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]

Child-protection “a safety net, not a drag net” Queensland child-welfare a Manitoba mirror

(Phoenix Sinclair)
(Phoenix Sinclair)

As players in Manitoba’s Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry prepare to return to hearings later this month to present their final submissions to Commissioner Ted Hughes, a sweeping review of child-protection in the Australian state of Queensland has wrapped up with a full report on problems and solutions now in the hands of government.

From even just  brief reading of the report [presented in full below], those involved in the PSI would do well to give it full, close reading.

It seems there’s an uncanny wealth of analogies to be made between their situation and the one Manitoba’s in.

Some quick excerpts:

1) “The enduring net effect of the implementation of recommendations from previous inquiries has been a systemic shift towards statutory child protection. This shift has been reinforced by a growing risk-averse culture in the department that promotes a forensic, rather than therapeutic, approach to child protection. Instead of investing in family support and other secondary services, departmental funds since 2000 have been directed to meeting the ever-increasing demand on the tertiary system.”

2) “According to most of the indicators currently used by policy makers to measure activities designed to safeguard vulnerable children, Queensland’s child protection system is under mounting stress. Over the last decade:

  • the number of child protection intakes has tripled (from 33,697 in 2001–02 to 114,503 in 2011–12)
  • the number of children in out-of-home care has more than doubled (from 3,257 in 2002 to 7,999 in 2012)
  • the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care has tripled (from 12 children per 1,000 population in care in 2002 to 42 per 1,000 in care in 2012)
  • children in care are staying there for longer periods (with an increase in the proportion of children exiting care after one year or more from 38 per cent in 2001– 02 to 64 per cent in 2011–12).

In addition, while caseloads for child protection workers have fallen in recent years, they are still exceeding a manageable and sustainable level, and lifetime prospects for children leaving the care system continue to be poor.

Community concern about this unsatisfactory state of affairs led to the current government making an election commitment to review the child protection system with a view to finding the best possible outcomes for our most vulnerable children and their families.

3) “[T]he Commission is convinced by the argument (backed up by evidence) that wherever possible it is better for the child to stay at home — better for the child, better for the family and better for society as a whole. By supporting parents, we not only keep families together but we give parents an opportunity to contribute to their community.

Queensland’s situation is not unique. Similar problems can be found throughout Australia and across the western world. However, Queensland’s fiscal situation has made it imperative that it find out what is causing the system to malfunction, and to identify an affordable remedy.

I note of interest the title of the massive Queensland report: “Taking responsibility.”

I’ll be reading it in full with great interest. July 22 is the date the PSI is due to be back in session.

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.

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Dope-dealing kids and perpetuating the false promise of gang life

ImageWhen an adult gets pinched for possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, he’s more than likely envisioning prison time as the picture of what his future will look like, for better or for worse.

A juvenile? Not so much.

That’s even when convicted of multiple counts of trafficking an incredibly addictive drug known for its violent spinoffs and contribution to social decay.

That was evident today during a sentencing for a 16-year-old Mad Cowz gang member who pleaded guilty to not one, but two counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking crack since last fall, along with a joyriding charge and several breaches — many of which had to do with his persistence in handing around with other Mad Cowz.

Mad Cowz have been in the news a fair amount as of late, largely because of a recent police project which took down 10 members of the gang’s so-called “hierarchy.”

If memory serves, five of the 10 were youths. The teen in question was not one of those picked up in Project Recall.

(The project’s work began in earnest — perhaps co-incidentally, perhaps not — after a Mad Cowz-linked fatal shooting of a rival B-Side gang member in a late-night restaurant in February.)

In any event: the teen sentenced today has been out of custody on bail for all but the last few weeks.

In one trafficking charge, he was nabbed Oct. 28 by eagle-eyed cops on Ellice avenue with a garbage bag with 27 rocks of crack inside it after the youth was seen trying to pitch it, and then going back for it when he thought the cops stopped watching.

He also had $260 cash on him. He’s arrested, released from the youth jail but back in, briefly, by Nov. 15, when he breached curfew and was tracked down with the help of a K9 dog and the police chopper.

And then, most recently, he is picked up again May 21 after being spotted on Beverly Street in the company of one of the Project Recall youth suspects, one who was granted bail after his arrest in the project [also a youth].

This time, he’s nabbed holding 16 rocks of crack and $135 cash and a cell phone.

