Lulonda Flett, the map of human frailties, and where they can lead us

1297184250604_ORIGINALAll it took was drunken anger and a match for a disadvantaged and unsophisticated mother of six to become Manitoba’s most recent mass killer.

To look at Lulonda Flett’s case and how she wound up where she is today — in jail for killing five people trapped in a rickety rooming house she torched at 288 Austin St. North in 2011 — is to consider truly human frailties which plague so many in our society.

The word ‘killer’ conjures up images for me, and many others. Hooded thugs who take lives without a thought. Remorseless predators so desperate to feel a sense of power and control they’d commit the ultimate sin to get there.

But that’s not Lulonda Lynn Flett, all things considered. And that’s the queasy irony of it all.

Ironic in that someone who’s as far from the stereotype of the common killer as she is, in the end, ends up taking more life away in one go than anyone else in my memory, including: teen gangsters armed with automatic guns or bona-fide family-loathing psychos.

People with histories like Ms. Flett’s don’t typically wind up in jail for mass slayings, at least not that I’ve seen. They usually wind up there because they shoplifted diapers, booze, or to feed a crack habit out of sheer desperation.

And it’s this dissonance, to me, that makes how she killed five people with one senseless act that much more of a mystery that’s been weighing on my mind for nearly two years now.

To her, the reason why she is where she is is simple. But I just don’t think that’s true. Maybe I’m over-thinking it.

“It was all about the drinking. That’s how I ended up here.” Lulonda Lynn Flett, to psychologist Dr. Kent Somers, early 2013

Could it be that simple? Or is it an excuse to try and dodge a potential life sentence in prison?

Lulonda Flett: The early years

The second-youngest of six siblings (a seventh died as an infant), Flett (then Harper) was born at the hospital in Norway House 41 years ago and soon brought back to her home community of St. Theresa Point.

Her mother’s doctor told her mom to give birth there because there was no appropriate medical facility in the small STP reserve, one of four which makes up the overall community of Island Lake.

A doctor visits there just once a month. Currently, of 521 Homes in STP – 463 have no water service and there’s an 83 per cent food insecurity rate.

Food prices are 50 per cent higher than average retail price — and this is today.

Who knows what it was like in 1971.

Mom was a community health worker and dad worked “odd jobs” to get their large family by.

Her folks drank, struggled with the bottle — excess Flett would ultimately came to see as “normative” behaviour in her later years.

Her parents’ parties often led her older sister to lock the younger kids in a bedroom when the adults were drinking. They’d watch TV or play music. She says dad would go on drinking “binges” to Winnipeg, sometimes staying there for months.

Flett’s older sister described violence breaking out after the drinking parties wound down. This prompted the sister to assume the role of protector to her sibings. She’d camp out on floor by the bedroom’s barricaded door to percent people from entering.

Sometimes, when her dad was on one of his city ‘trips,’ mom would go off to join him. Flett would be packed up to go stay at her aunt’s.

Sometime before she turned 10, Flett says an older relative began abusing her. She says she tried to tell her mother about what was happening, but was accused of “making it up so I wouldn’t have to sleep over there.”

She also says she tried to tell her aunt but, “nobody believed me [so] I just stopped trying to tell them.”

To this day, Flett remains curiously concerned about hurting her now 75-year-old mom’s relationship with her alleged abuser.

She says he tried to apologize to her once, but she rebuffed him. “I told him not to talk to me.” The relative was never charged.

Her mom, now 75 and caring for two of Flett’s children, ultimately quit drinking after Flett’s father got sick with stomach ulcers and suffered kidney failure.

Phase two: A portrait of Flett as a young woman 

At around 14 or 15 years old, Flett was sent away from STP to start school in Teulon, at a residential school where nuns ruled the roost. Her sister — her elder protector — was also there.

Raised in a home where Oji-Cree was the main dialect, Flett had to adjust her tongue to the English language as the nuns wouldn’t tolerate a word being uttered in any other language. They “insisted,” she says.

