(Winnipeg police)

Without a doubt, the top local crime story this week involved the arrest of Thomas Brine, 25, in connection to the death of Elizabeth Lafantaisie. First degree murder is the charge, and strangulation the cause of death. No matter what, what happened to this woman is atrocious. Brine, despite his young age, is no stranger to the justice system in Manitoba. What may be interesting down the line is whether the “forensic evidence” police claim link Brine to the killing is a win for the RCMP DNA databank. I’m skeptical of that given the rapid-fire turnaround in what appeared to be a red ball homicide case one day and solved just a few days later. Fingerprints is my guess — but it is only a guess.

In other news, lawyer Robert Tapper had a better week than last with an even score in terms of his conviction rate. There was more (unfair) gnashing of teeth about his role as special prosecutor after WPS Constable Ken Anderson was acquitted of sex-related charges — but there was really no reason for it. Anderson was found not guilty after a full and transparent shake in the justice system. The story about the abuse was found to be just that — a story. I note no one has called for a review of the case in light of the acquittal, so here’s hoping Anderson can somehow get back to work and be able to put this behind him. But it won’t be an easy task, as Mike Sutherland of the WPA told CBC this week:

“Just the allegations alone cause challenges and sometimes they’re difficult to rebound from,” Sutherland said.

Tapper said he won’t appeal the Anderson ruling.

The lawyer’s week got better by Thursday, when former RCMP officer Benjamin Neufeldt was sent packing to jail for sexually exploiting a teen girl on a Manitoba reserve. Mike Mac of the WFP had a good story on the details of the case.

One thing good comes out of the recent Tapper cases, however — it’s brought to the surface the process by which independent lawyers are appointed in cases where a suspect has a direct connection to the justice system. As I’ve learned, Manitoba appears to be the only province where local lawyers are actually hired to prosecute cases independently from, but in consultation with, the justice department. Justice Minister Swan is promising to sit down with head of prosecutions Mike Mahon and see what’s what. It comes on the heels of a recent review of the provincial policy by retired Judge Ruth Krindle.

The media glare continued to shine on Justice Robert Dewar this week and several local stories examined past court decisions he’s made, at least one of which is under review by the Manitoba Court of Appeal, which could rule to order a new trial any day now. Alternately, it could not. The judge’s week got worse when the judiciary came forward with a statement about his status about not hearing cases of a sexual nature, followed by the news he either was punted or asked to recuse himself from sitting in the Wegier manslaughter trial — a decidedly non-sexual case.

(Allan Fineblit/Lawyersweekly.ca)

However, the most interesting information and reaction about the whole affair came from blogger/WFP reporter Melissa Martin, and an op-ed in the Free Press from Law Society head-honcho Allan Fineblit. While Fineblit starts off obviously referring to the Dewar furor but goes on the describe how the process of judicial appointments could be altered, he provides some useful information. I’d bet if you asked the average person what they think about the appointment of judges in Canada, you’d get a blank stare, followed by ramblings about blood sacrifices and cloaked old coots hunched over in some stone room waiting for a phone call from the PMO. We now know, through him, that that’s not the case.

I was waiting, though for someone to comment on the first few paragraphs of the piece that says the following [again – referring to, but not naming Dewar and his current predicament]:

Let’s face it, even good judges sometimes make mistakes, or lose their patience, or say the occasional dumb thing. They are, after all, human beings and to my mind the more humanity the better. Mistakes can be fixed. That is what the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court do for a living. But I am not writing this to tell you about what I think about our judges. I am writing it to tell you how we can do better.

Something strikes me that given the outcry about Dewar, many people don’t think he simply made a mistake, lost his patience or simply said a dumb thing in the sex-assault case ruling that brought all the attention.

But again, I have yet to see full transcript of the ruling, let alone the full trial testimony.

The Freep’s FASD series continued  — with today’s comprehensive look at youth justice and the disorder. It should come as no surprise to anyone, however, that the Manitoba Youth Centre is a convenient warehouse for kids with cognitive or other disorders. Still waiting on that mental health court, NDP.

In other news:

  • The united front known as the Devil’s Gap Cottagers have taken a unique land claims situation and are trying to turn their misfortune into some kind of advantage by suing their former legal team for millions.
  • In the days after the city settled with Manitoba Hydro over a long-standing tax dispute, the city filed a suit against local company J.A. Robinson for alleged problems with a tech system for its fleet of vehicles worth more than $600,000.
  • On the flip side, the WRHA is going after the city and trying to force it into arbitration over a dispute over rents involving one or two community health clinics. In court documents, the WRHA says it is seeking reimbursement of  alleged rent overpayments to the city between 2000-2007. The dispute has been brewing since 2006 and could be valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, lawyers for the health authority say. The amount is very much in dispute. An affidavit says the city has failed to respond to the WRHA’s letters “seeking the co-operation in the appointment of an arbitrator under the arbitration clause” of a lease agreement.
  • This guy has admitted responsibility to using  a former roommate’s kids he used to babysit to make child pornography with, among other things. Has to be one of the fastest turn-arounds for a major case I’ve ever seen. He was just arrested in January. Sentencing was adjourned to a later date.