The teen has no record. Therefore, his sentence was pretty much written in stone the minute he started seeking a Crown position: Two years of supervised probation and a relatively stern talking-to by the judge who cautioned him of what he’d be facing if he was just two years older, and how he didn’t believe the offender when he says he was preyed upon by other Mad Cowz members to take part in the gang.

At the end of the day, we have to wrestle with how this sentence in any way stops him from trafficking again, forces him to take the justice system seriously.

It mystifies me, personally.

(And lest we misplace blame, it’s the Youth Criminal Justice Act which really determines how it all shakes out, not the judge nor the lawyers).

And it’s not that I feel he’s getting off light. It’s just that he’s shown he can’t comply on bail, so I question what good a punishment of probation in the community will do for him — and for us.

I also wonder about the message the sentence sends the gang’s higher-ups, who are watching closely how the system reacts to what they’re doing.

That crack doesn’t just come from nowhere.

The revolving door of youths being effectively used by adult offenders to do their dirty work can’t close if the head honchos are perpetually told that the penalties are so light.

The false promise of gang life will continue to be sold.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lulonda Flett: The early years

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

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

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

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

Who knows what it was like in 1971.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phase two: A portrait of Flett as a young woman 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But ‘Mr. Nice’ wasn’t to last.

1310730736747_ORIGINAL“They used to call me raccoon eyes”

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

Around this time things started to get ugly for her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But now her drinking, it didn’t stop.

It just got worse.

2009-10: a new beginning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I wish it was me who died.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nearly two years sober, now

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

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

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

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

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

She needs help, Somers ultimately finds.

Also, she’s no psychopath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m just not so sure.

Some parting words of forgiveness

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you and take care

–Marie Anderson

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

Edited post-posting to clean up typos.

-30-

Phoenix in hindsight: Two Reviews

 

(Phoenix Sinclair)
(Phoenix Sinclair)

Not a ton to say today, but simply wanted to alert PSI followers to the fact the good folks on the inquiry staff have put into the public record in full a number of different reviews and reports which were conducted into Phoenix’s death after it was discovered.

Reading them top to bottom gives you a good sense of the serious issues Child and Family Services and their clients dealt with in the pre and just-post “devolution” phase, and, naturally, the quality of case work and decision-making conducted in Phoenix’s sad case.

What I’ve found most interesting is the marked difference in tone between the two reports.

One was conducted by a commissioned child-protection expert from Ontario, Andrew Koster, and co-written Billie Schibler.

The other, also written by a veteran social worker — Jan Christianson-Wood — was authored for Manitoba Justice/ the Medical Examiner’s Office.

Read them and you’ll see what I mean about tone. Koster’s, while insightful, appears far less blunt in assessing the quality of CFS work.

In any event, it’s fascinating stuff — rare and in[hind]sightful looks at Phoenix’s case and her interactions with the CFS system.

It also bears remembering that these reviews were not shared with workers involved in Phoenix’s case. By and large they only saw them — and then only in bits — in their preparation for the inquiry.

Virtually all, to my memory, said they wished they had been.

I tend to agree they should have been disclosed to them — and to the public too, at least in some form.

More to come on this at a later date.

Reliving unnecessary horror, or why McKay’s sons should not have been called

(The bland-looking home where Phoenix Sinclair was tortured and murdered)
(The bland-looking Fisher River home where Phoenix Sinclair was tortured and murdered)

I hear you when you say your family’s broken … what this has done to you. — Commissioner Ted Hughes

There was absolutely no need for the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry staff to put Karl McKay’s sons on the witness stand today.

And even having his ex-wife (a McKay domestic-abuse survivor) testifying today was questionable, save for the fact she says she notified Chid and Family Services of potential abuse to Phoenix long before the McKay-Kematch house of cards coming down on top of them in March 2006.

For the inquiry’s sake, she needed to be questioned on this point. That’s fair game.

But the fact there were few cross-examination questions for the McKay “boys” from non-inquiry lawyers [In fact not a single query for child the elder] is telling.

This is just my respectful opinion: There was virtually nothing McKay’s sons had to offer this inquiry which couldn’t have been tendered through affidavit evidence, sparing them the stress of reliving in public the horror they’ve experienced and already testified to in court in 2008.

This became clear to me pretty quickly. These are two now-young adult men who’ve been rocked to the core by what they’ve been forced to live through, through no fault of their own.

