The judge’s tirade came maybe just a bit too late

Judge Fred Sandhu

You gotta admire Provincial court Judge Fred Sandhu.

At the same time, you have to pity the fact he can’t simply walk into the CBC or the offices of any other media outlet in Winnipeg and put his opinions on the record for all to hear.

It’s the job of the media to be there to hear what judges like Sandhu have to say. And in this case, only the Winnipeg Sun was on September 30, 2011 — a few days prior to the election — but his words apparently went largely un-noticed by the electorate.

Sandhu was charged on that day with sentencing Daniel Smith, 26, for cracking a broomstick over the head of his wife while she breastfed their child. Then he stabbed her a few times with it.

They were fighting over beer, and the fact money was used to buy the baby essentials at Wal-Mart instead of more booze. The overconsumption of liquor and resulting problems has been a frequent issue in Smith’s life, Sandhu heard.

Without question, one of the most read and commented on posts on this blog in the last year was a recent one about Manitoba’s booze problem and its impact on our soaring violent crime rate.

And how it should be a key focus of any political party seeking reelection if they’re truly serious about ‘getting tough on crime.’

While many comments were positive and agreed to varying extents with my position, others — sent by email, largely, attacked me for taking a perceived prudish and anti-personal-responsibility stance on the issue of alcoholism and booze consumption in our province.

It’s like the Air Canada story that’s been rocking the airwaves this week. The truth hurts.

Sandhu, for whatever reason — frustration, anger, boredom — whatever, used Smith’s case to rail about the provincial booze-influenced-crime issue for an extended period of time.

In addition to my short story in Metro Winnipeg (Dean Pritchard’s earlier story is here), I wanted to put his “tirade” on the record in full.

Here it is, mostly verbatim, for the public record, emphasis mine.

‘Did you hear what you did?’ — it’s rhetorical.

Your behaviour was animalistic. That’s not the way even semi-decent human beings behave.

… It appears to me is what she did is she was asked to get beer and she changed — didn’t want to.

She went and got baby stuff instead because of some reason; she felt the baby needed some stuff.

And here you were, you and your wife and this cousin (Note: she’s 12) — I don’t know how much she was drinking, you were insistent, as was your wife,

‘No, we want to drink.’

That’s much more important to you than anything else.

‘We want to drink’ and if you don’t drink, she comes back without beer, without alcohol and it’s  — you get so upset with this that you hit her over the head with a broomstick — and that wasn’t good enough for you. While she’s holding the four-(month)-old, as I’ve been told, that wasn’t good enough for you and you start stabbing her with it.

All for what? For alcohol? Because you wanted more alcohol?

I don’t understand. I understand the power of alcohol — and that people do what appear to be very evil things because they were under the influence of what can be a very evil substance.

And I’ve been told that the combination in terms of costs to society of alcohol is many, many times greater by factors of 10 and 20 and 30 than any — all of the other drugs combined.

And that’s what we see here day to day, the effects of alcohol. And we hear about people doing these evil things and they say: ‘Well, I’m under the influence of alcohol.’

And I understand that that’s not an excuse, it’s not an excuse, but it shows me — and it’s shown to me day after day, and year after year, the incredible evil of alcohol on certain people. In certain situations.

And the evil is compounded by the fact that even when people appear here, time after time, having done what appear to be evil things, they can’t stop.

They continue to drink — and they continue to do evil things.

And then we look at all that and go, ‘well, is it the person that’s evil?’ The act was certainly evil. ‘Is the person evil? Is alcohol evil?’

You can’t ignore the fact that alcohol’s involved in all of these things. And here’s an almost perfect example of a person who can’t get the alcohol, who can’t get the thing that they crave and they do these animalistic things.

All for the power of alcohol — because of the power of alcohol. Sold at the corner store.

Friendly neighbourhood grocery store soon. 

And we wonder ‘how come there’s so much crime, how come there’s so much apparent evil in the world?’

And the only thing I hear about the alcohol is, ‘Oh, people are using it as an excuse,’ ‘Oh, why should they get less time because they’re drinking alcohol?’

That’s not the point.

The whole point being missed is what alcohol does to people, how it changes their behaviour, how they don’t even remember what they did.

