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.

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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.

Lulonda Flett, the map of human frailties, and where they can lead us

1297184250604_ORIGINALAll it took was drunken anger and a match for a disadvantaged and unsophisticated mother of six to become Manitoba’s most recent mass killer.

To look at Lulonda Flett’s case and how she wound up where she is today — in jail for killing five people trapped in a rickety rooming house she torched at 288 Austin St. North in 2011 — is to consider truly human frailties which plague so many in our society.

The word ‘killer’ conjures up images for me, and many others. Hooded thugs who take lives without a thought. Remorseless predators so desperate to feel a sense of power and control they’d commit the ultimate sin to get there.

But that’s not Lulonda Lynn Flett, all things considered. And that’s the queasy irony of it all.

Ironic in that someone who’s as far from the stereotype of the common killer as she is, in the end, ends up taking more life away in one go than anyone else in my memory, including: teen gangsters armed with automatic guns or bona-fide family-loathing psychos.

People with histories like Ms. Flett’s don’t typically wind up in jail for mass slayings, at least not that I’ve seen. They usually wind up there because they shoplifted diapers, booze, or to feed a crack habit out of sheer desperation.

And it’s this dissonance, to me, that makes how she killed five people with one senseless act that much more of a mystery that’s been weighing on my mind for nearly two years now.

To her, the reason why she is where she is is simple. But I just don’t think that’s true. Maybe I’m over-thinking it.

“It was all about the drinking. That’s how I ended up here.” Lulonda Lynn Flett, to psychologist Dr. Kent Somers, early 2013

Could it be that simple? Or is it an excuse to try and dodge a potential life sentence in prison?

Lulonda Flett: The early years

The second-youngest of six siblings (a seventh died as an infant), Flett (then Harper) was born at the hospital in Norway House 41 years ago and soon brought back to her home community of St. Theresa Point.

Her mother’s doctor told her mom to give birth there because there was no appropriate medical facility in the small STP reserve, one of four which makes up the overall community of Island Lake.

A doctor visits there just once a month. Currently, of 521 Homes in STP – 463 have no water service and there’s an 83 per cent food insecurity rate.

Food prices are 50 per cent higher than average retail price — and this is today.

Who knows what it was like in 1971.

Mom was a community health worker and dad worked “odd jobs” to get their large family by.

Her folks drank, struggled with the bottle — excess Flett would ultimately came to see as “normative” behaviour in her later years.

Her parents’ parties often led her older sister to lock the younger kids in a bedroom when the adults were drinking. They’d watch TV or play music. She says dad would go on drinking “binges” to Winnipeg, sometimes staying there for months.

Flett’s older sister described violence breaking out after the drinking parties wound down. This prompted the sister to assume the role of protector to her sibings. She’d camp out on floor by the bedroom’s barricaded door to percent people from entering.

Sometimes, when her dad was on one of his city ‘trips,’ mom would go off to join him. Flett would be packed up to go stay at her aunt’s.

Sometime before she turned 10, Flett says an older relative began abusing her. She says she tried to tell her mother about what was happening, but was accused of “making it up so I wouldn’t have to sleep over there.”

She also says she tried to tell her aunt but, “nobody believed me [so] I just stopped trying to tell them.”

To this day, Flett remains curiously concerned about hurting her now 75-year-old mom’s relationship with her alleged abuser.

She says he tried to apologize to her once, but she rebuffed him. “I told him not to talk to me.” The relative was never charged.

Her mom, now 75 and caring for two of Flett’s children, ultimately quit drinking after Flett’s father got sick with stomach ulcers and suffered kidney failure.

Phase two: A portrait of Flett as a young woman 

At around 14 or 15 years old, Flett was sent away from STP to start school in Teulon, at a residential school where nuns ruled the roost. Her sister — her elder protector — was also there.

Raised in a home where Oji-Cree was the main dialect, Flett had to adjust her tongue to the English language as the nuns wouldn’t tolerate a word being uttered in any other language. They “insisted,” she says.

Nonetheless, Flett got good marks and enjoyed school. She “never missed a day,” she says.

According to Dr. Somers, “school represented a refuge from the relative chaos at home, [and] she agreed.” She also enjoyed playing sports.

The sister had a bit of different view, saying she dropped out at one point but was convinced to return. She and others, she says, were treated to disparaging comments from some. “Go back to the bush where you belong,” were among the insults hurled at them.

It was around this time Flett took her first drink. She met a young man named Brian, and became pregnant. This was 1986-87.

She ventured into Winnipeg and had the baby at Villa Rosa. Wanting to return to high school, arrangements were made for her to live with a relative in Brandon to complete Grade 11. It didn’t work out as planned.

Flett says that relative’s drinking problem paved her a road back to St. Theresa.

She still hoped to finish Grade 12, and find a job at the local nursing station. But it seems the challenges of life as a new mom didn’t allow that to happen as time wore on. “I had no time for myself — I always had a baby,” Flett says.

By 18, she met her husband to be, B., a man with whom she’s had five children. He was a “nice guy,” Flett says.

But ‘Mr. Nice’ wasn’t to last.

1310730736747_ORIGINAL“They used to call me raccoon eyes”

By 22, Flett and B. married, and they went to live at his parents home in nearby Garden Hill. “She was an active and supportive parent to her children,” her sister says.

Around this time things started to get ugly for her.

“She reported that her husband insisted that she drink with him, ‘forced’ her to do so,” Dr. Somers writes of his interviews with Flett.

B. and she would drink “super juice” — a noxious homebrew seen by many as a plague in the “dry” Island Lake community, given the mayhem and sickness it’s spawned there over the years.

B. also insisted Flett smoke weed and later crack cocaine.

They’d smoke up marijuana “almost daily” and come home from work over lunch to get high, Flett reported.

