Sinclair Inquest: (un)Moving pictures

Just a quick update to the missing hospital camera footage situation, which raised a lot of eyebrows and questions.

While my other duties have prevented me from delving further into this myself, many have stepped forward through social media and other means to offer greater details.

First, I’d submit the following Twitter posts from Steve Lambert at The Canadian Press, a colleague of astonishing awesomeness:

[They need to be read in reverse order].

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So, in this instance, there’s a legitimate reason for the missing footage: with the camera zoomed in, and nothing moving, there was nothing to film over the five-minute period. [Although why the camera was zoomed in to this degree is an outstanding question].

We then have colleague Bruce Owen’s short piece this morning on an outside expert’s view of the HSC’s “recording on event” camera system, further corroborating the HSC’s position the missing video is “normal” in the circumstances.

If it’s the case, two of the three questions I asked in my last post appear to be answered to some degree.

The other: how the cop probing the case for a year didn’t notice the missing footage until he was told about it this week, remains to be answered.

I’m still left wondering why the camera didn’t pick up a rush of activity around the ER when staff finally approached to check on him.

Again, quoting CBC:

“The inquest heard a security guard realized Sinclair was not breathing and took him to get help. He was pronounced dead at 12:51 a.m. on Sept. 21, 2008. The security camera footage is missing from 12:47 a.m. to about 12:53 a.m.”

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I wear no tin-foil hat. But it just boggles that in this case such a key portion of a major piece of evidence the inquest has to work with isn’t there.

We’re often told of the objective value of surveillance cameras in public-safety scenarios, how they “don’t lie” and provide a neutral view of what took place [such as the murder of Gerald Crayford at the Pizza Hotline.]

But here ….

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Sinclair Inquest: Missing ER footage stretches logic

130806 sinclair03.JPGMaybe it’s the residual skepticism in me over the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry debacle surrounding  missing and/or shredded supervisor’s notes from the murdered little girl’s CFS involvement.

But when I read tonight that six minutes of security cam footage from the HSC ER are missing — at the precise time Brian Sinclair was discovered dead — a wave of awfulness came upon me.

Read this CBC Manitoba story here.  Pay careful attention to how the headline says HSC officials “explain” missing footage at Sinclair inquest.

Here’s the CBC fact box in full, emphasis mine.

Missing footage

On Tuesday, the inquest heard six minutes of tape from the emergency room at the Health Sciences Centre, where Sinclair died, was missing from evidence. The six minutes were the precise time staff realized Sinclair was dead. That revelation was made by the Sinclair family’s lawyer. The officer in charge or reviewing the footage said he had not previously noticed the five minutes were missing until the lawyer pointed it out.

The inquest heard a security guard realized Sinclair was not breathing and took him to get help. He was pronounced dead at 12:51 a.m. on Sept. 21, 2008. The security camera footage is missing from 12:47 a.m. to about 12:53 a.m.

In testimony heard later in the afternoon, Norman Schatz, the co-ordinator of investigations and staff development for HSC, told the inquest the cameras activate via a motion sensor. He said he “assumed there was no motion during those six minutes.”

However, right before the camera cuts off and when it resumes taping, motion can be seen in the corners of the frame. (Again, credit to the CBC for this)

This raises many profoundly disturbing questions to me. Here’s just two  three small things to think about.

1] Consider the ‘lack of motion’ aspect — in the ER of ostensibly Manitoba’s busiest 24-hour hospital early on a cool, but pleasant early 10C Sunday morning in the fall . Am I supposed to really believe that for six minutes, nothing moved in that room to trigger the cameras? ( I wonder what the 911 call log looks like around that time? It was Saturday night just before Sinclair died waiting for care, after all, and we all know Winnipeg on a Saturday night). 

2] A Winnipeg cop, a veteran investigator who worked homicides and was seconded to conduct the police investigation into Sinclair’s death, testified he spent roughly 500 hours (That’s 20.83 full days of life) reviewing the footage from the ER but didn’t notice the missing 5-6 minutes until the lawyer for the Sinclair family advised him of it in court today. He investigated the case for a year. No charges ever came of his findings, which the public will never know much about anyway.

