convictions to over 100 since 1991.

The hearing, in front of no-nonsense provincial court Judge Carena Roller, went as routinely as virtually all of Dorion’s sentencings have over the last seven years.

His massive record of convictions and IPDAs was filed for Roller to scrutinize.

Roller was ultimately asked to acquiesce to the latest plan for Dorion, to note his 52 days of custody and return him to El’Dad with tightened up conditions aimed at keeping him in check.

Roller agreed, and endorsed a new clause in a new 15-month-long probation order effectively banishing Dorion from Winnipeg without being accompanied by a worker. He also needs prior written consent from his probation officer to come here.

“I can’t understand why you do what you do. Especially when I hear what happens to you when you do it,” Roller told Dorion, who appears to have gained a considerable pot-belly since the last I saw him earlier this year.

He gazed towards her, impassively.

“Do you like being there (El’Dad) … better than going to U-Haul?,” she asked Dorion.

“Yeah,” he replied.

‘Yeah, but do you, John — do you really?,’ I thought to myself in the back of courtroom 401.

Because this is the key question, really.

‘Exhibited maturity’

Given Dorion’s storied history, it would be natural to want to take anything Dorion says with a grain of salt, to believe he’s just a hopeless case — a living ‘ghost in the machine’ — we’ll just always continue to throw money at.

But a letter his PSNP provided to the court suggests there is, in fact, some cautious optimism for the future of John Dorion, whose ultimate goal is to hopefully one day return to his home community of Crane River.

In the month Dorion spent free at El’Dad he “engaged very well with his supports (and) participated well in his vocational day program,” PSNP worker,Melanie Muehling wrote in a Nov. 14 joint letter to community prosecutor Paul Girdlestone and defence lawyer Amanda Sansregret.

Perhaps most surprising to me of her findings was how she says Dorion “exhibited maturity” through “recognizing the benefit of his placement and his choice to remain clean and sober.”

His PSNP worker believes these things, combined with the fact Dorion been out of jail for more than a month, “is a huge success, and indicative of a working plan.”

Maybe, just maybe, Dorion’s El’Dad plan will work out. His worker seems to think it could. Keep him away from his central temptations — the sniff and the U-Haul —for long enough and it’s possible something might stick.

It’s the possibility Dorion would be actually a free man instead of just one in stasis due to the fact he’s geographically too far removed from his vice to feed it.

“It is my opinion that Mr Dorion does not have the intellectual or emotional ability to deal with stress and anxiety by problem-solving an alternative response to attending U-Haul and using solvents,” Muehling wrote.

But that’s not to say he doesn’t have some insight into the power of his addiction, Muehling suggests.

“Mr. Dorion has confirmed to me that he knows that if he is residing in Winnipeg, he will ultimately succumb to the temptation to attend U-Haul. Our program has introduced a solution (the El’Dad ranch) that would see Mr. Dorion physically removed from this temptation, and provide external motivation for Mr. Dorion to abstain from solvent use,” she states.

I can only hope this is the case.

But, one wonders, why did it take so very long for this relatively simple solution — court-sanctioned displacement — to rear its head?

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Winnipeg’s child Soldiers: A grim reflection on our failings

Paris Bruce
Paris Bruce

[Update/addition: Friday, May 9: In putting this piece together, I neglected to include a city child soldier case which ranks among the worst, if not the worst, Winnipeg’s ever seen: The case of JJT, who was 15 when he and another Indian Posse member shot up a house party on Alexander Avenue in March 2008. Three were killed and three severely injured. There was no motive to the crimes, other than the older IP member, Colton Patchinose, was angry at being ejected from the party just before the shooting. He went to fetch JJT and the two shot up the place with handguns. “My son was taken from me at an early age,” JJT’s dad told court, referencing the street gang influence on his son at his sentencing. JJT recieved a life term. You can, and should, read more about his background here. But I conclude this brief update with Justice Colleen Suche’s comment on her decision to sentence him as an adult:

It is a chilling but frank reality that J.J.T. is but one of an entire generation of children being recruited as child soldiers in the small armies we know as street gangs, which are constantly at war – with each other, and with society.”)

