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The new Neighbourhood cop ….

Have you noticed that the police officer on the corner, attending an accident, or answering a call to a residence, looks like more of an officer from the army manning the front lines in Afghanistan with a holster full of weapons; multiple magazines, handcuffs, batons, pepper spray, a taser strapped to the other leg, and a very obvious bullet proof vest. And if all goes according to plan, he or she may soon have a Colt 8 carbine over his shoulder, capable of firing long range at 750 to 950 rounds per minute.

Is it happenstance that the police in the last few years have chosen the nomenclature, and dutifully launched, the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror”. Our street cops have become warriors, prepared for an all out assault on the street.  Call of Duty wrapped in the guise of “officer safety”.

Do you feel safer? You shouldn’t.

The Americans, those lovers of the 2nd amendment, seem to have started this trend, which seems to date back to the riots of the 1950’s and 1960’s, and specific incidents such as the 1997 shootout in North Hollywood with the Los Angeles Police Department.

Of course this militarization of the police departments, has not exactly gone according to plan, and this increase in armaments, seems to have been co-joined with an us versus them mentality.  The predictable result is the now increasing scrutiny in U.S. police departments, and the examination of a number of shootings, where, lets just say, some of them have been questionable. It is usually where the threat was perceived, not real, but later articulated in such a manner as to make almost any movement or irregular movement suspect. Police credibility is at a dangerous low ebb.

And the Canadian police dutifully watch and follow their American counterparts, often with envy, never questioning the need for further guns, nor the number of lights that you need on a police car.

It is not going unnoticed by some for quite some time. U.S. Law Professor Peter Kraska in 2007, studying the phenomena came to the conclusion that  “civilian police increasingly draw from, and pattern themselves around the tenets of militarism and the military model”.

One of the latest incidents in Ferguson, Missouri is now drawing new attention, eliciting protests, black versus white comparisons, and footballers kneeling in protest at NFL games.

The journalist Glenn Greenwald (who broke the Snowden disclosures) writes in an article in the Intercept that he believes that it is the by-product of “several decades of deliberate militarization of American policing…a trend…a steroid injection of …a federal funding bonanza all justified in the name of Homeland Security”. He goes on to say that they have created a “domestic police force that looks, thinks, and acts more like an invading and occupying military…than a community based force to protect the public”.

All this in a time of decreasing violent crime statistics in Canada.  In 2013 the crime rate was at its lowest since 1969.

So why is this happening?

I think there are three reasons: the police and police managers clearly have fallen in love with the t.v. versions of themselves, and have been heavily influenced by what they see in the South; they have lost sight of what it actually means to be a police officer, and what their role actually is, which is the neighbourhood cop. The person behind the badge has become removed, hidden behind Vuarnet sunglasses, made distant from those that call for his or her service.

Secondly, and more importantly,  there has been a mindset developed whereby “officer safety” now dictates that there is a cone of safety around every officer, the physical interactions, acceptable in the bygone eras have been replaced by  “threat assessment ” tools; designed to eliminate or avoid the use of any kind of physical contact between the officer and the suspect.

And finally, coinciding with the “officer safety” mandate, and something not often talked about, was the removal of height and weight as a requirement for police officers. The “little police force” as the RCMP is sometimes called, was born.

Gone were the Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia farm and fishing boys, and on to what they believed would be the more sophisticated and educated officer.  But the thinking was that those applicant officers were being impeded by a height and weight standard; that to deny anyone a job because of a physical trait was patently unfair, especially if the goal was in terms of hiring more female and ethnic officers.

There was no consideration given to the value of a “physical presence”.

This seemed laudable, and made sense to the academics and the Federal bureaucrats running the RCMP, but it did not make sense to the street cop. Size matters in policing, and to say otherwise is delusional.

So how do you make up for this lack of a physical presence if officer safety is paramount? Well, you keep increasing the amount of tools which can act as equalizers. A 5 ft 4″ , 110 lb. officer when confronting an abusive drunk can equalize the situation by using pepper spray, the taser, or whatever other tool is hanging from their belt. It clearly escalates the situation, but the officers of today are being taught, that anyone infringing on their zone of safety, by its very nature, increases the perceived or real threat.