Nonetheless, Flett got good marks and enjoyed school. She “never missed a day,” she says.

According to Dr. Somers, “school represented a refuge from the relative chaos at home, [and] she agreed.” She also enjoyed playing sports.

The sister had a bit of different view, saying she dropped out at one point but was convinced to return. She and others, she says, were treated to disparaging comments from some. “Go back to the bush where you belong,” were among the insults hurled at them.

It was around this time Flett took her first drink. She met a young man named Brian, and became pregnant. This was 1986-87.

She ventured into Winnipeg and had the baby at Villa Rosa. Wanting to return to high school, arrangements were made for her to live with a relative in Brandon to complete Grade 11. It didn’t work out as planned.

Flett says that relative’s drinking problem paved her a road back to St. Theresa.

She still hoped to finish Grade 12, and find a job at the local nursing station. But it seems the challenges of life as a new mom didn’t allow that to happen as time wore on. “I had no time for myself — I always had a baby,” Flett says.

By 18, she met her husband to be, B., a man with whom she’s had five children. He was a “nice guy,” Flett says.

But ‘Mr. Nice’ wasn’t to last.

1310730736747_ORIGINAL“They used to call me raccoon eyes”

By 22, Flett and B. married, and they went to live at his parents home in nearby Garden Hill. “She was an active and supportive parent to her children,” her sister says.

Around this time things started to get ugly for her.

“She reported that her husband insisted that she drink with him, ‘forced’ her to do so,” Dr. Somers writes of his interviews with Flett.

B. and she would drink “super juice” — a noxious homebrew seen by many as a plague in the “dry” Island Lake community, given the mayhem and sickness it’s spawned there over the years.

B. also insisted Flett smoke weed and later crack cocaine.

They’d smoke up marijuana “almost daily” and come home from work over lunch to get high, Flett reported.

Their marriage and substance-sharing didn’t appear to make the bond between them stronger. Instead, she says B. became “very abusive” on a physical, sexual and emotional level. Flett also says he cheated. He couldn’t keep a job.

“According to Ms. Flett, her husband would lock her in the house, take her shoes and remove the phone so that she couldn’t contact anyone or ‘run away.’ Ms. Flett related that her husband often hit her with objects, and also burnt her with a cigarette.

“She commented, ‘they used to call me raccoon eyes’ because of the bruising from the reported assaults,” Dr. Somers wrote.

It didn’t seem to ever get better. In fact, the  abuse escalated into the evil cycle of domestic violence.

“Ms. Flett recounted an incident in which he assaulted her and then dragged her across a patch of rough ground,” Dr. Somers said. He was charged and served six months in lockup — and was fully compliant.

“[W]hen he returned to live with Ms. Flett, the violence continued and it was ‘worse.’ It was a cycle, she kept going back to him, he’d apologize and convince her he’d never do it again.

Berating herself for believing him time and again, she says her in-laws “told her that the violence was ‘always’ her fault.”

Flett’s kids began begging her to not go back to B. “They said he was going to kill me one day,” Flett says.

She and B. eventually separated. He left for Thompson. She stayed in STP — for now.

Somehow in the midst of all this Flett worked at the community Northern Store and managed to acquire her certificates in Home Care support work and First Aid along the way.

But now her drinking, it didn’t stop.

It just got worse.

2009-10: a new beginning?

In 2009, Flett came into a bit of a windfall. It may have also been her downfall.

Having never claimed any federal benefits for the kids, Flett was handed a $14,000 child-benefits cheque and they moved to Winnipeg.

That year or early the next, Flett started dating C., who was 36 and from her community. They met while he was on a drinking trip to the city.

“For Lulonda, this was the best relationship she had ever known,” Flett recently told the writer of a “Gladue” report looking at her aboriginal background and circumstances.

“He never hit me, he never abused me, and he was always there for me,” Flett said. “The two were inseparable, spending all their time together,” the report states.