Their marriage and substance-sharing didn’t appear to make the bond between them stronger. Instead, she says B. became “very abusive” on a physical, sexual and emotional level. Flett also says he cheated. He couldn’t keep a job.

“According to Ms. Flett, her husband would lock her in the house, take her shoes and remove the phone so that she couldn’t contact anyone or ‘run away.’ Ms. Flett related that her husband often hit her with objects, and also burnt her with a cigarette.

“She commented, ‘they used to call me raccoon eyes’ because of the bruising from the reported assaults,” Dr. Somers wrote.

It didn’t seem to ever get better. In fact, the  abuse escalated into the evil cycle of domestic violence.

“Ms. Flett recounted an incident in which he assaulted her and then dragged her across a patch of rough ground,” Dr. Somers said. He was charged and served six months in lockup — and was fully compliant.

“[W]hen he returned to live with Ms. Flett, the violence continued and it was ‘worse.’ It was a cycle, she kept going back to him, he’d apologize and convince her he’d never do it again.

Berating herself for believing him time and again, she says her in-laws “told her that the violence was ‘always’ her fault.”

Flett’s kids began begging her to not go back to B. “They said he was going to kill me one day,” Flett says.

She and B. eventually separated. He left for Thompson. She stayed in STP — for now.

Somehow in the midst of all this Flett worked at the community Northern Store and managed to acquire her certificates in Home Care support work and First Aid along the way.

But now her drinking, it didn’t stop.

It just got worse.

2009-10: a new beginning?

In 2009, Flett came into a bit of a windfall. It may have also been her downfall.

Having never claimed any federal benefits for the kids, Flett was handed a $14,000 child-benefits cheque and they moved to Winnipeg.

That year or early the next, Flett started dating C., who was 36 and from her community. They met while he was on a drinking trip to the city.

“For Lulonda, this was the best relationship she had ever known,” Flett recently told the writer of a “Gladue” report looking at her aboriginal background and circumstances.

“He never hit me, he never abused me, and he was always there for me,” Flett said. “The two were inseparable, spending all their time together,” the report states.

For a time — and bolstered by the child-tax money – Flett returned to STP, paid for her kids’ needs, helping to fix up her mom’s home.

But C. had his own troubles. An alcoholic himself, he’d panhandle or borrow cash from a relative to get by. Eventually, he started siphoning money out of Flett and the relationship took a dark turn towards an apparent cliff.

“Lulonda returned to the city to be with C. She paid for his wants — alcohol and survived on family and friends as she had no real address. C. was very controlling over money and Lulonda especially as her money dried up. C. and Lulonda were both now on welfare and were drinking constantly.”

It was reflection upon this phase which caused her to realize the power the booze had over her life. “It was all about the drinking. That’s how I ended up here,” Flett told Dr. Somers. 

Not seeing the drinking as a problem, Flett never sought treatment. Her kids urged her to take it easy but “even these pleas” didn’t trigger a desire to seek change, Dr. Somers reports.

“She reported only that she has “tried to quit,” prompting hospitalizations for alcohol withdrawal. Flett subsequently relapsed (evidently quite quickly) to stifle emotional pain and because of her affiliation with others who were drinking.”

She equated the hospitalizations largely as normal, given her upbringing (see above).

It was around here that someone made a call to Child and Family Services, while Flett was in the throes of a drinking binge.

Flett’s children were taken away. One was already living with an aunt. Two others went to live with her mom. The others went to dad.

Flett “voiced bitterness toward B., expressing the belief that he had made the call to CFS in 2010 that resulted in the apprehension of her children,” Dr. Somers wrote. “I kind of don’t trust him,” she said.

The alcohol abuse only escalated after the kids were removed from her care. “I was lonely and depressed; I was angry at myself … I didn’t care about myself,” Flett said.

She was drinking up to a 26 oz. bottle of liquor daily up until the day after her arrest. She’d withdraw in hospital, get a valium prescription to ease the symptoms upon discharge. Resuming her drinking habit was “virtually immediate.”

It’s like she was living in a black hole: Drinking, blacking out from it, waking up and starting again.

“I wish it was me who died.” 

“I was so out of it: I just remember drinking with C.”

This: Pretty much the only thing Flett remembers about the early morning she torched the couch on porch of 288 Austin St. N. An act of anger which would wreak havoc on the lives of so many.

Just days before, she had been cut loose from the Remand Centre after being snatched on an old warrant for an assault against a relative who stayed at the rooming house. Someone she was barred from being around by virtue of court-orders.

“She reported that (C.) had told her they had argued” on the night in question, but can’t remember what about, Dr. Somers said.

“She recalled attending 288 Austin Street North … but voiced uncertainty as to her actions, almost 20 months having passed.”

Flett was later arrested in a bar and had to be told about what she did and the “extent of harm done” by the officers who interviewed her, the psychologist said, adding:

“When asked about a possible motive for the office, Ms. Flett stated she had been angry at C’s mother, who apparently resided in the rooming house … Apparently, (C’s) mother had previously called the police complaining about Ms. Flett’s behaviour at the rooming house.

According to Ms. Flett, Mr. Harper’s mother has been concerned about the number of people in the building and the resultant noise. However Ms. Flett was clear she did not intend significant harm to others nor did she anticipate that deaths would ensue from her actions. 

She commented bleakly, ‘I wish it was me who died.’

She expressed a mixture of tearful remorse for her actions tempered only by a measure of incredulity at the extent of what had occurred.”

Instead, dead are: Norman Darius Anderson, age 22; Maureen Claire Harper, age 54; Kenneth Bradley Monkman, age 49; Dean James Stranden, age 44; Robert Curtis Laforte, age 56.