And the one likely the most directly affected, McKay son the younger — the eyewitness to a lot of the horror Phoenix went through in a supposedly “tight-knit” Fisher River community which apparently failed to notice she was even around — was clearly terrified by the prospect of being pilloried in the public eye for not speaking up sooner about what he saw than he did.

“Can I make a statement,” the 20-year-old asked at the conclusion of his hour-long direct examination by commission counsel.

Yes, said Commissioner Hughes. The young man had a message for the media in the room — of which there was more than has been usual.

Can I ask you reporters – don’t try to make me sound like the baddest guy on earth?

I read the paper, you guys make it sound bad – you guys make it sound horrible. I couldn’t help it, man.

That’s like the only thing I ask — just don’t make it sound like I’m really bad and terrible, Because I already feel bad. Now that I’m older I feel, like, so terrible and it’s bad enough that you guys are bringing this all back to me and I got all these little memories flashing in my head.

I just want to forget all that.

And without a doubt, we should be doing everything we can to help these young men get past this. Commissioner Hughes even graciously pledged to McKay’s ex to help as much as he could.

What child the younger witnessed basically ruined his life, he said.

“Where do I start?,” he asked when lead commission lawyer Sherri Walsh queried how the Phoenix incident has affected him:

“I’m a pretty fucked up person now. … used to be a good kid … all of it’s gone like that (he snaps his fingers a few times).” He said he turned to drugs, booze and crime to “block out what I seen.” “(I’m) trying to get my life back together,” he told Hughes. “(It) made me a terrible person,” he said.

His brother’s no different: “I think it made me more like my dad, because I get — when I rage, I can do some damage,” he said.

They were just kids when Phoenix died. Not paid social-work professionals or community vanguards.

Mere children who came from not very much and now saddled forever with the burden of what their odious father did.

The younger son won’t even call him his father, saying he prefers “Wesley” or “Karl.”

If there was one thing their testimony did accomplish, it was to further cement for commissioner Hughes the culture of fear they, and others in their positions, lived in.

  • Fear of Karl McKay, their violent and vengeful father (their dad) — and what he might do if they ratted on him.
  • Fear of the child-welfare system [both boys were apparently scared when Intertribal CFS workers turned up to ‘rescue’ them in July 2005]
  • Fear of the media and public scorn — of being cast as villains in this horrific tale.

It’s been many torturous weeks since Rohan Stephenson testified at this now-$10-million inquiry.

But it was his words that really gave the most insight into what the major problem was when it comes to considering Phoenix’s case.

“So I was a liar, and (CFS) were incompetent and 15,000 other circumstances all came together and now Phoenix is dead,” he said Dec. 6.

The more I reflect on this, the more simple dissecting Phoenix’s pathetic voyage through ‘the system’ becomes. It really boils down to this:

CFS can’t do its job if people won’t come forward with information, for whatever reasons — including their fear of ‘the system.’

At the same time, when CFS was given information about Phoenix, it failed to rate much attention or urgency until it was too late.

Putting McKay’s sons on the stand today, in my humble opinion, takes us really no further in solving this dichotomy.

We knew all along what they had to say, and by now, we probably instinctively know what it is we’re really confronting here.

We’re no further along today as a result of McKay’s sons’ testimony.

-30-

Bits at the end of a long, newsy week Part 1 — Phoenix

Screen Shot 2012-12-01 at 8.13.14 PMFrom the stunning turns of events in Boston and Texas to, locally, the provincial budget and the government’s plan to hike of the PST as of July, it’s been a hell of a week for news.

(Great blog on the budget here, BTW. h/t Cherenkov. I appreciate honesty too.)

But on top of emerging craziness, the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry resumed witness testimony after several weeks off, partly due to the delay caused by perceptions of conflict.

And while the evidence heard this week was at times disturbing and concerning (Cpl. Rob Baker’s testimony, along Alison Kakewash’s hit me personally like a ton of bricks), I’ve been turning my mind more often lately to what Commissioner Hughes could be making of it all.

As we approach what’s sure to be the gloomy end of Phase 1 on Tuesday or Wednesday, it strikes me there are two nuts-and-bolts recommendations Hughes could make today to fulfil his mandate to help better protect Manitoba kids.