Somebody who is on cocaine or marijuana or on speed, or on meth — you don’t see them doing these things. Maybe once in a while, something happens, an overdose …

But what happens day after day, month after month, year after year, case after case — is alcohol.

And people try to do things about it and get treatment — they try to go through rehab time and time again. They come back to court, thy lose their freedom. They lose their family, they lose their jobs, they lose their lives — they know other people have lost their lives and they still drink. Absolutely no control.

The control is completely from the substance — and that has to be recognized.

I‘m getting tired of this, in that the … the effect of alcohol people, and the complete lack of treatment facilities in this province to deal with it and people burying their heads in the sand about what the reality is. 

Has to end. Look what it’s doing to our society. And the courts are supposed to deal with it? How can we deal with it?

The only power that I have is to take away your freedom. That’s my ultimate power. That’s it. That’s all I have. When you leave the courtroom here today, you’re not to be punished any further — your punishment is your loss of freedom and that’s it.

When you go to jail, you’re not required to do anything … you’re not required to go to rehab, you’re not required to deal with the alcohol.

You don’t want to, you don’t have to. That because the only power the court has  — your loss of freedom. There is nothing other than the lower penalties that we have, the fines and so on. But the ultimate penalty is simply your loss of freedom.

And it’s up to you to decide what you want to do with all the time on your hand — because you’ve had lots of time on your hands and you’ve done nothing about your alcohol — I haven’t heard anything from your lawyer that you’ve even tried. Maybe you’re one of these people that alcohol is such a strong attraction that you don’t care. You don’t even care for rehab. There’s even a song about that: ‘You don’t even care for rehab,’ because you want the alcohol.

For you, the shining light on the hill is alcohol and you stab people and you hit them over the head with a broomstick and you run up a criminal record that’s three pages long — all alcohol related.

And you’re one of those people that’s only going to quit when you’re face down in the ground.

Is that what you want to be? Is that your life? Four-month-old baby — you’re going to lose your baby, you’re going to lose your life, you’re going to lose your freedom, gonna lose your job — if you had one — that didn’t stop you.

And eventually, there’s gonna be a time where you could well be locked up indefinitely.

Because if you have no control over this substance that makes you such an angry person, makes you do such evil acts — even though you yourself may not be evil ‚ then we have to deal with the evil act. We can’t deal with the person anymore — there’s comes a time, and as I said, the courts have very limited power. We can’t cure the problems of society by sitting here and sending people to jail. It’s not our job.

That’s the job of society to deal with it. And society wants to bury their heads in the sand.

And don’t blame the courts for not being able to fix society’s evils.

Sandhu even made the point of jumping Smith’s time for failing to comply with a probation order for verboten drinking by 15 days (from 45 to 60).

“I think even the two months is generous,” he said.

He even rubbed it in a tiny bit by ordering that Smith pay the $300 victim fine surcharge in the case — a penalty usually wiped out when a person has been locked up for months and months because they’ve likely lost everything. Smith was credited with double time for just shy of a year behind bars.

Just a final word, Mr. Smith. Do something about your alcohol. Unless you want to die, do something about it. I know many people who are very fine people when they are not drinking. And they’re completely different people when they are drinking. And if they didn’t drink, I would say that we wouldn’t even see them. Wouldn’t even see them in court — but we see them time after time after time.

And I give this speech to a lot of people — well, part of this speech to a lot of people — I know it doesn’t get through. All I can try to do is tell you that there is help available. If you don’t take advantage of it, you’re going to be back here again. And again and again and again.

… It’s your life. You’ve got another 50 years to go. Is this how you want to spend it?

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Why details are important, or: get with the times

(National Post)

Yesterday’s post about Graham James’s bail release inferred that there was something hinky going on in terms of how the system worked in this case.

It’s my belief today that there was, but not solely related to James’s case as I (and many others) incorrectly implied yesterday.

Instead, the issue is more of a systemic one relating to how the media and public are often left in the dark in a criminal justice system that’s supposed to be open to a fault, according to countless judges.

But in Manitoba, there’s nagging issues with the system that point to it lagging far behind the times.

To her credit, the Crown on the case, Colleen McDuff, was forthright in her explanation of why things happened the way they did, best explained by CP and a few lines from Mike McIntyre’s story in today’s FP.