3] [Added at 9:46 p.m. after original posting] It’s interesting how in the above CBC text, the HSC co-ordinator of investigations is directly quoted as saying he “assumed” there was no motion, hence no footage of around the time Sinclair died. That “assumed” word gives me pause. Didn’t the HSC investigations co-ordinator review the whole tape?

I’ve read multiple media accounts of today’s inquest proceedings. They all basically say the same thing.

But the one question not really being asked is this: Is it remotely credible that innocently, in one of Manitoba’s most concerning health-care related cases ever — one everyone’s had years to prepare for the onslaught of scrutiny this inquest would bring — that there’s missing camera footage, or missing documents? [More missing stuff here].

Again, maybe it’s just Phoenix and the gaps in logic and process seen there coming back to rattle me.

But I just can’t accept this. It really, really troubles me.

It should trouble you too.

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EDIT: 8:55 p.m. to clarify lead sentence somewhat.

EDIT 9:45 p.m. to add third question.

A quick one, while he’s away

Second of two proposed designs for WPS cruisers
Second of two proposed designs for WPS cruisers

Hey folks,

Sorry for the long lapse in posting. A job switch (randomly-selected tales from the last two weeks here, here and here)  — and other matters have resulted in the neglect of this “space.”

I fully expect in the next fortnight or sooner to be back up again and writing items that are way too long.

There’s a few irons in the fire at present which will hopefully pique your interest.

Cheers,

JST

CFS: Communication breakdown

TCNA Winnipeg man, 40, gets pinched for luring a child on the internet in a covert sting.

The “girl” on the other end of his explicit and concerning Yahoo.com chats is actually an undercover cop.

The Winnipeg police investigation starts in June 2010 and ends with his arrest two months later, on Aug. 24. His computers are seized.

But police then learn he and his wife are CFS foster parents.

“At the time of (his) arrest, the family was fostering high needs medical babies through Southeast Child and Family Services,” a Manitoba Corrections report on the case states.

Police call up Winnipeg CFS and apprise them of the situation. The agency tells the offender to move out of the home. He does.

His wife stops fostering kids that same year, the report says.

But fast forward to April 2013, when the man is now suddenly allowed (the report’s wording) move back into the home despite having pleaded guilty and taken no programming or sex-offender treatment in the intervening years.

It wouldn’t be until a curious probation officer interviewing him for a pre-sentencing report that it comes to light his wife has again started fostering kids.

“Further enquiries resulted in the information that (the wife) was again fostering children through two different Aboriginal Child and Family Services Agencies; Island Lake First Nations Family Services and Kinosao Sipi Minisowin Agency out of Norway House. Both these agencies were reportedly unaware (the offender) had returned to reside with the family.” [this last sentence is underlined in the report]

Manitoba Corrections notifies Winnipeg CFS of this and this agency steps in again.

“(The wife) was asked to have (the offender) move out of the home until such time Child and Family Services grants permission for him to have access to the children, likely after having completed treatment,” the report reads. 

The report was compiled on June 7, 2013.

Also of concern is how the offender didn’t initially disclose who was living in the family home around the time the inquisitive Corrections officer was interviewing him for the report.

“It should be noted, when the writer asked (him) who lived with him in the home he omitted to inform they had foster children in their care and living at the home.”

Look. Nothing actually happened here to any child that I’ve been made aware of. That’s a relief. But that’s not the point.

This makes clear there’s obviously key inter-agency communication gaps within CFS that have to be addressed.

How can Winnipeg CFS order a man out of an (obviously registered) foster home due to a child-related sexual offence in 2010 only to have the other agencies — within the same CFS system, remember — somehow place kids back there at some point prior to April 2013 and somehow not know the offender was being allowed back to live there? Untreated, no less.

Who authorized his return? One can only assume it had to be CFS, as they were the ones who wanted him out [rightly] in the first place.

It’s conjecture to some degree, but it looks like from the documentation I’ve seen that possibly Winnipeg CFS gave him the OK to return without visiting the home to check it out (he has kids of his own). And somehow the northern agencies didn’t know or weren’t apprised of this development, his return.

