Manitoba youth justice and mental health: ‘Life-altering verdict,’ or just par for the course?

Screen Shot 2013-03-27 at 10.56.14 PMThere’s possibly fewer things as despairing in our youth justice system than witnessing a young future handed over to an overtaxed and overstressed mental health system to figure out.

Thankfully, it happens relatively rarely, but it did happen this week to J.

He’s a now 18-year-old man who, despite signs of some hope in recent months, was deemed unfit to stand trial on some [relatively minor] charges and turned over to await disposition as to his treatment by the Criminal Code Review Board.

As his lawyer put it: “It is a life-altering verdict to him.” And it’s true.

Will he end up in a hospital or on the street? It’s unknown. Winnipeg Child and Family Services is involved and keen to find him assistance wherever it can, but an agency representative was noticeably absent at the Manitoba Youth Centre this week when Judge Sandra Chapman found J unfit and ordered him over to the CCRB. It was surprising because CFS had attended court hearings in the past out of a sincere wish to see him get help, Chapman was told.

J first came to the attention of police and the system on Jan. 9, 2012, when he and his mother got into a fight inside their home.

High on drugs, he became enraged to the point of threatening her. “I don’t care if you guys call the cops — I’ll take you guys all out and kill you,” J said, just before retreating to his bedroom.

Police arrive at the mom’s bidding and find him in his bedroom, high on the anxiety drug Restoril, mellow from marijuana and packing a small kitchen knife. He’s taken to the Manitoba Youth Centre. He gets bail.

Fast forward to Jan. 27, 2013: Police find him at 1:20 a.m. reeking of booze on McPhillips Street. Again, he’s a direct lockup at the MYC, then bailed out shortly after.

The final shot at release he saw ended around 11:50 p.m. March 3, while he’s now staying at a CFS “shelter” which also doubles as a hotel on Pembina Highway.

J became so angry with his CFS watcher he began assaulting him, then proceeded to take a chair outside and hurl it at the social worker’s car several times. Nothing was broken and the worker was uninjured. He was again detained at the youth centre.

And then the psychological assessments begin. Over the coming months, J would have three mental-health assessments conducted by doctors, two of which were tendered in court. The third was excluded because it didn’t deal with mental fitness-related issues.

After the first, it was considered he was “just being difficult,” and a “defiant young man.” One doctor found he “could be fit” at some time, but when, exactly, was naturally unknown. Time marched on.

Months later, J’s advocate told Chapman this week, it was clear the young man was “decompensating” — deteriorating — possibly because he was being held in a jail and had been there for a couple of months.

As one doctor put it: It was “no longer clear where the boundary line was between provocative behaviour (what the earlier doctor saw) and psychosis.”

In one example, the forensic psychiatrist said J would “stare (him) down.” The belief was J was now “presently actively psychotic” — a kid of 17 at that point who admitted he thought he could tolerate life inside Lakewood, the maximum-security youth facility in Manitoba.

There, inmates receive an hour of recreational time each day. The rest is spent in a locked room and under constant observation.

J said ‘no’ many, many times, when Chapman asked him the following: Do you know what’s happening here? Do you know what your lawyer is? Do you know what my role is?

Everyone — Crown, defence and Chapman — expressed reluctance at putting such a young man into “the system” [their words] on such minor charges. But there was little else to do.

Everyone involved hopes he’ll find his way to a hospital and adequate treatment from doctors. He was to be released as soon as practicable from the MYC.

But given some of the stories that have come to light about the mental health regime in Manitoba (and Canada, to be honest) of late, I can’t help but wonder if J is now simply to be cut adrift, possibly lost for good. Maybe institutionalized, possibly to be released and wind up on the street.

I note grimly that immediately, the court ordered the review board was to receive an extension of the time it is required to conduct a disposition hearing for J — to 90 from 45 days.

The ink’s not even dry on the paperwork, but already exceptions are being made.

And they’re not to accommodate J, but to accommodate the system. And it’s sad.

—————–

Also sad — and something I wasn’t aware of, is how two cells at the Manitoba Youth Centre are deemed “psychiatric beds,” a reality J’s lawyer called “completely unacceptable.”

What she meant, I believe: Jails are for criminals, suspected and otherwise.

“Psychiatric beds” are for sick people who need treatment, not incarceration.

As well, two beds at the above-mentioned Lakewood max facility are also designated for psychiatric-related inmates, court heard.

This was a situation described as, “not ideal.”

I’ll say.

-30-

Murder most foul and we don’t care

(The multi-plex where gang membersHenderson and Baptiste were killed on Jan 31, 2009)
(The multi-plex where gang membersHenderson and Baptiste were killed on Jan 31, 2009)

 

[EDIT: A slightly-revised version of this post appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press Sunday edition on Sept. 15. Below is the original version].

I keep wondering why more folk in the general public don’t appear to care all too much that two young aboriginal men were brutally cut down in the prime of their lives, killed brutally inside a shabby suite in a West End multiplex.

Yes, Dennis Baptiste and Jessie Henderson were members of a feared and loathed Winnipeg street gang, the Mad Cowz.

But for many young aboriginal men in a city where baby-faced teens somehow can get their hands on a .357 Magnum and carry it about with seeming impunity to kill over ridiculous notions of revenge, gang membership or association is to people in some particular circumstances, more akin to a Scouts club or after-school sports program might be for semi-affluent kids who live in Winnipeg’s sprawling suburbs.

And therein lies the rub of it. Our ability to look the other way or shrug our shoulders at the deaths of these men speaks to a fundamentally larger problem our society suffers from.

That being: a shocking and profound inability to empathize very much any more. That’s my gut feeling. And I trust my gut.

Live by the sword, die by the sword,” one person replied to me on Twitter tonight when I expressed my angst on this topic.

I celebrate every time one or more of these drug dealer/gangsters gets snuffed,” said another.

Bullshit, I say to them here in reply. These are the answers of cowards.

Dismiss out of hand what you refuse to even try to understand.

Eye for an eye is an exercise in mental gymnastics which will take us nowhere.

Regardless of anything: These two 23-year-old were living, breathing people, goddammit. For example: Baptiste had two young children. He had a long-time partner who cared about him. He lived, he breathed.

And dear God, how he bled.

I never met either of these men. And I’m pretty much sure they would have spat on me — or at least eyed me with extreme suspicion — if I had ever had the courage to walk up and say hello.

That’s not the point. The point is that between my cowardice and what I assume would be their disdain are symptoms of a sickness.

Just as street gangs are symptoms of a larger sickness still — a generational, trickle-down illness of poverty, rampant unfairness, inequality and racism.

I deplore senseless violence. I detest gangs and their uber-profitable, miserable businesses of drug-and-human trafficking, just to name two of the major income streams.

But to the degree an outsider can, I understand why the gangs exist and how they persist.  And I know we don’t (or is it can’t or won’t?) do nearly enough as a society to be able to convince gang members to want to get out, that something better is waiting on the other side.

I find it very, very difficult to simply say, ‘meh‘ to a life cut senselessly, brutally, criminally short.

But that’s what I see happening when it comes to the overall public reaction to the murder trial — a process trying to find some justice for Henderson and Baptiste.

