‘His country let him down’: An open letter

Mike Allan in an undated photo with his beloved dog. Family Photo/James Turner/CBC

Hello James,

I know you have been talking to my sister … and her husband Merv and I have been reading all your reports. As usual this morning I woke up thinking about everything that has happened and all that follows was in my head.

Feel free to get back to me by email if you wish and to publish any of this that you want to.

I am Michael Allan’s other sister.  He was my little brother that I always protected when we were kids.  This time I couldn’t protect him.

As you know Michael was viciously and horribly murdered on July 31st.

My brother was proud to be a Canadian.  He went to his grave wrapped in a symbol of our flag.  But his country let him down.

Michael was also a supporter of the NDP.  But his government let him down.

Michael was very interested in people and always tried to help them.  In the end, a person let him down.

My brother had at one time worked for Meals on Wheels.  He did volunteer work for the Salvation Army.  He loved to talk to people.  He was an extremely intelligent man.  When we were in high school the principal told my mother that he had the highest IQ in the school.  He could talk on any subject to anyone at any level.

Not any more.

Michael was suffering from a lung disease that he was slowly recovering from.  He had improved enough that he was able to walk the few blocks from his house to my sister’s house.  Now he will never be able to do that again.  He was not well enough that he would have been able to protect himself from an attacker.

My sister, my son (Michael’s nephew), and I bought the house he was living in for him so that he could live near my sister and be safe.  How ironic.  Our hope was that my sister would be nearby, make sure he ate well, all the things that sisters do.  Now we are left without a brother but with a house that will probably cost us thousands of dollars in repairs due to what the killer did.

My brother loved his gardens and his two cats.  His gardens are about ready for harvest and he is not there to see it.  His two cats are languishing and lonely in a cage at a shelter.  While we are grateful to the shelter for taking them in it is no place for his beloved cats to live out their lives.  They are not even 2 years old yet.

They are waiting for someone to take them in, together, where they will be loved again in a forever home.

Are we angry with ‘the system’?  Definitely yes.

Do we wish something can be done about it?  Of course, yes.  Do we have trouble sleeping because of the things we know were done to Michael when he was murdered?

Again yes.  A lot of the horror has never been published.

Mostly we miss Michael.

Sincerely,

Elaine Allan Rempel

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Brodbeck’s take on Allan’s death

More than a week after he died, Mike Allan's death is still under scrutiny.

Yesterday’s Winnipeg Sun included two items about the Mike Allan homicide, despite the fact there were two new, and very violent homicides late last week.

It shows that the circumstances surrounding Allan’s death and the person accused of killing him need closer scrutiny.

One of the items was a letter to the editor that somehow blames the National Parole Board for letting Mary Ellen Young out on the street — even though it was the NPB that squashed her statutory release and ordered her to serve her entire prison sentence.

The board did what many Manitoba judges did not do, which is well-documented here in prior posts. So I’m disregarding that.

Tom Brodbeck, however, uses the circumstances of Allan’s death to call for changes to the parole, statutory release and bail provision mechanisms currently in place.

What’s a life worth? – Brodbeck column

For those who don’t want to click, the nuts and bolts of the column are found in a few short paragraphs toward the end:

I don’t care if the police-reported crime rate falls 50% in a single year. I still want the feds to ensure repeat, violent offenders like Thomas are off the streets.

And if that means building more jails and mental health facilities to achieve that goal, then so be it.

What was Mr. Allan’s life worth? Was his life and the lives of other victims of violent crime worth enough to build more jails?

I would like the hug-a-thug crowd to explain to the victims of violent crime why they believe it’s a bad idea to build more institutions to keep dangerous, repeat offenders like Thomas off the street.

We need bail reform, we need parole reform, we need to eliminate statutory release and we need to vastly improve our long-term offender laws.

All this is well put, but for me, I’m more worried about what the case really says about the effectiveness of the provincial probation system and bail-supervision programs.

These are all mechanisms for offenders to try and ‘get right’ — or at the very least, find out what’s wrong — and they failed miserably in this case.

I’d point out to Brodbeck that it wasn’t until Thomas served her first federal prison term in ’06 that her schizophrenia was clinically diagnosed.

We have the feds to thank for that — discovering a key piece of information that wasn’t offered to provincial Judge Mary Curtis at Thomas’ June 23 bail hearing where Thomas was last freed on bail.