Flett knew one of the men personally, and says she was related to Maureen Harper.

The wreckage of the fire was incredible to behold. I remember distinctly being there. I will never forget it. 

Nearly two years sober, now

Flett today, is a “physically robust” (Dr. Somers’ words) woman living in the “Delta” wing of the Women’s Correctional Centre just outside of Winnipeg.

It’s special needs wing of the new prison, a place where she’s been subjected to intimidation by other inmates who have discovered what she did.

Dr. Somers, in his lengthy report on Flett, makes several findings about her psychological makeup and abilities, ultimately conclusing she’s a “vulnerable individual” who has serious intellectual deficits and only “modest internal controls” to help herself manage her behaviour.

“A significant aspect of these findings from intellectual testing, although notably limited at present, is that these data suggest a context for understanding Ms. Flett’s responses to events in her life. That is, her capacity for learning from prior experiences is likely to differ from that of others [whose abilities are are typical for their age.]…

“Her responses to stress or to problems in her personal life are likely to be more limited and less effective than are those of most others her age. Her actions are most likely to be directed by immediate considerations [most likely about herself] rather than anticipation of long-term consequences [those affecting both herself and others]. Her focus on her own needs and interests over those of others is not a reflection of callous self-interest, it is an expression of her limited capacity for anticipating others’ needs or reactions while being [in comparison] acutely aware of her own hurt, fear and perceived options.

She needs help, Somers ultimately finds.

Also, she’s no psychopath.

Somers found no “compelling evidence of psychopathy” in the woman.

That is: no display of traits suggesting exaggerated self-importance, callous lack of empathy for others, multiple and versatile patterns of offending, nor frank manipulations of others. (Those are essentially his words).

He notes, however, several “historical factors” associated with Flett’s offending risk. This quasi ‘probability of future harm’ assessment includes the findings:

  • Unabated substance abuse, with no intervention.
  • Chronic domestic abuse with physical injuries
  • Emotional neglect
  • Sexual abuse which persisted despite having tried to report it.
  • Disrupted schooling
  • No interventions; no treatment for mental health issues in past.

The Crown wants to send Flett to prison for life for what she did, for her guilty pleas to five counts of manslaughter.

Her own lawyers want to see her serve time amounting to no more than 10 years.

You can read all about the sentencing process elsewhere. That’s not the purpose of this (lengthy) post.

See, the thing is, after considering all the factors, I just don’t know what’s appropriate here in terms of jailhouse punishment. 

Let’s face it, even if she does get life, she’ll still be eligible — eligible — for parole after seven years. So really, the Crown’s bid is one for lifetime supervision. Considering the horrific double-fatal arson case of Howard Mason, the request may not be out of line. The request appears to fall a little flat, however, when considering Flett’s nearly total lack of criminal involvement.

Also muddying the mix is her comment to Dr. Somers about not anticipating deaths would result from her actions.

It has me seriously wondering: Can someone with Flett’s background — with the life she’s been through and her level of intoxication at the time — actually fire the synapses which would suggest otherwise? That she actually knew what she was doing?

I’m just not so sure.

Some parting words of forgiveness

Marie Anderson, the mother of Norman Anderson, who died in the horrible blaze, wrote Flett a simply-worded letter. The level of forgiveness expressed is unusual, and if taken sincerely – inspiring.

“I often think about you and wonder how you must be feeling. 

I am writing you this letter to let you know I am not mad or angry with you and that I love you even though I never met you.

It is really hard for me to think about this person that I love so much, that was taken away from me suddenly. 

I pray that things will go well for you in court and I do not want to lay charges but it’s not up to me, to make that decision.

I want you to know I want to put this behind me and move on with my life

God bless you and take care

–Marie Anderson

*** Note: The factual contents of this post were largely sourced from a psychological report written by Dr. Somers in April 2013 and a Gladue report authored for Flett’s sentencing hearing. I’ve attributed where possible — most, if not all the direct quotes from Flett are from the Somers report. 

Edited post-posting to clean up typos.

-30-

Evan Maud: ‘The million question kid’

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Cops are hard on people like me and my friends‘ — Evan Maud, Nov. 13, 2012

Who is Evan Michelle Maud?

And why would he lie about Winnipeg police taking him on a so-called ‘starlight tour’ in late 2010 only to be snared in a web of embarrassing lies which police utterly ripped apart in short order thanks to GPS, surveillance cameras and other investigative means?

I can’t answer that. What I can tell you is a little more about Mr. Maud, his upbringing and background, which may help those interested come to understand a little more about the 22-year-old and his circumstances. Many people still clearly have questions.

At his last public appearance to apologize for bringing the false claims against the police, Maud didn’t take any questions.

Instead he was ushered out of the room after reading a three-minute long statement (below) which didn’t actually say, ‘I lied.’

Many hearing the statement questioned Maud’s sincerity given the ‘mea culpa’ was apparently key to the public mischief charge he was facing being dropped.

‘Restorative justice in action’ was how it was essentially sold to the public/media by Onashowewin, a Manitoba aboriginal justice agency for which I have a great respect for with respect to their work on private Gladue pre-sentencing reports often tabled in court.

Maud was also the subject of a PSR with a Gladue component — this one authored by a Manitoba Corrections officer. But it wasn’t relating to the ‘starlight tour’ hijinks. It was instead written to inform the judge who handled his January sentencing for attacking an innocent man after being punted from a party in the North End on his 21st birthday in November 2011.

(Without going off on a tangent, it appears one of the concerns about the adequacy of Corrections Gladue reports raised by the Manitoba Court of Appeal late last year has been addressed.)

The report tabled concerning Mr. Maud, compiled by a probation officer in the aptly-named Corrections Random Assault Unit — was thorough, lengthy and detailed and involved interviews with several people who’ve known him his entire life.