For a time — and bolstered by the child-tax money – Flett returned to STP, paid for her kids’ needs, helping to fix up her mom’s home.

But C. had his own troubles. An alcoholic himself, he’d panhandle or borrow cash from a relative to get by. Eventually, he started siphoning money out of Flett and the relationship took a dark turn towards an apparent cliff.

“Lulonda returned to the city to be with C. She paid for his wants — alcohol and survived on family and friends as she had no real address. C. was very controlling over money and Lulonda especially as her money dried up. C. and Lulonda were both now on welfare and were drinking constantly.”

It was reflection upon this phase which caused her to realize the power the booze had over her life. “It was all about the drinking. That’s how I ended up here,” Flett told Dr. Somers. 

Not seeing the drinking as a problem, Flett never sought treatment. Her kids urged her to take it easy but “even these pleas” didn’t trigger a desire to seek change, Dr. Somers reports.

“She reported only that she has “tried to quit,” prompting hospitalizations for alcohol withdrawal. Flett subsequently relapsed (evidently quite quickly) to stifle emotional pain and because of her affiliation with others who were drinking.”

She equated the hospitalizations largely as normal, given her upbringing (see above).

It was around here that someone made a call to Child and Family Services, while Flett was in the throes of a drinking binge.

Flett’s children were taken away. One was already living with an aunt. Two others went to live with her mom. The others went to dad.

Flett “voiced bitterness toward B., expressing the belief that he had made the call to CFS in 2010 that resulted in the apprehension of her children,” Dr. Somers wrote. “I kind of don’t trust him,” she said.

The alcohol abuse only escalated after the kids were removed from her care. “I was lonely and depressed; I was angry at myself … I didn’t care about myself,” Flett said.

She was drinking up to a 26 oz. bottle of liquor daily up until the day after her arrest. She’d withdraw in hospital, get a valium prescription to ease the symptoms upon discharge. Resuming her drinking habit was “virtually immediate.”

It’s like she was living in a black hole: Drinking, blacking out from it, waking up and starting again.

“I wish it was me who died.” 

“I was so out of it: I just remember drinking with C.”

This: Pretty much the only thing Flett remembers about the early morning she torched the couch on porch of 288 Austin St. N. An act of anger which would wreak havoc on the lives of so many.

Just days before, she had been cut loose from the Remand Centre after being snatched on an old warrant for an assault against a relative who stayed at the rooming house. Someone she was barred from being around by virtue of court-orders.

“She reported that (C.) had told her they had argued” on the night in question, but can’t remember what about, Dr. Somers said.

“She recalled attending 288 Austin Street North … but voiced uncertainty as to her actions, almost 20 months having passed.”

Flett was later arrested in a bar and had to be told about what she did and the “extent of harm done” by the officers who interviewed her, the psychologist said, adding:

“When asked about a possible motive for the office, Ms. Flett stated she had been angry at C’s mother, who apparently resided in the rooming house … Apparently, (C’s) mother had previously called the police complaining about Ms. Flett’s behaviour at the rooming house.

According to Ms. Flett, Mr. Harper’s mother has been concerned about the number of people in the building and the resultant noise. However Ms. Flett was clear she did not intend significant harm to others nor did she anticipate that deaths would ensue from her actions. 

She commented bleakly, ‘I wish it was me who died.’

She expressed a mixture of tearful remorse for her actions tempered only by a measure of incredulity at the extent of what had occurred.”

Instead, dead are: Norman Darius Anderson, age 22; Maureen Claire Harper, age 54; Kenneth Bradley Monkman, age 49; Dean James Stranden, age 44; Robert Curtis Laforte, age 56.

Flett knew one of the men personally, and says she was related to Maureen Harper.

The wreckage of the fire was incredible to behold. I remember distinctly being there. I will never forget it. 

Nearly two years sober, now

Flett today, is a “physically robust” (Dr. Somers’ words) woman living in the “Delta” wing of the Women’s Correctional Centre just outside of Winnipeg.