Media coverage, aside from the daily newspapers, has been scant, despite wide-spread coverage of their deaths when they were discovered.

It makes no sense to me how there’s little follow-through.

But I won’t get too deep into that, because we don’t always know what’s going on behind the scenes. This brings me to what I wanted to point out. My appreciation.

I don’t know if the Winnipeg police have it right in charging Ken Roulette – reportedly a friend of these men — with the deaths.

There are things about this case I’ve seen so far that don’t quite add up to me, at least just yet.

But in the end, it’s not up to me, or you, to decide. In this way, we’re just observers to the work six men and six women are now charged with doing.

But what I do know is that homicide investigators and the two seasoned Crown prosecutors now putting in the case didn’t have the choice of saying, ‘Meh,’ and shrugging their shoulders when called on to try and bring some resolution to this awful matter.

What I do know is that two of Winnipeg’s best defence lawyers don’t appear to be conceding one inch of territory to their state adversaries — another hallmark of criminal-legal seriousness. The stakes are huge here.

There’s an aura to the proceedings as a whole which I can only describe as spine-tingling. It hangs over the courtroom like a pregnant dark cloud.

To me, it’s right and just that this feeling persists. The awfulness of what happened here can’t be brushed aside, despite my fear it will.

Ask yourself this. If it had been two 23-year-old white kids from Charleswood or St. Vital who were killed in this fashion — what would the interest be then?

-30-

Some quick, sad, math

Last weekend, I wrote about chronic offender/public nuisance Perry Antoine, his release from prison and his upcoming fight with the province over the peace bond justice officials want to put him on for the next two years to try and keep him in check.

The background is all in the story. And it’s quite possible that now, at age 52 and confined largely to a wheelchair, Mr. Antoine won’t reoffend again.

But today, it occurred to me to look more closely at his record since 1979, since he became an adult, and do some math.

In that time, his record notates he’s done 5,746 days behind bars (just shy of 16 years) since ’79.

Using the recently cited provincial inmate housing costs of $174 a day to keep him in custody, that equals:

 $1,005,550 — simply to keep him in jail in that time. (This is low-balled. See *note below on why — factoring in federal prison costs would bring us to a staggering $1,610,109).

That’s not counting the cost to the taxpayer for police to arrest and process him, nor the cost to prosecute or judge him.

That’s simply to keep him detained.

More importantly, that doesn’t count the cost of probation services.

Since 1979, he’s been given the equivalent of 16.5 years worth of probation across various orders.

(Let’s say for the sake of argument he had one appointment a week at an arbitrary cost of $75 for 858 weeks. that’s $64,350).

I couldn’t tell you what the actual value of that in terms of dollars would be, but probation officers — especially the ones working the highest-risk offenders — don’t come cheap. The actual cost is much, much higher, no doubt.

Going forward, there will be more probation costs incurred as the Criminal Organization High Risk Offenders Unit (COHROU) are the Corrections unit tasked with hawking him now that he’s free.

Neither does it count the cost of storing Mr. Antoine in the drunk tank, nor the hospital visits or community health services.

Nor the victim services.

I’d peg the dollar cost to society of dealing with Mr. Antoine at well over $2 million since he turned 18.

While that’s huge, especially since he’s just one chronic offender in a province with many of them, the greater concern to me is the loss of human potential. What a seeming waste of a precious lifetime.

The other thorny issue is how despite our ‘investment’ over the years in Mr. Antoine’s — and society’s — safety and well-being, not much seems to have changed for that.

Something to ponder.

-30-

* naturally, he’d be earning parole at some points along the way in both provincial and federal systems. But any decrease in time spent would be counterbalanced by the fact it costs double to house an inmate in the federal system [where he recently served each and every day of an 8-year bit] That cost, Stats Can says, is $357 a day (2010-11 data). Factoring in that figure, it’s $1,610,109. Trust me, I’m a journalist.

[EDIT to correct date of Stats Can data]

Gerald Crayford’s murder and the duplicity of despair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of those aggravating factors included:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-30-

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

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

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

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

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

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

And my, how ironic sometimes life can be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there’s the irony.

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

An arrest warrant has again been issued for him.

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

-30-

Mr. Jetz: a cautionary tale on how not to apply for bail

1297232867412_ORIGINAL
(Darrell Ackman/Winnipeg Sun)

Darrell Ackman, AKA the notorious Mr. JetzTV, wants you to know “the truth.”

Those are his words, not mine.

That’s straight from the former MLA hopeful’s lips today after he rejected an opportunity to put a publication ban in place on his case pending trial. He also rejected an opportunity to hire a lawyer to represent him.

Make no mistake. Today was a crucial turning point in the Queen v. Ackman.

It sets the tone for everything that will follow in a case of immense public interest to see prosecuted.

Ackman, arrested on May 8 after a scuffle with Winnipeg cops who were trying to arrest him on breaches of his prior bail order, made another bail application today.

You can read the meat and potatoes of it here.

While that article will get you up to speed, it doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the details of his life and history he disclosed during his three-hour-long submission to Judge Harvie.

And by and large, virtually everything he had to say was irrelevant to the matter at hand.

It is 100 per cent Ackman’s right to represent himself in court.

But as the pithy truism goes: A person who represents himself has fool for a client.’

Ackman’s situation today, to me, demonstrates the truth in this.

I stand by my position that today’s hearing should have been videotaped (no pun intended) for 1st-year law students as an example of the perils of representing yourself.

If Manitoba Justice hasn’t already ordered a transcript of his three-hour-long, rambling, submission today, I can guarantee you they will in coming days.

Ackman was duly warned: Anything he might say at the hearing — especially statements against his interest — could be used by the Crown at any future hearing.

You want to pick your comments carefully,” Judge Mary Kate Harvie told him, prior to explaining to him how “judicial interim release” works in Canada.

I’m no lawyer by any stretch — but I’ve come to understand a little sage wisdom about bail applications.

Rule number one: Barring a major, glaring hole in the Crown’s case, people seeking interim release should focus on their bail plan and not the allegations of their case; how they will satisfy the court they’ll either a] show up to deal with their charges b] not pose a risk for reoffending.

(I’ll leave out the public confidence aspect as it’s a seldom used ground in release hearings. It was raised today but didn’t form part of Harvie’s decision to deny and revoke).

Objectively speaking, Ackman could have made a succinct argument that for the many months he’s been free in the community [barring his recent breach allegations for sticking up posters at or near schools] he’s been compliant with his bail orders [a release secured by a $25,000 surety in his 79-year-old mom’s name].

He could have argued that the Crown’s concerns on his being free could be met by tightening up his curfew to an absolute one instead of a 6 p.m.-6 a.m. one, for example.

Hell, he could have at least presented the court with a definite address at which he planned to live at pending trial.

He didn’t. Instead, he said he believes he should be allowed to live wherever he wants.

That, even with a judge whose patience bordered on saint-like today, surely cemented the rejection of his application.

Here’s some other things over the course of three hours Ackman did have to say — and remember, it’s all from his lips.

So take that for what it is. Also remember: he was cautioned to pick his comments carefully.

