Major Crimes: A week in review II

(Winnipeg police)

Without a doubt, the top local crime story this week involved the arrest of Thomas Brine, 25, in connection to the death of Elizabeth Lafantaisie. First degree murder is the charge, and strangulation the cause of death. No matter what, what happened to this woman is atrocious. Brine, despite his young age, is no stranger to the justice system in Manitoba. What may be interesting down the line is whether the “forensic evidence” police claim link Brine to the killing is a win for the RCMP DNA databank. I’m skeptical of that given the rapid-fire turnaround in what appeared to be a red ball homicide case one day and solved just a few days later. Fingerprints is my guess — but it is only a guess.

In other news, lawyer Robert Tapper had a better week than last with an even score in terms of his conviction rate. There was more (unfair) gnashing of teeth about his role as special prosecutor after WPS Constable Ken Anderson was acquitted of sex-related charges — but there was really no reason for it. Anderson was found not guilty after a full and transparent shake in the justice system. The story about the abuse was found to be just that — a story. I note no one has called for a review of the case in light of the acquittal, so here’s hoping Anderson can somehow get back to work and be able to put this behind him. But it won’t be an easy task, as Mike Sutherland of the WPA told CBC this week:

“Just the allegations alone cause challenges and sometimes they’re difficult to rebound from,” Sutherland said.

Tapper said he won’t appeal the Anderson ruling.

The lawyer’s week got better by Thursday, when former RCMP officer Benjamin Neufeldt was sent packing to jail for sexually exploiting a teen girl on a Manitoba reserve. Mike Mac of the WFP had a good story on the details of the case.

One thing good comes out of the recent Tapper cases, however — it’s brought to the surface the process by which independent lawyers are appointed in cases where a suspect has a direct connection to the justice system. As I’ve learned, Manitoba appears to be the only province where local lawyers are actually hired to prosecute cases independently from, but in consultation with, the justice department. Justice Minister Swan is promising to sit down with head of prosecutions Mike Mahon and see what’s what. It comes on the heels of a recent review of the provincial policy by retired Judge Ruth Krindle.

The media glare continued to shine on Justice Robert Dewar this week and several local stories examined past court decisions he’s made, at least one of which is under review by the Manitoba Court of Appeal, which could rule to order a new trial any day now. Alternately, it could not. The judge’s week got worse when the judiciary came forward with a statement about his status about not hearing cases of a sexual nature, followed by the news he either was punted or asked to recuse himself from sitting in the Wegier manslaughter trial — a decidedly non-sexual case.

(Allan Fineblit/Lawyersweekly.ca)

However, the most interesting information and reaction about the whole affair came from blogger/WFP reporter Melissa Martin, and an op-ed in the Free Press from Law Society head-honcho Allan Fineblit. While Fineblit starts off obviously referring to the Dewar furor but goes on the describe how the process of judicial appointments could be altered, he provides some useful information. I’d bet if you asked the average person what they think about the appointment of judges in Canada, you’d get a blank stare, followed by ramblings about blood sacrifices and cloaked old coots hunched over in some stone room waiting for a phone call from the PMO. We now know, through him, that that’s not the case.

I was waiting, though for someone to comment on the first few paragraphs of the piece that says the following [again – referring to, but not naming Dewar and his current predicament]:

Let’s face it, even good judges sometimes make mistakes, or lose their patience, or say the occasional dumb thing. They are, after all, human beings and to my mind the more humanity the better. Mistakes can be fixed. That is what the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court do for a living. But I am not writing this to tell you about what I think about our judges. I am writing it to tell you how we can do better.

Something strikes me that given the outcry about Dewar, many people don’t think he simply made a mistake, lost his patience or simply said a dumb thing in the sex-assault case ruling that brought all the attention.

But again, I have yet to see full transcript of the ruling, let alone the full trial testimony.

The Freep’s FASD series continued  — with today’s comprehensive look at youth justice and the disorder. It should come as no surprise to anyone, however, that the Manitoba Youth Centre is a convenient warehouse for kids with cognitive or other disorders. Still waiting on that mental health court, NDP.

In other news:

  • The united front known as the Devil’s Gap Cottagers have taken a unique land claims situation and are trying to turn their misfortune into some kind of advantage by suing their former legal team for millions.
  • In the days after the city settled with Manitoba Hydro over a long-standing tax dispute, the city filed a suit against local company J.A. Robinson for alleged problems with a tech system for its fleet of vehicles worth more than $600,000.
  • On the flip side, the WRHA is going after the city and trying to force it into arbitration over a dispute over rents involving one or two community health clinics. In court documents, the WRHA says it is seeking reimbursement of  alleged rent overpayments to the city between 2000-2007. The dispute has been brewing since 2006 and could be valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, lawyers for the health authority say. The amount is very much in dispute. An affidavit says the city has failed to respond to the WRHA’s letters “seeking the co-operation in the appointment of an arbitrator under the arbitration clause” of a lease agreement.
  • This guy has admitted responsibility to using  a former roommate’s kids he used to babysit to make child pornography with, among other things. Has to be one of the fastest turn-arounds for a major case I’ve ever seen. He was just arrested in January. Sentencing was adjourned to a later date.