—-

Sirak Okbazion, 14. Clarky Stevenson, 15, Paris Bruce. 16.

Hearing the names of these three teens should give each and every Winnipegger pause.

They weren’t just teenagers involved in street gangs.

They also represent, respectfully, a decade-long grim lineage of ‘child soldiers’ who were influenced or preyed upon by older gang members to do their dirty work.

These kids are also dead today.

And it’s not right. It reflects a failure of our society that they died so young and so violently.

Beyond that, you can draw a kind of map (and in fact, I have) tracing the lineage of street gang-related mayhem that resulted as spillover from the separate killings of these three city teens.

Action prompts reaction: It’s not just a law of physics. It’s also part of the street gang ethos. You hit us. We hit you.

I’ll give you a very brief breakdown.

Sirak’s homicide was committed when he was 14 in 2004 by the West Broadway-area B-Side gang in response to one of their members being shot at.

It spawned fare more than just greater violent conflict between Sirak’s newly-founded gang, the Mad Cowz and the B-Siders. (Both factions are still with us today, just noting).

Sirak’s death led to internal strife within the Mad Cowz, which saw the creation of the African Mafia in protest of how Sirak’s death was (or was not) avenged. That strife led directly to multiple shootings, firebombings and other violent mayhem.

Worse yet, it directly influenced the death of innocent Phil Haiart, who was gunned down by AM members Corey Spence (15 at the time) and Jeff Cansanay as he simply crossed a West End street.

Cansanay, the triggerman goaded by Spence to ‘shoot, shoot,’ was aiming at two Mad Cowz members, but missed.

The resulting fallout from Haiart’s murder became a kind of chromosome in Winnipeg’s DNA.

How the political and police response shook out to the 17-year-old’s death is part of our essential makeup as a city.

From Haiart, we caught a close-up glimpse of an awful truth: Kids are being used by gangs, and kids, by virtue of their ages, are unpredictable. Maybe I could be next, people wondered.

Stevenson’s stabbing in 2011 in the North End has likely caused more bad blood between entrenched street gangs – he was an Indian Posse associate – than one might believe.

Well liked by many and known for being ferociously fearless, sources tell me Stevenson was on track to taking a place in the IP’s gang hierarchy.

So, when it just so happened he wound up stabbed to death, allegedly by suspects linked to the MOB gang, violence spilled over between the two groups in waves, and to some degree continues to this day.

Soon after, innocent David Michael Vincett, was shot by James Sinclair – just 14 – on Boyd Avenue.

“I did it pretty much because of what happened to my friend,” Sinclair told police.

Sinclair’s friend? Clarky Stevenson.

Sinclair was an IP associate who mistook Vincett for a member of the MOB on a darkened street, chasing after him with a .357 Magnum and gunning him down with a single shot to the head.

While one teen, Steven Johnston, was acquitted earlier this year of stabbing Stevenson to death (but wound up back in custody soon after for a triple-stabbing), another faces trial for second-degree murder.

Today, we finally learned the sad fate that befell Paris Bruce, 16.

Bruce, aligned with the Mob Squad – a splinter faction of the MOB – was led into a plot hatched by an older gang member to take over an Indian Posse crack house.

Just weeks before Bruce was beaten to death by IP members, the gang superior, Joshua Jeffs, who got Bruce mixed up in the plot that would claim his life, was viciously attacked by four teen IP members with a hatchet and machete for being part of a group that attacked their Boyd Avenue hangout by surprise.

Jeffs, according to prosecutors, also enlisted another teen and an 11-year-old boy to try and take over the Redwood Avenue crack shack.

Bruce, maybe not comprehending fully what he was getting himself into, tried to run when IP guys caught on to what the Mob Squad was trying to do. He wound up beaten and stabbed to death.

It’s no mistake that the Crown used the words “young soldiers” to describe Bruce, the other teen and the 11-year-old and their position within their gang.

Despite how ugly the tactic is, it should be more than patently obvious by now that older gang members are well-aware of the benefits of using younger guys to do the dirty work.

