For the record: Judge Sandhu on emergency mental-health services

Judge Fred Sandhu

I’m a big fan of provincial court Judge Fred Sandhu.

While I don’t always agree with every decision he makes, I respect his willingness to put his thoughts on the record.

Tuesday was no different. But instead of taking aim at Manitoba’s booze problem, he fired on the lack of emergency mental-health services available to people.

His long tirade came during a sentencing hearing for John Favell, a clinically depressed, alcoholic, criminal who is now serving his second federal bit for robberies.

You can read my story here to get the flavour of what Favell did and the help he sought — but was denied — before he started drinking and robbing again.

I thought it was important — to put the judge’s full comments on the record, and I present it verbatim (for the most part) below. Sandhu is largely speaking directly to him.

I’ve said this many times before. I don’t see why people who feel they’re alcoholic can’t manage their lives either by drugs or alcohol and they go into a medical facility and ask for medical help, why can’t they get it right away?

I don’t understand that.

Because if you went into a hospital and said, ‘I’ve got cancer,’ … they’d give you treatment.

But apparently if you go in and you have a broken brain, you don’t get treatment.

I don’t understand that, because this could have been prevented.

All of this could have been prevented if they’d taken you, if there was a bed.

If they had more than 30 spaces at all the psychiatric hospitals in the city — that’s all they have, and they’re full all the time and people like you who walk in there and say, ‘I’m in a mental emergency,’ they won’t take you because your not a danger to yourself and you’re not a danger to others. Or they don’t think you are. So they don’t let you in.

Because there are people that are in these psychiatric beds, the ones that are clearly a danger to themselves or clearly a danger to others.

And people who are kind of maybe not a danger, well, ‘you’ll just have to walk home.’

Because you’re not horribly bad, just kind of mildly bad.

To me, it seems short sighted. You should have gone to that hospital, you should have gone for an assessment for seven days, stabilize you and out you go.

And then there wouldn’t be five victims out there.

And you wouldn’t be spending six years in jail at $100,000 a year.

You’re a half million dollar man already. And that it would have taken is a few thousand to get you some treatment.

It doesn’t make sense.

-30-

The latest Crime Scene Golden Crown award

(The Golden Crown Award)

The second-ever Golden Crown, handed out to some of the best examples of Manitoba prosecutors trying to deter and denounce unlawful conduct goes to…

Manitoba prosecutor Courtney St. Croix — for her handling of a particular youth court case that is, in my experience, exceptional in its thuggery.

Some preface is needed:

It would be very easy for Crowns (I’d surmise) when handling certain youth cases anyways, to simply throw up one’s prosecutorial hands and be done with things. Make a deal for probation and close the book on it.

The YCJA, and its emphasis on rehabilitation of young criminals first can (and some in the public overtly agree) thwart some citizens’ views of actual justice being done.

Those arguments are always met with a version of the same argument: “They’re just kids, and we don’t give up on kids.”

Now while that’s a worthwhile credo, sometimes kids do, to put it mildly, the darndest things.

Such was the case of now-16-year-old ‘S’, who faced the music Wednesday for her participation in two robberies in summer 2010.

My Winnipeg Sun story is here for the gist of things and to give the full flavor from the victim’s perspective of how serious the crime was, here in the robbery capital of Canada.

(Aside: How many other untold horror stories like this are out there?)

What’s interesting about the case is that the co-accused got a short, sharp shock in jail, despite her lesser degree of participation. Held the victim down and gave her one kick.

Not so for S. She walked away Wednesday with two years of supervised probation, admittedly with some stringent conditions for the first few months.

Despite randomly picking a stranger to attack, brutally beat and strangle for no apparent reason — two days after robbing another guy behind a 7-11 — S won’t do any real time.