In a recent court hearing in Moncton, New Brunswick the RCMP was found guilty of one count in the Labour Code in that they failed to provide officers with use-of-force equipment, namely the C8 carbine, all of which came from the fallout from the tragic events in Moncton New Brunswick in 2014, where three uniform officers fell to sniper Justin Borque who lay in waiting.

RCMP officers believed and testified during the Labour Code hearing, that they were “out-gunned” and that they needed and should have had access to the C8 Carbine. One constable testified that when he encountered Bourque,  if armed with the carbine, he would have had the ability to “engage” with him and possibly bring the shooting to an end, possibly saving one of the officers.  Two officers had already been killed by this time, but he thought he may have been able to save the life of the third.

The C8 carbine had been recommended after another tragic ambush in Mayerthorpe, Alberta and had been approved for use in 2011. Not surprisingly, there was a slow followup in terms of training and getting the weapon in the hands of the uniform officers.

In Moncton, massive panic, miscommunication, and lack of supervision was evident once the shooting started, and as Bourque moved through the neighbourhood, there was no countering police response, officers simply kept driving into the scene; even the ambulance was directed through the “hot zone”. Nobody seemed in control of the police response. It was indeed a horrific case for the officers involved,  and not a circumstance that is often encountered in policing. Very few officers would be prepared for it.

Commissioner Paulson by way of explanation, testified that the delays in the implementation of the C8 carbine were due to the raised concerns about the militarization of the police.

Like Paulson, I do not believe that the C8 carbine would have saved the officers lives.  The officers were up against a determined individual,  a “lone wolf”, one who came fully prepared with ammunition and weapons and had decided to go on a killing spree.

There is a stark reality here though, one faced and thought about by every police officer leaving their residence, and that is that there are a few situations which police encounter, where no amount of training, no amount of weapons on your gun belt or slung over your shoulder is going to make any difference. Luck will need to be on your side. To think otherwise is also a deception.

The Moncton shooting was no different than Mayerthorpe. They were all gunned down by a sniper that got the drop on them.

Should the RCMP be guilty of the Labour Code violation. Of course. They were directed to introduce the C8 carbine as a recommendation, so they “studied” it, and like any other Federal department were extremely slow in getting things in motion.

But I also think that Paulson  was right to be concerned about the “militarization” of the police. The .308 rifle went into disuse as a city weapon a number of years ago, because there was no control where the rounds would go with such a powerful rifle, and as one instructor said, you are not going to be shooting someone a 100 yards away.

Now, apparently the C8 with its power and range is ok. God help us if the uniform officers of Whalley or Langley open fire with a C8 in a residential neighbourhood.

It should be noted that conveniently, Canada does not keep track of the number of officer shootings, and not all the police forces in the U.S. contribute to their national studies.

But the anecdotal evidence seems to be mounting, that officers in Canada, like their American counterparts are being a little to quick to escalate the situation in certain circumstances, that there training and their safety zones, are in fact catalysts to a rapid escalation of violence.

In speaking with a member of the IIO, when I asked whether I was just imagining how many shootings there were, he confirmed that there has been a drastic increase in shootings, not all fatal of course, and that these shootings were from a perceived increase in threats to officer safety.

We are still way behind the U.S. where there have been 766 people shot and killed by the police in 2017. One in five of those killed were suffering from some form of mental illness. By the numbers, more people are killed in the United States in a few days than in a few years in Europe. 

Twenty-five years ago, it was unusual to hear about the police shooting someone. It is almost a weekly occurrence now.

Simply put, if the trends continue, we are going to see more shootings, and by normal reasoning we are also going to see more people dying at the hands of the police when it may have been unnecessary. The grief this brings is not just to the victim, it also effects the police officer in a life-changing way. No officer wants to be involved in a shooting.

But we have become enamoured with the U.S. police style. We are bombarded with U.S. police images, and we seem intent on emulating it. Canadians are led to believe that we are one and the same, that the police need the carbine rifles, and the armoured police vehicles, the helicopters, and the heavy duty flashlights. We have developed the police/military strut.

As the U.S. police are coming under greater pressure now because of the tendency to shoot, maybe its time Canadian police took a step back from this increased military mirroring,  and maybe try to get back to a police presence as imagined by Robert Peel, rather than General Patton.