It’s special needs wing of the new prison, a place where she’s been subjected to intimidation by other inmates who have discovered what she did.

Dr. Somers, in his lengthy report on Flett, makes several findings about her psychological makeup and abilities, ultimately conclusing she’s a “vulnerable individual” who has serious intellectual deficits and only “modest internal controls” to help herself manage her behaviour.

“A significant aspect of these findings from intellectual testing, although notably limited at present, is that these data suggest a context for understanding Ms. Flett’s responses to events in her life. That is, her capacity for learning from prior experiences is likely to differ from that of others [whose abilities are are typical for their age.]…

“Her responses to stress or to problems in her personal life are likely to be more limited and less effective than are those of most others her age. Her actions are most likely to be directed by immediate considerations [most likely about herself] rather than anticipation of long-term consequences [those affecting both herself and others]. Her focus on her own needs and interests over those of others is not a reflection of callous self-interest, it is an expression of her limited capacity for anticipating others’ needs or reactions while being [in comparison] acutely aware of her own hurt, fear and perceived options.

She needs help, Somers ultimately finds.

Also, she’s no psychopath.

Somers found no “compelling evidence of psychopathy” in the woman.

That is: no display of traits suggesting exaggerated self-importance, callous lack of empathy for others, multiple and versatile patterns of offending, nor frank manipulations of others. (Those are essentially his words).

He notes, however, several “historical factors” associated with Flett’s offending risk. This quasi ‘probability of future harm’ assessment includes the findings:

  • Unabated substance abuse, with no intervention.
  • Chronic domestic abuse with physical injuries
  • Emotional neglect
  • Sexual abuse which persisted despite having tried to report it.
  • Disrupted schooling
  • No interventions; no treatment for mental health issues in past.

The Crown wants to send Flett to prison for life for what she did, for her guilty pleas to five counts of manslaughter.

Her own lawyers want to see her serve time amounting to no more than 10 years.

You can read all about the sentencing process elsewhere. That’s not the purpose of this (lengthy) post.

See, the thing is, after considering all the factors, I just don’t know what’s appropriate here in terms of jailhouse punishment. 

Let’s face it, even if she does get life, she’ll still be eligible — eligible — for parole after seven years. So really, the Crown’s bid is one for lifetime supervision. Considering the horrific double-fatal arson case of Howard Mason, the request may not be out of line. The request appears to fall a little flat, however, when considering Flett’s nearly total lack of criminal involvement.

Also muddying the mix is her comment to Dr. Somers about not anticipating deaths would result from her actions.

It has me seriously wondering: Can someone with Flett’s background — with the life she’s been through and her level of intoxication at the time — actually fire the synapses which would suggest otherwise? That she actually knew what she was doing?

I’m just not so sure.

Some parting words of forgiveness

Marie Anderson, the mother of Norman Anderson, who died in the horrible blaze, wrote Flett a simply-worded letter. The level of forgiveness expressed is unusual, and if taken sincerely – inspiring.

“I often think about you and wonder how you must be feeling. 

I am writing you this letter to let you know I am not mad or angry with you and that I love you even though I never met you.

It is really hard for me to think about this person that I love so much, that was taken away from me suddenly. 

I pray that things will go well for you in court and I do not want to lay charges but it’s not up to me, to make that decision.

I want you to know I want to put this behind me and move on with my life

God bless you and take care

–Marie Anderson

*** Note: The factual contents of this post were largely sourced from a psychological report written by Dr. Somers in April 2013 and a Gladue report authored for Flett’s sentencing hearing. I’ve attributed where possible — most, if not all the direct quotes from Flett are from the Somers report. 

Edited post-posting to clean up typos.

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‘Your Honour, I implore you, don’t let this all be for nothing’

Screen Shot 2012-10-29 at 8

Many times in our justice system, the aftershocks of criminal violence go unreported and are therefore can be under-appreciated for their gravity.

Presented below — verbatim to the best of my ability — is the victim impact statement from a 55-year-old dad of three who was brutally attacked by a gang-involved city teenager.

