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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Estimate this: Tidbits on Manitoba’s justice system

(Winnipeg Sun file)

Information unreported in the media from the ‘leg Justice Estimates debates that concluded Monday after three days.

Full debates here if you care.

 

 

 

In bullet points [no order]:

  •  Average length of jail stay for sentenced adult offenders in Manitoba: 65 days. Youth: 187 days.
  •  Average length of remand custody for adults: 49 days. Youth: 34 days.
  •  There are six levels of inmates pay within the Manitoba corrections system, based on the work they do: lowest (level one) is $2.20 a day, the highest (level six) is $4.70 a day.
  •  Amount jurors paid to hear trials: $0 for first 10 days, afterwards $30 a day.

 Minister Andrew Swan: 280 persons actually performed jury duty in Winnipeg, including alternates. Forty-two persons performed jury duty in the regions. So the total number of jurors was 322. There were 21 jury trials in Winnipeg and three in the regions for a total of 24.

Minister Swan: The guidelines are that the accused must suffer from a severe and pervasive DSM-IV access one mental disorder. That includes, but is not limited to, schizophrenia, bipolar disease, anxiety disorders and severe depression … I can advise that individuals suffering from personality disorders, from organic brain issues such as dementia associated with Alzheimer’s, or an FASD who don’t suffer from an access one disorder, aren’t candidates for the mental health court.

  •  Nintendo Wii units are used at the women’s correctional centre for fitness and exercise. Nintendo DS systems at the youth jail in Portage la Prairie and a Playstation at Headingley jail. They are purchased through the inmate’s trust fund.
  •  “There is some value” in considering using provincial inmates to do public works like parks cleanup, Swan says.
  •  An inmate emailed Justice critic Kelvin Goertzen about watching porn in prisons: “We was watching porn back in October when they installed new cable boxes through Westman Cable; we watched numerous porns, even rented the Diaz v. Condit UFC fight, numerous pay-per-view movies,” he said of the contents of the email.
  •  There is no program for tattoo removal within Manitoba Corrections. Swan said they are looking at one to see if it’s worthy.
  •  There has been one (although some are adamant two) accidental releases of prisoners from Manitoba jails so far this year.
  •  An accidental-release review commissioned by the province last year from an Alberta consultant cost $12,000.
  • Work on the 3rd floor floor of the “new” law courts complex will begin this year. For at least three years, the floor has been ripped up and taped off like a crime scene. [Note: it’s really embarrassing it’s been that way for so long. Tile problems were the apparent issue. Not sure why proper tiles are so hard to find.]
  • Funding for an additional Court of Appeal researcher has been added for this year. Many decisions — despite there being fewer requested in recent years — are more complex and take longer. Many cases take between 6-7 months to be decided. The national standard from the Canadian Judicial Council is six months.
  •  It can take two years to get a preliminary hearing date in Thompson. [It’s not much different in Winnipeg for multi-day prelims.]
  •  Crown attorneys will deal with an expected 154 constitutional challenges this year. Three-quarters of them relate to criminal cases.
  •  As of last Monday, not one gang has been listed as a criminal organization under the Manitoba Evidence Act. This crime-fighting tool was announced in April 2010
  •  Criminal justice budget [adopted] $166,204,000
  • Civil justice budget [adopted] $35,535,000
  • Corrections budget [adopted] $196,965,000
  • Courts budget (adopted] $53,620,000

‘In Camera’

It’s always sad — and immediately curious — when you see a pregnant woman in the prisoner’s dock in court decked out in the dull grey uniform of Remand Centre inmates. ***(see note at bottom)

Such was the case today with Laura Lee Monias, 34.

Monias, a mother of an 18-month-old and just a few weeks shy of having her second child, appeared today to deal with several charges, many of them for failing to appear in court.

She was picked up recently after months on the lam from a bail plan that sent her to live at an unlocked treatment centre, something often reserved as a last-ditch plan for people with serious issues.

She walked away from it after a week or two. She says she simply got another bed at a different facility. Who knows.

She also pleaded guilty today to her fourth impaired-driving related conviction since 1998.