Technology

This been a frequent underlying issue at the hearings so far. An old Child and Family Services database (CFSIS) limping along. Lack of consistent Internet access for CFS agencies outside major centres. That lack of infrastructure leading to a ‘why bother’ kind of attitude from workers, leading, in turn, to a lack of due diligence in doing things like Prior Contact Checks — the very thing which could have “changed everything” in Phoenix’s case. I’m reasonably sure Hughes has turned his mind several times now to the technology issue. There’s no reason in this day and age all communities shouldn’t have proper access to the CFS computer system. We can put infrastructure in remote areas to ensure VLT/Casino data is accessed daily. Surely we can do the same for child-welfare services.

Last fall, the Auditor General specifically noted that the province has been slow to implement a number of key recommendations dating back to a 2006 CFS audit — and electronic case management and tracking was among them. So obviously the powers that be are aware of the problem.

The Auditor General noted a plan to completely replace the CFSIS system stalled in 2009 and by time of writing hadn’t had an update:

Screen Shot 2013-04-20 at 6.34.47 PM
(From Fall 2012 AG followup report)

Screen Shot 2013-04-20 at 6.35.06 PM

Inter-departmental and external agency information sharing

This is a fundamental issue. And when you have a veteran cop like Cpl. Baker saying sharing between various government agencies — such as CFS, Employment and Income Assistance, Health and police — could be better, it probably could be better.

Instead, we’ve heard several times now how people’s fears at violating privacy and health privacy legislation has led to slowdowns in the investigative process. Baker said RCMP, his police service, has no issues quickly sharing certain information with agencies conducting “like minded” investigations — but found when investigating Phoenix’s homicide there was pushback from CFS when he hoped to access sealed “child in care” files held by a CFS agency. Luckily, EI investigators were ready and willing to co-operate and set up the ultimate “sting” which exposed Kematch and McKay — and Phoenix’s death — nine months after it happened.

Workers investigating a child-protection case shouldn’t be hamstrung by having to invoke “magic words” to glean information quickly out of other agencies who may have valuable data, and vice versa. Any abuses could be ferreted out with a strong quality-assurance program. Information is like oxygen to investigators of all stripes. If we believe they are working towards valuable goals [like the safety of at-risk kids], they shouldn’t have to fight for information.

But it’s a contentious issue, for sure. Even police agencies can’t figure out a way to co-operate when it comes to data sharing, as this (to my mind, sad) report out of Alberta suggests.

Queensland, Australia child-welfare inquiry

Interesting (350-page) read below:

A massive child-welfare inquiry in Australia is about to wrap up with a final report from its commissioner by June, likely earlier. What’s relevant is how many issues there are echoed over here, particulary the concerning rise in the number of kids being taken into care, largely because of neglect, not abuse.

The website is a model for future inquiries, I feel. It’s easy to find the disclosure, they took it on themselves to live-stream it, and staff even communicate with the public via social media. As well, people are encouraged to participate by sending submissions to the commissioner.

While I’m not knocking the effort for Phoenix’s inquiry — communications staff have bent over backwards at times to ensure media have been given proper access — but perhaps a few more of the $9.6 million we’re currently spending could have gone into making the proceedings and website more accessible to the public, virtually all of whom can’t make it to take in the hearings during working hours.

The design is a bit dated — and it’s very difficult to navigate the disclosure which has been presented, unless you note page numbers as you go along.

Here’s the recent discussion paper from the Australian affair. I’d love to foster a discussion about it with readers, so chime in in the comments and we’ll make it happen somehow. Perhaps through a live blog of some kind.

[Part two of this post will look at a few other non-PSI things I dug up this week, including an interesting tale about the infamous Darrell Ackman, AKA Mr. JetzTV]

——–

Late edit: I just wanted to point out some things which have been picking at me, relating to the internal CFS documents tabled at the inquiry.

Look closely at this, for one example:

Screen Shot 2013-04-20 at 8.05.15 PM

This was the file closing of Shelly Wiebe from December 2004.

Notice how her surname is typed one way — IE —

But her signature states it’s EI.

That’s odd, no? Who misspells their name in their signature?

Here’s another oddity, from this week’s report from Intertribal CFS.

Screen Shot 2013-04-20 at 8

Why is it that it’s the same report  — just one page apart (you can see the page break) — but the formatting in terms of spacing is so different? It’s weird.

There’s been a few other instances of documentary oddness. I’ll add them as I come across them.

-30-

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