His attacker, by my reading of the case, essentially ‘duped’ the man into coming back to a friend’s place so he could be viciously robbed and beaten within an inch of his life — and then dumped to die in a back lane.

Today, for the first time, the facts of this alarming case were aired in court.

(Article is here).

The teen (now a young man of 18 years old) is facing a seven-year prison sentence today. He was just a couple months shy of his 18th birthday when he set upon the victim.

His total take from his violent venture: $50.

For the unsuspecting victim, however, his misplaced trust led to major and debilitating injuries,nearly complete loss of income and a once productive and seemingly ‘normal’ life thrust into chaos — perhaps forever.

He couldn’t personally write the words presented below, which speak for themselves and are to be taken as his words except where noted.

They were inked with the consultation and help of family members obviously still reeling that someone could be so cruel.

But again, they speak for themselves. Here they are, for the record.

—-

On Oct. 15, 2011, I was robbed and beaten over the head with a weapon consisting of some type of a blunt instrument and left unconscious, bleeding to die in a back lane.

I was discovered by a nearby resident and the authorities were called on my behalf.

Once arrived at Health Sciences Centre I was taken into surgery for a significant brain injury. There was bleeding on both sides of my brain and the surgery was to relieve the pressure on my brain from the swelling.

I had blood streaming from every possible orifice. My eyes, my nose, my mouth and my ears … unrecognizable —

(The niece interjects, briefly):

It was horrific (seeing him).

In addition to the trauma to my brain itself I had three skull bones that were broken: an orbital bone and both cheekbones. I had many teeth knocked out and in addition to those others that are damaged and in need of repair.

I had bruised ribs and a bruised hip as well. I spent close to two months in the Health Sciences Centre, from Oct. 16 to Dec. 2, 2011 whereupon I was transferred to Riverview Health Centre in a specialize brain injury rehab program where I stayed for another three months.

For the the first three weeks of my stay at HSC I was in and out of a coma state.

I had no self-functioning in any capacity. I was fed intravenously, I had medical implements for urination and bowel movements. Once becoming aware of my surroundings I continued to have to wear diapers and use the bag for urination.

I had to continue to have a feeding tube as I could not swallow, and a ventilator for breathing.

During this time I could still not walk or talk. I was tied down to my bed because I was involuntarily thrashing as my brain was attempting to heal in order to ensure I did not do further damage to my body. So I could not even scratch if I was itchy.

This was the most traumatic time to me as a person, as it is from this time on that I have  some very clear recollections of the experiences in the hospital.

But I wasn’t able to tell anybody how I was feeling.

I have lost over 50 pounds.

At this point in time in my recovery I have slurred speech, memory loss, extreme confusion. I seem at times to drift in and out of time, similar to a stroke or alzheimer’s sufferer.

I had thought my deceased uncle and aunt to visit … but really only another uncle and I had only been talking about past shared memories.

I have undergone speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy during my stay at Riverview Health Centre. And I continue with this on an outpatient basis.

I have several issues with my sense of balance — my energy is low and I tire very easily. I still have issues with my throat and trouble swallowing due to swelling and scarring and damage from the tracheostomy surgery.

I have trouble reading and writing. I have trouble searching for words to describe myself.

I cannot drive a vehicle any longer. I’m not sure as to if or when this will ever be possible in the future. I have a permanent five-inch scar on the left side of my skull.

My hair will most likely never grow back in that area. I have been left with permanent seizures.

(His niece, reading the statement, interrupts):

Also — I’m not sure if we can interject — but one of the things that has happened as a result is he’s been left with these seizures, and he’s been in hospital since because he almost choked to death because he started seizing and the family didn’t know what to do for him at that point. They’ve since receive medical training — how to … first aid and triage response when and if this occurs again.

He’s been left with permanent seizures, and he’s been advised that this is due to the brainwaves on the right side of his brain are slower in comparison to that of the left side of his brain.