Photo Courtesy of Stephen Bowler via Flickr Commons some rights reserved

Personal Story #3 – “Bob”

We rushed through the darkness, eerily dark, in the only way a garbage dump could be at 2 in the morning. The lights of the police car, shone on hundreds of pairs of eyes, ground level, looking up at us.

Hundreds of rats disturbed by this single car, who had the temerity to enter into their feasting playground. A dump with rats is quite commonplace, of course, and the rats would stare normally, but the fact that I was sitting on the hood of the car as we drove, my leg wrapped around the Ford emblem in some weird safety pre-caution, poised with my trusty .38 revolver and firing randomly clearly caused them further discomfort.

The driver was my supervisor, Bob, who took great relish in circling back several times on the dirt and garbage covered dump, trying to run over them as well, as he did not want to be left out. Scaring me was not enough excitement for him. As I slid around on the hood, I could hear him laughing that barrel chested laugh, quite unsympathetic.

If the rats were hit by my bullets, in their death throes, they bounced up in the air, as if in a grisly attempt to not go down without some glory. This would also allow us to claim those that we hit. A way of keeping score.

Then it would be Bob’s turn. Bob was a better shot than I.  He always claimed that he kept track of the numbers, and that he always had more than me, and therefore I needed to buy coffee. I always believed him, why would a police officer lie.

Of course, our big game hunt only lasted a few minutes before persons living near to the dump, would call the police dispatch, saying that they are hearing gunfire nearby.  We would wait until dispatch assigned us the file, telling them we would handle it, and wait the necessary few minutes to show that we were some distance away, and then tell dispatch that when we got there, there was nothing around, and the file could be concluded. No harm done. Lesson learned.

Bob, my somewhat reluctant supervisor at this time is a 6’3″, dark curly haired fellow with a rudimentary moustache which does not reach the corner of his lips. I am being kind saying that he is 240 lbs. with a little bit of a belly. But somewhat deceptively, farmer strong, with boxer hands, and one of the only men I know who truly had no fear.

He was a practical joker, never took off his patrol jacket, even in the office, feet up, continually laughing or harassing who ever fell under his view. Smoked Players light, as did I, so of course we got along. Always clean, but always a bit scruffy, with unshone boots, and he never wore his hat, explaining that it was “just something to lose”.

He drove with one finger, easily guiding a heavy police cruiser through backroads at 160 kms if necessary, but I had no fear of his ability to keep us on the road. He could have driven at Nascar, but chose the New Brunswick rural roads instead. But, it was at those times that I did put on my seatbelt.

It was Bob that showed me that you could take mosquitos off the windshield of the cruiser with Coke.

It was Bob that showed me how to fingerprint a dead body, which is not an easy task. As rigour had set in on one body, he showed me how he could use the rigored splayed fingers, to hold your cigarette while you went about your task. Good lesson, but one I could never bring myself to fully incorporate.

It was Bob, who introduced me to the Coroner. “$25.00 Cowie” was his nickname, because for $25.00 he would pronounce anyone dead, and it was always the same cause, “heart failure”. Which when you think of it is never far from being the truth.

Bob and I had a call one time of a suicide, a depressed fellow had gassed himself in his own car, and we brought him into the morgue, his skin matched the blue colour of our police cars, and a clear sign of asphyxiation. Bob told the Coroner that we had found him in a ditch rather than in his car in the garage, and Bob had  “no idea” how he died; just to test the “heart failure” theory. He came through for us, pronouncing heart failure, but when we told him the actual details, he cursed and cursed at Bob, but changed the cause of death, to one which was more appropriate.

In another call, Bob showed me another trait.

A fellow swinging an axe like Paul Bunyon in the middle of the street had now holed himself up in his residence, and was demanding that the police attend, or he was going to kill someone. As we approached the now quiet ramshackle residence, nothing seemed out of order. I knocked on the door, when a male, clearly distraught, wrenched open the door, dressed as if he had been wrestling on the floor with some imaginary foe, saw me and quickly slammed the door again.