Quoth the victim:

“The experience was terrifying. I remember pure terror and thinking I may die because people I have never met randomly decided that it might be so,” the victim, her voice often choking with emotion, said. “I vividly recall looking into (her attacker’s) eyes and saying, ‘Please don’t do this,’ right before she threw the first punch.”

Her pleas made no difference, she said. She told court she remembers being kicked in the head countless times and strangled with a scarf and a headphone cord as she lay prone, pinned to the ground by a co-accused — another teen girl. She eventually blacked out, she said.

The judge in the case, Sandra Chapman, cited her lack of criminal record, a somewhat positive PSR and a show of remorse as being among the reasons to keep her out of the MYC.

But I can’t help but feel it was the presence of the teen’s cooing newborn in court that really paved a jail-free road for her.

“I cannot ignore the importance of a mom to a baby at early stages,” Chapman said, who added putting her in juvie jail may simply aid in her re-involvement in crime.

All that aside — Crown attorney St. Croix walked into court that morning and asked — no, pushed — for the girl to go to real jail for what what was labeled a serious violent offence — a Crown request Chapman called “not unreasonable” in light of S’s brutal act.

And for that, Ms. St. Croix garners the second-ever Golden Crown award. Thanks for trying.

-30-

Bill C-10 and the YCJA: an important note

Sgt. Smith to teen shoplifter, by phone: ‘This is Sgt. Smith of the Winnipeg police. I understand you are being held for shoplifting. I am hereby warning you.’

Teen shoplifter: ‘Huh?’

Smith: ‘I am warning you.’

Teen: ‘OK?’

-end conversation

[Three days later, different store, same cop, same shoplifter, by phone]

Sgt. Smith: ‘This is Sgt. Smith of the Winnipeg police. I understand you are being held for shoplifting. I am hereby cautioning you.’

Teen: OK.

Sgt. Smith: ‘You are hereby cautioned.’

-end conversation

It’s often stated that the kids who actually wind up in custody at the youth centre and have to go before a judge are just the top of an iceberg in the city in terms of the number of offences committed by kids.

Under the YCJA — and its current focus on rehabilitation and ‘meaningful consequences’ for kid offenders — there’s a huge number of diversion tactics, known as extra-judical measures and sanctions that are often used as a first, last resort to scare non-violent kids from crime and keep them out of the court system.

Will the police consider these measures for me?

Yes. A police officer must consider using an extrajudicial measure if the offence is non-violent and if you have not been found guilty of a previous offence.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act sets out as a key principle that it should be presumed that an extrajudicial measure will be sufficient to hold a young person accountable for his or her behaviour.

These sanctions can range on a quasi-sliding scale from a police warning and caution [as evidenced above from a real-life example] to Crown warnings and cautions and voluntary referrals to programming etc.

In other words, it’s a number of ‘first, last chances’ before actually being charged with a crime and having to come to court.

While Bill C-10, the federal government’s omnibus crime bill, won’t remove these measures [that I know of], it does propose to make a major change that should prove revealing regarding their effectiveness.

Judges will now be told of them in court, and Crowns can rely on prior uses of extrajudicial measures as a reason for jail in indictable [serious offences]

Today, I’ve yet to hear of a judge be told of a kid’s pre-criminal history, of efforts made by police and justice officials to give them chances to get right or else.

The YCJA reads as follows today:

Clause 173: Relevant portion of subsection 39(1):
39. (1) A youth justice court shall not commit a young person to custody under section 42 (youth sentences) unless
(c) the young person has committed an indictable offence for which an adult would be liable to imprisonment for a term of more than two years and has a history that indicates a pattern of findings of guilt under this Act or the Young Offenders Act, chapter Y-1 of the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1985; or …
And is set to be changed to:
A youth justice court shall not commit a young person to custody under section 42 (youth sentences) unless
(c) the young person has committed an indictable offence for which an adult would be liable to imprisonment for a term of more than two years and has a history that indicates a pattern of either extrajudicial sanctions or of findings of guilt or of both under this Act or the Young Offenders Act, chapter Y-1 of the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1985; or

It’s another, dare I say, clever way of the federal government to try and put some sharper teeth into our youth justice laws.