He’s been started on the following medications: [Drool-minimization meds]  — He was drooling all over himself and it couldn’t be controlled. [Seizure control meds]. Aspirin as a blood thinner, vitamins etc.

I might add that my uncle was in perfect health before this. He was a 30-plus year contraction worker — very very strongAnd if he wasn’t in the physical condition that he was, he never, probably, would have survived these injuries. That’s because he was in impeccable health before this happened.

The emotional and financial ramifications are going to be hard to talk about, because obviously it’s very personal in nature, the niece said.

(The statement continues):

I feel useless. I feel humiliation as I’m not the man I once was. There are few things I am able to do on my own, for myself. I feel humiliated that the people I love saw me in such a vulnerable state.

Before I was attacked, I was a very composed person. I could always control my emotions. I didn’t even cry seeing my Gramma waste away from cancer. I didn’t cry when I got married or when my children were born. I did not cry at funerals.

I cannot control my emotions any longer. I cry all the time. I cry when I see people come to visit me. I cry when they leave. I cry when I get to go home on weekends and when I see my children. I am embarrassed by my speech; by the sound of my voice.

My voice does not sound like my voice anymore. I am very frustrated at most times because I cannot concentrate for any length of time. I have slow reaction-response time, physically, mentally and verbally.

I know what I want to say. I hear what I want to say, but it doesn’t come out right. I’m constantly searching for the right words. I’m quick to anger due to extreme frustration because I can’t just think.

I’m extremely paranoid and anxious and I’m constantly worried about people stealing what I have left.

When my family visits me at Riverview and we’re trying to enjoy time in the lounge, I am constantly going back to my room, checking to make sure nothing is gone.

I am scared my life will never be mine again. I had a 30-plus year career in construction. I have assisted to build some of the biggest monuments/buildings in Winnipeg.

One of my last projects was as foreman on the new James Richardson Winnipeg International Airport that I’m very proud of.

Will I ever be able to read and understand blueprints again?

Will I ever be able to exert the physical capacity I once did in life and on the job.

Will I ever be able to go play ball with my sons or skate with them?

Will I ever be able to even go to my sons’ hockey games as a spectator?

I can’t climb stairs right now.

I was the main income in my home — the main provider.

My wife and children have already struggled and suffered trying to make ends meet while I’ve been out of work awaiting sick benefits to begin.

I made around $60,000/year annually. I have lost at least $30,000 in wages as this is being written.

Sick benefits run out. Then what am I supposed to do?

I always had a Freedom 55 plan. Can I enjoy the golden years of retirement the way I have planned on?

I am restricted to my home, basically, when I go home. I cannot enjoy the things I once did with friends and family. Can I even do my duties at home?

I took care of my home and my yard. It’s my pride. And we have been faced with worrying that we may lose the house at some point.

Everything I have worked for. RRSP’s dried out and I did not carry critical injury insurance on my mortgage because I didn’t think anything like this would ever happen.

If I can never go back to work, my family will be living under the poverty line for income.

Will my marriage withstand this kind of pressure?

What if I start to remember the attack itself? Who will help me? What will happen to me?

What if I can never drive again? My freedom is gone. My ability to get back and forth to work is gone.

Again, that same thought: Will I ever work again? Who will cover costs for me for future expenses, for medications, home care, if I need any special equipment to return to my life at home? Even Handi-Transit expenses if that’s how I’m going to have to get around?

My family has their own lives. That can’t be there to drive me everywhere and my wife will have to be at work. Will I ever get to enjoy teaching my boy to drive?

It’s his 18th birthday (next spring) … will I even be home?

My daughter is only 13. She needs her dad. I have only seen my oldest son a couple of times since this attack because he couldn’t bring himself to look at me like this.

Can any amount of money really replace what I’ll be losing?

(The niece):

He just wanted to conclude by saying that it was a horrific attack on himself. Physically, emotionally and mentally — his life will never be the same. Why should (the accused’s) be the same?