  • “You know who I am right?,” he told the court near the very start of his submission. “Some people call me Mr. JetzTV.”
  • He gave the court a wealth of detail of his years (2003-2010) in Miami FLA, how he was charged down there but wound up bailed out in less than 24 hours after being picked up in a prostitution sting, how he was soon back on the streets with access to his cellphone and computer, but without his beloved/signature “bumblebee” Camaro. He came back to Winnipeg on a trip to visit family. He says he tried to go back to deal with the related charges — Ackman says a deal with reached for probation and all he needed to do was go back and sign the papers — but was turned back at the Winnipeg airport.
  • A self-proclaimed Winnipeg Jets fanatic, Ackman says losing the team in the 90s was like having the “heart ripped out of the city.” He told a story about being a Winnipeg Free Press carrier when he was pre-teen and could buy tickets for $5.
  • The “Mr. Jetz” persona was partially created because of his vast arcane trivia knowledge of the hockey team and its players. His Google YouTube channel, he says, was set up in 2010-2011? with help from his teenaged niece — whom he called his “best friend” — a relative he can’t have contact with due to his pending charges.
  • His mom was a veteran Kindergarten teacher — he says he remembers being taken to school by her at a very young age. In fact, he says his memory is amazing. He went on to go to school at Jefferson Jr. high and then Garden City Collegiate.
  • He objected to his Florida mug shot being used by city newspapers. “Is it allowed to be in a Winnipeg newspaper?,” he asked, also wondering if media publishing his release conditions violated a prior publication ban in his case (it didn’t).
  • “I don’t want to get in trouble ever again,” he said.
  • He spent a very long time challenging the most minor allegation he faces — a mischief charge from winter 2012 where he’s accused of scratching the Mr. Jetz logo into a car at the Highland Arena. “Mr. Jetz is not into damaging things,” he said. [note the 3rd-person usage]. The case lacks evidence, he claims.
  • Several times he referenced being a major fan of CSI: Miami and its main detective character, Horatio Caine and that fictional character’s lines regarding the quality of evidence.
  • He says Mr. Jetz has achieved “celebrity status” in a city like Winnipeg, where “there’s not much going on.”
  • He then talked about backing off from the persona to help his niece get a start with a music career. “I don’t think my YouTube videos they’re going to go anywhere,” he says he told her.
  • He then moves on to the fact one of the vulnerable girls related to his case has died, apparently from suicide. “I don’t like people dying,” he said.
  • “I really feel like I’m being bullied right now,” he says, later saying he has a solution to the growing problem of cyberbullying, should the court wish to hear it.
  • He says a number of people he’s met at Headingley Correctional — he says he’s made more than 40 “friends” — “don’t look guilty.” He talks about the case of Matthew Emmerling, the Ohio trucker facing a potential two-year term for bringing child pornography across the border and recently pleaded guilty. “Guilty seems to be the popular thing,” he said of the Manitoba justice system. Cops are “not the most honest people,” Ackman says. “They all know where I live. They all carry guns.” He denies biting one cop in his recent arrest, saying biting is not his thing.
  • He loves “cars, pretty girls, beaches.”
  • Cops can say “whatever they want” in their reports and there’s no refuting it. How “discovery” (perhaps he meant ‘disclosure’) is really just one person’s opinion.
  • He spent a long time talking about acquiring a voice recorder to use as a diary, to tape calls and conversations.
  • He says the Winnipeg press has “murdered” his reputation — that his big mistake was calling local CBC to see if they wanted to talk about his story.
  • He says his run for MLA of Whyte Ridge was well-intentioned to “turn Mr. Jetz into something positive,” a redemptive effort, but was quickly spun in the media as “How come the criminal is running for an election?”
  • “I love girls that look adult. And if they say they’re adult, I trust them.”
  • Says his alleged young victims may have criminal histories and he wants to see documentation. “There’s going to be some cross-examining going on.” Ackman says the girls — whom he considered his friends — didn’t have “a problem with me then.”
  • If the Winnipeg police have to comb Facebook for evidence, he says, then there’s a major problem. He accused police of doing “sloppy” policework.
  • “That’s one hell of a poster,” he told Harvie of his casting-call efforts [full disclosure: he even asked two cops if they ‘wanted to be in a movie on the courthouse steps one day. This was witnessed by me and a local defence lawyer].
  • He talked about how cops told him things might be different if he had signed “contracts” with the alleged victims.
  • “Right now it just kind of feels like my eggs are being crushed before they hatched,” he said after relaying some anecdote about being a boy and seeing some birds near his home.
  • He claims police came seeking a blood sample from him one day, apparently in connection to the death of a woman. He said a name I won’t repeat here. He says his mom freaked out at their request.
  • Police, it seems, “have a voodoo doll with my name on it” and are sticking pins into it until he “disappears,” Ackman says.
  • He says at Headingley, he was housed in a cell with two hard-looking inmates, whom he quickly won over. “That’s what Mr. Jetz does. Makes friends.”
  • In jail, he plays video games, basketball and ping-pong. “I actually feel safe because there’s no police harassing me.”
  • He says a police supervisor told him: “You’re not going to be getting out on bail this time, Mr. Jetz.”
  • Most lawyers he’s consulted, he says, just advised him to “plead out” but he’s not going to admit to something he didn’t do.
  • “The police have my passport. I have nowhere to go. I have no intention of going anywhere right now.”
  • Missing women in Manitoba are “a huge problem for police, and I agree its a major problem.”
  • “Maybe I’ll change my name legally,” to Mr. Jetz, he says.
  • Will he show up to court if bailed out? “Yes I will. Check that.” Later, he answers the same question: “I think so.”
  • He says he wasn’t offered his “Miranda rights” (his actual words) in his last arrest. “They let me call a lawyer,” but didn’t give him his rights.
  • Some of his prior bail conditions could be considered “comical,” he says, in terms of their enforceability.
  • Being in jail on remand is “kind of like a vacation, really.”
  • He claimed the fact he can’t use computers was “wasting” his talents.
  • “Will I reoffend? No.”
  • The girls: “They told me they were legal, but they weren’t.”
  • In Florida, he felt like “Hugh Hefner.”
  • If we’re going to stop abusive police behaviour in Manitoba: Mr. Jetz has the solution, he says. “Videotape everything.”
  • His ten months problems free on bail and turning up to every court date? Ackman says he deserves a “gold medal.”
  • “I don’t see why I would be a threat to anybody.”
  • The alleged victims, he says, could have walked out the door or jumped out of the car.
  • “I really should be able to go wherever I want.”
  • “You’re putting me on the spot,” he told Harvie toward the end of the hearing, when she asked him to focus on the plan for his release.
  • He can’t defend himself unless he has access to Facebook and a computer.
  • His mother is “shaken” by the whole affair, he says. Instead of returning to live with her, he’d rather live with his friend. How much of a surety might be available, isn’t clear.

So, that’s certainly not all of it. But I have to stop.

But all the while I was hearing this, I couldn’t help but think if Ackman instinctively knew his application was doomed to fail as presented: that the whole hearing was just another publicity stunt in the name of Mr. JetzTV.

But again, today marked a turning point in his case — a case which he says he “knows better than anyone” and was willing to take to a trial tomorrow.