It’s also one I have yet to hear word one about.

The question is: does so-called small crime like shoplifting pave the way towards more substantive offences?

Some authorities say yes — and the tale of ‘Burglar Jimmy’ is one example of this.

The only issue I can see with the proposed rule is that now cops and Crowns will have to keep detailed records of how many times they gave Jimmy a chance before he burned down the house or mugged the maid. I’m not 100 per cent sure they do right now.

[See comment below].

-30-

As an aside: Could we please legislate in C-10 the addition of that peculiar British vernacular where being convicted of a crime, or getting arrested is referred as: “Got done for?”

Example: “I got done for drink drive when I was 18 and never got my license back,” said Ms. Butterfarthing.

Mr. Bear goes to downtown Winnipeg

(James Hope Howard/Slurpees and Murder)

William Bear’s penchant for getting whacked out on sniff and wandering around downtown Winnipeg scaring people because of the large knife he carries in his pants likely saved his life.

The irony of existence sometimes amazes me. So does its cruel sadness.

Such was the case of the 34-year-old chronic substance abuser, who, (setting aside his criminal record) has racked up 53 documented Intoxicated Persons Detention Act arrests in his relatively short adult life.

He was picked up on Fort Street after a frightened member of the public called 911 to report a weirdo was walking around downtown in broad daylight with the weapon. Police rush into the area, and find Bear, staggering around.

In the plastic shopping bag he was carrying was a king can of beer.

Given his long and dated history with Winnipeg’s finest (and the fact he was out on ‘supervised’ probation), Bear’s locked up and spends the next 33 days behind bars.

A few days after he’s nabbed, the Austin Street rooming house he once called home is firebombed — allegedly by a woman looking to get payback on a relative but missed the target, killing five people Bear likely knew.

Bear’s arrest “might have saved his life,” Judge Fred Sandhu heard today.

In any event, Bear’s released soon after the fatal fire and picked up again just recently causing a disturbance outside the Main Street Project. Cops note he’s got a black rag soaked in paint thinner on him.

In the plastic shopping bag he was carrying was a can of beer.

By Friday, Bear, who hails from Berens River, is likely going to be back in the city.

But — despite his truly awful personal circumstances — he could be considered one of the lucky ones. He’s obtained help from a program to get him into housing and is on the waiting list for the Bell Hotel on Main Street.

For his part, Bear swears he’s headed straight from jail to a detox program, but said he wasn’t interested in staying at the Sally Ann in the interim due to some issues with drinking and drugs on its doorstep.

He was carrying the knife in his pants because of the brutal assaults many shelter-less people experience in the city, he said.

“This city’s kind of rough,” the soft-spoken Bear said. “People carry guns, people carry knives.”

Sandhu expressed worry that Bear — with his history of getting out of his mind on sniff — could end up harming or even killing someone without really realizing what he was doing.

However, given the nature of the charges he pleaded guilty to, there’s little Sandhu could do to keep Bear locked up.

“If you’re walking down the middle of the street and there’s nobody there, might be a couple of panhandlers … or somebody that you think [is] selling drugs, how do you feel? Normally, you’d think, ‘this is not very safe,’” Winnipeg police Chief Keith McCaskill told the Winnipeg Sun’s editorial board on Wednesday.

Perception of safety downtown is just as important as the reality, McCaskill said.

If people perceive they’re unsafe, then it’s really the same effect is if they’re actually unsafe.

The goal is to get more people — including cops — into the area on a permanent basis.

McCaskill said he believes having the police headquarters right in the heart of downtown will help as more cop cars will be around, and more officers will be in the skywalks and on the ground as they go about their days.

For example, crime — especially vehicle break-ins — drops noticeably when a Jets game is on, he said yesterday.