He would like to say: ‘Please, Your Honour, I implore you, don’t let this all be for nothing.

Thank you for this opportunity to share the personal side of this attack and not just the legal aspects. Thank you for your consideration.

I would like to close by saying — if we can, because this is a victim impact statement and we want (the accused) to know how we feel and what has happened.

(The niece, speaking directly to the accused):

I looked at your family back there and I’m very sad for them. Because you’re going to be taken away from them, from their lives. Ok? This man here? This is my grampa. This is my grampa. And when Ms. Carson (The Crown) was reading … you said you wanted to speak to your grampa (when police arrested him and brought him in for an interview). Your grampa was who you wanted. And you know what? I understand that. Because my grampa is the man I go to when I’m down, when I need help, when I’m hurting. He’s the one I want.

“When I ever accomplish something wonderful, he’s the first person I want to tell. But I want to ask you — when you kept on saying, ‘the old guy,’ that you robbed and you beat, what if that old guy was your grandfather? How would you feel? That would destroy you obviously because you obviously love your grandfather a ton if he was the one that you wanted to be there with you.

And look at your pretty cousins back there. What if some boy did to them what you did to your girlfriend? Wouldn’t that outrage you? I think it would.

And you know what, I just want to say to you personally – I really hope you take this time to take advantage of all the programs they’ll have to offer you to get off of drugs and get out of trouble with gangs and maybe get an education so that when you do come out, you can be productive, and other families won’t have to suffer like we’ve suffered. Because my uncle will never be the same.

(The victim’s brother also addressed him):

We’re not a vindictive family. No matter what happens with this, nothing’s going to change my brother. You have a chance to rehab yourself, make something of your life and I strongly recommend you do that as a young man because my brother doesn’t have that chance.

-30-

As an aside, I can find no official statement from Winnipeg police acknowledging this incident ever happened.

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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Required reading

I don’t often — if ever — do this.

But this blog post from L.L. over at I’m on my way — destination hell, deserves a good, close read in the wake of @tombrodbeck’s great, great story about Air Canada and the perception of crime downtown.

Most interesting to me in LL’s blog is the condemnation of the liquor regime currently in place:

I drive past the drinking spots like the Garrick Hotel and the one that used to be Bleachers (it’s called something else now, I believe) and watch streams of people outside, smoking and fighting and screaming. I have no idea how these businesses are allowed to operate when all they do with their liquor license is create a dangerous, violent atmosphere for the people of downtown, but it happens. It’s because of places like these hotels, plus the St. Regis, and the earlier mentioned Manitoba Housing complex that I can’t actually walk around those streets to get anywhere. If I want to go to my bank in Winnipeg Square, I have to do it during the week, when I have a co-worker with me. I can’t go on my own time because I am not safe when those are the establishments I have to walk near to get to my destination.

Second most interesting is how the post relays an actual account of life lived downtown outside (and sometimes in) office hours by regular folk, their perceptions and observations.

You know when CTV national news leads with the story in a newscast, it’s a big deal. We should all be mindful of that as the spin doctors get to work trying to clean up the fallout.

I’d also like to point out, in reference, a story I did in early 2009 that echoes many of the credible points LL makes. I’d also reference a recent post here that graphically shows what DT is up against, crime-wise.

That was nearly three years ago.

Has anything changed? I’d say yes, but only to a limited degree.

Houston, we have a (social) problem on our hands.

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The first step is admitting there’s a problem

(eBaums world)

“1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol— that our lives had become unmanageable.”

-Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step of the 12-step program

Wanna make Manitoba — home of the violent crime capital of Canada — a safer place to live?

Want to make a meaningful effort to restore public order after this election season?

Then we need to take meaningful, even drastic, steps to get Manitoba’s booze problem under control.

Reductions in violent crime will follow, and I’d imagine pretty quickly at that.

While all signs point to the abuse of booze being the single most common factor in all occurrences of violent crime, Manitoba is moving forward — with plans to get booze into the hands of people in easier and more convenient ways.