CP:

A Manitoba Crown attorney says there was no secrecy involved in releasing convicted sex offender Graham James on bail.
Colleen McDuff says it is “just how the nature of his release
played out.”
McDuff says most of the conditions had been fixed in court last
week and there were only a few details to be worked out.
One was the address where he would be reporting to police in
Montreal.
James was expected to be in a Winnipeg court yesterday to
finalize his bail conditions.
But documents indicate that a justice of the peace signed off on
his release late Friday afternoon after James posted 10-thousand dollars in cash.

But, crucially, there’s more: From Mike Mac:

Crown attorney Colleen McDuff said there was nothing “sneaky” about how James was released.

“There was no conspiracy here. He was treated the same way as everyone else who gets bail,” McDuff told the Free Press.

Pollack originally granted bail to James on Dec. 7, despite objections by the Crown. A court-ordered ban prevents specific details of the hearing from being published. James didn’t get out that day because lawyers still had to draft the various terms of his release, which Pollack asked to be sent to him in chambers for final approval.

James was never required to make a further court appearance on the bail.

Once Pollack received the conditions, he drew up the order and it became official. James then had to wait until Friday to come up with a $10,000 surety he is required to post. Once the money was in, James was free to go.

His case was put on Monday afternoon’s docket but simply as a way to keep track of it. He is not required to make personal appearances unless ordered by a judge.

While I’m still a little unclear about the distinction ‘justice of the peace’ versus Judge Pollack himself signing off on bail conditions in chambers, this explanation makes more sense in terms of process.

It’s weird, and to be honest, I hadn’t ever encountered things being done this way, but whatever — I’m not the most experienced or smart courts reporter in the world.

We already knew James was getting out.

The problem is, the Crown could have expected the public to be confused by the process as it unfolded and taken easy steps to correct it.

When reporters left the courthouse on Dec. 7, they were under the understanding that the hearing would continue yesterday, a bail order would be signed off on in open court and it would be publicly put on the record.

Yes, reporters would be there to witness it. Yes, TV cameras would be camped outside the Law Courts, yes, there would be questions and requests for interviews.

Forgive us. That’s our job, and justice system participants like it enough when they need something to reach the public’s eyes and ears. We’re part of the landscape and ignoring that reality just won’t work. That much is clear.

But in the case of James’s release, the system didn’t work as the public was led to expect it would —Instead, it went the other way, resulting in the suspicion that something was going on in the shadows, that maybe James was getting special treatment.

Given the ever-increasing roadblocks put up in the media’s way in modern times, it’s only natural — and should have been expected — that there’d be some headscratching and a few questions for how his release came together in the end.

It’s not surprising, or a stretch for the Prosecutions Division to have seen that there was/is immense public interest in this case and responded accordingly on Friday by issuing a news release to media outlets that James had met his bail conditions ahead of the perceived schedule and what those conditions were.

It really would have been that simple.

And not without precedent: When the Crown applies for a publication ban in high-profile cases, they’re often quick to send a fax off to newsrooms to notify them of what’s being sought — likely for the reason they could oppose it should they choose.

It happened just the other day in connection to the Mark Stobbe murder case.

When the charges against James were formally laid recently, the Crown faxed the court informations (public charging documents) over to newsrooms explaining clearly what was happening and the restrictions on publishing certain information (the names of two of the complainants).

The media, and therefore the public, knew what was happening, it was a clear signal from the Crown that it wanted to get in front of what was certain to be a highly-publicized case and make sure nothing incorrect or prejudicial to the case or alleged victims got out.

So, from this, it would have been a simple matter of following through to keep everybody in the loop.

I get that Crowns are overworked and don’t have time to be worrying about the media’s needs, which, I admit could be perceived as overwhelming in some cases.

But how much time did McDuff have to spend on Monday giving interviews to clarify a situation that could have been easily cleared up with an emailed or faxed statement regarding what happened?

It’s not rocket science.

And — in the absence of keeping the public in the loop by some other means — is it inconceivable that the Crown, faced with a request to deal with James’s conditions and release on Friday, could have said ‘not today, see you in court as scheduled’?

-30-

Recommended Reading: National Post article on Digitizing the Law.

Come on. Even the Queen (sometimes known as the Crown) is on Facebook now.