-30-

Natasha Moar homicide: An accounting and some questions

(Natasha Linda Moar/Facebook)
(Natasha Linda Moar/Facebook)

“See this girl she was treated like a nobody noone came to help her fight in court,not one person came forward to say hey i seen him abuse her.where was everyone fat mouths when she needed help today.there was no fucken justice today not even a fair trial…56 months for taking a life so brutally.” — Relative of Natasha Moar

And in the end, When it came to investigating Natasha Linda Moar’s homicide, RCMP and the Crown were ultimately left with two stories: The one told by her living, breathing killer and his family, and another told by her lifeless, battered body.

What follows I’m presenting for two reasons. One, I believe there has to be some complete record of what was put on the record about this case. A 400 word newspaper story, while adequate for many reports, fails here. And the initial RCMP press release obviously is useless to come to any understanding.

(And that release could be considered forthcoming by today’s standard of police to-public disclosure of most criminal events).

Two: I completely understand the need for plea deals in the criminal justice system. I’m just not sure I fully comprehend the one that saw Leslie Grant McDonald, 27, receive an effective sentence of five years for manslaughter in connection with her death, with 56 months left to serve going forward.

It bears remembering at the outset: Moar was pronounced dead in hospital on July 12, 2009, nearly four years ago. The case came to a sudden conclusion Monday after McDonald elected to plead guilty on the day his trial was set to begin. His preliminary hearing concluded in May 2011, two years ago.

Here’s how things proceeded Monday in the Dauphin Court of Queen’s Bench, with senior Crown attorney Dale Harvey representing the state, and veteran defence lawyer Roberta Campbell acting for McDonald. Justice Robert Cummings is the presiding judge.

The case begins with McDonald freely and voluntarily pleading guilty to manslaughter for his former common-law’s death. The plea is accepted by Cummings, with the usual caution that the judge is not bound by any joint-recommendation presented to the court and can impose any sentence he feels is fit.

Harvey begins by explaining the matter was set for trial, and that no pre-sentencing or Gladue report examining McDonald’s background will be presented. Cummings is told McDonald has been in touch with an elder in his home community of Crane River — and it’s possible arrangements will be made for him to apply to go to a Correctional Service of Canada “healing lodge” after he gets to Stony Mountain.

Harvey explains the joint-recommendation which the court will hear about factors in the relevant Gladue factors which apply to McDonald’s case, and the sentence being sought [which isn’t revealed at the outset] has been adjusted “downward” from what the Crown would ordinarily seek in similar circumstances based on that consideration.

There are no victim impact statements filed. The Crown explains one of the sides of Moar’s family have what was termed an “acrimonious” relationship with justice officials due to their “lack of faith in the justice system to do its job properly.”

Harvey then begins relaying the facts of the case for Cummings.

The morning of July 12, 2009: McDonald’s mom’s common-law calls RCMP to say Moar was unconscious and not breathing “due to cardiac arrest.” “That’s how it was reported,” Harvey says. The caller relays that Moar was “cold and stiff” and CPR was not being initiated.

RCMP Const. St. Cyr of the Ste. Rose du Lac detachment — located 72 kilometres from Crane River, is dispatched to a suite at the Crane River “elderly person’s home.”

The community is some distance away from the detachment, about 70 k.m.

At 12:37 p.m., two rural paramedics went to the suite — getting there before St. Cyr — and radios that Moar “was breathing” and would be taken to the Ste. Rose hospital for treatment.

RCMP are told no police attendance is required.

“That’s still confusing from the Crown’s perspective,” Harvey says. “As it was clear that Ms. Moar had been dead for some time.”

Around 1:52 p.m. St. Cyr and his partner are then at the hospital on an unrelated matter when the partner is approached by the on-call ER doctor. Moar was pronounced dead, the cop is told, and the doctor believed the death “was suspicious” as she had a number of bruises on her face and legs.

The partner tells St. Cyr this and he takes off to Crane River. The partner then looks at Moar in the exam room and noted she has “obvious signs of trauma” and bruising on her face and body.

2:43 p.m. — St. Cyr arrives in Crane River, and finds the local band constable there securing the crime scene. The band constable says when he arrived there, there were people inside the suite attending to Moar. He took photos of the scene and spoke with a number of people. “Quite frankly, he did his best to keep people out of the actual crime scene in and of itself,” Harvey says.

The photos are given to the RCMP. The band cop “did a remarkable job in the circumstances,” with limited training, court is told. He “had enough common sense to try and preserve the scene as much as possible,” says Harvey.

St. Cyr then begins the interview process. He first speaks to the man who called the RCMP earlier and McDonald’s mother. They were sitting at a picnic table just outside the residence. St. Cyr noted it appeared there had been a party of sorts at the table the evening before.

At 2:47, the investigation takes a major turn when St. Cyr arrests Leslie McDonald for second-degree murder and assault causing bodily harm. Asked if he understood his rights, McDonald replied: “I had a fight with her last night — we were drinking.”

At 3 p.m. he’s again told the RCMP warning of his rights and police caution. McDonald says he understands. “Yeah, but can I make a statement?,” he asks.

At 3:14, McDonald and St. Cyr start talking. The cop only has his notebook and is recording the comments as best he can on the fly.

“About the murder, man, I don’t know. I agree that I assaulted her but after we were done fighting we blacked out. We came to later, we had sex. She wanted me out of the room. I went in the living room, watched TV, fell asleep. I got up, looked outside, it was daylight. I could hear her gurgling in the bedroom. At that time I didn’t think nothing of it. I fell asleep again. I got up around 10-10:30, went to the washroom. Then went to the bedroom to check up on her. She had brown puke coming out of her mouth, out of her nose. I started to shake her, to wake her up. I tried to get an answer from her. I put my hand on her stomach to see if she was breathing. I checked her pulse. She had no pulse. I know CPR. I started it, opened her mouth, removed the brown stuff. I tried to make her gag. I panicked, yelled at her. I tried calling my mom four or five times. I got in my car, went to my mum’s … told her what was going on. She came back with me to the house. My mom tried calling people as [her common-law] called the ambulance…”

“I just stayed back and waited outside with my mother,” St. Cyr recorded McDonald as saying.

At 3:23, another cop comes to relieve St. Cyr and he drives McDonald back to the Ste. Rose detachment.

At 5:00, McDonald spoke with a lawyer who calls back at 6:17. They talk till 6:40 p.m.

Meanwhile, an RCMP forensic specialist examines Moar at the hospital. He notes there’s some blood on her face and ear, bruising on face, a slap mark on her cheek, bruising on her right wrist and a discolouration below her knees.

(The remoteness of Crane River, located on the right of this map)
(The remoteness of Crane River, located on the right of this map)

That afternoon, McDonald’s mom’s common-law also gives a statement. Says he was at home that morning when Leslie “arrived screaming and yelling that Natasha was not breathing and he wanted his mom to help.” He went to the old folks home 25 minutes later after being called to the scene as well. He says he went in and found Moar on the bed, no pulse. He says he called the hospital and spoke to a clerk who told him to call for an ambulance. He tells police McDonald, Moar and two others — including McDonald’s dad — were drinking at the residence the night before. He says McDonald told him the two other men left there and McDonald said he went to bed around 3:30 a.m. He also said McDonald disclosed fighting with Moar but said they made up.