The equation: more people, more activity equals fewer problems. Better perception. Better perception of safety.

The police service is already involved a crime prevention through environmental design study in the area, and has pledged more cops and bike patrols for 2012.

But it must be said: as efforts to continue to try and get more people into the beleaguered area, we as a society have to do more to help people in circumstances like Bear’s get right — if they want the help.

Barring that, we need to implement a system to keep the chronically drunk, high or vagrant out of the downtown proper — no matter the time of day.

Loitering in front of MEC? Off you go. Camped out in front of Portage Place or Giant Tiger? Sayonara.

It’s the only way downtown will ever have a chance to truly change its image and make it a truly genuine option as a place to live in Winnipeg.

-30-

‘THE ROADMAP’ — notes on the WPS strategic plan, part 1

(Winnipeg Police Service)Preface: It must be said from the get-go. You can’t drop a 44-page report filled with charts stats, graphs and policy goals on (most, not all) people and expect them to be able to ask meaningful questions about it without having had a chance to read and absorb it. Full stop. 

An embargo period of an hour or two would have been a welcome gesture. 

Just saying.

Am I exposing myself as not-too-bright by saying so? So be it. 

To my knowledge, at the time the WPS held the press conference to announce and discuss their ‘Roadmap’ strategic plan yesterday, (link below) not one of the roughly 10-12 reporters (including camera ops) in the room had seen nor read its contents. 

ED’s Note: I started this post out in hopes of pulling apart pieces of the plan, but after articles here and here, I’m just gonna say my own IMO bit and get it over with.

(Those who criticized the reporters for not asking tough questions, see preface to this post.)

 

First off: Kudos to the chief for keeping his promise, despite the delays since the crime-reduction targets subject came up in April/May.

While many, and probably rightly so, can and will lament the modesty of the stated reduction goals, they’re bare minimums. The hope is they’ll come down even more.

Downtown needs work. The perception of downtown even more so. That’s abundantly clear.

There’s some interesting features in the sections of the report not related to public-safety goals that will have a huge impact on the force.

1] Major Case Management: Next year, the WPS aims to test out a new computer reporting and filing process that will likely bring the major crimes, OCU and homicide squad fully into the 21st Century from a technology POV. More on this to come. Better tracking of reports and files for complex cases. A good thing. This may dovetail with the ongoing effort to provide electronic disclosure for court purposes.

2] A Crime-free multi housing program. We’re going to hear much, much more about this in coming months. Currently, high-level meetings are taking place between police, justice and public health officials (and likely MLCC peeps) to talk issues relating to MUD’s — multi unit dwellings. My sense of it is that housing complexes (y’know, where people ‘socialize’) have been identified as a key area to target in hopes of reducing the violent crime rate.

3] Social media: The WPS tacitly acknowledges that Twitter and Facebook can be leveraged to great gain. However, the service plans to spend 2012 determining “our current and future opportunities” and not move towards integration of social media into their PIO strategy until 2013 at least. IMO: Way too late. Wayyy too late. Next year, policy guidelines for use of social media by officers and civilians in the WPS will be drawn up.

4] New internal discipline procedure (implemented in 2013): “Employ education-based discipline.” Hmm. I’ll reserve comment for now. Since the public knows so little about the current internal discipline regime, It’s hard to be fair in evaluating what ‘education-based’ discipline means.

5] Civilianizing positions currently held by officers. This could be huge, and save the city a bunch of bucks in the long run. My understanding is that there’s a hiring freeze on civilian police positions currently in place that — if the plan goes forward as, er, planned, will end as of 2013 as the goal of moving more uniformed officers off of desks takes shape.