“Let the system do its work”

 

Manitoba Law Courts building

 

The headline of this post is what Rose McLeod says she heard when she phoned around in an effort to get her mentally-ill husband, Joe, sprung from the Remand Centre.

I feel for her, and him. He must have been scared out of his wits being in there.

But the case is intriguing, and I’d bet to many on the inside of the system, deeply troubling on a few levels.

No person is above the law.

It’s a fundamental principle of justice that the law must be uniformly applied to  everyone in society.

The administration of justice must be above political influence and the whims of the public and the press (whose views are so often looked upon by justice officials with a kind of contempt, I personally feel)

Let’s look at the facts of the McLeod case as they’ve become known:

In early September, a disoriented Joe McLeod pushes his wife, who calls police because she doesn’t know what else to do. Police arrest and charge him with assault causing bodily harm.

For some reason, police chose to detain him, perhaps over concerns for the safety of his wife and maybe the fact he has nowhere else to go that would keep him away from her (she’s a named complainant, don’t forget).

Within my understanding of WPS domestic-violence policy, the officers attending the call had no discretion but to arrest him.

He’s sent to the Remand Centre, where he’s held in a medical ward, away from general population.

On Sept. 8, Joe McLeod make his first court appearance.

His case is remanded 11 times. He appears in courtroom 304 – the domestic-violence bail court – 3 times, but fails to make a bail application.

His wife, worried sick, ramps up her efforts to try and explain the situation.

“Let the system do its work,” she says everyone told her.

Finally, the Liberal party of Manitoba, through its leader Jon Gerrard — a doctor —  saw that holding a press conference to highlight McLeod’s situation was the best way to accomplish two things: Help Rose McLeod in a troubling situation, and, at the same time, criticize the NDP government, which as a matter of routine, is beyond cagy when it comes to public accountability on the justice file.

Headlines blare and the WRHA (???) is held up to talk about/explain the issue to reporters. Since when does the health authority have discretion to comment on criminal justice cases?

Reporters scratch their heads as to why, but the story continues.

The justice minister is nowhere to be found and requests to speak with him are declined.

Political pressure is applied and magnifies the plight of this one mentally-ill man.

Friday — two days after the Liberal press conference — Judge Sandy Chapman sets him free on bail so he can go live at a care home that was hastily arranged for him by health officials.

The Crown (which had the discretion to consented to his bail weeks ago if it so chose) did not oppose his release.

In effect, the bail hearing was a completely unnecessary bit of show.

Note, however, that the file changed hands from junior to senior prosecutor by Friday.

The charge against McLeod remains, and will no doubt be stayed down the road before it ever gets before a judge for a hearing. That’s my bet.

The McLeod case has me thinking a number of concerning things about the nature of justice in Manitoba.

  1. Either the police who arrested him and had him detained were inexperienced,  OR there’s more to what happened than Rose is telling people OR they were hamstrung by the WPS’s ‘mandatory arrest’ policy in DV cases (that’s arrest, not detain, mind you), [NOTE: see comments below for a great explanation of how it works…] OR
  2. The Remand Centre has no intake protocol or discretion with Manitoba Justice to flag cases of concern to the Crown…OR
  3. If you make a big enough stink in the press you can skirt the #1 notion of the justice system (that it applies equally to all — you have to “let the system do its work” —) and get fast-tracked to the front of the line for health care services OR,
  4. S**t happens, mistakes get made, OR,
  5. You fill in the blank.
Rose McLeod was told to “let the system do its work,” but found that to get results, she had no choice but to work the system.
  • What about the next time this happens?
  • How come one press conference and a hue and cry in the media can get nearly-immediate results or action from a system that’s supposed to be above responding to such things?
  • How many other accused persons with Alzheimer’s or Schizophrenia or other mental illnesses are behind bars or locked in medical wards of hospitals when they should be — as the McLeod case shows — getting care?
  • Why do my legal sources — people working on the front-lines of the criminal justice system every day — tell me that 7-day mental health assessments ordered by a court for bail purposes routinely take 5-6 weeks to prepare?
  • Why are there only two doctors in Manitoba currently doing these assessments, along with a range of other duties?
  • How can any WRHA official use the excuse of “the case is before the courts, and therefore we can’t comment” ever again?
  • Where is the mental health court that former Attorney General Dave Chomiak promised Manitobans?