The bulk of what’s in it is presented below.

Maud’s Dad:

A life-long member and resident of the Cross Lake First Nation, Maud’s father, 59, is a community councillor and support worker who spent 15 years in residential schools as there were no other schooling options in the community in his youth.

He went on to leave the community briefly to study at university in Brandon. Cross Lake, population roughly 7,000, is a community which continues to feel the pain of the residential schools legacy.

Today, Maud’s dad says, there are few options for folks to make a way for themselves.

“There are widespread issues of drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, suicide, vandalism and other types of crime,” he told the PO.

Maud’s Mom:

Hailing from Skownan First Nation north of Winnipeg, the 51-year-old has lived away from her home community for most of her life, returning frequently there to visit relatives.

“(Her) family comes from a long line of very traditional people who have continued to practice indigenous styles of healthy living, sustenance, spirituality and preservation of their heritage and language.”

Like Cross Lake, however, the shadow of Rez schools has led the community and its people down the sad path of years of poverty, drug and booze issues, domestic violence, suicide and a lack of community services, the report says.

In 1996 — an unspecified standoff left the community “torn apart” and left a trail of family breakdowns and migration away for security and safety reasons.

“Homes were looted and burned to the ground and many people never returned.”

Since then, Skownan has rebuilt and a sense of habitat returned. A gaming centre has brought jobs and a construction company and business centre have become local sources of pride, the report suggests.

Maud’s early years through his troubled teens: 

Born in Thompson to his parents, the couple’s relationship didn’t last and they lived apart during their brief time together. Although Maud’s mom was his primary caregiver, he did spend time with his father over the years and the two have grown close.

He has a half-sister and three half-brothers. Maud as a child, according to his dad, was “very independent, curious and quiet.”

“(Dad) also noted that his son clearly understood the difference between right and wrong and would spend a great deal of time asking questions and trying to figure things out on his own.”

Curiously, Maud was made to feel unwelcome by Cross Lake band members.

His mom says Maud was a “difficult son to manage.”

“She indicated she felt he acted up on purpose to get attention.”

In an emotional interview with the probation officer/report writer, Maud’s mom described her parenting skills as wanting and that she did to her kids “what was done to me.”

In his youth, Maud suffered through an abusive relationship his mom undertook and was made victim of physical and sexual abuse, the report says. Mom describes his upbringing as a “rough childhood.”

“She worried about her son as her was very accident prone, acting out first, suffering through consequences after and he experienced numerous injuries as a child.”

Mom was a rover, taking Maud and his step-sister from home to home and school to school across three provinces in his youth. As of late 2012, she has been 25 years sober.

A cousin who now lives in Toronto recalled how Maud “was a curious child, very sociable, outgoing, liked to make up stories and was always asking questions.”

The sister dubbed Maud “the million question kid,” saying he was curious, liked reading and “asked too many questions.”

“She believed her brother began to get into trouble after she left home, was influenced by other teenagers and got caught up in marijuana and alcohol.”

He was no stranger to bullying — brought about because he wore his hair long.

By 13, Maud was experimenting with weed and mushrooms. By 15, he was drinking. At 16 he fell into the clutches of an unnamed gang but fought his way out of it the following year.

By Grade 9, Maud was suspended from school — but returned in 2011 to get his GED. In this time, he was living with the cousin, who says he fell into a bad crowd who “pressured him into drinking or took advantage of his good nature.”

“She indicated she believes (Maud) has never really experienced stability in his life, lacked parental support and guidance.”

Today, Maud avoids people from his past, the report noted him as saying. He keeps counsel with one close friend who has no criminal background.

“(Maud) indicated he could not open up to new people easily, and did not like to discuss his past, so making positive friends was difficult.”

He prefers the company of his sister and a girlfriend who describes him as “calm” but worries about his habit of “internalizing everything.”

The girlfriend says he worries about having no job. Maud successfully completed a welding certificate course and had been actively seeking work at the time.

“She commented the subject is trying to make positive changes, find employment and goes for long walks when he is feeling down and needs to clear his head.”

Drinking, she says, is forbidden in her home.

MAUD, in his own (slightly mediated) words:

Calm and quiet in his interview with the PO, Maud says the assault he inflicted on the landlord in Nov. 2011 was “all a blur” because he was so drunk at the time. This admission caused the officer to note he seemed to be “deflecting” the blame for what happened.

“(He) went on to say he believes others judge him unfairly based on his actions, make it sound like he is a bad person for something he doesn’t remember and do not know the real person he believes himself to be … (saying) “Cops are hard on people like me and my friends.”

While he was clear he didn’t want to go to jail, Maud indicated he would do whatever the court wished of him.

He’s never been diagnosed with any mental illness or antisocial disorder.

“He indicated he has low motivation and stays at home so much it feels like a dungeon.”

Of concern to the PO was how Maud displayed no apparent empathy or remorse for the man he attacked.

The officer ranked Maud — using a standardized case-management risk assessment tool — as a high risk to reoffend but concluded he was a suitable candidate for community supervision.

———

Maud didn’t take questions after issuing his apology to the police and public for the ‘starlight tour’ allegations — delivered through the media who turned up to hear it.

Instead, he was quickly shuffled out of the room and we’ve heard nothing from him since.

I haven’t checked if the public mischief charge he faced as a result of his actions was in fact, dropped as was claimed it would be.

The silence left after the apology been a void simply filled with more questions, all asking, really, the same thing: Why did he do it?

I can’t answer that. Maybe Mr. Maud can’t either.

Maybe it would be unlike the “million question kid’ to have it any other way.