Monias is at the point where mandatory minimums apply due to her record of getting behind the wheel while drunk.

I was conflicted. I felt sorrow for her and her predicament, but at the same time glad that she faced a guaranteed period of jail time given the risk to the public she posed.

After her recent arrest she was bail denied, likely prompting her desire to plead guilty and get the punishment over with.

On Jan. 29, 2009, Monias crashed on the Trans-Canada highway (it was minor, no injuries) while speeding, according to witnesses. Another car also wound up in the snowy roadside ditch.

Police who rushed to the scene suspected she was drunk after she admitted to  drinking at a cousin’s home in Winnipeg a few hours earlier.

In the car she was driving — she somehow had a learner’s permit despite three prior drive over .08s — was a beer cap and some open liquor.

She was also with her so-called driving supervisor who was also suspected to be drunk. Charges were dropped against him last year.

Her efforts to blow a sample in an ASD for the cops failed miserably — she alleged the act of providing a breath sample reminded her of being abused as a child in some way. I won’t get into it.

By my math, she was a few months pregnant at the time with her first-born.

What followed was a series of catch and release arrests as she repeatedly failed to deal with the charge, leading to her most recent detention and guilty plea.

Judge Careena Roller called her behaviour “selfish and dangerous.” The judge spoke of the lost trust between Monias and society because of her scofflaw attitude.

“That behaviour gets jail sentences. It’s just that simple,” Roller said.

But the judge, likely feeling conflicted as well, offered Monias a big break by sentencing her to the mandatory minimum of 120 days in jail (23 left to serve after credit for dead time is factored in).

But she also offered the soft-spoken mom concurrent time on three fail to attend courts and a bail breach from the absconding from the treatment centre — something she said she doesn’t normally do, and isn’t required to by law.

She’ll likely be out in time to celebrate the birth of her newborn in the absence of correctional officers. I’m glad for that. Mostly for the baby.

It’s just my opinion, I know, but while sitting and listening to her case, my mind drifted to what kind of life her kids would have if she doesn’t get it together, and  quick.

Monias’ isn’t some big story, certainly not one I’d expect to see written up in the newspaper.

But my reading of the public’s interest prevents me from simply disregarding her case — another that references a major problem society has, but not major enough to warrant real ink.

Regardless of what I may feel about it.

Booze rears its head once again.

Just pointing it out.

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***

Hers was yet another case I’ve come across recently where it didn’t appear on the official docket the media gets every day. Showing up at these hearings draws stares from the lawyers.

Major Crimes: A week in review II

(Winnipeg police)

Without a doubt, the top local crime story this week involved the arrest of Thomas Brine, 25, in connection to the death of Elizabeth Lafantaisie. First degree murder is the charge, and strangulation the cause of death. No matter what, what happened to this woman is atrocious. Brine, despite his young age, is no stranger to the justice system in Manitoba. What may be interesting down the line is whether the “forensic evidence” police claim link Brine to the killing is a win for the RCMP DNA databank. I’m skeptical of that given the rapid-fire turnaround in what appeared to be a red ball homicide case one day and solved just a few days later. Fingerprints is my guess — but it is only a guess.

In other news, lawyer Robert Tapper had a better week than last with an even score in terms of his conviction rate. There was more (unfair) gnashing of teeth about his role as special prosecutor after WPS Constable Ken Anderson was acquitted of sex-related charges — but there was really no reason for it. Anderson was found not guilty after a full and transparent shake in the justice system. The story about the abuse was found to be just that — a story. I note no one has called for a review of the case in light of the acquittal, so here’s hoping Anderson can somehow get back to work and be able to put this behind him. But it won’t be an easy task, as Mike Sutherland of the WPA told CBC this week:

“Just the allegations alone cause challenges and sometimes they’re difficult to rebound from,” Sutherland said.

Tapper said he won’t appeal the Anderson ruling.

The lawyer’s week got better by Thursday, when former RCMP officer Benjamin Neufeldt was sent packing to jail for sexually exploiting a teen girl on a Manitoba reserve. Mike Mac of the WFP had a good story on the details of the case.