In the end, I guess it comes down to the fact that you can’t help someone who doesn’t want it.

But, along with what I’ve stated above, the circumstances of Allan’s death really show a fundamental flaw with the bail system: the lack of information sharing between law-enforcement agencies, be it the police, probations, corrections – whatever.

A Crown attorney rushing to manage a massive — and they are massive — daily bail docket should have everything at her fingertips that she needs to be able to tell the presiding judge about the history and background of an accused.

That’s not happening, and I believe because of that the stage was set for what happened to Allan.

My biggest worry in this case, and I’m sure it’s shared by Allan’s family, is that the suspect, given her long history of violence, mental-health issues and substance abuse problems will make a plea deal to a lesser charge.

We need to improve the quality of information our prosecutors get about offenders before we worry — as Brodbeck does — about the larger issues of reform.

It’s as simple as that.

Deja vu

In late November 2003, a 22-year-old woman is convicted of assault and given a short time-in-custody sentence and 18 months of probation.

She’s released from jail that same day.

One of the conditions of her probation is to take up immediate residence at the Behavioural Health Foundation to seek help for her cocaine addiction.

She never turns up.

A warrant is issued. She’s arrested and convicted of breaching probation on Jan. 9, 2004.

She’s released after 22 days in jail.

A few days later, on Jan. 26, 2004, she’s arrested at the scene of a 77-year-old man’s home on Maryland Street.

He’s already been carted off to the Grace Hospital in an ambulance.

From the Crown’s submission at the woman’s bail hearing on Jan. 28:

The accused sometimes attends to the complainant’s home to drink.

..The accused had consumed some liquor and then an argument started between them. It escalated to the point where the accused struck the complainant on the head with a small wooden coffee table. During the attack the accused said to the complainant: ‘I will kill you.’ She took his house and car keys and left the residence.

The elderly victim suffers cuts to his face and several to his hands. He’s admitted and spends at least the night under observation of doctors.

The Crown continues:

While the police were at the complainant’s house investigating, the accused returned to the address, but when she saw police she took off on foot. She was captured a short distance later and was arrested for the offences.

The accused, Mary Ellen Thomas, AKA Mary Ellen Young, AKA Mary Ann Smith is read her rights and given the usual caution by officers. She’s charged with assault with a weapon, theft under $5,000, breaching probation and uttering threats.

The Crown rattles off a number of Thomas/Young/Smith’s priors for Judge Ron Meyers:

  • December 2000, 2x breach of undertaking; 2x communicate for the purposes of prostitution
  • January 2002, Fail to appear and breach of probation
  • January 2002, Fail to comply with conditions of release, communicate for the purposes of prostitution
  • February 2002, communicate for the purposes of prostitution
  • July 2002, breach probation, communicate for the purposes of prostitution
  • January 23, 2003, 4x court-order breaches, mischief under $5,000
  • Nov. 24, 03, assault, breach recognizance

The Crown:

“She admitted the assaults verbally on the complainant by stating, ‘he acts like he’s helping me and he’s not. When I’m sleeping he touches me. I just got fed up and beat him up,” Shelley McFadyen tells Meyers.

Her defence lawyer pledges to the judge that if she’s let go, she’ll be good this time.

Meyers says, flat out: no way.

His decision sticks until April Fool’s Day, 2004, when Young/Thomas/Smith and her lawyer take that decision to a higher court judge for review.

In an affidavit filed on her behalf, the woman, a mother to three young kids, claims she suffers from depression and cocaine addiction.

A rehab placement at the Pritchard House is awaiting, she says.

She will live there, get help and not leave the place unless accompanied by a staffer. She also will post $1,000 cash money, not drink alcohol or take drugs and stay away from the victim of the assault.

Justice Colleen Suche agrees to let her go on those conditions.

———-

Fast forward to July 31, 2010.

A woman freshly out on bail and breaching her release conditions is arrested at Mike Allan’s home in Winnipeg’s Lord Roberts neighbourhood.

She had been granted bail June 23, despite the judge’s reservations about her record of violent priors and violations of court orders.

By now, she’s also amassed further convictions for violence and served her first federal prison sentence of 2.5 years.

Neighbours had called in a report to police that there had been some kind of disturbance in the home.

