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

Answers needed in Malcolm domestic-violence murder case

(Sandi-Lynn Malcolm/Facebook)

The provincial government, Justice Minister Andrew Swan and those sitting on the provincial domestic violence Death Review Committee must turn their minds to investigating what happened to Sandi-Lynn Malcolm.

Nothing short of a full and frank examination into how a young aboriginal girl can be serially abused by her ex-partner on a small reserve — only to end up brutally killed by his hands, will suffice.

It’s my view the public should be protesting — as Malcolm’s family and friends have done — to bring attention to her case in hopes of rooting out others like it before it’s too late.

What happened to this girl should not have happened and we should be sickened by it. 

After sitting with the facts of Malcolm’s killing for only a short time now, I believe she was failed on a fundamental level, for a number of reasons:

She lived in an isolated environment that had few resources or opportunities for intervention.

Warning signs — including those expressed through her own words to police — that something awful was going to happen weren’t heeded to the degree they should have.

And, (I suppose it goes without saying) Malcolm suffered a fatal consequence in her continued association with a violent human being who urged her to “trust him.”

He repaid her undeserved trust with unspeakable violence.

She was only 17 years old, though. A kid. We can’t lose sight of this.

Answers must be sought.

Here’s why.

“There. I done what had to be done.” — Ronald Racette Jr.

On the night of Jan. 30, 2010 RCMP who police the Ebb and Flow community got a call from Malcolm’s mother, saying her teen daughter was covered with cuts and had black eyes.

Sandi-Lynn gives an official statement, in which she alleges her ex-boyfriend, Ronald Racette Jr., 19, had brutally assaulted her at his father’s home. He punched her, hit her with a lamp, whipped her with the lamp’s cord and then tried to choke her with it.

A check of Racette’s record on CPIC would have alerted police to the fact of his prior domestic-abuse history.

“I should just kill you,” she reported Racette Jr. as telling her. There were no other witnesses, she told police, who photographed her bruises and cuts.

Less than two weeks later, on Feb. 8, Sandi-Lynn picks up the phone wanting to report the violence Racette Jr. put her through a day prior .

She gives another statement: Sandi-Lynn, covered in bruises, tells RCMP that her vow to stay away from Racette Jr. collapsed when he phoned her, pitifully saying he hadn’t eaten in two days.

“She said she had a soft heart and felt sorry for him,” court was told. “He told her to trust him … she did.”

Sandi-Lynn brings Racette Jr. something to eat. They were “getting along fine,” she said.

But when she said she had to go to work on her resume — she hoped to get a job as a cashier in a store — he grew angry.

While out for a walk, Sandi-Lynn was made to run through deep snow, was knocked down and kicked and pummelled while being accused of being unfaithful while he was in jail.

“She told him she didn’t want to die like that.”

Sandi-Lynn’s next words to police were alarmingly prophetic:

“Everybody had told her not to take him back because the next time, he’ll kill you, but she didn’t listen,” court heard of her police statement.

A raging Racette Jr. continually asked her if “she wanted to die.”

“I should just kill you and kill myself,” he said. They were near a creek in the community. He threatened to just throw her in there, “where no-one would find her.”

Sandi-Lynn’s survival skills kicked in. She offset his volatility by “pretending to love him” — putting on a “big front” in hopes of getting away from him alive.

He kept beating her, and made her stay outside, shoeless, in the freezing cold. “She said she felt like she was being kept hostage or something,” RCMP heard.

Racette Jr. wasn’t drinking, Sandi-Lynn said.

After giving her statement, RCMP set out to look for him. At the second community home they came to, Racette Jr. is seen fleeing into some bushes.

Cops chased him on foot but couldn’t catch up. A warrant issues but he’s not caught.

He’d re-emerge just over two weeks later for his last night of freedom.

A recounting of Sandi-Lynn’s last hours were presented to the court through witness testimony from people who were around Sandi-Lynn in her last hours and minutes.

On the evening of Feb. 26, Sandi-Lynn and a group of girlfriends scored a 30-pack of beer, but didn’t set about drinking heavily. She used the phone at one point, and reported the party was happening at Racette Jr.’s dad’s home.

It’s believed she was talking to Racette Jr. in this call. He turned up not long after.

Before he came to get the girls and their remaining 24 cans of beer, Sandi-Lynn asked her friends to “watch over her and not let him be alone with her.”

He picked them up in a nondescript “black car.”

Instead of driving directly to the party, Racette Jr. took a route past a local cemetery and stopped the vehicle.

“This is where we are all going to end up,” he said.

A ‘trail of knives’

Once at the party, it didn’t take long for Racette Jr. to become irate. Sandi-Lynn refused him a request to go alone with him to another room.