One thing good comes out of the recent Tapper cases, however — it’s brought to the surface the process by which independent lawyers are appointed in cases where a suspect has a direct connection to the justice system. As I’ve learned, Manitoba appears to be the only province where local lawyers are actually hired to prosecute cases independently from, but in consultation with, the justice department. Justice Minister Swan is promising to sit down with head of prosecutions Mike Mahon and see what’s what. It comes on the heels of a recent review of the provincial policy by retired Judge Ruth Krindle.

The media glare continued to shine on Justice Robert Dewar this week and several local stories examined past court decisions he’s made, at least one of which is under review by the Manitoba Court of Appeal, which could rule to order a new trial any day now. Alternately, it could not. The judge’s week got worse when the judiciary came forward with a statement about his status about not hearing cases of a sexual nature, followed by the news he either was punted or asked to recuse himself from sitting in the Wegier manslaughter trial — a decidedly non-sexual case.

(Allan Fineblit/Lawyersweekly.ca)

However, the most interesting information and reaction about the whole affair came from blogger/WFP reporter Melissa Martin, and an op-ed in the Free Press from Law Society head-honcho Allan Fineblit. While Fineblit starts off obviously referring to the Dewar furor but goes on the describe how the process of judicial appointments could be altered, he provides some useful information. I’d bet if you asked the average person what they think about the appointment of judges in Canada, you’d get a blank stare, followed by ramblings about blood sacrifices and cloaked old coots hunched over in some stone room waiting for a phone call from the PMO. We now know, through him, that that’s not the case.

I was waiting, though for someone to comment on the first few paragraphs of the piece that says the following [again – referring to, but not naming Dewar and his current predicament]:

Let’s face it, even good judges sometimes make mistakes, or lose their patience, or say the occasional dumb thing. They are, after all, human beings and to my mind the more humanity the better. Mistakes can be fixed. That is what the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court do for a living. But I am not writing this to tell you about what I think about our judges. I am writing it to tell you how we can do better.

Something strikes me that given the outcry about Dewar, many people don’t think he simply made a mistake, lost his patience or simply said a dumb thing in the sex-assault case ruling that brought all the attention.

But again, I have yet to see full transcript of the ruling, let alone the full trial testimony.

The Freep’s FASD series continued  — with today’s comprehensive look at youth justice and the disorder. It should come as no surprise to anyone, however, that the Manitoba Youth Centre is a convenient warehouse for kids with cognitive or other disorders. Still waiting on that mental health court, NDP.

In other news:

  • The united front known as the Devil’s Gap Cottagers have taken a unique land claims situation and are trying to turn their misfortune into some kind of advantage by suing their former legal team for millions.
  • In the days after the city settled with Manitoba Hydro over a long-standing tax dispute, the city filed a suit against local company J.A. Robinson for alleged problems with a tech system for its fleet of vehicles worth more than $600,000.
  • On the flip side, the WRHA is going after the city and trying to force it into arbitration over a dispute over rents involving one or two community health clinics. In court documents, the WRHA says it is seeking reimbursement of  alleged rent overpayments to the city between 2000-2007. The dispute has been brewing since 2006 and could be valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, lawyers for the health authority say. The amount is very much in dispute. An affidavit says the city has failed to respond to the WRHA’s letters “seeking the co-operation in the appointment of an arbitrator under the arbitration clause” of a lease agreement.
  • This guy has admitted responsibility to using  a former roommate’s kids he used to babysit to make child pornography with, among other things. Has to be one of the fastest turn-arounds for a major case I’ve ever seen. He was just arrested in January. Sentencing was adjourned to a later date.

Finally — kudos to Manitoba Justice and Crown attorney Lisa Carson [and by extension now-Judge Dale Schille] — for this. Although the penalty to some may seem like small potatoes for the blood that was shed, it’s the maximum allowed by law in Canada. In the U.S., he’d have likely faced execution or consecutive life terms for all three murders. I’m waiting to see if he’ll appeal, and on what grounds. That’s two adult sentences in two weeks for Manitoba Justice, and a third to follow this week, which I’ll be covering in detail.

