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(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:

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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.

-30-

 

3 thoughts on “Police disclosure and Manitoba crime coverage

  1. Interesting observations here.

    I agree with the analysis and ultimate conclusion.

    Police release little in the way of meaningful information on these cases.

    That leaves it up to the media to find the substance.

    Now the real problem emerges, newsrooms gutted, stock photos used in current articles, no investigative reporters to be found.

    I realize it’s a complex issue, advertising revenues down, layoffs, free news everywhere, paywalls and a general lack of public concern….

    How do we revert back to the old days of investigative journalism to fill the gaps in the information vacuum that exists in today’s world?

    Law Enforcement isn’t likely going to change the way they do business so doesn’t that put the onus back on the media?

    No one’s going to “go around them” if no one cares.

    1. Yes, media resources are an issue. But so are the priorities newsrooms set. As for “no” investigative reporters, that’s a little strong. Too few I would say is more accurate.

  2. “I suspect Manitobans overall don’t know 1/10th of what actually goes on in terms of crime in their communities.”

    I suspect you’re right, but it never occurred to me that it might have something to do with what the RCMP is or isn’t doing.

    I suspect two reasons for this: fear that releasing information will somehow have a bad result, while not releasing information has no consequence; and the power of We’ve Always Done It This Way.

    I’ve always felt the media isn’t interested in what goes on outside of Winnipeg, nor do they have much ability to cover it. How many news crews went to Bloodvein to interview neighbors and family and get images of the scene like they would in Winnipeg?

    So maybe the RCMP just does what they’ve always done and have never seen a need for change.

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