And it also appears as if the northern agencies didn’t communicate to anyone (child protection branch, Winnipeg CFS?) the fact they were placing foster kids with the wife again.

Was the file not red-flagged? I have no explanation for how this happened.

But the better question is —  Does CFS?

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Gerald Crayford’s murder and the duplicity of despair

Screen Shot 2013-03-27 at 10.56.14 PM “I knew that Gerald Crayford was a hero before his wife, children and other family members read their victim impact statements to me.  From the preliminary inquiry evidence I learned that he struggled to stop a man armed with an axe from robbing him and his employer.  Then the victim impact statements arrived and they gave me a character sketch of what a hero he was in other ways.  But what stood out as I listened to some of the words being read was that I was hearing from angry people yet they were in anguish over the fact that they were so angry.  Their anger gave them neither consolation nor respite and undoubtedly none relished the opportunity to ventilate anger in the courtroom.  Their participation was an important component of the solemnity of the sentencing hearing.”  Judge Rocky Pollack

Maybe it’s just the first anniversary of my dear Dad’s death tomorrow affecting my brain’s beta waves, but having to hear today the sniffles and sobs of people related to a teen who brutally murdered an innocent man for really, no reason, as he was sentenced to ‘life’ in prison really irked me.

Now, my (possibly faulty) assumption is their tears weren’t being shed for the victim, Gerald Crayford, 54, but instead for their young relative in the prisoner’s dock — someone they went so far as to help try and destroy evidence of his hideous conduct after he did it.

“At some point before he was arrested, his sister, mother, grandmother and a friend helped D.V.J.S. hide the axe.  It was recovered by police when the friend decided to notify them.” — Pollack, decision on adult sentence

(I’d still love to know why nobody was charged with obstruction or aiding and abetting, but I won’t expect any answer.)

At least that’s what the timing of the tears in court today suggested to me.

The pitiful sniffles started just after the prosecutor outlined today — once again — the aggravating factors of this absolutely horrific murder of an innocent.

And then they ramped up once again (morphing into sobs), later in the day, as Judge Rocky Pollack passed down the harshest available sentence he was able to.

Some of those aggravating factors included:

  • It was a “planned” event
  • The accused fully expected it to be a 2 on 1 robbery, easy pickings
  • The “significant, gratuitous violence” inflicted on innocent Mr. Crayford
  • A video was made after the robbery “acting out” the crime and comments about how it “felt cool” to kill someone

On the other side of shabby courtroom 404 sat some of Crayford’s family and friends, along with a handful of city homicide cops who wanted to see this one through.

I’ve come to learn over the years this doesn’t always happen. It was gratifying to see the officers there.

Not a single cry or sniffle or sob could be heard from that side of the room.

They instead sat silently, washed over with that sheen of mute blankness and silent resignation I’ve seen infect so many bereft families and friends of crime victims.

Maybe it’s the fatigue from the court process — likely something none of them were familiar with or ever wanted to be. Maybe I’m totally misreading it.

But on the other side — the side of the killer — they likely had to be somewhat in the know of how the system works, given how the offender — the murderer — was on ‘supervised’ probation stemming from a knifepoint robbery of a separate store at the time he bludgeoned poor Gerry Crayford to death inside that nondescript little Pizza Hotline shop a few years back.

I’m not upset at the sentence. It is what it is.

I’m not upset with the lawyers, who performed and acted as professionally as they usually do. in such a serious matter.

I am upset that people who knowingly tried to shield a murderer from responsibility by attempting to destroy evidence had the temerity to show up in a court of law and weep for him; ostensibly weeping for what the system was ‘doing’ to him.

Judge Pollack was clear in his reasons today: the decision to hand this offender the max was directly influenced by what he saw on the store surveillance camera. The level of violence “sickened” him, he said.

It’s these things, combined with the senseless death of an innocent man who never did nothing to nobody is what truly sickens me.

Judge Pollack’s full decision on the case is here. It’s a worthwhile read.