Leslie McDonald’s mom told police a similar story, saying her son came to her home yelling and screaming, that Moar wasn’t breathing and had a cold forehead.

The next day, an RCMP corporal with the Serious Crime Unit comes to interview McDonald on video. McDonald discloses he and Moar had been drinking beer and whiskey, smoking hash and doing some cocaine for most of July 11, the day before she died. An argument they had led to a fight, he says. “He admitted to slapping her many times” with “full force” as well as knocking her down at least three or four times. He denied using any weapons, a closed fist or kicking Moar. After their fight, she calmed down somewhat and asked him to get her something cold.”

He told RCMP he brought her two packs of frozen meat to put on her swollen face and “at that point realized he had gone too far.”

The meat was exchanged for a bag of frozen French fries. He says they had sex at 12 a.m. and afterwards he left the room to watch TV. He woke up around 3 a.m. and says he could hear her gurgling “like she was having trouble breathing but thought it was nothing out of the ordinary.” McDonald continued to watch TV until her fell asleep again. At 10 a.m he says he awoke and found her lying in bad with her hands up by her head — saw vomit, cleared it away and tried to induce more vomiting and CPR. “He knew then that she was gone,” Cummings was told of his statement.

McDonald admitted at one point in the fight, he had pushed Moar down and she fell onto a coffee mug which broke beneath her. She had also hit her head on a “fabric covered recliner” in the bedroom. “He was unsure if she has hit her head on anything else.”

McDonald then admitted to using a dish towel to snap at her in the face — a blow he knew had hurt her. He also says he noted blood by her head and her pillow. There was another blood pool of blood seen, but McDonald says it was his.

This same day, Dr. Charles Littman conducts the autopsy on Moar, with RCMP in attendance. More on this below.

July 14: RCMP execute two search warrants — two days after Moar’s death. One is for the crime scene and another for a vehicle outside the old folks home.

McDonald’s dad also gives a statement. It was his home where Moar died. He says he had been sitting outside with the couple and others as they drank rye and Labatt’s Lite beer. While McDonald and Moar were outside, they appeared to be fine, not fighting. He says Moar went inside first, followed by McDonald. “It was still daylight,” when they went in, he says.

Another man present at the table also says the couple “seemed to be fine.” He says he, a woman and another man left around 9 p.m. on July 11.

Harvey tells the court: As in so many violent cases, the description of the crime scene has varied widely. “It has been the source of several unfortunate rumours throughout the community as to people having cleaned up the scene. It’s obvious, I think, from the photographs taken by the community constable and the police that very little, if anything was done to clean up the scene and there’s significant evidence of a fight and trauma apparent from the photographs.”

He then tells court a database check shows McDonald had been charged with assault with a weapon in 2008 with respect to a suspected attack on Moar. “Ultimately that allegation went nowhere as she declined to testify. So no conviction arising from that.” The allegation was McDonald had hit Moar with a bottle in the head. At the time of her death, he was also wanted in Calgary where he was charged for mischief but skipped out on court. He has no convictions whatsoever, Harvey tells Cummings.

Harvey then moves on to the findings of Dr. Littman’s autopsy.

Littman found “multiple layers of trauma all over the entire body, primarily the head and face.”

  • 27 areas of trauma to her head
  • 18 to her torso
  • 11 to her upper limbs
  • 14 to her lower limbs
  • 14 to her hands, with some described as “offensive” wounds from her fighting back.

The degree of force, Littman found, was at the “severe” end — missing the mark on the “extreme” end of the spectrum because her skull wasn’t fractured.

Her head injuries were consistent of being struck with fists or the open heels of hands. She also has “linear abrasions” on her body “suggestive of dragging of the body,” Harvey says. Her liver had a small laceration.

She had sustained a large “acute” subdural haemorrhage which was attributed as the cause of death. It’s possible a hit in the head with the heel of the hand caused it. The pathologist also found a prior subdural haemorrhage which had “resolved naturally.”

A toxicology report found significant levels of alcohol consumption and traces of cocaine and marijuana in Moar’s blood.

Having presented the autopsy findings, Harvey then moves to the point: “We know there has been previous incidents of violence,” he says, telling Cummings that several people RCMP spoke to in the investigation recalled seeing Moar in the community showing “signs of trauma” and sometimes seeking shelter “briefly.”

“All of which of course — the nature of the relationship begs the question as how someone could do this to someone they supposedly love is beyond comprehension to most people. In our society … and I’m sure the court would agree — this is unfortunately an all too common event that leads to tragic results.” Their dysfunctional relationship and substance abuse fuelled the tragedy, Harvey said.

He then moved on to talk about the Criminal Code sentencing objective as set out in 718 [e]:

“To provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community.”

This was unlikely to happen here in this case, Harvey suggested.

“There is nothing that will happen here today that will make up for the sense of loss ….”

He then presented the aggravating factors of the case: Spousal abuse being the first and most concerning. He pointed to 718.2 [ii] as a statutory aggravating factor:

“(ii) evidence that the offender, in committing the offence, abused the offender’s spouse or common-law partner,”

He then pointed to factors in mitigation for McDonald, restating his lack of prior criminal record and the fact he pleaded guilty.

The Crown then went on to talk about the “extreme distrust” and “animosity” Moar’s family has of the system, noting how an altercation at the conclusion of the preliminary hearing required extra security to be brought in for the cancelled trial and sentencing.

They may not recognize the criminal justice system is a “place of last resort,” Hervey said.

“We deal with events after they have happened and that the criminal justice system cannot undo what has been done. And that the prevention of similar tragedies begins in the home as well as society generally. Where and when it works, there’s no need for the criminal justice system,” he said.

Still, he told Cummings, we must still try to do what’s possible within the law. He then relays the joint recommendation of five years, saying it’s within the range of sentences when Gladue factors are accounted for.

THE DEFENCE

Lawyer Roberta Campbell noted McDonald had only elected to have a trial given the nature of the abusive relationship he and Moar shared.

It wasn’t just a “one-sided” volatility — “but in fact bent both ways,” she said. Campbell noted how McDonald had once had one of his tattoos bitten off by Moar in a fight and also had been attacked by her to the point he needed stitches on his head and legs.

“It was just an incredibly volatile, violent and unfortunately, (a) relationship based around substance abuse … it really is a tragedy, a really great tragedy.”

McDonald’s version of their final fight was again put forward: He says the fight began as verbal, he tried to leave and she held on to him and a fistfight broke out. “this was a fight, a brawl .. initially he was trying to extract himself from the situation and it deteriorated.”

After making up, they were getting along again. Campbell noted how he ran for help, didn’t run from and co-operated with police. “He didn’t run away. He was completely forthright about what happened,” she said. McDonald wanted to plead guilty “immediately” he felt so bad — but agreed not to on legal advice to wait until the medical reports were in and what the cause of death was.

“It was obviously one of the slaps (that killed her), it was hard,” she says.

Campbell reiterated how he was just 23 when it happened. McDonald, born and raised in Crane River, was granted bail and was released to the Teen Challenge program for 18 months. His troubles with alcohol led him back to the streets — where in Winnipeg he was stabbed in the face, and needed 40 stitches. McDonald also faced bail breach charges, which he was set to deal with after the manslaughter sentencing was over.

