Confession: When I sit down on Saturdays to construct these link-based posts, I take a couple of minutes to think about what comes immediately to mind — to me — over the last seven days in Winnipeg. They’re by no means comprehensive or complete. As well, although I work for CBC Manitoba, and many of the outbound links refer back to CBC stories, I do take it as a matter of fairness and balance on this, my personal blog, to reference the good work done by other media outlets.

That being said,

The nearly four million-dollar police whirlybird versus the $2 laser pointer drew, I’d say, the most number of hits and comments of all the crime-related stories in Winnipeg this week [sadly]. Looks like Sheldon Friesen of Toronto Street got more than he bargained for with his eBay purchase. However, while former dep. chief Menno Zacharias makes a point in his blog about how police responded with a heavy hand to the incident, there’s an argument to be made that the WPS had no choice but to throw the book at the accused in hopes of getting its point across. Put another way. If I walked up to a cop on the street and shined a laser pointer in his or her eyes, how would I expect to be dealt with? Common sense tells me I wouldn’t be treated like a silly prankster.

Quoth Menno:

When police over react, the media will over react, which is what we are seeing.  One news outlet actually featured a rambling interview with the suspect marvelling at how by simply  using a two-bit laser pen, he was almost able to bring down a 3 million dollar helicopter.   This only serves to sensationalize what is a serious issue.  The suspect was nabbed quickly and efficiently by the police.  No fanfare was needed.

I think what fuelled what he perceives as fanfare is the fact Chief McCaskill was already slated to appear on a radio show the morning that the event took place. There was no question that he needed to be asked about his views on what happened, and it went from there.


Interesting article here on the rising number of laser pointer “attacks” on aircraft in the States.

2] Moving on: The Winnipeg Free Press is to be commended for purchasing and publishing the complete transcript of the Justice Dewar decision that landed him in hot water with the public and the Canadian Judicial Council. While the flames of outrage abated somewhat this week, Gordon Sinclair’s apologia today appears to have reignited them. But let’s face it: Unless you read or hear the whole thing, it’s really impossible — not to mention morally murky — to pass judgment on the judge.

The whole affair reminds me of one of my favorite moments from the acclaimed HBO show, The Wire: anti-hero Omar in one episode fends off a poorly-planned and executed revenge plot:

3] The Winnipeg Police Association made some noise this week about the Downtown BIZ requesting $100,000 to ensure their downtown watch program keeps a’running and dragging vagrants and drunks to the tank. The WPA told The Sun’s Tom Brodbeck (twitter @tombrodbeck) that tasks like this are a major reason the newish Winnipeg Police Cadets are around and that the cadets are better trained to deal with the drunks than the downtown watch folk. In a statement to Brodbeck, WPA president Mike Sutherland makes an interesting observation:

The reality is that the Downtown Biz is seeking its own private police force to be paid for by the taxpayers of Manitoba. Putting aside the legality of such a request (which is, as you probably know, the subject of ongoing legal proceedings), I share the concerns of his members as they relate to public safety in the downtown area. I just disagree with the best and most cost efficient way to deal with that concern. I remain steadfast in my view that if the real concern is to provide the most effective and cost effective service to his members, Mr. Grande would embrace the concept of diverting the funds that exist to the Cadet Program. Unfortunately, the perception left is that Mr. Grande is more interested in feathering his nest than addressing the real concern.

But Chief McCaskill appears to be on the side of maintaining the BIZ patrol, saying if the Cadets were to absorb it, it would negate the officer-assistance role the light-blues do for officers.

It’s hard to fathom that this dispute couldn’t have been forseen prior to the Cadets coming online late last year, but here we are.

Personally, I’m with Sutherland on this issue. The city can hire up to 200 Cadets [who also raise the potential rate of viable recruits for future police officer classes]. Hire another 50, try and grandfather in and train as many Downtown Watch patrollers as possible and assemble a 24-7 Winnipeg Police Service Cadet downtown patrol program.

They’re already based on Graham Mall. Just from an optics perspective, it would look like a no-brainer for the WPS.

As an aside, my colleague Katie Nicholson put forward a great story on Friday regarding the rising costs and effort going into dealing with drunks downtown.

4] The federal department of justice has its hands full with extraditions lately, with the latest arrest on behalf of the U.S. government coming this week. It appears one part of this particular drug-conspiracy case has been covered by crack Vancouver Sun reporter Kim Bolan (twitter: @kbolan her blog — The Real Scoop — is here). I note with interest a passage from her February feature story on a sentencing hearing for businessman Silvano Cicuto:

According to U.S. prosecutors, Cicuto is a member “of a drug trafficking organization based in part in British Columbia,” who, with co-conspirators, arranged for large quantities of ecstasy and a similar synthetic drug called BZP to be delivered to New York.According to court documents, the DEA first got wind of the drug ring when a confidential informant told agents in June 2009 that “he had met and spoken with a Canada-based individual named Shaun Sunduk who distributed large quantities of ecstasy pills.” The informant passed along Sunduk’s number and the DEA called for some sample pills.

They arrived on July 1, 2009 in a small package from New Westminster, where Cicuto was living.

Through Sunduk, the DEA’s agent ordered 100,000 more pills from the B.C. drug gang. Sunduk referred to Cicuto as his “boss” in texts to the agent. Cicuto called the DEA plant directly several times, complaining in one call that his driver had been robbed of 100,000 pills.

Court documents say Cicuto, who the DEA agent called “the old man,” used sophisticated drug trafficking jargon to describe the potential of his ecstasy and relayed messages as to when his couriers would be crossing the border.

After one driver was arrested in Minnesota, Cicuto complained to the undercover agent that “Sunduk’s people had lost the shipment of 100,000 pills and that he was no longer working with Sunduk.”