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Major crimes: a week in review

(random scene of smashed cruisers)

And what a week it’s been.

Monday Tuesday started out with reporters still hung over on the second-degree murder verdict in the Mark Grant/Candace Derksen killing. A number of interesting details about what jurors didn’t hear emerged.

But shortly before noon that day, two Winnipeg police officers walked out of a Winnipeg courtroom acquitted on perjury charges based on either a fatal Crown error or a misunderstanding, depending on what side you’re on. When I checked Friday afternoon, no appeal had been filed yet. The ‘technical’ acquittal had some wondering what police were cheering about.

But while that was happening, troubling details about the sentence a young street-gang member may be about to get for murdering three people in one short, sharp go were emerging in a courtroom down the hall from the cheering officers. Justice Suche has some deciding to do over the weekend and we’ll know this week just when the killer will become eligible for parole. No matter how you slice it [4 years or  6.5 years] it seems low for the blood that was shed. However, it is just parole eligibility, meaning his potential freedom will be in the hands of the National Parole Board.

It was on this day that police announced they were searching for an elderly woman who was missing for several days. By Thursday, she had been found dead in her car miles from home, and according to some reports wrapped in a tarp and stuffed in the trunk. A hunt is now on for her killers, but police have not revealed the cause of death.

On Wednesday, The Freep’s @mikeoncrime tweeted this: “Reminded today I have the best job in terms of finding fascinating people and stories to write about. 2 big “talkers” in tomorrow’s paper.”

He was right about one of them — and likely only because that story so overshadowed the other in terms of attention, this one didn’t have a chance. I won’t add to the froth the first has caused, but wanted to say I always get leery when politicians and leaders make bold statements, condemnations and take action on decisions they likely haven’t even read. But, in some sense, I accept that they couldn’t be seen to say nothing. David Asper put on his lawyer hat and crafted an interesting letter to the editor in Saturday’s Freep.

The Sun’s Dean Pritchard had a solid story on what happened in a police-involved crash a number of months ago. I don’t recall police ever saying that a charge had been laid against an officer in connection to the case, which was a bizarre one. Lots of damage — and lots of luck no one was seriously hurt.

Interesting, underplayed story about former Hells Angel Michael Bandusiak being allowed time to go shopping and to do personal errands while he’s serving a conditional sentence. While some police were celebrating their colleagues acquittal, this decision had some others absolutely fuming, I’m told.

Kudos to CTV on their story about charges against Provincial Court Judge Brian Corrin.

However, this story had some police unconvinced about the merits of the new police helicopter tell me they’re warming up to the idea. Media allowed to take rides in the chopper this week. Multiple stories emerge. File footage you’ll see on TV newscasts for years now in place.

As well, this story about federal money for police promised by the federal government barely dented the weekend news. I get irked when important stories get buried on page B2.

Colleague Gosia Sawicka had a good story on a now-defunct Winnipeg travel agency that’s now under investigation.

If one looks big-picture, however, the #1 biggest crime and justice related story this week can be found in the WFP series on FASD. In my days spent sitting in youth [and adult] court, I can say no other issue seems to come up as frequently than this disorder. It weighs heavily on the justice system, and the costs are huge.

Stuff that didn’t make the news:

I’ve written a bit in the past about the trials and tribulations the Manitoba Islamic Association has been having over the last year or so. A development this week was that the now court-confirmed MIA president, Dr. Nasseer Warraich, has been cleared of criminal charges [Crown stayed them behind the scenes on Feb. 10] and in the wake of that, Warraich has filed a lawsuit against another MIA member for allegedly giving a false statement to police that resulted in his arrest and now-ended prosecution. Lawsuit is in its very early stages, no defence has been filed. Lawyer Marty Minuk is handling Warriach’s case.

Former Winnipeg daycare worker Joel Stubson made his first court appearance on a number of child pornography-related charges.

The trial for Michael Trakalo, the son of a now-retired Winnipeg drug investigator has been remanded (again). This time until April.

That’s it for now.

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