“When he does mess up, it’s always with alcohol,” Campbell said.

Offered a chance to speak, McDonald indicated he was at a loss for words. He said he was happy the matter was getting dealt with.

“I’ve waited a long time for this time to come,” he said.

———

We know what the court decided, so I won’t repeat it.

I want to be clear: None of this is meant as a criticism of the Crown, the court or the other players involved in resolving this case. It bears repeating Harvey’s comment from above, because I agree with him. I’m also not presenting it to play up the horrific violence Moar was subjected to.

“We deal with events after they have happened and that the criminal justice system cannot undo what has been done. And that the prevention of similar tragedies begins in the home as well as society generally. Where and when it works, there’s no need for the criminal justice system.”

But I’m honestly trying to consider the evidence as presented to determine how five years was arrived at. I don’t know what to think about it. It’s clear Moar’s family isn’t happy with the result, and others too are questioning what message the sentence sends.

But aside from that, there’s other important questions here too.

Such as: What intervention and resources were available to Moar given the remote and tiny — and clearly tight-knit — community in which she and McDonald lived? If others saw her bruised and battered time and again, was there something they should or could have done? This isn’t the first domestic homicide case in recent memory where a paucity of resources was a factor to consider.

As well, there’s obvious questions about the remoteness of RCMP from this community, which may have played a role in the evidence-gathering and investigative process. How is a band constable with limited training supposed to handle a homicide scene in a community where he’s likely to be slammed for playing the heavy, if he/she should do that?

Members of Moar’s family have an “acrimonious” view of the justice system and no faith it would fulfil its purpose Why is that? What can be done to fix it, if anything?

These are just a few of the questions which this case brings to mind for me.

Maybe they’re ones Manitoba’s Domestic Violence Death Review Committee might undertake to examine.

Chris Campbell: Another tragic case of under-resourced mental health/criminal justice services?

Christoper Mackenzie Campbell
(Christoper Mackenzie Campbell/WPS)

While many facts remain yet to be proven or tested, it’s pretty clear something appears to have gone horribly wrong with Christopher Mackenzie Campbell.

Campbell, at age 42, currently stands accused in Winnipeg’s latest homicide — believed to be that of a relative, possibly his mother — in a home on Alexander Avenue this weekend.

It was a rare situation in which police believe Campbell left the city in a family vehicle which is linked to the victim, one located just outside of Regina on Sunday. Campbell made his way into that city and was taken into custody downtown.

He was to be returned to Winnipeg forthwith.

Court records show a charge of second-degree murder is pending. The victim’s identity, including her age, has not been released.

Police this weekend said the following in announcing they were looking for him:

“Campbell has been treated for a mental illness in the past.

Information has been received that he has not been taking his medications as required.

Caution should be used if approached by Campbell as his behaviour may be unpredictable and he may be violent.”

I fear Campbell’s case may end up being another of those sad ones which seem to crop up each and every year.

Those ones where justice system efforts to assist and supervise ultimately clash, fizzle or peter out due to the poor state of urgent mental-health related resources in Manitoba, a pressing topic I only recently wrote about.

In any event, some background:

An incident in summer 2008 ultimately seemed to force Campbell’s hand to seek out help for his issues.

His lawyer at the time called his arrest at that time “a blessing in disguise” as Campbell may not have been diagnosed or sought help if it hadn’t happened.

It was on July 6, 2008 that Campbell approached a total stranger — a landscaper from Shelmerdine garden centre — outside Campbell’s apartment block at 400 Assiniboine Avenue.

He walked up to the gardener and asked him not to use any “power equipment” on the lot — a request to which the victim says he must use a power blower to do his job.

“If you use any power equipment, I’m going to get a sniper rifle and shoot you in the head,” Campbell replied.

He also tossed the glass of water he was holding at the landscaper.

The bizarre threat was overheard by an independent witness.

Police are called, they arrive quickly. Campbell declines to speak with a lawyer while in their custody.

But in his time with police he makes several other concerning comments, including how the interviewing officers seem like “dolphins out of water,” that “he’s a nice guy, almost God-like” and that one officer’s badge number, “is similar to the Mayan’s calendar that adds three years.”

He pleads guilty to a count of uttering threats. An assault charge is stayed.

The Crown agrees to recommend a conditional discharge after learning Campbell — a father to two teenagers — took it upon himself to seek out mental-health help following his arrest.

At the time of his February 2009 sentencing, court was told he was under the care of a psychiatrist and occupational therapist at the HSC’s PsychHealth centre, having checked himself in there for a time.

He was diagnosed with what was described as “mild” schizophrenia.

“It turns out that his mother also has schizophrenia … so perhaps it’s hereditary,” Judge Marvin Garfinkel is told.

At the time, Campbell was unemployed, but volunteering at the HSC in its “spiritual assistance department.”

The former co-owner of the long-then-defunct Rogue’s Gallery on Assiniboine [less than a block from his home at the time] was due to have a first outpatient appointment at PsychHealth five days after his court date.

He was to see the psychiatrist and therapist bi-weekly.

Garfinkel ordered Campbell to serve a year of probation, with a central condition being for him to to comply with the treatment as directed by his doctor. That could include to take medication as directed, Garfinkel said.

Campbell readily agreed to follow the program and conditions the probation order set out for him.

“I’m here today of my own freewill, under your mercy,” Campbell told Garfinkel in a clear, unconfused voice.

“And I just wanted to say … I’ve witnessed for the first time now how the court system works, and, you’re offering a lot of grace today, and I just want to say, ‘thank you,’ for that.”

There are no breaches of the probation order recorded in the provincial court system — and Campbell had no apparent prior or proceeding record of involvement with the law.

From uttering threats to an allegation of murder. It’s absolutely tragic for everyone involved.

While our police have said little about their homicide case — which at first glance seems just a hair’s breadth from a domestic violence killing — They did make it clear Campbell appeared to be off his meds at the time.

It’s too early to make any observations of whether gaps between the justice and mental-health systems are in any way to be faulted or was a factor in the killing.

But the fact is, from early appearances of the case, Campbell was known to be a risk — and at risk — when not on his meds.

His probation was only one year long, so who knows how long he may have been off of them, or off of the radar of the system entirely.

Those answers may come in due course as Campbell’s latest interaction with the system plays out. He’s naturally presumed innocent of the charge he’s facing.

But after years of seeing eerily similar cases, my mind can’t help but wonder: Was this tragedy in any way preventable?

Was there something we as a society could have done to ensure it never happened?

Is under-resourced mental health care and supervision again the grey elephant in a gloomy room?

Stay tuned.

Links:

[Must read] Mental Health Commission of Canada: Mental Health and the Law

CMHA: Mental Health and the justice system in BC 

Stats Can: An investigation into data collection between Mental Health and Criminal Justice Systems

National Post: Mental Health system turning prisons into asylums

Manitoba Justice: Proof that the system works

 

(Winnipeg's Old Law Courts Building)
(Winnipeg’s Old Law Courts Building)

Good news stories out of Manitoba’s criminal courts can be few and far between, if media reports and public sentiment are any indication.