Those are things that strike me as noteworthy on the surface. )

Now: For people getting on the case of police brass for the substance of the plan and how long it’s taken to get such a document out to the public, I’d remind them of a few things:

1] Since McCaskill took the chief’s job, there’s been a number of new and positive things happening on his watch: Number one, police cadets. Number two, community support units in the districts to tackle area-specific crime investigations. Number 3: Report cars to tackle non-emergency calls and free up cars for service. Four: the hiring of Crime Analysts to drill down into data and reports and make connections about crime trends that aren’t always immediately apparent. This list isn’t comprehensive, but just what pops to mind.

There’s been some setbacks too: Problems in the 911 call centre, a lack of focus on traffic enforcement and initiatives to make city streets safer, criticism for allegedly blowing off downtown safety issues, technology glitches. Lack of a defined strategic plan and process for the last 15 years.

And, perhaps most importantly: A high violent crime rate that the cops didn’t create in the first place but are tasked with cleaning up.

At the end of the day, no booklet of bureaucratic plans is going to fix everything the city ails from, crime-wise. I commend the department for releasing the document, regardless if it’s a little lacking on substantive details.

It’s unfair to expect the WPS to have all the answers.

However, it’s equally unfair for the department to ever seem puzzled that the public would ever question police priorities, plans, motives and operations. In this day and age, “trust us” just isn’t a valid response.

Hopefully the Roadmap will help allay fears and criticism that the WPS is too reactive and too secretive.

Got a question over the Twitter yesterday about a comment McCaskill made about a “crime czar” position in the city. He was responding to a Stacey Ashley question about innovation.

Here’s what he said, FTR:

“And this is something I believe Edmonton is doing a little bit of something about, and that term is mine, basically.

But — an administrator that can look at different types of thins that are happening in the community where police and other departments can feed that information and be more concentrated in a certain direction. Edmonton’s doing some of it, apparently.

There’s other documentation on how do you, how do you focus resources in a more effective way by utilizing not only city departments but other NGO’s and so on to be able to have a concentrated effort on fighting crime in other areas. That’s really … that’s something we’re looking at.”

When Stats Can released its latest Juristat numbers declaring Manitoba as the Crime Cap, Rick Linden made some interesting comments in an interview I did with him:

University of Manitoba criminologist Rick Linden said if Winnipeg is to truly make a dent in reducing crime, the city and province should consider setting up what he calls a “responsibility centre” to tackle the problem.

A key feature would be the appointment of a city crime czar with a crime-reduction mandate.

“We need to take a long-term perspective, put somebody in charge of that job and give them resources. We don’t do that now,” Linden said.

It’s pretty clear that if we’re going to dig ourselves out of the crime mess we’re seemingly always in, we need to innovate.

I, for one, would be very interested to see Linden’s idea take shape — and it looks as if the WPS may be too.

-30-

 

Homicide and violence reduction

(James Turner)

It’s official. Winnipeg has broken its annual record for total number of homicides following the death of a man in the downtown Saturday.

That makes 35 ‘officially tallied’ killings (Criminal negligence causing death, dangerous driving causing death and impaired drive cause death cases aren’t counted.)

Now, it bears mentioning that five killings happened in once instance, during an alleged firebombing in Point Douglas this summer.

Nevertheless, here we are. A sad marker for our city, one that nobody likes to see.

On a positive note, I present here a few — a few — examples of what other cities with high rates of violent crime have tried to do to address the issue.

It’s interesting stuff all around.

1] Chicago:

Chicago’s CeaseFire program evaluation

2] Jacksonville, FLA.

Reducing Murder: A community response

3] District of Columbia

Homicide Reduction Strategy

4] Richmond, Virginia

Intelligence Led Policing

5] TAVIS Toronto (link)

The Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy

-30-

An ominous number

Ivan Radocaj, left, in a dated picture. (The Great Canadian Talk Show Podcast)

When Rita Cushnie showed up at the RCMP detachment nearly four years ago and was interviewed in regards to the killing of John Radocaj, she had exactly $1.87 in her purse.

Over the four-year life of the criminal case, she reported to RCMP for bail management exactly 187 times, her lawyer, Mike Cook told Justice Colleen Suche last night.