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Hot-potato girl (part three) and our measures of ‘success’

Screen Shot 2013-03-27 at 10.56.14 PMWhen it comes to Manitoba’s youth justice system — and the unbelievably sad kids it often has to try and “fix” — I’ve learned one should take small successes and trumpet them.

And it dawns on me today that the case of K. falls into that category.

I wrote about K. — a high-needs permanent ward of CFS — a few months back. (It’s not her real initial).

Her tale triggered some consternation from regular readers of this blog (one commenter called the process of her case ‘disgusting’).

In a nutshell, K’s story was about what happens sometimes in our youth justice system — and the failures of systemic  concerns outside the court process to live up to the wishes and requirements of the court; that the youth justice act specifically states the criminal justice system is not to be a proxy for child-welfare concerns.

(And her concerns are immense. A short list goes like this: Violent history, FASD diagnosis, ARND, high suicide risk, broken family which “basically abandoned” her, mental illness, anxiety disorder).

You can read what little I know of K’s heartbreaking and concerning story here. And a follow up from a few days later here.

And it didn’t surprise me to learn last week that really, despite all this, nothing changed right away.

K. (remember, she’s 13 and an abuse survivor) was still released from the youth centre to go and live in a downtown Winnipeg hotel as Child and Family Services had no other placement for her.

(It’s partially her fault because her conduct had caused chaos at other bona fide foster placements, at another she was sexually abused and she was removed).

But the fact is the fact. Judge Mary Kate Harvie ordered specifically late last year K. was not to be placed by CFS or the provincial corrections department in a hotel and yet it continued to happen.

Another veteran judge, Marvin Garfinkel, lambasted lawyers and CFS over this continuing to happen in the spring and still, K. gets placed back in a hotel.

And again, this “plan” for her, however temporary the intention was for it to be, just didn’t work.

May 9, 2013: K. is at her latest hotel placement in downtown Winnipeg and a fracas breaks out with a worker over a perceived unfairness involving a cellphone. She lashes out, tosses a glass and hits the worker with it. After heading out of the hotel room, K. smashes a safety window, picks up a fire extinguisher and discharges it at another worker who tries to intervene in the hotel hallway.

Cops are called. She’s hauled off back to the youth centre and held in custody for what was termed a “freak out.” It seemed the cycle was simply doomed to repeat.

But then, something changed. Island Lake CFS came through with a placement on a rural farm. There’s animals there K.’s learning to bond with. She’s given structure and support and monitoring. The plan is she may actually return to school in the fall.

That’s some success you can hang your hat — however cautiously — on. But another success I noted was in how Judge Cynthia Devine treated K.

The relatively new judge, who also says grew up on a farm, spoke to this girl — noticed her, and noticed how this young offender with a horrific background replete with social (not criminal) problems spent two further months in custody till the placement came through.

Devine described this development, rightfully, as appalling. Because it is.

Devine saw how K. could barely utter a squeak, and hunched herself over in a defensive posture in the witness box throughout the hearing.

“It is absolutely no wonder that she comes before the court today having armed herself trying to protect her interests … little wonder that she freaked out. It is sad that she was in custody for so long on these charges,” Devine said.

“I’m appalled that this young girl was in custody for two months.”

Devine saw that the whole proceeding was likely just a bunch of gibberish to K., saying it was probably a “lot of noise” to her.

Devine saw K. And I got the sense her soft-touch approach might have made an impression.

To me, given some of the things I’ve seen over the years in youth court, that’s a success.

*[Edited slightly for typos on July 25 at 9:30 p.m. JST]

Child-protection “a safety net, not a drag net” Queensland child-welfare a Manitoba mirror

(Phoenix Sinclair)
(Phoenix Sinclair)

As players in Manitoba’s Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry prepare to return to hearings later this month to present their final submissions to Commissioner Ted Hughes, a sweeping review of child-protection in the Australian state of Queensland has wrapped up with a full report on problems and solutions now in the hands of government.

From even just  brief reading of the report [presented in full below], those involved in the PSI would do well to give it full, close reading.

It seems there’s an uncanny wealth of analogies to be made between their situation and the one Manitoba’s in.