But it’s easy to lose sight sometimes that mixed in with all the misery and gloom — in fact, sometimes mixed directly in the midst of it — there’s proof that our court system is not only functioning, but working well.

Last week’s trial of Adelord Campbell is proof. (Articles from days one and two are here and here)

Let me explain.

Campbell, a repeat violent offender with an apparently awful drinking problem which fuels his criminality, isn’t the type to garner much sympathy from the public. He readily admitted last week he has a lengthy criminal record littered with violent acts.

Also, on the day he was arrested for the matter which brought him in front of Judge John Guy, he fully concedes he picked up an $80 welfare cheque after waking up late in the afternoon at a shelter last July 13, cashed it, and went out bar hopping along Main Street, despite being on probation.

Drinking a few here, a few there until he found himself in cuffs near the entrance to the Northern Hotel at Jarvis and Main.

Most people would see a character like Campbell coming towards them, turn the other way and probably run.

But, as the point of this is, that matters little when it comes to his case — one where it became pretty apparent pretty quickly there was (cough) reasonable doubt when the conduct of his accusers were put under the microscope.

I won’t relay the full facts of the 1.5 days of evidence here, but needless to say, there was a ring of some truth to his story of self defence; that he was in fact, the victim of a group who may have seen him flash some cash and pulled a meat cleaver on him in an effort to rob him — a bid which turned sour after the alleged main aggressor dropped the weapon and allowed Campbell to attempt to ward off their unwanted advances after he snatched it up.

When the cops showed up, all they saw was Campbell waving a cleaver around in a dangerous fashion with the three ‘victims’ backed up against the wall. Cops didn’t ask too many questions — quite possibly because one of the three didn’t want to stick around to give a formal statement. Also, Campbell was in no state to try and explain what he believed happened.

Anyohow: the real story here is that Campbell — again, the description ‘low-life’ comes to mind — got a full and vigorous defence as advanced by defence lawyer Sarah Murdoch, an up-and-coming litigator who’s fairly new on the scene.

Murdoch’s defence of Campbell was laudable in many respects — not least of which was the fact she was ultra-professional and clearly well-prepared to advance a believable alternate theory of the case, as well as unafraid to go after those testifying when their answers were unclear or had a ring of convenience.

On the other side of the courtroom was Crown Attorney Cindy Sholdice, a veteran Manitoba Justice prosecutor responsible for putting some of Manitoba’s most heinous criminals behind bars — sometimes for good.

Also coming across as polished and prepared, Sholdice’s presentation of the Crown’s case against Campbell most importantly appeared exactly as all public prosecutions should: Unscrupulously fair.

I’ll give you an example: A key piece of evidence in the case was a 911 call made as the fracas between Campbell and the trio broke out. Made by an independent caller, it cast great doubt that Campbell was the aggressor.

Now, Sholdice could have made a pre-trial motion to have the 911 call thrown out, possibly for lack of reliability or as hearsay evidence. Instead, she fully conceded Campbell should be able to present the call to the court for fairness’ sake.

In the middle of it all was Judge Guy, who’s known to be a no-nonsense type when it comes to handing down sentences on convicted criminals. Watching him throughout the two-day trial, Guy was attentive, dealt with issues in a common-sense way and ultimately delivered a fair verdict: Not guilty on two of the questionable assault with weapon counts, but guilty on one where Campbell clearly crossed the line by punching a woman much smaller than him.

In his decision, delivered swiftly, Guy didn’t directly deal with the issue of who provoked who, but it seemed apparent he was left in doubt about who was telling the truth.  Convicting Campbell for using excessive force in punching the woman was entirely reasonable in the circumstances.

All of this is just a long way of saying this: If people like Adelord Campbell are seen to get a fair shake, then the courts system is clearly doing something right. 

All of this is also aside from the fact there were no great delays in having Campbell’s matter tried — no prelim to slow the pace of resolution down nor a slew of pre-trial motions.

I’ll take good news where I can get it.

-30-

A further example of youth jails as child-welfare warehouses, or the girl who became a hot potato

Screen Shot 2013-03-27 at 10.56.14 PMAs a golden rule, Canada’s youth criminal justice system is not to be used as a substitute for the child-welfare system.

But it happens. And it happens here in Manitoba. And it happens for a lot of reasons.

Apparent lethagy by social-services and other government agencies stretched beyond thin in terms of resources is among them.

Sometimes, it appears it’s ineptitude.

Other times, maybe the problem presented is too complex for the system to handle with what’s available in terms of resources.

Today, a concerning case came to light in youth court. Concerning in a systemic sense.

It involves a troubled 13-year-old girl, a permanent ward of an aboriginal CFS agency who is a young person who is clearly in need of specialized treatment and assistance due to her cognitive and behavioural problems.

For weeks, she’s been sitting in custody at the Manitoba Youth Centre despite everyone agreeing she could be released on bail.

The problem, as I came to see it: nobody appears able to figure out whose problem she is.

There were few answers to this today, even with two CFS workers subpoenaed to be there in hopes of getting to the bottom of the issue.

Ultimately, they weren’t asked to utter a word.

Here’s what’s happening.

In December, she was placed on a probation order by Judge Mary Kate Harvie.

One of the conditions of that order — and this is key — was that she “reside as directed by the provincial director [of youth corrections]” but specifically states she is not to be placed in an emergency CFS placement hotel room.

Remember this. It’s key to what’s coming below.

She’s released, but breaches by the end of January and is brought back into custody at the Manitoba Youth Centre. A bail conference is held and a placement for her is ‘arranged’ at a specialized group home. That placement fails to materialize and it may never.

Because there’s no placement there, she’s still being held in a jail, in my view, illegally and unethically.

Her case — and the one immediately prior where another lawyer was requesting a subpoena for CFS workers who were utterly unresponsive to calls for information about her juvenile client — set Judge Marvin Garfinkel off on one of his famous rants.

Unfortunately, much of it was directed at the girl’s defence lawyer. While I don’t necessarily agree with his approach, Garfinkel — a stickler as a youth court judge when it comes to following the legislation [gasp!] — had a lot of interesting things to say.

Garfinkel himself authorized her release with consent of the Crown on March 15. But she’s still there, in a jail. CFS, it appears, is unable to find another place for her for an unknown reason.

And the provincial director of youth corrections? Nobody in court even seems to know who that is, exactly.

Here’s the lengthy discussion which took place today, mostly verbatim where appropriate.

Garfinkel, to defence lawyer: What have you done to get the agency to find a placement?

[There’s then some discussion of whether the Children’s Advocate’s office is involved. It is. She’s been appointed an advocate, who wasn’t in court today to, you know, advocate, for her. ]

Garfinkel, to lawyer: Why not make a motion to compel the agency to do what it’s supposed to do [in the Court of Queen’s Bench]? “The agency is supposed to step in when when children are in need of protection. The agency has a responsibility to provide a place of appropriate shelter … Judge Harvie has mandated that a hotel is not an appropriate shelter … so consequently, somebody has to find her a proper place.”

Then Garfinkel’s attention turns from CFS to the mysterious “provincial director” as named in the probation order, and we start to get down to what may be the real issue.