—–

Maud’s Apology in full:

I’m sorry for jeopardizing the reputation of the Winnipeg Police Service. I want to say sorry to the police officers and putting them in that situation. I’m also deeply sorry to their families, friends and colleagues for causing them to doubt, mistrust and question the two police officers. And I am so sorry for that. I understand that would not have happened if I didn’t say the things that I said. I feel bad for what I put them through.

At the time, it was hard. I felt overwhelmed when the TV crews and community took it to a whole new level. Next thing you know, it was all over the place, reporters from different media sources were questioning me. I was scared. I never wanted this to happen. During this time all I wanted was to live my life normally and go to school. It was the worst two years of my life.

I felt bad that my mom moved all the way from the next province to come support me. I put my mom in a situation where she thought she didn’t raise me right. I just made a mistake. I try my best to apologize to everyone that I may have harmed.

I also want to acknowledge the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs for taking the time to help me. I didn’t mean to put my people through this.

I don’t want this to impact anyone from submitting legitimate complaints in the future. I want people to understand that I did not intend for this to happen. I was taught that forgiveness is a part of healing and I need this to move on in life in a positive way. In many ways, I learned how to have respect, how to be truthful and honest. I am part of a youth community, and I want them to think of me as a role model.

I want to encourage youth to tell everything that they know is right. I was able to move forward and graduate school and am now doing good things for myself. In closing, I want to say sorry and thank you for listening.

Winnipeg: a favorite hub for fraudsters?

Why Winnipeg?

That’s the question that kept coming to my mind during Ben Harvey-Langton’s sentencing hearing today in provincial court.

The largest credit card fraud operation ever uncovered in Manitoba’s history. (Link is to my report on the case, which was never revealed by Winnipeg police that I can see.)

Let that rattle in your brain for a bit and realize the magnitude of what Harvey-Langton and his co-conspirators were trying to accomplish.

Judging from the facts of the case, Harvey-Langton is no dummy. He’s a grad-school educated whip-smart scam artist who seems to know his way around corners of the Internet most people don’t know even exist. He’s skilled in fake ID’s, computers and world travel.

 “Harvey-Langton was born in Nice, France.  He moved to England when he was 17 years old.  He lived with his mother, step-father and sister.  He studied Psychology, receiving an Honour’s degree.  He went to New Zealand and obtained his private pilot’s licence.  He went to Germany and studied international business at the Schiller International University in Heidelberg.  It was there that he was introduced to the criminal business of credit card fraud …”

“… He was not only obtaining, but also sharing, stolen credit card data over the internet.

He was known in the fraudulent credit card business as a “dumps” buyer.

He purchased a card embosser from China on May 30, 2011 over the internet.

He was in communication with people who were finding additional illegal carding sites and new ways of fraudulently obtaining credit card data, such as a new way of IP straining.

He was visiting illicit internet websites with names such as “Little Snitch Program”, “Kurupt” and “carder.pro”.

He was in the process of purchasing a new identity complete with a false passport, perhaps Finnish, “as it opens more doors to a new identity in the EU outside of Finland,” and other personal identification cards.” (Judge Devine decision)

But for some reason, Harvey-Langton and his co-conspirators (one who went by the curious Internet handle of “Darky”) chose our fair city as home base to set up their scheme. 

I keep wondering why. Harvey-Langton met the other co-conspirator in Montreal and for whatever reason chose Winnipeg to set up the hub of operations.

Weird thing is, Harvey-Langton had used fake credit cards to book first-class passed from southern Africa in August [and stayed in high-ticket hotels on the way] to find his way through Johannesburg to London and then on to Montreal. Ostensibly the trip was to visit his sister in Quebec with a [unfulfilled] side-trip planned to Churchill.

It wasn’t to be.

“Communications once within Canada in September 2011 show he was in Montreal, northern Quebec, then in Ontario, using false credit cards again for cars, flights and hotels.  He characterized his criminal activity as “working really hard”, complaining that he hadn’t gone out in over two months and was completely wasted.

He is currently subject to criminal investigations and/or charges in Ontario and Quebec.  The Winnipeg investigation led to information relevant to those investigations, such as lists of malls and photography stores in Ontario and a search for the “best lawyer Montreal fraud credit card”.

His calendar entry for October 5, 2011, showed he was “doing Darky’s shit”.

A conversation between he and co‑accused Guo characterized the Winnipeg hit as part of a larger plan to invest for ATM fraud.” (Devine decision)

Again, the question begs — and I won’t pretend to know the answer — why Winnipeg?

Why not Toronto, Vancouver — or given how internet based the data-scamming scheme is — Jasper or Kelowna? It it our cheap long-distance rates?

Yes, the actual damage in this case was minimal, thanks to a sharp-eyed and suspicious Henry’s sales clerk who questioned why all of Harvey-Langton’s fake cards were being declined when he tried to buy a Canon D60 DSLR as part of the overall scheme to finance further fraud.

The plan was to counterfeit credit cards, buy high-end cameras and give them to a fourth individual named “Dope Carder” who would sell the cameras for $800 each.  The offender’s take would be $300 on each camera. (Devine decision)

So what’s the big deal, you might wonder as well.

Amex thought it was a big deal. In a rare move, the Crown sought a victim impact statement from the credit-card company to tell the court about the effects credit-card scams have on Canadians.

