Time to end the ‘superjuice’ scourge

(It’s no joke/WinnipegCat)

“A lot of the violence up here is attributed to superjuice. A lot of (people) are drunk when they are fighting each other, especially the gangs.”  — Edwin Wood, an Island Lake probation officer, 2009 ( Winnipeg Sun link)

To my mind, there’s little better indicator of a damaged society than any where so-called “superjuice” is allowed to exist and be sold by the 2-litre.

Slammed and damned for years now given its havoc-wreaking influence on so-called “dry” communities (typically isolated ones) in Manitoba, little has been (or can be) done, apparently, to stem the tide of violence superjuice causes.

I wrote about the alarming influence of superjuice on the Garden Hill First Nation today as part of a sentencing hearing for two kids who bashed a guy to death while hopped up on the homebrew.

[As an aside, note lawyer John Corona has been sounding the same alarm about superjuice now for years.]

It probably won’t surprise any that calls regarding the harm superjuice causes has been ongoing for many years. (link also describes how it’s made and the immense profits from selling it).

It appears nothing has changed in all that time.

A report recently written for the court still describes high prevalence of superjuice in Garden Hill.

Aside from the fact it reinforces my “Manitoba has a drinking problem” beliefs, I’m simply shocked more can’t be done to stem the smuggling of superjuice yeast into northern communities.

They’re not that big. Garden Hill is about 3,300 people.

Until this problem gets dealt with, we’ll continue to see the cycle of extreme violence in communities. And to me, that’s just wrong.

I wonder if the province made interdiction of superjuice a priority when penning the newest municipal policing contract with the RCMP? (It’s in effect for two decades).

Should the aboriginal groups contesting the issuing of the contract without their input win their case, will they?

There are things we can do about out horrific crime issues that don’t require groveling to Ottawa for permission.

Eradicating superjuice would be but one of them.

FURTHER READING:

(Unsurprisingly, I can find no government reports, stats or anything beyond media reports about the superjuice issue)

Reserves plagued by potent superjuice (Toronto Star)

Superjuice linked to Garden Hill First Nation death (CBC)

Aboriginal leaders in Manitoba call for ban on sale of yeast

Leaders brew up law to fight superjuice (WFP)

The judge’s tirade came maybe just a bit too late

Judge Fred Sandhu

You gotta admire Provincial court Judge Fred Sandhu.

At the same time, you have to pity the fact he can’t simply walk into the CBC or the offices of any other media outlet in Winnipeg and put his opinions on the record for all to hear.

It’s the job of the media to be there to hear what judges like Sandhu have to say. And in this case, only the Winnipeg Sun was on September 30, 2011 — a few days prior to the election — but his words apparently went largely un-noticed by the electorate.

Sandhu was charged on that day with sentencing Daniel Smith, 26, for cracking a broomstick over the head of his wife while she breastfed their child. Then he stabbed her a few times with it.

They were fighting over beer, and the fact money was used to buy the baby essentials at Wal-Mart instead of more booze. The overconsumption of liquor and resulting problems has been a frequent issue in Smith’s life, Sandhu heard.

Without question, one of the most read and commented on posts on this blog in the last year was a recent one about Manitoba’s booze problem and its impact on our soaring violent crime rate.

And how it should be a key focus of any political party seeking reelection if they’re truly serious about ‘getting tough on crime.’

While many comments were positive and agreed to varying extents with my position, others — sent by email, largely, attacked me for taking a perceived prudish and anti-personal-responsibility stance on the issue of alcoholism and booze consumption in our province.

It’s like the Air Canada story that’s been rocking the airwaves this week. The truth hurts.

Sandhu, for whatever reason — frustration, anger, boredom — whatever, used Smith’s case to rail about the provincial booze-influenced-crime issue for an extended period of time.

In addition to my short story in Metro Winnipeg (Dean Pritchard’s earlier story is here), I wanted to put his “tirade” on the record in full.

Here it is, mostly verbatim, for the public record, emphasis mine.

‘Did you hear what you did?’ — it’s rhetorical.

Your behaviour was animalistic. That’s not the way even semi-decent human beings behave.

… It appears to me is what she did is she was asked to get beer and she changed — didn’t want to.

She went and got baby stuff instead because of some reason; she felt the baby needed some stuff.

And here you were, you and your wife and this cousin (Note: she’s 12) — I don’t know how much she was drinking, you were insistent, as was your wife,

‘No, we want to drink.’

That’s much more important to you than anything else.

‘We want to drink’ and if you don’t drink, she comes back without beer, without alcohol and it’s  — you get so upset with this that you hit her over the head with a broomstick — and that wasn’t good enough for you. While she’s holding the four-(month)-old, as I’ve been told, that wasn’t good enough for you and you start stabbing her with it.