Not long after, Sandi-Lynn and another friend were horsing around, just being girls. “She’s my girl now,” the friend joked to Racette Jr.

Racette Jr. responds by punching the friend in the face four times, an assault only stopped after others intervened to pull him off.

He goes outside for a few moments. Returns. Another request of Sandi-Lynn is made for the two to be alone. Another refusal from her.

This. The last straw. He tosses an ashtray in her direction and begins grabbing knives.

“A number of people went and hid in Ronald Sr.’s bedroom because they feared something terrible was going to happen,” Justice Midwinter was told.

They had no idea how awful it was going to get. Sandi-Lynn and another woman who had come to collect her young son from the home fled to a bathroom.

Another witness reported seeing a “trail of knives” leading to the bathroom door.

‘The cops are coming’

I won’t recount what happens next, other than to say a jealous and enraged Racette Jr. committed acts of such brutal and extreme violence on Sandi-Lynn that hearing the extent of her injuries was truly jarring.

47 stab wounds don’t even amount to half of the total number of injuries a pathologist totalled up. Dr. Charles Littman noted 105 “incidents of trauma” on her.

One of Sandi-Lynn’s friends tried to stop the attack by stabbing Racette Jr. in the back as he murdered the teen. It only served to anger him more.

“He looks at her with an evil look and went charging after her.”

He made his way to his father’s bedroom — they unlocked the door to let him in — where people cowered in fear. Children had to be out out the window for fear of their safety.

“Why did you do that? You killed that girl,” his dad told him. “You better get out of here, the cops are coming.”

Racette Jr. didn’t reply. He went back to the bathroom where Sandi-Lynn was and turned on the shower.

A witness says he left the house shortly after, leaving these haunting words in the gloom:

“There. I done what had to be done.”

Efforts to revive Sandi-Lynn didn’t work. It took 45 minutes for the ambulance to arrive.

Police caught up with Racette Jr. at his aunt’s home, where he was wrapped in a blanket, being comforted by a relative.

 ‘Our little reserve is not a war zone’

There was little defence lawyer Todd Bourcier could say in defence of what Racette Jr. did — acts the now 21-year-old pleaded guilty to doing.

But Bourcier raised some credible points about the lack of intervention and other resources in the community for domestic abusers and abuse victims alike.

The nearest women’s shelter from Ebb and Flow (on-reserve population of 1,200 or so) is in Dauphin, a distance of 50 kilometres away.

Options for counselling for men is limited, even to address what he termed the “surface concerns” for offenders with histories of abusing their partners.

And certainly nothing to address Racette Jr.’s specific needs as an angry, jealous, ill-educated, booze-and-drug abusing violent offender of a horrible background, now convicted murderer.

There’s one band constable on reserve, and the nearest RCMP detachment is in St. Rose du Lac, about 35 or 40 kilometres away, according to an online description of the band’s operations.

Despite the small number of people living in the community, between December, January and February, cops responded to 465 service calls, 78 of them regarding violence, Bourcier said.

It goes without saying Sandi-Lynn’s family and friends have been wrecked by not just her death, but also how she died. She was just weeks away from her 18th birthday.

I was there at the Manitoba Legislature a few days after Racette Jr. was charged with her murder when Sandi-Lynn’s relatives and friends travelled the 300 k.m. into the city to hold a candlelit vigil and peaceful protest to condemn domestic violence.

(Malcolm’s family and friends hold candlelight vigil at the legislature)

“Our little reserve is not a war zone. Things like this should not happen,” her dad, Kingsley Malcolm, told me at the time.

They did the same thing in 2011, this time, her cousin calling for more attention to be paid to what happened:

“At the time of Sandi’s death the Olympics were closing, so there was not much coverage about her. We needed to bring it to the public’s attention,” she said. “I felt I needed to do this so we could honour her and bring people together to support one another. (from missingmanitobawomen.blogspot.ca published Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011)

Racette Jr.’s sentencing judge, Justice Brian Midwinter, was clearly aggrieved at the underlying circumstances informing Sandi-Lynn’s death, telling the gallery:

 There were no resources in the community for Mr. Racette to access … and I have to deal with a vicious attack unprovoked by anything the victim did.

Would it be too much of a stretch to believe that the simply sad domestic-violence resource situation in Ebb and Flow is markedly different from countless other isolated Manitoba communities out there?

Today, using the only tiny power I have — this forum — I’m calling on the Manitoba government to task its domestic violence Death Review Committee to investigate Sandi-Lynn’s murder, the circumstances that led up to it and issue a public report on its findings. 