Finally — kudos to Manitoba Justice and Crown attorney Lisa Carson [and by extension now-Judge Dale Schille] — for this. Although the penalty to some may seem like small potatoes for the blood that was shed, it’s the maximum allowed by law in Canada. In the U.S., he’d have likely faced execution or consecutive life terms for all three murders. I’m waiting to see if he’ll appeal, and on what grounds. That’s two adult sentences in two weeks for Manitoba Justice, and a third to follow this week, which I’ll be covering in detail.

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Robert Tapper and the perjury trial: for the record

Robert Tapper (Tapper Cuddy)

One day after two Winnipeg officers were acquitted of perjury and other charges, independent prosecutor Robert Tapper sat down with CBC News and offered his view and explanation of what happened in the abruptly-ended case.

The full transcript of the conversation with CBC reporter Mychaylo Prystupa is what follows. His story is here.

Used with permission.

CBC: You’ve said that what happened in court [the acquittal] hasn’t been portrayed accurately in reports. What happened?

Tapper: There was never any doubt that the civilians— if I can call them that, hotel people — were not going to be able to identify the police officers. I told that to the jury when we started. This case was going to be proved, I said to the jury, like the spokes of a wheel — a piece at a time.

A large part of that was going to be on documents, on GPS entries, on passcard details from the exit and entries of the police station, the notebooks of the accused police officers and their evidence that they had given at the preliminary inquiry into the charges against the drug offender.

As well as the civilians as to what they said happened — even though they couldn’t say  who had done what when.

There were some agreed exhibits. The agreed exhibits were the notebooks of the accused — come back to those … The accused are the people who stood up and answered to the charges. Those two officers. The exhibits were agreed to be their notebooks and their cell phone records. At the end of my case, the defence stands up and says, ‘well, you didn’t prove the accused are the accused … and not just people who strangely somehow had the same names.’

To which, I of course said, ‘what are you talking about?,’ but unhappily, the judge bought into that notion so I said that I’m going to seek leave to reopen and call a police officer to ask the very question: ‘point these two gentlemen out — the gentlemen whose names are already there, on their notebooks.’

I had thought, obviously, that with the agreement as to the entry of these exhibits with their names all over … that these were there notebooks, that these in fact, were their notebooks. And I told that to the jury when we started.

So to say the least, the case unfolded in a way I didn’t desire or expect. And we’ll see at the end of the day whether that survives.

CBC: There’s a current of thought that the officers got away on a technicality.

Tapper: Well it is a technicality. It had nothing to do, whatever, with whether they lied under oath or were unlawfully in a dwelling home. It had to do with whether or not the Crown — me — proved their identity — not in the sense of who entered into the particular hotel room, which was the substance of the offence, but their identity in the sense of whose notebooks these were and whose cell phone records that these were.

I took a very different view of that, but that was ultimately what the judge ordered. And that is clearly a technicality.

CBC: So you agree with that sentiment that’s out there?

Tapper: Well yes and no. I mean technicalities form a proper part of the law. And there’s no question about that. A famous American jurist, a hundred years ago, said that the history of liberty has largely been the observance of procedural safeguards. I don’t have any problem with technical defences. I just happen to think this particular one was wrong.

CBC: You have a second prosecution against police officers coming up.

Tapper: I have at least two more.

CBC: How much confidence do you expect the public to have in your ability to prosecute these police officers successfully?

Tapper: Well, you know, that’s a delightful question. I’ve been practicing law for almost four decades. I think I know my way around the law. This shouldn’t of happened.

And I suppose the public could be concerned about that and say: ‘Was he some wet-nosed junior that made a mistake?’ I have to hope not. Do I have the confidence to do it? Yes. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t. I’ve done more trials than most people.

I don’t think that this was a mistake. You see, that’s the thing. I don’t think this was a mistake. I think this was a ruling of some interest and that I will do my utmost to overturn.

But, to this moment, As bad as I feel about this, and I do — I still don’t think it was a mistake. The court may tell me otherwise in due course, we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

Let me also tell you that while I have two … you asked about prosecutions that two officers … I have two next week [inaudible]. I’ve done many of these. I’ve obtained many convictions …
 Most people who know me know that I don’t lack in confidence, to my detriment. Yeah. I mean, I’m not worried about that.

If the powers that be are worried about that, the’ll react accordingly.

 This should not have happened. When you stand up and say: ‘These are the records of the accused, and the other side agrees … are there two Mychaylo Prystupas out there?

I think traditionally, the witness stands up, points out and says: ‘That’s the man that did it,’ right? But not every case is like that. and in this particular case, there was no doubt that the hotel people could not identify … the police officers, five and a half years later. It was an innocuous event, as far as they knew in the middle of the morning, six in the morning.

CBC: So you were using their records…

Tapper: We had all kinds of evidence, including their notebooks.

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Tapper previously said he plans to appeal Justice Brenda Keyser’s ruling and may file the necessary paperwork with the Manitoba Court of Appeal this week.

This