All for what? For alcohol? Because you wanted more alcohol?

I don’t understand. I understand the power of alcohol — and that people do what appear to be very evil things because they were under the influence of what can be a very evil substance.

And I’ve been told that the combination in terms of costs to society of alcohol is many, many times greater by factors of 10 and 20 and 30 than any — all of the other drugs combined.

And that’s what we see here day to day, the effects of alcohol. And we hear about people doing these evil things and they say: ‘Well, I’m under the influence of alcohol.’

And I understand that that’s not an excuse, it’s not an excuse, but it shows me — and it’s shown to me day after day, and year after year, the incredible evil of alcohol on certain people. In certain situations.

And the evil is compounded by the fact that even when people appear here, time after time, having done what appear to be evil things, they can’t stop.

They continue to drink — and they continue to do evil things.

And then we look at all that and go, ‘well, is it the person that’s evil?’ The act was certainly evil. ‘Is the person evil? Is alcohol evil?’

You can’t ignore the fact that alcohol’s involved in all of these things. And here’s an almost perfect example of a person who can’t get the alcohol, who can’t get the thing that they crave and they do these animalistic things.

All for the power of alcohol — because of the power of alcohol. Sold at the corner store.

Friendly neighbourhood grocery store soon. 

And we wonder ‘how come there’s so much crime, how come there’s so much apparent evil in the world?’

And the only thing I hear about the alcohol is, ‘Oh, people are using it as an excuse,’ ‘Oh, why should they get less time because they’re drinking alcohol?’

That’s not the point.

The whole point being missed is what alcohol does to people, how it changes their behaviour, how they don’t even remember what they did.

Somebody who is on cocaine or marijuana or on speed, or on meth — you don’t see them doing these things. Maybe once in a while, something happens, an overdose …

But what happens day after day, month after month, year after year, case after case — is alcohol.

And people try to do things about it and get treatment — they try to go through rehab time and time again. They come back to court, thy lose their freedom. They lose their family, they lose their jobs, they lose their lives — they know other people have lost their lives and they still drink. Absolutely no control.

The control is completely from the substance — and that has to be recognized.

I‘m getting tired of this, in that the … the effect of alcohol people, and the complete lack of treatment facilities in this province to deal with it and people burying their heads in the sand about what the reality is. 

Has to end. Look what it’s doing to our society. And the courts are supposed to deal with it? How can we deal with it?

The only power that I have is to take away your freedom. That’s my ultimate power. That’s it. That’s all I have. When you leave the courtroom here today, you’re not to be punished any further — your punishment is your loss of freedom and that’s it.

When you go to jail, you’re not required to do anything … you’re not required to go to rehab, you’re not required to deal with the alcohol.

You don’t want to, you don’t have to. That because the only power the court has  — your loss of freedom. There is nothing other than the lower penalties that we have, the fines and so on. But the ultimate penalty is simply your loss of freedom.

And it’s up to you to decide what you want to do with all the time on your hand — because you’ve had lots of time on your hands and you’ve done nothing about your alcohol — I haven’t heard anything from your lawyer that you’ve even tried. Maybe you’re one of these people that alcohol is such a strong attraction that you don’t care. You don’t even care for rehab. There’s even a song about that: ‘You don’t even care for rehab,’ because you want the alcohol.

For you, the shining light on the hill is alcohol and you stab people and you hit them over the head with a broomstick and you run up a criminal record that’s three pages long — all alcohol related.

And you’re one of those people that’s only going to quit when you’re face down in the ground.

Is that what you want to be? Is that your life? Four-month-old baby — you’re going to lose your baby, you’re going to lose your life, you’re going to lose your freedom, gonna lose your job — if you had one — that didn’t stop you.

And eventually, there’s gonna be a time where you could well be locked up indefinitely.

Because if you have no control over this substance that makes you such an angry person, makes you do such evil acts — even though you yourself may not be evil ‚ then we have to deal with the evil act. We can’t deal with the person anymore — there’s comes a time, and as I said, the courts have very limited power. We can’t cure the problems of society by sitting here and sending people to jail. It’s not our job.

That’s the job of society to deal with it. And society wants to bury their heads in the sand.

And don’t blame the courts for not being able to fix society’s evils.

Sandhu even made the point of jumping Smith’s time for failing to comply with a probation order for verboten drinking by 15 days (from 45 to 60).

“I think even the two months is generous,” he said.

He even rubbed it in a tiny bit by ordering that Smith pay the $300 victim fine surcharge in the case — a penalty usually wiped out when a person has been locked up for months and months because they’ve likely lost everything. Smith was credited with double time for just shy of a year behind bars.