To them, the ‘kids’ are expendable – and, let there be no doubt, in great supply – even if they’re dying off or being sent packing to jail for a time as a result of their involvement in the gang underworld.

I’ll repeat: The fact that any kid winds up in a gang is a signifier to us that something is wrong with our society.

Whether they wind up there because of poverty, addictions, for protection or for a sense of belonging, seeing our youth wind up being used by criminal factions they way they are should be nothing short of alarming to us.

But recruitment continues, relatively unabated, and has done so in Winnipeg for a long time now.

I’ve only presented here three examples of slain “child soldiers.”

There are many, many more examples I could call upon that I’ve seen in recent years.

What’s to be done about it, I can’t offer a solution other than to say every child needs a baseline of normality in their lives in order to have a chance at success over the long-term.

What I am sure of  — and it should be pretty clear by now if you’ve gotten this far — is that “child soldiers,” “young soldiers,” or whatever you want to call them, are a blight not just on the gangs they’re enlisted in, but on us as a society as a whole.

We should be shocked and outraged by the brutal, violent deaths of people in our city who have barely lived.

I get the sense we’re generally just resigned to the fact that this happens to some of our youth. And it’s wrong.

Justice Sadie Bond: for the record

(Winnipeg's Old Law Courts Building)
(Winnipeg’s Old Law Courts Building)

Presented below are the personal comments from the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench’s newest Justice, Sadie Bond, from her swearing-in ceremony on Friday.

Her ceremony was jointly held with Justice Vic Toews. But her appointment was no less significant.

I’ve known Justice Bond as a top federal prosecutor over the last few years — ‘known’ in the sense of seeing her in court fairly often.

She was always friendly and approachable to get the obligatory ‘no comment’ from after the latest round of organized-crime suspects were direct indicted to trial.

I say that without sarcasm. Reporters are obligated to ask for comment even though we know none will be forthcoming.

As a Crown prosecutor, Ms. Bond handled some of the biggest and most complex federal cases in Manitoba we’ve seen in the last few years.

It was gratifying to hear what an amazing career she’s had to date, and prior to coming to Manitoba a few years ago — which you too can hear about in her comments.

I have no doubt she’ll be an awesome judge.

(Audio has been ever so slightly edited for privacy reasons.)

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Chad Davis murder trial: Charging forward

Chad Davis
Chad Davis

[Reblogged from the Winnipeg Free Press ‘Crime Scene‘ blog.]

In any jury trial, the judge’s reading of the charge and her instructions to jurors are right up there with the most important of tasks and developments in the court process.

In a complex case, the crafting of an appropriate charge can take many days, many re-drafts and much collaboration and input from the lawyers from all sides.

In the Davis case, it was no different.

The beauty of the charge is not only does it lay out the law for jurors and the guide it provides them to try and reach a just verdict, it also offers a review of the most salient points of evidence from all sides of the case.

It’s this key document and these words from Justice Brenda Keyser that jurors took with them to their room to secretly deliberate the first-degree murder case against Corey Tymchyshyn and Kristopher Brincheski.

Both men have now signalled their intentions to appeal their convictions, and Brincheski, his sentence.

One of Tymchyshyn’s complaints to the appeals court is that he feels Keyser’s instructions in reference to the evidence went off the rails and contributed in some way to his wrongful conviction.

We’ll see how that claim pans out down the road.

This will be my last post on the Davis trial, barring any urgent matters that might crop up.

I had more planned, but given the appeals are forthcoming, It’s likely better use of time to focus on that instead of dredging up stuff from the past that obviously didn’t have much relevance at the trial proper.

I’ll revisit that decision should an unexpected issue involving some undlsclosed element crop up during the appeals process.

It probably goes without saying that through this blog, I’ve hopefully been able to at least try and give readers a comprehensive sense of the Crown’s case, the evidence presented and the amount of dogged work RCMP and Winnipeg police did to figure out what happened and prove it in court.

To me, what better way to cap the trial coverage than to give people the one thing they’d need to read to understand how it came together, the serious issues at stake and an official review of all that was disclosed publicly?

Cheers.