Given Sunduk’s impending (and now executed arrest at his home in Grande Pointe just south of Winnipeg), prosecutors quickly moved to seal the criminal complaints in the Cicuto case and not prejudice his right to a fair trial.

But given the prosecution’s assertion that a drug mule is willing to testify against Sunduk — it proves again the U.S. system of massive penalties for drug offenders often provide a huge boost to law enforcement to go ‘up the ladder’ in an effort to try and hit larger targets.

It brings me back years to the work I did for the Winnipeg Free Press who allowed me to head to Montana to cover my first-ever trial (seriously) — that of Tim Morneau, a Winnipegger who was ultimately convicted of smuggling massive amounts of ecstasy across the border and is serving a 20-year sentence.

In a post trial interview, the State’s District Attorney, William Mercer, explained why the ‘up the ladder’ strategy is one employed so often (From my WFP blog called, ironically, The Crime Scene in April 2009):

But for all our obvious efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate criminals, there’s one thing the U.S. in their stiff sentencing laws that I’m sure criminal investigators in our country salivate over.

That is: a workable and successful method of getting low-to-mid level criminals to roll over on the “big man” (as Morneau called his ecstacy connection) because doing 30 or 40 to life just can’t seem worth it after the jail cell slams shut – or is just about to.

At least this is what Mercer claims is really behind the high sentences many criminals – including drug traffickers – receive in the U.S. for the large part.

“Drug cases are built on co-operation,” Mercer said. Only slightly tongue-in-cheek, he added that the stiff prison time can be seen as “tremendous incentives” for inmates to co-operate with investigators so they can go after the top-guns in the drug world.

“Our goal is to root out entire organizations,” Mercer said.

5] I note that CTV Winnipeg has a story coming Tuesday on MPI compensation for car thieves injured in crashes, an issue that I’m sure will enrage a few out there, because nobody likes car thieves, better yet ones who get ratepayer money to help in their healing.

At the end of the day, I suspect there’s only one thing to blame, and that’s MPI’s no-fault insurance policy. Besides, MPI isn’t shy about suing car thieves for the damage they cause. Whether they ever recoup the money, however, is another story.

6] Underplayed this week was the tale of Fred Skelton, an old man who was caught with a massive collection of sick child porn years ago. Crown and defence say they could live without him going to jail, but the judge could still order it.

(Robert Tapper)

7] As expected, an appeal has been filed in the case of two police officers accused of perjury and other offences. Lawyer Robert Tapper told me this week that he’ll point to a section of the trial transcript from its first day that he believes shows identity was not a live issue in the case [click picture to enlarge]. What Tapper will point to is a comment by Const. Peter O’Kane’s defence lawyer Sheldon Pinx on the exhibits that jurors were given [Lines 18-22].

I have very little left over from my notes this week: other than a former drug addict filing for restraining orders against her former dealers [that’s about as interesting as it gets] and a hint for my loyal readers that a major crime story could break this week or next, but it’s not related to any person or criminal incident. That being said, it could have an overwhelming impact on crime perceptions — and what you’re told about what’s happening ‘out there’ — in Winnipeg.

To be honest, I’m surprised no one has reported it yet. If no MSM gets to it by Monday, I will here.

As well, I’m contemplating a post on the following topic: ‘what is a crime reporter’ in the wake of certain comments made by a local blogger regarding the media coverage of the recent killing of Elizabeth LaFantaisie. Consider this a request: If you have a thought on that topic, please drop me a comment.


5 thoughts on “Major Crimes: A week in review III

  1. “It’s hard to fathom that this dispute couldn’t have been forseen prior to the Cadets coming online late last year, but here we are.”

    It was foreseen.

    This issue was first raised in my interview with Mayor Katz last year. The interview was probably in 2009 come to think of it but I am not handy to my notebooks.

    In fact, the entire push for cadets came from TGCTS in the first place.

    The city had agreed to a cadet program but had set aside zero dollars for it, and the fact the Biz was empire-building spurred me to raise it with Sam. I remember shortly thereafter having Mike Sutherland in the studio and he discussed it as well.

    The Biz was subject to a retrospective review – I think it was a 5 year thing- and I saw documents about their future funding desires
    ( or manifest destiny syndrome) that showed they wanted to wield their quasi-cop presence all the way to HSC.

    I found the idea of the city increasing funding for the Downtown Biz for that kind of expansion of their influence, while paying only lip-service to the cadet commitment, disconcerting.

    So as it relates to the present day, the city creating a cadet program and subsequently questioning the propriety of paying for a private police force, all started with the alternative media. I’ll take the credit or blame either way LOL.

    Great job with this blog James.

  2. James: I think you may have misinterpreted the point I was making. I think that identifying and charging the person involved was certainly called for and the appropriate thing to do. The issue I raised had to do with how the police sensationalized the incident to the point where it developed a life of its own. The interesting thing about the interview with the chief that you reference is that at least two other serious issues brought up by the host (ICE Unit staffing and the the perjury case) were essentially blown off while the laser incident got front and center treatment.

  3. Fair Enough, Menno – but as a counterpoint, I’m just pointing out that saying nothing would draw equal amounts of criticism from the peanut gallery.

    I don’t think it should have come as any surprise to anyone who cares that the ICE unit is understaffed. There’s been enough court coverage of problems with recent child-porn cases to at least tangentially point to this.

    And really, not to give the chief a free pass, but what could he have said about the perjury case while it’s still (or was under threat of still) being litigated? I would have liked to have heard his thoughts, however, on the officers who supposedly cheered the acquittal in open court.

    Essentially what you’re saying, I gather, is that the media prized the heli-laser story over the more substantive issues? That’s an accusation I’ve never heard before. ; )

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