Again I knocked, and again he answered, but this time as he swore and slammed the door, unknowing that Bob had placed his .38 revolver in the door so it wouldn’t close, and allowed me to force the the door. Ten feet back from the door, the male glared, holding the axe with both hands over his head. I held him at gunpoint for a few seconds, and clearly the male did not have any intention of dropping the axe. It was a standoff. After a few seconds, I felt hands on my back, and gently Bob eased me to the side, so that he was the first in line, saying “if someone has to be shooting somebody, it might as well be me, you are just starting your career”. It ended peacefully and we took him into custody, where he lay crying in the back seat all the way back to the jail. No police suicide that day.

It was Bob who summed up who provided a succinct summation of police protocol when it came to officer safety, and threat assessment; “let them always throw the first punch”. Many subsequent mandatory RCMP courses on the same subject never quite captured the simplicity of Bob’s policy.  We fought a lot in that detachment, and I was never seriously hurt, but until I caught on a little better, I did get hit a few times. The more times I got hit, the quicker I seemed to learn.

Bob was clearly a street cop, but beneath the gruff exterior was a smart cop. He wrote clear, concise reports in the beautiful long hand of the day. He knew how far he could go, how far the envelope could be stretched, knew when the basis of the charge was there and could be proven. He and I would visit the local Crown on a weekly basis. Not necessarily to discuss Bob and my files, but to say hello, to let them know that there were faces behind these reports. He did it instinctively, I think unaware of how the humanizing of the process could only lead to good things in court, building a trust, and a friendship.

The question I am often ponder is whether Bob would have survived in this current age of policing. I am not so sure. Would he even get into the RCMP today? A Nova Scotia fellow with a high school education, and not fitting any current hiring priorities, it definitely would have taken a long time. And patience was not his virtue.

He lamented and threatened to quit when the Charter of Rights came in. He thought it would disadvantage the cops, the power would go to the wrong side. In his cop world, the police were trusted, but they were even-handed, their respect for higher management authority was minimal, and they had no problem saying what they thought. What was right was right. He did not look for backup, did not rely on or quote policy, common sense was his guide. He wasn’t infallible or ever wrong, but he admitted when he was. The thought of staying away from work for a sprained ankle, or a headache he would not even comprehend. He did not see colour or gender, but he was able to distinguish between right and wrong, and that was all that mattered. The general public if they had been wronged knew they were in good hands.

Bob was diagnosed with a terminal illness a number of years ago which led to him, to liquidate all his assets, getting a permanent tracheotomy, only to find out it was a misdiagnosis, and he is alive and kicking, and maybe just a little gruffer than before.

We have known and kept in touch with each other for close to 40 years now. He is part of me, and who I was as a cop. It is an interminable bond, and when we wordlessly hugged goodbye a year ago, we both knew it.  Nothing needed to be said.

 

 

 

 

Getting away with murder..there is a “substantial likelihood”

In October 2014, Theoren Gregory Poitras, 25 years old,  was found dead in Richmond, B.C.. Poitras, chose to re-locate to Richmond British Columbia from Edmonton, Alberta in what sounds like the proverbial “get out of town” scenario. Allegedly he was involved in the drug world there.

It was then  “alleged” that Sean Jacob Lee Jennings and David Nguyen also ended up in Richmond, also originally from the drug world of Edmonton, and in typical gang style killed Poitras, leaving him in his own blood, in front of an Elementary school.

The pair were charged with 1st degree murder. But in June 2017, three years later, Crown Counsel in British Columbia, very quietly, days before the trial, stayed all charges. They cited that “further evidence had been received…and there was no substantial likelihood of conviction”.

There it is, the statement, which like the Damocles sword is held over the police for each and every case which has been forwarded for charge approval. The police submit the evidence, and the Crown decides whether there is a “substantial” chance of convicting the accused.

Over the past number of years, local scuttle butt amongst investigators )there is no measurement of this statistic to reference) ; say that fewer and fewer cases are making it to trial.

Judges have even lamented to me that it seems that no one is willing to take cases to the trial stage. Add in the affinity for plea bargains, and there seems to be little seeming to work its way through an incredibly slow moving court system and actually be decided at a trial.

Is the Crown office “trying” the cases in the reports, and not in front of the courts? Is the bureaucratic need to avoid public controversy, or god forbid, the fear of losing in court, and are exposed in the public eye, keeping them from pursuing charges, when in fact charges are warranted.

We will probably never know. Crown can make these decisions in private, out of the public eye, and so far never seem to be held accountable for these decisions, or more accurately these non-decisions.