Allan is found dead by officers inside, and the woman is also suspected in a stabbing that occurred a few blocks away. An 18-year-old woman is badly injured in the attack.

Allan, 62, and the woman had just met that night, police say. Allan’s family says the two were drinking beer when there was an escalating argument that turned physical.

The neighbour tells CBC News that the woman had emerged from the home and claimed to have knocked him down.

Allan, a frail, sick man who was also alcoholic, likely couldn’t have put up a fight.

Police said after Allan and the woman had the fight, she left the home and then returned, where she was arrested and held in custody.

Police identify the suspect as Mary Ellen Thomas, 30. She’s charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault and multiple bail breaches.

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A disaster waiting to happen

Mike Allan in an undated photo with his beloved dog. Family Photo/James Turner/CBC

Mike Allan’s death this weekend was brutal and tragic.

It was also not his fault.

He didn’t know what he was up against.

It’s been an odd day, digging into the background of the woman accused of killing him in his home, and then stabbing an 18-year-old outside a convenience store just a few blocks from my home.

At times I found myself shaking my head at the weirdness of it all. Later still, as I write this, at the senselessness.

The murder suspect, 30-year-old Mary Ellen Thomas, is in the Remand Centre, locked away from the world.

As little as just a few days ago, she was not.

And I struggled to come to terms with why, until I realized the judge who let her out on bail a few weeks prior to her being suspected in Saturday’s  extreme violence didn’t have the information she needed to make a fully-informed decision.

On June 23, Judge Mary Curtis agreed to let Thomas out of custody on a number of strict conditions, including to not go near booze, obey a curfew; standard stuff.

Thomas was alleged to have met some guy from British Columbia on a chat line and had a few drinks with him at the Sandman Hotel on Sargent Avenue on the 20th.

Her lawyer said she became upset when he made some “inappropriate” comment about her.

“He certainly wasn’t acting like a Boy Scout that particular night,” the lawyer tells Curtis.

Thomas was alleged to have grabbed a shovel from the box in the back of the guy’s pickup and started slamming it against the vehicle, shattering the window.

Police are called and they pick her up.

The mother of one child is locked up for three days before she meets Curtis in a courtroom for a bail hearing. There was no publication ban on the evidence given.

Curtis expresses her displeasure at her alleged conduct:

“You don’t like [the person] … I mean you walk away, you don’t go out and bash their vehicle up.”

Curtis asks Thomas if alcohol has been a problem for her in the past.

“Not really,” she says. “I’ve just been like, using alcohol to like, block, like, problems out and stuff like that, I get lonely and the reach for that drink.

“But I know other stuff to do instead of drinking,” Thomas says. “I know I made that mistake already by busting a window and going with strangers for drinks. I have supports I can call on or go do other things, like go to a movie or the mall or something,” she adds.

Curtis notes that Thomas hasn’t seen the inside of a jail cell for about a year and a half, after she served a full 2.5 year sentence for robbery.

The judge notes the 25 breaches of court-orders on her record “plus all the robberies, the thefts, the break and enters, the prostitution charges, all of that stuff.”

“I’ve changed a lot,” Thomas says.

Curtis cuts her off. Stops her from saying more.

“I’m just saying — and I think probably you shouldn’t say too much because I don’t need to hear a lot of detail from you. This isn’t a sentencing, OK?,” the judge says.

“All I’m saying is, objectively, when I look at your record, the inclination is to say, ‘nothing’s changed.’ And you know that — you’ve lived your record,” she says.

“But, in this particular set of circumstances, I am going to authorize your release.”

Cue here: The ‘hang em high’ crowd that so commonly frequents the hateful comment forums of online news sites.

Here’s what Curtis didn’t know at the time she bailed out Thomas for doing nothing more than bashing in a window.

The Crown didn’t know either, but opposed her freedom anyway based on what prosecutors saw on paper. That’s their job, not the judge’s.

Thomas’s defence lawyer didn’t say anything about it, because that’s not his job to make his client look bad. Besides, he probably spent all of 30 minutes with her trying to put together some sort of bail plan that would make sense to the judge.

However, we turn now to the National Parole Board to help clarify what we’re dealing with here:

In 2006, Thomas was diagnosed as schizophrenic, and told she required medication to stave off hallucinations, hearing voices and paranoia.