Some quick excerpts:

1) “The enduring net effect of the implementation of recommendations from previous inquiries has been a systemic shift towards statutory child protection. This shift has been reinforced by a growing risk-averse culture in the department that promotes a forensic, rather than therapeutic, approach to child protection. Instead of investing in family support and other secondary services, departmental funds since 2000 have been directed to meeting the ever-increasing demand on the tertiary system.”

2) “According to most of the indicators currently used by policy makers to measure activities designed to safeguard vulnerable children, Queensland’s child protection system is under mounting stress. Over the last decade:

  • the number of child protection intakes has tripled (from 33,697 in 2001–02 to 114,503 in 2011–12)
  • the number of children in out-of-home care has more than doubled (from 3,257 in 2002 to 7,999 in 2012)
  • the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care has tripled (from 12 children per 1,000 population in care in 2002 to 42 per 1,000 in care in 2012)
  • children in care are staying there for longer periods (with an increase in the proportion of children exiting care after one year or more from 38 per cent in 2001– 02 to 64 per cent in 2011–12).

In addition, while caseloads for child protection workers have fallen in recent years, they are still exceeding a manageable and sustainable level, and lifetime prospects for children leaving the care system continue to be poor.

Community concern about this unsatisfactory state of affairs led to the current government making an election commitment to review the child protection system with a view to finding the best possible outcomes for our most vulnerable children and their families.

3) “[T]he Commission is convinced by the argument (backed up by evidence) that wherever possible it is better for the child to stay at home — better for the child, better for the family and better for society as a whole. By supporting parents, we not only keep families together but we give parents an opportunity to contribute to their community.

Queensland’s situation is not unique. Similar problems can be found throughout Australia and across the western world. However, Queensland’s fiscal situation has made it imperative that it find out what is causing the system to malfunction, and to identify an affordable remedy.

I note of interest the title of the massive Queensland report: “Taking responsibility.”

I’ll be reading it in full with great interest. July 22 is the date the PSI is due to be back in session.

Charges still make noise if no one’s there to hear them gather dust

courthouseIt was a criminal court circumstance which triggered palpable public ire in Manitoba.

A man accused of sexually molesting a girl but allowed to walk scot free without ever facing trial — apparently due to a sizable cop screwup where charges were laid but a warrant for his arrest wasn’t executed for 18 months — with no explanation why.

It just “gathered dust” in the system, as the common rhetoric goes.

The public freaked when the charges got tossed [if online comments are anything to go on (I know, I know…)].

But what a difference a few months and a Crown appeal to a higher court can make.

And my, how ironic sometimes life can be.

Queen’s Bench Justice Colleen Suche has ordered the man back to face trial, ruling Provincial court Judge Brent Stewart was mistaken to rule the accused’s Charter right to be speedily brought to trial was infringed to the extent the only remedy was a rare judicial stay of proceedings.

“In my view, no breach of the accused’s rights under s. 11(a) occurred and the trial judge erred in finding a breach of s. 11(b),” Suche wrote in her recent, succinct, decision. 

Here’s the facts Suche was working with (as she found them):

In December 2009, a member of the Winnipeg Police Service contacted the accused and asked him to attend at the police station to be interviewed about a complaint.  The accused was not told anything about the nature or source of the complaint.  On his lawyer’s advice he did not attend.

On January 12, 2010 the charges in issue were laid.  The accused was not arrested until July 26, 2011.

Thereafter, the charges worked their way through Provincial Court to the point where a trial date was set for December 12, 2012.  A pre-trial motion was brought by the accused seeking a stay pursuant to s. 24(1) of the Charter on the basis that his right to be tried within a reasonable time under s. 11(b) had been breached.

The trial judge found that there had been a 36-month delay from issuance of the charges to trial. Eighteen months of that was post-arrest.  He was satisfied, on a review of the circumstances, that this delay was not unreasonable.

The balance of the delay was a period of 18 months from the date the information was sworn, until the accused’s arrest, the latter being the date that the accused learned of the charges.  No explanation was offered by the Crown for this delay.  The trial judge concluded it was solely attributable to the police.