It was a coincidence revealed just before Suche handed the 57-year-old a life sentence without parole for 25 years after a jury convicted her of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

One-Eight-Seven: The cold irony for Cushnie, I guess, exists in how those digits have also been co-opted by the gangster underworld as a kind of shorthand for the crime of murder.

The slang use stems from the California Penal Code, where capital murder with malice falls under section 187 (a).

Winnipeg has already woken up to the news that Cushnie, her (former?) friend Melody Sanford and her son, Donald Richard were found guilty of the brutal murder of the man once known as “The Croatian Giant” in the wrestler’s ring.

I’m told it’s been a number of years since Radocaj — a large man standing 6’ 8” — ever stepped into the fray. Since the late ‘80’s.

As it is with the media, the ‘ former pro wrestler’ angle became a kind of thin trope to familiarize the public with the case and try to keep their interest (mea culpa).

But at the end of the day, ‘Big John’s’ murder had nothing to do with the faded glare of the spotlight or past athletic acclaim.

Instead, what I can surmise is that Radocaj was just a man who was duped into possibly believing he could have a second chance at love with a woman he had known for years who clearly now hated him for some still-unknown reason.

That’s the story of this trial that largely went untold.

As always, the “why” is elusive when it comes to crime and trials. For prosecutors, the “why” is seldom a question worth delving into, because that’s not really the job. The “who,” “when” and “how” are all that’s needed to secure a conviction, it seems.

It’s probably safe to say Radocaj’s belief in redemption cost him his life in the most brutal way.

A life lost for the promise of a few (and I do mean but a few) bucks and a TV set.

His estranged wife, Sanford and Richard (The orchestrator and executioner) each had the insight to recognize early on that they were culpable in the man’s death.

Their lawyers even admitted as much in closing arguments where they each said in open court manslaughter convictions were probably a foregone conclusion.

In Cushnie’s case, however, she had the most to lose, and obviously felt she was sucked into to something that spun out of any sort of control she may have had over things.

From @deanatwpgsun’s story about the verdict coming down:

Cushnie appeared to break down prior to the jury entering the courtroom. Once the verdict was delivered and the jury had left the room, her tears turned to rage.

“Look what you did to me you little bastard,” Cushnie said while looking at her son as sheriff’s officers moved to handcuff her. “You’re dead to me.”

As the public were escorted out of the gallery and Cushnie was taken into custody for the first time since her arrest, her anxiety spilled over.

“No!” the elderly and frail-looking woman exclaimed, apparently in sheer fright as the female Sheriff approached with the handcuffs.

“Stop it,” the Sheriff barked back at her.

To her credit, Cushnie was the only one of the trio who addressed Radocaj’s grieving mother directly prior to being sentenced:

“I didn’t encourage him,” she said, an obvious reference to her son.

“I feel for you as a mother.”

If her conviction is ultimately upheld (I’d expect a swift appeal) she won’t be eligible for parole until age 82.

Other notes:

At least two jurors — one in particular — were visibly distraught as their decision was read by the foreman last night. By my count, all but two stayed for the sentencing portion and reading of the victim impact statements.

From behind the jury room door upon their exit, loud sobbing could be heard.

Justice Suche declined a request from the defence to poll the individual jurors as to the unanimity of their decision.

It’s in her discretion to do so, and she stated she had no reason to question the verdict.

The decision sparked a short exchange between her and John McAmmond (Richard’s lawyer), who seemed adamant to put the discomfort of the two jurors on the record.

Just moments before the jury portion of the trial got underway roughly two weeks ago, the defence rose to raise a point.

Radocaj’s mother had come to court wearing a photo of her son and either a shirt or a sign stating “Justice for Ivan.”

Suche ordered her to cover it up prior to the jury seeing it, deeming it prejudicial.

I point readers of this blog to this curious story I wrote regarding the case dating back to May 2009.

