Your Winnipeg Police Board, part 1

Winnipeg’s shiny new police board met at city hall today, for what really was its first substantive gathering.

This post is the first of two just noting a few things that likely won’t make the news per se about today’s event.

As with most City Hall meetings, delegations can apply to speak. Today, David Sanders gave a lengthy and laudable presentation to the board.

Laudable, first, because he took the time to actually read the board’s draft policies and procedures in detail and point to a few items of concern.

The presentation, which he kindly sent to me afterwards, is below should you want to read it. And you should.

Among his concerns of note to the public are:

  • The tenor and stricture of the confidentiality agreement members have agreed to as a requirement to sit on the board [posted below in full].  It appears to present a number of challenges for board members in terms of whether they’re ever allowed to say anything, about anything, in relation to board business.

Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 4.19.25 PM

 

 

 

 

 

This requires a correction. He actually points out the agreement is like one drafted by the city for a consultant being hired to do work.

“The second clause of the preamble is worded so as to muzzle the board members completely, and should be changed …”

  • Then there’s the whole issue of the board having separate sub-committees for finance and governance (Policy 3.8).

The draft policy manual appears to contain no provisions for these sub-boards — which will do important work — to have public oversight and meetings the public could attend.

Look folks, we’ve waited a good long time to have a police oversight body in Winnipeg that’s not either LERA or some watered-down city committee which was more informative and inquisitive about snowmobile bans than where our $240-million a year in policing dollars are going.

It’s solely my opinion — and it’s surely early days yet — but for our police board to not enjoy a great amount of honest and respectable interest and debate advanced by the public at large would be a major missed opportunity.

Part two of this post will focus on some thoughts and perceptions about the board, the meeting and its players.

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.

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* 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.

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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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‘Reasonable Suspicion’ at the roadside? It’s the totality of the circumstances

drunk-drivingIn a way, you gotta feel kind of bad for Rhys Mitchell. In a way.

Charged with drive over .08 in early 2009 , he’s now seen his case go through every level of Manitoba’s courts.

The provincial court convicted him. The Court of Queen’s Bench acquitted.

Now, after many months of deliberations, the Court of Appeal has ruled to re-instate his conviction, setting up a potential Supreme Court battle.

His case is one that affects all Manitoba motorists stopped by police who then enter into an impaired driving investigation.

Mitchell’s case focused on whether the RCMP officer who appeared at his window after pulling him over on Roblin Boulevard early one January morning had grounds to form a “reasonable suspicion” Mitchell may be impaired may have alcohol in his body (see below) and request he blow into a roadside testing/screening device [not a breathalyzer, but an ASD].

 

The overall tension this case presents is clear: On one hand, police can’t, — if they’re to uphold the Charter — just randomly stop and ‘search’ drivers with their ASD test demands.

On the other, they can’t enforce the law and try to keep streets safer if the legal requirements to test people at the roadside are just too onerous.

As Justice Michel Monnin’s 21-page decision to overturn Mitchell’s acquittal shows, the lower courts spent a lot of time fretting over Mitchell’s comments to the officer, namely that he’d had a “couple of beers at a friend’s house” earlier and how that figured into “reasonable suspicion.”

Both those courts also found his Charter rights against unreasonable search and seizure had been breached, but only the QB found the remedy for the breach should be to toss the ASD result.

In the end, Monnin comes to the — in my view — common sense conclusion that it’s the overall circumstances of the stop and totality of the officer’s observations which leads to getting past the “reasonable suspicion” hurdle — that Mitchell’s rights weren’t breached.

From the decision:

I am not prepared to go as far as saying that a simple admission of alcohol consumption by a driver is, in and of itself, sufficient to provide reasonable grounds on which to base an ASD demand, as each case must be considered on its own facts. From a common sense perspective, however, it would be rare, if ever, that there would be an admission of alcohol consumption with nothing else – i.e., evidence as to why the vehicle was stopped, when (especially the time of the day and of the year) and where it was stopped, what was the driver’s condition, how did he or she react to the police, what were the driver’s exact words and how were they spoken, etc. These are all important factors to take into account. It is important to remember that it is the totality of the circumstances known to the officer,viewed together, that must be considered in determining whether there was a reasonable basis for his or her suspicion.

In this case, the trial judge might have found the manner in which the officer conducted his investigation to be wanting, but the facts remain that the accused was driving at night, on a busy thoroughfare, without lights, that there was an odour of alcohol emanating from the car and the accused, inanswer to a legitimate question in the circumstances, acknowledged that hehad consumed alcohol. I find the accused’s answer in this case to be similar to that under consideration by Marceau J. in Kimmel and I find his comments, to which I have previously referred, applicable in this case. Both the trial judge and the appeal judge erred by focussing on the words of the accused’s admission without considering them in the context of all of the evidence known to the officer. In so doing, each misapplied the applicable legal principles, thereby committing an error of law. In my view, after considering all of the evidence known to the officer, he had reasonable grounds to make the ASD demand when he did. It was an error in law by the trial judge to find otherwise.

It’s a fascinating case. Do give it a read:

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.

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.