The Poitras investigation was part of a large IHIT, CFSEU, Edmonton Police and the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team investigation. It seems Mr Jennings, upstanding citizen,  was also allegedly involved in a murder in Alberta; where he has also been charged with 2nd degree murder in a street shooting death of Alor Deng in Edmonton in July 2014.

Millions of dollars were no doubt spent in this Project, and numerous resources employed. When Jennings was arrested  for the Poitras murder, CFSEU and IHIT called a press conference to announce their successes. Now that the charge has been stayed in the Poitras murder there is now deafening silence from Crown, CFSEU and IHIT as to why this particular case has been dropped.

No one feels a need to explain.

The public will never know what “new evidence” was learned, new evidence which apparently was so significant that their case had been blown up. Did they charge the wrong guy? Did witnesses fall by the way side? Did the police contaminate evidence? Did the Crown drop the ball? This lack of openness helps no one. In fact it leads to greater distrust.

Which leads me back to this “substantial likelihood of conviction” phrase. It is used every day. Every police officer knows the phrase, from the earliest days on the job when they have been pursuing charges, submitting reports to the Crown, and awaiting their decisions. There is little questioning of the eventual decision, and more often than not there is no detailed rationale given.

All cases involve this process. As the more serious cases unfold; murder, extortion, or kidnapping for example, this same process is followed. The police meet with Crown but ultimately Crown decides with the ill-defined “substantial likelihood..” being the most significant criteria, and being their ultimate measure. I personally spent hours in Crown offices disagreeing with a lack of charge, arguing that the merits of the evidence warranted charges. Sometimes you were able to convince, but other times you were not. Sometimes you were wrong, and in my opinion sometimes they were wrong. I was fortunate to have a good relationship with most, and there were no ill-feelings even though sometimes these meetings would become quite heated. We would often leave frustrated, shaking our heads at the level of proof that was being demanded.

By way of example. Our team was investigating a shooting in Port Moody in the middle of the night between two groups of equally criminal gangsters. One was trying to “rip” the drugs of the other. It led to one group opening fire on the others, and a stray bullet went through a residence striking a lady who was laying on a couch watching television. The bullet entered her head through her eye. She awoke in a hospital with brain damage, with no idea how she got there. Many years later she is still recovering, but will never be the same.

The only witnesses in this case at this time of date were the gangsters themselves. There was no changing this fact.  After months of investigation we managed to turn one of the “victim” gang members to assist us. He agreed to testify even as to who was the “shooter”. This, now witness, did not want anything in exchange. No preferential treatment.

Crown refused to use his evidence, due to his lack of credibility since he was an admitted gangster. We argued in over three meetings that we met the threshold of charge approval, that they needed to put him on the stand and let the courts decide if he was credible. We lost all arguments, with the Crown wanting a credible witness which did not exist. The Crown and I remain friends and understand each others argument, but totally disagree with the not laying of charges. The “shooter” in this case went on to further criminal activities.

The problem of course is obvious. How do you define “substantial”? And because it is such a subjective measure, different Crown lawyers could  give different answers. It seemed to me that the more experienced, the more willing they were to go to trial, and therefore the more willing to have less of a hurdle for the evidence to jump over. I have had certain Crown Counsel say that on a scale they want a 90 % success rate. This is high and therefore to maintain that level, the cases that are maybe a 60 % or 70 % probability are pushed to the bottom and not chanced.

Substantial is defined partially as “having a solid basis in reality or fact”.  Pretty general one would have to say, which whether planned or not has led Crown lawyers in to an obvious way to side step the difficult cases. And of course some of the more difficult cases are the gang style killings.

BC has developed a reputation of a place where gangsters can free wheel (we have not even been successful in having the Hells Angels designated as a criminal organization), and I believe part of that blame falls on a Crown Counsel not willing to push with the more difficult cases. There is no incentive for them to do so, but they are contributing to an endangered public. A safety issue because there is a lessened fear of prosecution.

It has also created an us versus them relationship between the police and the Crown. There is an element of distrust, and in many cases now, Crown will not even make a decision without full disclosure of the entire case, in other words not trusting the police to deliver what they say is in the Crown submission. This too is causing grief and public safety issues (but that is for another blog).