Even at that time, Sanford was ready to accept responsibility for the conspiracy, possibly explaining the resigned expression she wore during much of the trial that I was able to witness.

From what ever could tell, no abuse of process argument went forward from her lawyers, or it was done in the background.

But we’ll never know what piece of evidence came in that changed the Crown’s position to charge her with the actual killing more than a year after the conspiracy charge was laid.

There are two other accused in the case that have yet to deal with their charges.

-30-

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?

-30-

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.

-30-

The other ‘Level 4’s’

(Manitoba Public Insurance)

Manitoba youth corrections uses a four-point scale of risk when assessing inmates — one that may confuse and confound teen car thieves who are ranked on a similar numerical scale.

At the Manitoba Youth Centre, being a ‘Level 1’ is bad — you’re a badass, causing all manner of safety concerns for staff and other inmates. ‘Level 4’ is good — almost perfect in terms of compliance with rules, regulations and other requirements in a jail.

According to the WATSS program [the auto-theft strategy that’s all but vanished from public discourse these days] — Level 4’s are the worst of the worst chronic car thieves who even steal cars to get to probation meetings or court appearances.

It’s an irony that struck me during a short court hearing today — for a 14-year-old boy who is the youngest criminal member of Winnipeg’s most chronic auto theft family to now appear on the Winnipeg crime scene.

His brothers and cousins have caused all manner of destruction over the years, using stolen cars as weapons — it’s a minor miracle that nobody died in their hayday.

The eldest sibling racked up more than 80 convictions between the ages of 12-18.

As one Crown attorney once put it:

“There isn’t a courtroom big enough to fit all their victims in”

But for the teen in question: Car theft ain’t his thing, despite seeing virtually every relative he’s ever had develop a penchant for stealing Honda Civics and minivans constantly.

Instead, this kid helped others knock over a 7-11. He held guard at the door while a helpless clerk was threatened with a machete for a meat Taquito and some cash. I made up the Taquito part.

At the time of the robbery, he lived with the matriarch of this crime family (who noisily cracked a piece of gum throughout the hearing), but her “circumstances” have now changed to the point that the only option he has is either living with his dad or staying in jail.

Today, he got a sentence of three months time served (at 1.5 times credit) and some probation for the store knock-over. Now, he returns to the public to serve that probation and live with dad.

“I’m not going to tell you not to hang out with your brothers,” Judge Roller told him today. “I am going to tell you to not become like your brothers,” she said. 

Well, barring some probation-department miracle, what real chance of that is there? I wondered to myself.

This is his life. His main influences are a screwed up family of seemingly remorseless criminals to guide him.

“I don’t want you to grow up like your brothers,” the judge said. “I don’t want you growing up in the youth centre … (or) Stony Mountain.”

The judge isn’t to blame here, and I’m certainly not attacking her reasonings. Under the YCJA, she couldn’t hold him in custody even if she felt it was warranted.

But the kid, however, ironically, is a ‘Level 4’ in terms of the youth jail’s scale. The exact opposite of the influences he has on him while not in the clink.

That, as described above, is the best there is. He’s co-operative, attended school and does extremely well with structure and guidance.

The judge readily admitted that his ‘outside’ circumstances and family life likely mean he’s going to have to govern himself if he’s going to stay out of trouble.

“It sounds like you’re going to have to be more responsible for yourself than other kids might be,” she said. “You’re going to have to take care of yourself better than you have so far.”

Her hands are tied, as I’ve already said. It is forbidden to use the YCJA or the justice system to deal with child-welfare concerns (but CFS does it all the time).

How fair is that to him, I ask.

Regardless of what he’s done or what family he comes from, he is still just a kid, a product of his environment.

And while it would be equally criminal to suggest that keeping him in a structured, stable environment where he can succeed, I can’t help but wonder if we as a society are doing him a disservice by not.

-30-