“Your behaviour when you are not on your medication is unstable,” the board noted in a follow-up decision after it revoked her mandatory statutory release from prison based on the belief her risk in the public was unmanageable.

“You want to return to live with your mother. When living with your mother in 1999, you had an angry outburst and caused $25,000 damage to her apartment.

“Your mother believes that your cultural teachings see your hallucinations and voices as visions and gifts rather than an illness or a disease. She would rather see you learn to control “her gift” rather than take a variety of pills and drugs to subside it.

“Under the circumstances, it is unlikely that your mother would ensure that you take your medication to control your mental illness,” the board said.

Thomas’s abuse of substances, like crack cocaine, was also a pressing concern to the CSC and parole board.

“You present as expending a significant amount of energy managing the expression of anger.

“…Your behaviour at Regional Psychiatric Centre is rated as poor. You have been involved in altercations with other offenders. Two noted incidents where you have fought other offenders at RPC (one where you struck another offender in the head with a disc man) and you have a history of being aggressive or disrespectful toward staff.

“You have not completed any programming while incarcerated to reduce your risk of violence.”

And just to give you a flavour of that risk the board noted:

  • Nov. 28, 1996 – Thomas is convicted of assault for punching a woman in the face while trying to steal her purse.
  • June 7, 1999 – Thomas is convicted for mischief over $5,000 in connection to the apartment fracas at her mom’s. She was home alone and smashed the toilet, left the faucets running and tossed food around, telling police: “I was mad, I don’t like living at my mom’s.”
  • December 11, 2000 – conviction for assault with a weapon after slashing a man in the head with a broken beer bottle. The victim needed 22 stitches to close the wounds and is disfigured for the rest of his life.
  • Nov. 24, 2003 – assault – Thomas jumps into a car and demands money from the driver. When the driver takes off, she takes off after him and injures him with a paint roller.
  • July 17, 2004 – assault – after drinking with a guy, she gets into an argument with him and hit him with a telephone and a small coffee table. He required seven sutures to close his facial wounds.
  • May 20, 2006 – Thomas hails a cab and when the driver realized she had no money to pay he stopped the car. Refusing to budge, the driver goes to remove her from the cab but she locks the doors and took his cash and a house key. She then somehow punches him in the face and takes off.
  • May 28, 2006 – She’s getting a ride from a guy she was partying with. When he refused to take her where she wanted to go, she grabs a screwdriver and stabs him in the stomach and head. Luckily, he was only slightly injured.

So in at least last four incidents now in the last decade, Thomas has been suspected of a crime by police after drinking with a guy — and another gets sliced open with a vessel to drink alcohol out of.

In at least one, it’s been proven she gets irate about something and freaks out.

One gets seriously hurt; another slightly. Another allegedly gets his truck smashed and the other can no longer answer questions.

Police would probably claim it’s because Thomas killed him.

She is innocent until proven guilty in court.

But the point is that Judge Curtis didn’t know any of this and let her go based on the facts she had in front of her.

Allan didn’t have any information to go on.

I spoke again with Merv Forbister yesterday. He had gone to the home where his brother in law, Mike, was killed.

“I went there for closure,” he told me.

The house, as I noted yesterday, is a wreck. There’s blood everywhere.

He wanted to know if the suspect caused the damage.

I told him I didn’t know. All I really know is what the cops have said. Mike and a woman he had only just met got in a fight and she is claimed to have killed him, left the home and returned later when police arrived to check up on a call they got about a disturbance.

I found out today that police were one minute — a minute — away from arriving when they were pre-empted to a stabbing call at a 7-11.

They didn’t know that when they did pull up to Mike’s house, they’d find a suspect in two crimes there.

Forbister admitted that he and his wife — Mike’s sister — are angry at ‘the system’ for what happened.

And while they probably should be, there’s a lot that up until today, they couldn’t have known.

The information came too late, for everybody involved.

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Homicide in Lord Roberts

Police remain on scene outside a Nassau Street South home after a man in his 60’s was killed, according to police.

The suspect in the case apparently left the house and proceeded to attack a woman at a nearby 7-11.

Have victim’s name and will be talking to his family this morning.

Stay tuned to cbc news for more.

UPDATE: Up-to-date story with family reaction and picture of slain man here.