One of the agreed documents was a Victim Impact Statement from the Amex Bank of Canada, completed by its Director of Security, Rick Neals.  In the statement, Mr. Neals outlined the increasing seriousness of credit card fraud internationally and in Canada.  There are 68.2 million credit cards in circulation across Canada.  In 2011, the Canadian issuers of Visa, Mastercard and American Express reported losses of $436,588,757 due to credit card fraud, a form of “electronic bank robbery” according to Mr. Neal’s statement.  Counterfeit activity is the largest type of credit card fraud in Canada.  One of the methods is through computer hacking:

Data thieves hack into networks to steal account data or infect the network with malware which is capable of collecting account data as it is being processed by a merchant or processor.  The compromised data is then sold by organized crime groups on the Internet “carder forums” and is later used to manufacture a counterfeit credit card. (at 4)

Credit card fraud is not typically committed by sole operators.  Mr. Neal’s statement goes on to say,

Counterfeit credit card fraud is not usually perpetrated by one individual acting alone.  It is generally committed by highly mobile, organized-crime gangs, who use the funds obtained to finance various other criminal activities, including drug trafficking, firearm purchases, etc. (at 5) (Devine decision)

Anyone with any answers to the question that started out this post, please chime in in the comments.

Harvey-Langton has six years now to reflect and ask himself the same question.

Minus earned remission and early parole eligibility, of course.

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Accused serial killer Shawn Lamb and ‘the pain of being a rabbit’

(Shawn Lamb is arrested by Winnipeg police/Chris Procaylo/Winnipeg Sun/QMI)

Accused serial killer Shawn Lamb didn’t want to talk to me today, instead referring me to his lawyer, Evan Roitenberg through a very polite officer at the Winnipeg Remand Centre.

Roitenberg, always a gentleman, politely declined to discuss the triple second-degree murder case, in which Lamb is presumed innocent. He said he had little information and was awaiting disclosure from the Crown via police.

But that doesn’t mean Lamb, a career criminal with more than 100 convictions on his record, doesn’t have things to say.

Below, is a verbatim reprint of a handwritten piece of his original musings submitted to Judge Linda Giesbrecht on May 26, 2010 — the day where Giesbrecht sentenced him to serve 19 more months and Lamb ended up serving 13, despite his record.

“I’m just a coward pretending not to be afraid, sounding confident powerful, looking bold and fearsome as I could rip off the heads of my opponents.

But in my belly the wee bottom of my little belly is a boy still afraid, feeling alone, unknown if what he has will be enough to win to survive.

Hoping only hoping in its place I could feel the anger slowly filling up my empty belly and I loved the anger. It killed fear. It was easier to attack than to run.

It felt better to be lion not a rabbit. Oh, the pain of being a rabbit.

Once upon a time there was born a baby boy, a lovely indian boy as sweet and fat cheeked and gifted by the crater as any baby anywhere.

Except for the slightly darker hair and skin, he would have looked like your little boy and like your little boy he was born innocent, as innocent as a puppy.

Now take a puppy, when he comes up to you, tail wagging, you pick him up and love him, if you kick that innocent puppy instead “just kick him” and when he’s hungry you throw him out in the cold without food, and when he wants to be warm and safe you let the vicious neighbourhood dogs rip and tear at him, well, what about that, puppy?

How will that innocent puppy grow up?

A baby doesn’t choose where or to whom he is born, nor nationality, think, the nationality of an innocent baby is judged, treated.

An innocent baby deserves not to be torn apart from its mother, well the baby is the wrong nationality, expendable, send the child away, damn the damage this may cause.

The innocent child’s mind can not understand, “who are these strangers?” “WHY?” Why do they tease and torment and hurt this child body and soul?

The child’s psyche tortured, and with the innocent wonder of a child he can’t understand why the rights that even a puppy understands were taken from him, why as a member of this human species on the face of the earth he was do despised when he was so innocent.

He has only loved his mother, he had only done no wrong, but he was so despised and he felt the horrid heat of hate against him — why did they stomp out the last tiny vestiges of self-worth from this child? What wrong had he committed? Why was he kicked and beaten, raped and abused in both mind and body? Why?

The pain, the shame, the guilt, the confusion, this lost soul of a child (illegible word).

A path of anger, stealing, living on the streets, never enough drugs to escape the pain, dull the memories, the nightmares. A young boy in a man prison, a lost young man in prison, a middle-aged man in prison throughout all, a dim light, glimmer of hope a feeling of worth.

Ask for help unload the shame.

I’m wanting and worthy of a better life!”

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Why was Shawn Lamb out of jail?

 

(Carolyn Sinclair)

Looking at the math, either I’m missing something about the recent release date of accused serial killer Shawn Lamb, or we need to seriously re-examine the early-release provisions regarding career criminals.

Today, Lamb is facing three second-degree murder charges in connection to the deaths of:

Tanya Nepinak (on Sept. 13, 2011)

Carolyn Sinclair (Dec. 18, 2011)

Lorna Blacksmith (Jan. 11, 2012)

On May 26, 2010, Lamb was sentenced by Judge Linda Giesbrecht (now retired) to the following after admitting guilt to 16 charges, including two violent robberies of innocent people.

27 months at double credit (his charges pre-dated the legislative amendment forbidding granting this to him) for time served on the robberies.

PLUS 19 months going forward of real jail for possession of property obtained by crime and forgery and theft, fraud and utter forged documents.

ONLY after this period of jail was served would the many months remaining on a Conditional Sentence he was given in Jan. 2009 for attempted robbery then begin to resume (to be followed by three years of supervised probation — court heard the sentence handed down in May 2010 would ultimately mean he’d be supervised in various forms for six years).

The Crown attorney was very specific in how she wanted the sentence structured.

If he was sentenced to 19 months real jail, that takes us to December 2011 before that in-custody period expired.

Looking at the offence dates police say the women were killed, that raises an issue. It would appear, on the surface, that Lamb was released many months prior to when he was supposed to be from a provincial jail.

I can accept in some cases early-release provisions apply for both federal and provincial inmates.

But in Lamb’s case, I can’t. This is an accused person with more than 100 prior convictions, many of them for violent acts and court order breaches — along with parole and statutory release violations.