Just a final word, Mr. Smith. Do something about your alcohol. Unless you want to die, do something about it. I know many people who are very fine people when they are not drinking. And they’re completely different people when they are drinking. And if they didn’t drink, I would say that we wouldn’t even see them. Wouldn’t even see them in court — but we see them time after time after time.

And I give this speech to a lot of people — well, part of this speech to a lot of people — I know it doesn’t get through. All I can try to do is tell you that there is help available. If you don’t take advantage of it, you’re going to be back here again. And again and again and again.

… It’s your life. You’ve got another 50 years to go. Is this how you want to spend it?

-30-

‘Common purpose’

Joseph Victor MacLeod (Passagesmb)

In this blog’s last post, it talked about the recent homicide of Abdul Jemai and one of his alleged youthful attackers — who is a known quantity to police and the justice system.

It also led to this comment from the writer of local blog One Man Committee (a must read).

“That is downright chilling. It’s like a little bit of Afghanistan here in the ‘Peg – human IEDs, ready to explode at any given moment.”

It led me to think: that’s some strong imagery. Human IEDs.

And while some may feel it’s a little too strong — Mr. Krawec actually nails it squarely on the head.

Random guy in street attacked, killed — by young suspects. Because of the YCJA, the focus turns to ‘correcting’ the offender and eschews, by and large, deterring similar acts in the future.

In just a few short years of covering crime in Winnipeg, I’ve seen this scenario play out over and over again. Sometimes with fatal results, sometimes not.

It played out on May 23, 2009, in the death of Joseph Victor MacLeod near Isabel and Ross, for example.

Two cousins – each just 14 – surround MacLeod over some gang beef and start pushing him. He’s knocked to the ground, stabbed twice and dies.

The facts are, essentially — and no disrespect meant to the tragedy that occurred — boring.

On May 23, 2009 at 1 p.m. the accused N. M. and his cousin, R. G. noticed a male, Joseph Victor MacLeod, walking down the nearby lane adjacent to Ross Street where the boys were standing.

Both boys went towards the victim and the accused N.M. confronted the lone male for wearing a white bandanna.

The accused N.M. asked the victim what he “reps”.  This can be inferred as a gang challenge by the accused who had known gang affiliation.

The victim denied any involvement with a rival gang, took his bandanna off and started to walk away, but the accused  standing in front of the victim held him back with  both hands blocking his exit, while his cousin, standing behind the victim, held on to the back of his shirt with one hand.  The victim was struck a total of five times in the body by the accused and his cousin.

The co-accused cousin then stabbed the victim twice with a large 25 to 28 ccm. blade knife doing extensive internal damage resulting in death.

Immediately thereafter both boys fled.  It is an agreed fact that there is not any evidence that the accused was aware that his cousin was carrying a knife, brandished it and used it during the assault.

The victim died of these stab wounds.

—- from Judge Brent Stewart’s Feb. 25 decision

In late February, one of the boys — the one who didn’t stab MacLeod — was convicted of manslaughter. He’s awaiting sentencing.

The judge convicted him of the crime based largely on the “common purpose” principle — that he ought to have foreseen the possibility of McLeod’s death by participation in the assault:

Turning to the facts of this particular case.  The court is bound by the agreed statement of facts with some inferences.

The confrontation, which occurred related to what the court can infer as a gang turf challenge where the accused confronted the victim, challenging his wearing of a white bandanna, swearing at him and wanting to know who he “reps”.

The victim was trapped between the accused in the front and the accused cousin in the back.  As the victim started to walk away the accused held on by both hands blocking his exit and between the two boys the victim was hit five times in the body.

From these facts, and the action of the co-accused in concert it was apparent to the court that in fact this was a gang turf challenge, where the two co-accused intended through their actions to rough up (assault or lay a licking on the victim) and teach him a lesson of not coming into their turf.

The question then is whether or not there was objectively reasonable foreseeability of the risk of bodily harm being done by the accused on the victim.  To answer that one must look at the acts and words used by the accused as it related to the victim in concert with his cousin.

If the accused simply blocked the movement of the victim by a push or shove, such would be excluded from the definition of bodily harm as being merely trifle.  However, his holding on to the victim and then striking the victim in the body with two punches at the same time that his cousin was striking the back of the victim’s body with three punches, would in my opinion be foreseeable to injure the victim sufficient to amount to bodily harm.  It would be foreseeable that such an attack to the victim’s body in this manner would interfere with the health and comfort of the victim both physically and emotionally for some time and would not be trifling.