Bars and clubs in Winnipeg are packed, night after night, even though the majority of people that I know anyway readily admit they’re only somewhat fun to be at; that the overall experience is kind of sad from a social-interaction perspective.

Why is that?

Casinos in Winnipeg — all government controlled — are also doing brisk business, despite the fact winning it big is a losing proposition for most.

Why is that?

The Manitoba Liquor Control Commission rings up record sales year after year after year according to its annual reports. Sales keep climbing, along with the violent crime rate. (In millions of dollars)

2007 — $521,380

2008 — $554,769

2009 — $583,763

2010 — $610,515

Why is that?

Despite a decline in the number of charges laid last year over 2009, impaired driving in Manitoba remains a massive public safety issue. Each time police run a project to crack down on the crime, drunk drivers are caught. There’s never a time the cops head home after a Checkstop shift scratching their heads and saying, ‘ I guess that’s been taken care of.’

Why is that?

I’m no expert in addictions, and I like a cold beer like pretty much everyone else.

But one thing I can say from experience, is that if a serious violent crime happens in Winnipeg, booze is likely a backdrop to the events leading up to it.

Just look at the incredibly serious cases making recent headlines in Winnipeg’s crime news:

Nikita Eaglestick abducts a baby and inexplicably smashes its face on a sidewalk. She was so drunk she couldn’t remember anything about doing it or what led up to it. At the time, she was on bail and bound by a court order to abstain from drinking.

A drinking party in the northern fringes of the West End prompts family members to arm themselves and spill into the streets. A man is run over and killed when a van is used as a weapon. A teen girl faces a first-degree murder charge and an attempted murder charge to boot.

A man twice hailed as a hero for saving people from drowning admits that his chronic alcoholism was a major factor in contributing to an assault on a city doctor when she didn’t have any money to offer him.

“(Faron) Hall said he looks forward to getting out of jail soon, but added that he is nervous because he doesn’t know if or how he can get counselling to kick his alcohol addiction.”

These are but a few of the most blatant and easy to find examples at my fingertips.

But also consider how youth violent crime is also rising. Do we know precisely what role FASD plays in that? Anecdotally, everyone knows it’s a huge issue, and one that’s expensive and complex to fix. We largely leave that largely to an overtaxed justice system to ferret out and try to stem.

But in this provincial election season, we need to come to grips with what the real problem is and expect those who want to lead us into the future to show some vision on this front. If the provincial government can’t change the criminal law per se, it can change the atmosphere in which the law exists. It does, at the end of the day, have the Liquor Control Act in its back pocket.

Instead, the electorate is promised more police officers as the primary way of boosting public safety or order, the cure-all for our seemingly intractable crime issues.

Let’s think about that.

We know that the number one — by a huge margin — call for service police officers spend their times going to are domestic disturbances. (17,019 dispatched calls in 2009. The next highest was ‘check wellbeing’ (also booze-influenced) at 7,862).

How many of those domestics are booze-related — ie: Jimmy got pissed and beat Janey up again?

Eighty per cent? I’d guess it’s even possibly higher.

If we as a society were to try and get a handle on our booze problem, how much police resource time would be saved for officers to do other things? I’d suggest it would be huge. The need for new cops would be nil.

We also know that bootlegging outside the city onto so-called ‘dry’ reserves is a huge problem.

Kives had a good column on new cops as election pledge today.

Look: I know there’s the argument of personal responsibility here. People have to be held accountable for what they choose to ingest and the public’s fed up with intoxication being used as a defence against  culpability for vile criminal acts.

(FASD presents a thorny issue, though, as most would readily admit that unborns can’t make the choice to have that vodka shot or not).

But let’s at least call a spade a spade and take the first step in admitting Manitoba has a drinking problem.

Since the state regulates the sale and consumption of booze, and profits greatly from it, we should demand nothing less. It’s time to have a real discussion about crime in our province and how to meaningfully affect change.

And now — at least up until Oct. 4 is the time we did it.

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