How it was determined that he be granted early release — given his prior history — needs to be examined in detail.

Police spending: at a crisis point?

(Public Safety Building, Winnipeg)

Is police spending in Winnipeg reaching a crisis point?

That’s the question I had this morning when looking through the latest — however scant and vague — information available on city financial forecasts.

Quarterly Budget Forecast Document

Just weeks after the department’s nearly $224-million 2012 budget was adopted, the department is already forecasting a small deficit for the year of nearly $1.3 million.

“The Police Services department’s expenses are anticipated to be over budget due to overtime,” the explanation goes.

The current financial forecast indicates by the end of the year, WPS spending will cross the quarter-billion dollar mark.

I can fully accept that OT is necessary and unpredictable for most, if not all, organizations.

About 85 per cent of the overall WPS budget, however, already goes towards labour costs.

I get the sense something has to be amiss when I see despite the considerable — and ever-increasing — police budget, officers are going hat in hand to city committees for tiny cash grants to purchase mountain bikes to patrol on.

On May 22, The East-Kildonan-Transcona community committee approved a per-capita grant of $1,500 towards a patrol bike request (the service asked for $2,500).

Here’s the stated rationale for the ask:

The citizens of Winnipeg, specifically Transcona have contacted the Winnipeg Police Service on several occasions in regards to ongoing issues on the Transcona Trail. The Transcona Trail experiences a high volume of pedestrian/bicycle traffic through out the year with limited accessibility for emergency services. The ability for the Winnipeg Police Service to patrol the trail by bicycle will provide a visible police presence as well as a tool to assist police in apprehending offenders on the trail. Bicycle patrol also allows for a unique way for members of the Winnipeg Police Service to patrol the “Hi Neighbour” Festival, and escort parades in the Transcona area.

Monday, the Riel community committee will entertain, at the request of Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital), another $2,500 request for same.

Essentially, that request is the same as above (Mayes’s ward also encompasses, partially, the East District Station’s catchment).

I have no issue with bikes for police officers. In fact, I’d like to see more bike patrols on the street when seasonably appropriate.

In fact, I take absolutely no issue with paying police well to do what many would agree is a challenging, difficult and dangerous job.

But what I can’t help but question is this: How does it make any sense that with a $224-million dollar-plus budget, the service can’t find a measly $5,000 to buy simple mountain bikes and avoid the optics of forcing an officer to go begging to city councillors?

It doesn’t look good.

I’d like to say that I could offer more information on what’s causing the OT spike leading to the deficit forecast, but there’s virtually zero public disclosure when it comes to actual police spending.

My sources tell me, however, that the thirst for OT hours in recent times has been seemingly unquenchable.

It’s interesting: Many (I think) would agree that working OT is seen by many as a burden.

I don’t get that sense when it comes to police OT.

I get the distinct feeling it’s seen as opportunity.

Peter Laporte trial notebook: 1

Image

I could swear I saw pale-skinned, pony-tailed Peter Laporte look wistfully at his mother from the prisoner’s box.

She had just turned up in courtroom 120 to testify against him.

It was one of those bizarro moments in court proceedings you don’t fully expect.

I’m likely dead wrong, but from the half-second glimpse he gave the woman from across the sterile room as she came in, I thought the best word to describe his look was: ‘wistful.’

After all, it’s not like he didn’t know it was coming, what mom likely had to say.

Ms. Laporte’s testimony wasn’t forced, tearful or in anyway reluctant.

She was asked questions and she answered each in a forthright, plainspoken and clear way — largely without emotion.

She’d smile once in a while when the lawyers didn’t get something she previously said exactly right.

I’ve spent a number of hours now sitting in Laporte’s hearing.

Not all of his trial, but a good chunk of it.

I’ll glance over at him from time to time to watch how closely he’s paying attention, making extensive notes on yellow paper and consulting frequently with his defence lawyer, Crystal Antilla.

I’ve followed Laporte’s extensive legal saga at a court-ordered distance since Nov. 25-26, 2008, when I exclusively uncovered his case for the Winnipeg Free Press.

That’s 3.5 years now it’s taken to come to a bona fide public hearing, if anyone’s counting.

Laporte’s pleaded not guilty to a list of serious charges, including ones relating to the alleged aggravated sexual assault of an eight-year-old boy.

And from what I’ve heard so far, not one witness called by the Crown could place him at the scene of any of the crimes.

To the alleged victims, the attacks were random, committed by a total stranger to them.

So far, by my reading, it has all the hallmarks of a classic ‘identity case’ — where it’s unclear in fact or law if the right suspect is the one police charged with the crime.

That all appeared to change Thursday afternoon, when Laporte’s mom testified that it’s her son on surveillance footage from the two apartment blocks where the crimes took place.

While that fact alone doesn’t mean anything in and of itself, it does place Laporte at the scene, thus creating tough hurdles for his defence to overcome.

I mean, when you have your own mother say (essentially), ‘Hey, that’s my boy there’ on video guiding a kid into an apartment stairwell just moments before a serious sexual assault takes place, that can only definitively be called one thing at this point: problematic.

Nevertheless, Ms. Laporte’s testimony may all come to naught.

Antilla will argue strenuously to have the mom’s testimony struck from the record based on an as-yet unrevealed legal argument.

But what really struck me about Lucille Laporte’s evidence is how it was obtained by police.

Laporte has been in continuous remand custody since Nov. 23, 2008, the day the allegations arose.

But it wasn’t until summer 2010 that sex-crimes investigators asked two colleagues completely unconnected to the case to bring Laporte’s mom in at the behest of the Crown to watch a few edited clips of surveillance footage from two apartment blocks in hopes of cementing the accused’s identity.