In any outcome I am certain that a random attack such as this would leave any victim with some psychological harm of a non trifling nature such that there would be fear of simply walking down the wrong street and being subject to an assault.

Similar fact scenarios have played out countless times in the city in recent years. I cite just off the top of my head:

  • This: Argument over T-shirt led to fatal stabbing
  • This: Manslaughter conviction overturned (now pending a decision from the Supreme Court — arguments heard in December)
  • This: Teens get one-day jail sentences for deadly beating
  • This: Man, 20, jailed for violent killing

Angry youth roaming the streets commit senseless acts of violence for no apparent reason (or reason that is in any way, shape or form acceptable).

Should we be shocked? Sure. Will that shock lead to meaningful change — or an actual discussion about how to curb it?

Likely not.

I’d submit that finding “common purpose” in this instance is not just for lawyers and judges.

‘Known to police’

All photos City of Winnipeg

It looks as if one of the city’s most notoriously violent rooming houses goes under the microscope — or something like it — on Monday.

In the last three years, I’ve been at 624-626 Balmoral St. more times than I can count on both hands. Not to buy crack, but to take in the latest (usually drug-fuelled) mayhem du jour there.

Usually the headline looks something like this:

Man shot at violent Winnipeg rooming house

And then the lede:

A 27-year-old man is in critical condition after being shot at a notoriously violent rooming house in Winnipeg early Wednesday morning.

You could wallpaper the entire place with the amount of police tape that’s been used there in the past little while. But, judging from the pictures above, the decor is not exactly top-of-mind for the owner or people who have lived there over the years.

[UPDATE: Here at this link is a TV piece by CBC Manitoba’s crime reporter Gosia Sawicka. Money quote regarding the former owner: “Things weren’t changing so he gave up.”]

2 homicides in just over a year

In the span of just a couple of months in 2008-09, two people were killed at the rooming house. I may have lost count of the other episodes of mayhem, but here’s the quick rundown of the homicides. If I’m not mistaken, there was another not too long ago. Just can’t quite remember it.

On Nov. 8, 2008, Philip Mayur was stabbed to death on the second floor. The 39-year-old man had arrived in Canada from Africa in the late ’90s and made his way from Ontario to Winnipeg. Media reports said Mayur was the father of four children.

On Dec. 4, police announced the arrest of two men in connection to Mayur’s death. The suspects, aged 26 and 42, were charged with first-degree murder, meaning police believe the killing was planned and premeditated. Their cases are still before the courts.

Last January, Valerie Paypompee, 36, was fatally stabbed in a suite on the second floor of the building. Police allege her boyfriend killed her during a domestic dispute. Paypompee, who was from Shoal Lake, Ont., was Winnipeg’s second homicide of 2009.

Mulugeta Geddy Gillamichael, 34, has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with her death. Gillamichael, originally from Ethiopia, was committed to stand trial in Court of Queen’s Bench in November, but no trial dates have been set.

Anyhow,

City inspectors finally got a clue or a tip that something was wrong there, went in on Sept. 22 and found — gasp! — major structural problems with the place. They’re threatening to sue or even have it closed down under the livability bylaw:

The specific Order stated:

• 624 – Head clearance on the west side stairs leading to the 2nd floor is 171 cm • 626 – 3rd floor stairwell head clearance is 158 cm • 626 – 2nd floor stairwell’s head clearance is 165 cm

1. Section 50(c) – Ensure that the stairways have a minimum head room of at least 195 cm, measured vertically from a line drawn through the outer edges of the nosing.

• 626 – 3rd floor stairwell is 27 cm wide

2. Section 52(1)(b) – Ensure habitable rooms in attics or partial storeys will have stairways leading to the dwelling must be at least 75 cm wide and must not be inclined to an angle of more than 50 degrees from horizontal and must be provided with a minimum clearance height of 180 cm measured vertically from a line drawn through the outer edges of the nosing.

Compliance date: November 5, 2010

The owners are appealing [the work was to be done by Nov. 5] and will have to appear in front of Gord Steeves and the other members of the city’s protection and community services committee to voice their objection and ask for more time.

In a letter notifying the city of his appeal the owner says he’s owned the building less than a year and has been hamstrung by debt to pay for repairs. He does, however, say he’s hoping to save enough to install cameras that will somehow help residents and neighbours feel safer.

Give him a year, he says, and he’ll be “more open to considering” doing such major structural work.

At the end of the day, however, what would probably make everyone feel safer is if the poor souls inside were cleared out and the entire block was bulldozed.

Here’s hoping that’s what Steeves et al. decide to do.

We should be ashamed that people are even allowed to go within 10 feet of the entranceways given what’s gone on there over the years.