“Why isn’t the provincial director finding a placement? You mean in the whole province of Manitoba there isn’t one proper placement that would be willing to accept this child? I’m not going to believe that.”

Lawyer: I have difficulty believing that as well.

Garfinkel: Then do something.

The judge then spoke of how with the advent of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, it forbid jails from becoming warehouses for kids due to CFS-related concerns.

Garfinkel: “This detention facility is not longer a place of shelter for child-welfare recipients … It used to be called the Child Welfare Act and agencies had to look after the welfare of young people — as it was determined that putting young people in this detention facility — which is designed for young offenders — is not appropriate for young people in need of care and treatment. So they go someplace else.”

It’s not good, Garfinkel said, to have criminals mingled with kids simply in need of care.

They pick up certain skills and habits and mindsets that young people shouldn’t have.

Then it appears the judge realizes he’s coming close to falling into a trap he should avoid for a host of sound reasons: that is, he’s becoming the de facto advocate for the girl. His voice booms.

“I’m not advocating for this young person. What I’m trying to do is stimulate counsel to be adversarial. Don’t sit back and tell me the problem. I can’t solve it today. But you can take steps to try and get a solution.

I’m yelling. I apologize. I allowed my emotions to get involved. I’m going to take a breath and speak lower …

What you have to do [defence lawyer] is take steps. You, defence counsel for this young person, have to take steps.

You make motions, you write the Children’s Advocate — is the agency [Island Lake CFS] — governed by the Northern Authority or the Southern Authority? (It’s the northern) … then get them involved. The Northern Authority is supposed to supervise individual agencies.

Look. The Child and Family Services are under a microscope right not as a result of the Sinclair inquiry. They don’t need nor do they want any bad publicity.

You file a motion in the appropriate court — the newspapers check for the list of the filings every day. 

[Not necessarily true for child-protection or youth matters as we have limited access but…]

The agency will get moving. But the agency — as I understand what you told me — doesn’t have control of this matter. What you told me is that the probation order says that she is to reside as directed by the provincial director. The provincial director has control.

Lawyer: I think strictly speaking, that is correct but I would suggest … pragmatically the provincial director takes their lead from the agency’s suggestion.

Garfinkel: I don’t accept that. Look at what Parliament did in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Compare it to the old Young Offender’s Act and the even older Juvenile Delinquent’s Act — Parliament completely differentiated the criminal from the civil and child protection. At one time they were all mixed together. They didn’t know what it was.

That’s no longer the case. When Parliament says the provincial director — who is a criminal justice official — has a role to play in the placement of this child, that supersedes the guardian responsibility of an agency.

It has to. For the limited time that the criminal justice system has control over this young person’s life. You have to get the actors acting. What do you want me to do today?

Lawyer: We have no placement for [her]

Garfinkel: That’s not acceptable. The Crown is not showing cause for detention except to the extent that she has a residence.

Lawyer: A bail conference was called and suggestions made for her placement. We could call another, but “at this point, the agency has provided no options except …”

Garfinkel: Based on the information you’ve provided me, it’s not up to CFS to provide a placement. Do you want me to ignore Judge Harvie’s order?

Lawyer: No.

Garfinkel: I’m not going to reverse it or change it … so then comply with it. If we were talking in a back room, I wouldn’t use polite language. The provincial director has to get up off his chair, or her chair and find a placement. You can’t ignore Judge Harvie’s order. How can you do that?

Lawyer: It’s not an effort to ignore Judge Harvie’s order …

Garfinkel: Well then, why isn’t the provincial director providing a placement? There has to be a placement. If not, make a motion in the appropriate tribunal. It’s adversarial.

Lawyer: Of course.

Garfinkel: Is the Crown taking a position on this?

[An audible deep sigh is heard in the court — it’s unclear if this emerged from the Crown.]

Garfinkel: As I understand it, the Crown is consenting to release provided there’s an appropriate placement.

Crown attorney: That is our — yes.

Garfinkel: So I would have thought an appropriate placement would have been found the day after Judge Harvie made the order. Who disobeys a court order?

Lawyer: She hasn’t been in custody that long, Your Honour.

Garfinkel: I don’t care.

Lawyer: She has been in custody for longer than I would think is appropriate, but she hasn’t been in custody since the day that the order was put in place. She was released initially.

Garfinkel: [Mr. Lawyer,] I have to tell you, I’m very naive. When I was practising law, when a judge gave an order  – I don’t care if it was from the provincial court, the Court of Queen’s Bench or the Court of Appeal — if a judge made an order, we busted our backs — If I was talking to you privately, I might use different words — but we would bust our backs to comply with that order.

Now, the provincial director works with the criminal justice system. How can the provincial director ignore Judge Harvie’s order?

Did the provincial director make a motion on his or her own behalf to say, ‘Hey, we can’t comply with this order, Judge Harvie, please change it. Is there any such motion?

Lawyer: No.

Garfinkel: So get the provincial director to do his or her job. Why are these two people [the subpoenaed CFS workers] sitting in court? You want me to yell at them?

Lawyer: No. I’m not suggesting that.

Garfinkel: Good. Because I’m not going to. I’m yelling at you.

[The discussion continues along the same vein for a bit…]

Garfinkel: Who is the provincial director? That person should be in the courtroom. Why isn’t that person — I’m not using the word contempt – but I’m (still wondering) why isn’t’ the order being complied with. What’s the answer?

Lawyer: I don’t know.

Garfinkel: Well you should know. Do you know who the provincial director is?

Lawyer: I do not.

Garfinkel: Why not? Isn’t that — I have to say I’m a little bit frustrated inside. Just before, we dealt with another case where it seems things aren’t going smoothly. But it’s adversarial. You’ve got to fight.

Lawyer: I appreciate that.

Garfinkel: [Remands the case for one day.] We’ll see what happens then. Thank you. And thank you for the opportunity to vent.

—-

So, what can we take away from the above?

Reflecting on it, I see Garfinkel wasn’t haranguing the lawyer per se, but imparting wisdom: Fight. Advocate. Even embarrass the powers that be, if necessary, into doing something.

The lawyer — who I’ve seen take on a number of tough cases for clients and duke them out in court in the recent past — may be newer to the profession, but he’s anything but lazy.

But from my perspective — that of a concerned member of the lowly public, there’s so much more to this exchange.

You can take away from it what you will.

But how is it at all right in any way that this one officer of the court has to go to such lengths to force powerful government agencies into upholding the law and doing what’s ordered of them in the first place?

At the end of the day, it was he, the defence lawyer, present in court, accompanied by two child-protection workers there under force of a subpoena, in hopes of seeing some action on the case.

The provincial director of youth corrections, whomever that may be (curious how nobody knows), or his or her agent, certainly wasn’t.

And the girl? Just a factor, a sad variable in a massive machine which, to her, likely seems more like a system of hot potato then one of actual justice.

CFS can’t act because it’s the provincial director’s problem to act on, but many are under the impression that his/her office takes its lead from CFS.

And in the end, it falls to the courts to sort out the mess, but judicial orders get countermanded or ignored and nobody cares.

And we wonder why kids wind up returning time and again to youth jails, and then adult prisons?

-30-