The police of course will not criticize the Crown. They still have to live with them on a daily basis, as many Crown reports are forwarded and any criticism may be met with even further intransigence.

The decisions of the Crown are done without any oversight and accountability, other than by their peers in their own offices, or a possible appeal up the chain into the Attorney Generals office. And like all government offices, when the bureaucracy decides to turtle, it is more difficult to dig down through the layers, or find someone willing to buck the system. Their future promotion or judge appointment is decided by these very same people.

The American system, of politically elected District Attorneys is quite the opposite. Those elected want to make a name for themselves, they want to take on the big cases, they are less worried about losing in exchange. Now, before I go further, this is not an ideal system where political gain can be a factor in deciding charges, but it does make one pause.

Preet Bharara, the recently fired District Attorney of New York (fired by Trump which may make him a martyr rather than a villain) led over 100 prosecutions of Wall Street executives for insider trading, he reached settlements with the four biggest banks, conducted public corruption investigations into both Democratic and Republican officials, and was known for its terrorism cases that reached around the world.

Do you think such prosecution is a possibility in any Province in Canada? Is it because we have no crime here, no white collar crime or terrorism cases? Of course not, quite the opposite, Canada is developing quite a reputation for harbouring white collar crime in fact.

In Canada, we are seeing some prosecutions which they do go forward with blown completely out of the water, and criticism being directed at Crown and the police. Look no further than the Duffy case where he was acquitted of all 31 charges, and now there is a lawsuit against all involved for $8 million.

The Supreme Court of Canada Jordan decision which put a time limit on trials getting to court is putting added pressure on the Crown across the country, and causing apoplectic fits.

Apparently 30 months, once the charges are layed, and Crown has all the evidential material, and now need to get it into court, is beyond their capabilities.

The Supreme Court called the current Crown system a “culture of complacency”.  High Judge speak for a slow and dull bureaucracy, and one apparently not that interested. I don’t think anyone who has worked in any Federal or Provincial bureaucracy would be surprised by this description.

In this day and age, can we afford to have no accountability in such crucial matters. Maybe an independent oversight of Crown is necessary, we certainly don’t seem to be reluctant to have oversight of the police. Remember the police are only half of the judicial process, maybe its time to demand some answers from the other half of the equation.

Our Crown system needs to be subjected to a complete managerial overhaul.

Is Solicitor General Jody Wilson-Raybould the one to lead us out of this morass?  It seems unlikely.

She says that there is nothing gained by “appointing blame”. and really it is a problem for the Provinces. Sounds like a statement from a bureaucrat who has been rolling in the clover of a Federal system. Someone willing to accept complacency.

The Jordan problems are now beginning to surface. It was recently announced that notorious, full patch Hells Angel Larry Amero has just been released by judicial authorities in Quebec, due to the time it has taken to get him into court. He was arrested in November 2012 under Project Loquace, one of 100 arrested,  being one of the primary targets of the extensive investigation. He was released from organized crime charges and cocaine importation. You will remember him as being one of the victims of the shooting in Kelowna in 2011 where Jonathan Bacon was killed.  Of course this was because of the Jordan decision.

He will probably come back to work on the Vancouver docks where he is a card carrying longshoreman, that is if he is not too busy with his other life.

Clearly five years was not enough time for the Quebec prosecutors.

But hey, there is no sense in appointing blame.

 

Image courtesy of the_whiteness via Creative Commons with some Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

And then there were none….

Last night I re-watched the 1976 movie “All the Presidents Men”; the story of an investigative journalistic effort that led to the discovery of the illegal activities of The Committee to Re-Elect, and then to President Richard Nixon himself. In the end there were many guilty pleas, and the resignation of the President himself. The two year long investigative reporting was unprecedented, and may be never duplicated in our current climate as we head forward, where we seem to only want news fixes, like a junkie in the alley looking for a cap of heroin. We want this short burst of adrenalin laced news feeding our eyes and not our heads, before we duly nod off.

The parallels to the situation in the U.S. in 1974 to today, become obvious upon review, almost startling. The Trump presidency is difficult to even fathom, but in no way do I think that Trump and the family lackeys who are already proven liars, are not capable of further deception, not capable of illegalities, in order to maintain their power.