Further reading:

Father of slain teen condemns domestic abuse

Missing and Murdered Manitoba Women on the Malcolm case

Sandi-Lynn Malcolm Obituary

Domestic violence on the docket

Domestic violence: Province of Manitoba

Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (Free Press, update article in 2011)

Province announces Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (2010)

The first step is admitting there’s a problem

(eBaums world)

“1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol— that our lives had become unmanageable.”

-Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step of the 12-step program

Wanna make Manitoba — home of the violent crime capital of Canada — a safer place to live?

Want to make a meaningful effort to restore public order after this election season?

Then we need to take meaningful, even drastic, steps to get Manitoba’s booze problem under control.

Reductions in violent crime will follow, and I’d imagine pretty quickly at that.

While all signs point to the abuse of booze being the single most common factor in all occurrences of violent crime, Manitoba is moving forward — with plans to get booze into the hands of people in easier and more convenient ways.

Bars and clubs in Winnipeg are packed, night after night, even though the majority of people that I know anyway readily admit they’re only somewhat fun to be at; that the overall experience is kind of sad from a social-interaction perspective.

Why is that?

Casinos in Winnipeg — all government controlled — are also doing brisk business, despite the fact winning it big is a losing proposition for most.

Why is that?

The Manitoba Liquor Control Commission rings up record sales year after year after year according to its annual reports. Sales keep climbing, along with the violent crime rate. (In millions of dollars)

2007 — $521,380

2008 — $554,769

2009 — $583,763

2010 — $610,515

Why is that?

Despite a decline in the number of charges laid last year over 2009, impaired driving in Manitoba remains a massive public safety issue. Each time police run a project to crack down on the crime, drunk drivers are caught. There’s never a time the cops head home after a Checkstop shift scratching their heads and saying, ‘ I guess that’s been taken care of.’

Why is that?

I’m no expert in addictions, and I like a cold beer like pretty much everyone else.

But one thing I can say from experience, is that if a serious violent crime happens in Winnipeg, booze is likely a backdrop to the events leading up to it.

Just look at the incredibly serious cases making recent headlines in Winnipeg’s crime news:

Nikita Eaglestick abducts a baby and inexplicably smashes its face on a sidewalk. She was so drunk she couldn’t remember anything about doing it or what led up to it. At the time, she was on bail and bound by a court order to abstain from drinking.

A drinking party in the northern fringes of the West End prompts family members to arm themselves and spill into the streets. A man is run over and killed when a van is used as a weapon. A teen girl faces a first-degree murder charge and an attempted murder charge to boot.

A man twice hailed as a hero for saving people from drowning admits that his chronic alcoholism was a major factor in contributing to an assault on a city doctor when she didn’t have any money to offer him.

“(Faron) Hall said he looks forward to getting out of jail soon, but added that he is nervous because he doesn’t know if or how he can get counselling to kick his alcohol addiction.”

These are but a few of the most blatant and easy to find examples at my fingertips.

But also consider how youth violent crime is also rising. Do we know precisely what role FASD plays in that? Anecdotally, everyone knows it’s a huge issue, and one that’s expensive and complex to fix. We largely leave that largely to an overtaxed justice system to ferret out and try to stem.

But in this provincial election season, we need to come to grips with what the real problem is and expect those who want to lead us into the future to show some vision on this front. If the provincial government can’t change the criminal law per se, it can change the atmosphere in which the law exists. It does, at the end of the day, have the Liquor Control Act in its back pocket.

Instead, the electorate is promised more police officers as the primary way of boosting public safety or order, the cure-all for our seemingly intractable crime issues.

Let’s think about that.

We know that the number one — by a huge margin — call for service police officers spend their times going to are domestic disturbances. (17,019 dispatched calls in 2009. The next highest was ‘check wellbeing’ (also booze-influenced) at 7,862).

How many of those domestics are booze-related — ie: Jimmy got pissed and beat Janey up again?

Eighty per cent? I’d guess it’s even possibly higher.

If we as a society were to try and get a handle on our booze problem, how much police resource time would be saved for officers to do other things? I’d suggest it would be huge. The need for new cops would be nil.

We also know that bootlegging outside the city onto so-called ‘dry’ reserves is a huge problem.

Kives had a good column on new cops as election pledge today.

Look: I know there’s the argument of personal responsibility here. People have to be held accountable for what they choose to ingest and the public’s fed up with intoxication being used as a defence against  culpability for vile criminal acts.

(FASD presents a thorny issue, though, as most would readily admit that unborns can’t make the choice to have that vodka shot or not).

But let’s at least call a spade a spade and take the first step in admitting Manitoba has a drinking problem.

Since the state regulates the sale and consumption of booze, and profits greatly from it, we should demand nothing less. It’s time to have a real discussion about crime in our province and how to meaningfully affect change.

And now — at least up until Oct. 4 is the time we did it.

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