The mom wasn’t told any reason why she was being asked to look at the footage.

She was only asked if she’d come in and watch it to see if she recognized anyone.

That meeting didn’t happen until Sept. 2, 2010.

The exchange was, unusually, videotaped in a PSB office at Sgt. Cheryl Larson’s desk.

The mom is shown clips from a Cumberland Avenue apartment-block lobby (her own building).

“My son, Peter Laporte,” she says after viewing the entire clip. “I recognized him as his face turned to profile.”

She’s shown more clips of the inside of human shapes shifting inside a Mac’s store adjacent to the building.

“I don’t want to make a guess,” she says, carefully. “I’d be guessing.”

She’s then shown the lobby surveillance from the separate building where the boy was attacked.

“And then there’s Peter again,” she tells Larson. “Peter Laporte, my son.”

Larson plays her another clip — again of the Mac’s store.

Lucille doesn’t want to guess.

“Body shape, I’d say that was Peter,” she says, but adds she can’t be sure.

She’s shown one more clip of the lobby of her own building, where she at the time had lived for more than a decade.

“That was my son, Peter,” she says. “Yeah. That’s Peter.”

She said much the same under direct examination from Crown attorney John Field, who played her the video of her with Sgt. Larson as corroboration.

Ms. Laporte also divulged a number of other background details about her son.

Locked in a custody fight for his young daughter, Laporte came to live at his mom’s place in and around September 2007.

Prior to that, he had been gone “a very long time,” she said, later adding the last time before then she saw him was 2001-02.

But something happened on Dec. 15, 2007, she said. She awoke on the 16th to find him gone.

“I phoned the Public Safety Building first,” she told Field and Justice Perry Schulman.

She was told her son was in custody.

After going to see him at the Winnipeg Remand Centre, she learned Laporte had been charged with attacking a woman in her building, she said.

Laporte’s version went something like this, according to her testimony:

He had been trying to help a woman who appeared, bloodied, at the building’s entranceway.

He let her in to use the phone in the apartment, but after coming upstairs with him, she changed her mind and produced a bottle of wine.

They wound up in the stairwell, but later moved to the laundry room and drank until they passed out.

The next day (Dec. 16 2007) police arrest him and charge him with attacking her.

He told me she had a bleeding nose, blood on her face,” Ms. Laporte told court. “He didn’t think (her injuries) were severe.”

Laporte said her son came home in November 2008, saying that “lab work” had “exonerated” him and the charges were dropped.

Court records show the charges were stayed about 10 days before the allegations Laporte is now involved in fighting came to light.

The trial continues.

An (inconclusive) answer to a question that’s always plagued me

(We're obviously talking about a different kind of Warrant)

Just how many warrants are in Manitoba police computers gathering dust?

It’s something I continually have asked myself for the last few years until today, when I was given something of an answer.

It’s 20,000, give or take a few.

That was Det. Sgt. John O’Donovan’s reply to my question at the official unveiling of an RCMP-Winnipeg police warrant (read: ‘Fugitive’) squad today.

His official reply was “more or less.”

You can read all about it here. The unit is already claiming some success in catching crafty crooks who evade the law — sometimes for years,

Now, while that number seems quite large, it’s important to remember that a single offender can be the subject of several warrants at a time.

That person’s arrest can lead to the execution of several warrants.

But realistically, the quoted number of 20,000 really means nothing has changed on the outstanding warrants front since late 2006.

From Mike McIntyre (@mikeoncrime) and the Winnipeg Free Press (@winnipegnews), Nov. 6, 2006 (Can’t provide a link, sorry):

Unexecuted warrants gather dust in system

… Winnipeg police have long complained they don’t have the adequate resources to execute the majority of arrest warrants, which end up simply gathering dust in their system.

Police told the Free Press last month there are more than 20,000 outstanding warrants currently in the system for a number of alleged offences, including federal parole violations.

Sgt. Kelly Dennison said many offenders have more than one warrant against them, sometimes as many as 10.

 Here’s hoping the new warrant squad makes a dent in a number that has apparently stayed unchanged in the last five years.
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‘Whitey’s’ words:

(Ian Jackson MacDonald and his daughters/James Turner)

Ian Jackson MacDonald’s comments upon leaving the Remand Centre Wednesday afternoon:

(MacDonald, affectionately known as ‘Big Mac’ or ‘Whitey’ has faced the music for his role in plotting to import large amounts  — the Crown called them ‘bales’ — of weed into Manitoba in the late 70’s. U.S. Marshals nabbed him in November, in Florida, after 30 yrs on the run. The drug investigation reached into the Manitoba Legislature with MLA Bob Wilson being indicted and sent to prison for his role. The case is so old that the trial transcripts were typed with a manual typewriter using onion-skin paper, just to give you an example of the history.)

On getting out after months of being locked up, sick with cancer and several other ailments that have greatly reduced his life expectancy:

“It felt like a great relief to get out in the sunshine and out of the nasty air conditioning in that building.”

”We’re doing OK. I’ve never been in jail before, never had a criminal record before – so this is all something very new to me. That’s about it.”

On being reunited with his kids – who he didn’t see for three decades after choosing to go on the lam:

“It feels great. They’re my daughters, they’re my buddies…they’ve come from California, from LA to fix me up, to look after me…I have a family again.”

His reaction to the two-year house arrest sentence handed to him – one carefully negotiated by the highest levels of the federal Justice department and his own lawyer, Sheldon Pinx:

“It’s amazing, for such a little amount of substance that, uh, they take a 93-year-old man and boy, they’re sure giving it to me.”

On saying on prior occasions that former MLA Bob Wilson is innocent:



”I’m starting to wonder about that.”

(Gets cut off by daughters and whisked away.)