The accused did not assert that he had suffered any prejudice and did not provide any evidence that his right to a fair trial had been impaired.  He argued that prejudice should be inferred.  The trial judge agreed and concluded that the accused’s rights under s. 11(b) had been violated and granted a stay of proceedings pursuant to s. 24(1).

… “Turning to the case at hand, the accused did not provide any evidence of any prejudice to his right to a fair trial including any economic consequences.  As the Crown points out, his position before the trial judge was based solely on presumed or inferred prejudice.”

This is key, Suche’s decision suggests, as the law of the land (as interpreted by the Supreme Court on appeals from lower courts) appears to say that charges should stand in cases of “inferred prejudice,” because the accused person can’t claim his/her interests are in jeopardy in the absence of knowing they are charged with an offence or pending trial. 

It’s an interesting twist of logic. The law in this case seems to suggest an offence can’t be tossed out even if its subject isn’t there to hear the tree fall in the forest, as it were.

And then there’s the irony.

The accused didn’t participate in the appeal hearings. And likely doesn’t know he’s now due back in court.

An arrest warrant has again been issued for him.

Will be interesting to see what happens next. I’d bet the cops bend over backwards to get this one executed fast.

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Dope-dealing kids and perpetuating the false promise of gang life

ImageWhen an adult gets pinched for possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, he’s more than likely envisioning prison time as the picture of what his future will look like, for better or for worse.

A juvenile? Not so much.

That’s even when convicted of multiple counts of trafficking an incredibly addictive drug known for its violent spinoffs and contribution to social decay.

That was evident today during a sentencing for a 16-year-old Mad Cowz gang member who pleaded guilty to not one, but two counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking crack since last fall, along with a joyriding charge and several breaches — many of which had to do with his persistence in handing around with other Mad Cowz.

Mad Cowz have been in the news a fair amount as of late, largely because of a recent police project which took down 10 members of the gang’s so-called “hierarchy.”

If memory serves, five of the 10 were youths. The teen in question was not one of those picked up in Project Recall.

(The project’s work began in earnest — perhaps co-incidentally, perhaps not — after a Mad Cowz-linked fatal shooting of a rival B-Side gang member in a late-night restaurant in February.)

In any event: the teen sentenced today has been out of custody on bail for all but the last few weeks.

In one trafficking charge, he was nabbed Oct. 28 by eagle-eyed cops on Ellice avenue with a garbage bag with 27 rocks of crack inside it after the youth was seen trying to pitch it, and then going back for it when he thought the cops stopped watching.

He also had $260 cash on him. He’s arrested, released from the youth jail but back in, briefly, by Nov. 15, when he breached curfew and was tracked down with the help of a K9 dog and the police chopper.

And then, most recently, he is picked up again May 21 after being spotted on Beverly Street in the company of one of the Project Recall youth suspects, one who was granted bail after his arrest in the project [also a youth].

This time, he’s nabbed holding 16 rocks of crack and $135 cash and a cell phone.

The teen has no record. Therefore, his sentence was pretty much written in stone the minute he started seeking a Crown position: Two years of supervised probation and a relatively stern talking-to by the judge who cautioned him of what he’d be facing if he was just two years older, and how he didn’t believe the offender when he says he was preyed upon by other Mad Cowz members to take part in the gang.

At the end of the day, we have to wrestle with how this sentence in any way stops him from trafficking again, forces him to take the justice system seriously.

It mystifies me, personally.

(And lest we misplace blame, it’s the Youth Criminal Justice Act which really determines how it all shakes out, not the judge nor the lawyers).

And it’s not that I feel he’s getting off light. It’s just that he’s shown he can’t comply on bail, so I question what good a punishment of probation in the community will do for him — and for us.

I also wonder about the message the sentence sends the gang’s higher-ups, who are watching closely how the system reacts to what they’re doing.

That crack doesn’t just come from nowhere.

The revolving door of youths being effectively used by adult offenders to do their dirty work can’t close if the head honchos are perpetually told that the penalties are so light.

The false promise of gang life will continue to be sold.