Finally — kudos to Manitoba Justice and Crown attorney Lisa Carson [and by extension now-Judge Dale Schille] — for this. Although the penalty to some may seem like small potatoes for the blood that was shed, it’s the maximum allowed by law in Canada. In the U.S., he’d have likely faced execution or consecutive life terms for all three murders. I’m waiting to see if he’ll appeal, and on what grounds. That’s two adult sentences in two weeks for Manitoba Justice, and a third to follow this week, which I’ll be covering in detail.

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4 thoughts on “Major Crimes: A week in review II

  1. Thanks for the shout-out bud.

    I’m curious on your take on this conundrum — I waffled a lot about posting about the Dewar issues, knowing that there are obvious issues with editorializing on sensitive and specific stories that you may (and did, twice) cover from a news perspective, and those can be blurry lines that I’m not confident in navigating.

    Ultimately, I’ve sort of settled on the opinion that I’m pretty good at staying neutrallish, or at least professionally detached and/or silent, on most specific local issues — but for my own sake I have to draw the line on issues directly and intrinsically related to my body and rights in society and the protection thereof, which to me must have primacy when it comes to how I use my voice.

    Curious your thoughts on this — how do you balance that stuff out? You’ve done opinion work on this blog, would love to know how you work out what is appropriate to comment on, and what is potentially conflict-ish. Back on the music beat it was all opinion- and voice-driven so it hardly mattered, so now I find myself really nervous about discussing a lot of things on my blog or Twitter unless they are extremely general. As a result a lot of stuff goes totally unblogged — I have 30 unpublished drafts in my admin panel. 😛

    That’s an open question for discussion too, if anyone wants to join in.

  2. It’s a question I usually ask myself at least once a week, if not more often, and you’re not alone with having a folder full of unpublished drafts of items.

    But at the end of the day, I only ask one question (and a follow up): What is it for? Who is it for?

    For a number of reasons, I’m OK in the belief that nobody really cares what I think about what’s happening in our fair city. As one of a number of reporters in town, it’s just a personal affectation perhaps that I feel people are more interested in what I know or what I’ve found out than what my take is on things.

    As you’ve stated, that’s not a hard and fast rule. There are a number of items here that are opinion-based. But the need to express an opinion isn’t the driving force about why this blog exists. I don’t have the writing chops like say, you do, to be able to pull that off and have it actually be consistently engaging.

    Initially, I conceived it as a place to put those ‘extra bits’ that are collected over the course of a week’s work [some weeks more than others]. The posts on the Osborne Street bridge “jumper” being an example. You know as well as I there’s a lot — a ton — that doesn’t make the page or the airwaves, and in the course of collecting all this info, a shit ton goes to waste.

    I’m very aware that people link my name to a specific media agency [and it’s still surprising to me how many still think I’m at the WFP] so that’s where, for me, the complication really exists. I wouldn’t ever want to put the CBC in dutch for something I personally said, so I think [I hope] that I’ve been clear to draw the distinction between me and the Mother Corp.

    And let’s be clear: a lot of the information I collect and ultimately write about here isn’t collected while I’m on the clock at the CBC, but rather because I commit a large chunk of my own personal time to trying to stay in the know in the absence of a litany of police or justice sources that I can simply pick up the phone and call.

    But at the end of the day, if you believe something, and you have evidence to support that belief, and you present it fairly and acknowledge there’s likely to be other perspectives, then you’re just exercising your right to be a human being with a brain and feelings.

    And it would be difficult — for me, anyways — to work at a media agency that would ever voice any concerns about approaching things in such a way.

    To be honest, I’m a little surprised sometimes at the relatively low number of local media types that blog — and that’s not a criticism (see? sensitive…). I’m fascinated by the way the “work” (if you can call it that) informs my life and how I see the world. And in some way, this blog is my way of sharing that fascination (and you know better than anyone I made shitty records).

    At the end of the day, I didn’t get into this business to simply have a job. And as much as the frustrations of doing it every day sometimes tempt me to become a worker drone, I’m not gonna let that happen.

    1. Yeah, I think you and I are basically in the same place on a lot of that — the part, you mention, about not being in this business simply to have a job. That’s where I’m at too — I’m in this business because I don’t know what else I have to give than words.

      I tend to — well, not worry so much that people care about my opinions, but worry about putting myself too “out there” in terms of the standards expected by the industry in general, and as you note I don’t want what I say to reflect necessarily on my employer, since A) it doesn’t and B) I’d rather have what I say on my time reflect on me.

      But what you’ve said makes sense. I think a lot of it is that I am still figuring out what the appropriate boundaries are in news, so it’s all very nervewracking and, of course, I don’t want to screw it up. There are still some issues I plan to stay firmly and completely out of, local politics being a big one — which, luckily, is much easier for me than staying out of the Dewar commentary. 😉

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