The positive side of this, in some backward fashion, at least in the short term, has been the rejuvenation of an active and determined group of journalists who have now tasted blood. They have the resources, and the experience to both confront the administration and write about it. Even more importantly, they seem to have the backbone necessary to withstand the onslaught of government power run amok, who try to bend, or deny each and every story with a spin that is both dangerous and sometimes laughable.

The Washington Post and the New York Times seem to be the central figures in this relentless daily battle with the truth. Both are decorated newspapers. The Washington Post with Woodward and Bernstein were the central figures in the Watergate matters in 1974, which brought down Nixon. And here again the Post is providing in-depth laudatory coverage of the daily crisis, which is the Trump Whitehouse.

Before Trump, both newspapers were in financial trouble, both cutting personnel and funding. Since Trump, their subscriptions have increased and they have been given a temporary respite from the unenviable and seemingly inevitible dwindling of subscriptions.

The sourcing of their stories, and protecting those stories is relentless. Anybody with an interest in how to conduct, and source investigations should take note. This is not an easy undertaking, their jobs are often on the line should they misspeak or be wrong in any of their reportage.

Where is television in all of this?  Unfortunately, in the last few years, it is trying to re-invent itself, it has become a medium, not a message. They are consumed with banner headlines, breathless “breaking news” but make no mistake, and they seem to have abandoned the time and effort needed for investigative reporting. Their  “news” is no longer journalism.

In an effort to capture the attention of the latest generation, they have come to believe, maybe correctly that this generation is only capable of 30 second attention spans. Therefore anything on video, twitter, Facebook, or trending on YouTube is re-invented as the news regardless of its worth. A good video of a cat up a tree jumps the news queue and becomes headline material. It is cheaply available, and citizens with their phones have become their “stringers” in the field, at no significant cost.

In covering Potus, the TV news groups; CNN, Fox, CBS etc. are for the most part reporting what the newspapers are writing, then putting a lot of talking heads around a dais to pontificate about it.  The more outrageous the talking head, the better the chance of capturing the eyes of the viewing public so we get the likes of Kelly-anne Conway spinning ludicrous analysis and misinformation about the latest Presidential gaff posing as policy.

In many ways, this President has mastered Twitter and the wants of the new age, and has reduced governing to a sitcom. His statements, such as the one where he talks about grabbing women by the genitals, is outrageous, but it goes no further than that, the outrageousness is the news, not the meaning or the implications.  The United States reputation around the world is now tarnished, and may not recover for some time. The United States is now reduced to being a large military with an unstable leader. Sound familiar?

Of course this lack of investigational interest is all applicable to Canada, with its smaller population concentrated around the cities and the borders with the U.S., our television is a smaller mirror image of the U.S. It is astonishing to see how much the CBC National news coverage now revolves around the U.S. trending stories. In  the last couple of days, hours of repetitive footage of the hurricane stories. Here they are able to rollick in the abundance of 10 second videos that are available showing  bent over palm trees, shot through a rain covered lens;  and of course always maintaining a look out for  a “Canadian” located in the centre of the storm to give them some relevancy to Canada.

I am not saying this big story should not be reported, but it should not be all consuming. Are there no issues in Canada worthy of some form of journalism? Of course there are, but they are hampered by this new age of video at all costs, and dwindling funds to conduct those stories. A journalistic Catch-22.

As I opined before, television should be written off as a model of investigative journalism as it simply does not exist at any measurable level, nor is it even possible in their new corporate mission statements.

Newspapers in Canada are in equally dire straits, The Globe and Mail, although business oriented still is the bell-weather of Canada’s newspapers, today they announced a couple of further layoffs.

But the other problem, although we are a highly literate country, is that we are no longer reading.

The newest generation has fallen prey to the love of convenience, wanting summaries, not depth in their reporting. Coles Notes versions, not the details. They need to be constantly fed only enough for them to form an opinion in a few seconds, and damn the details.

Of course, the devil has always been in the details.

This leaves us susceptible to being victimized by misleading or downright false reporting. We are often misled by the headlines, and only when one chooses to read the whole article does it make sense, and it is usually a more calm explanation than advertised.

We are manipulated as a result. Our own governmental agencies have learned that if they issue singular statements of little meaning, it goes unquestioned. The reporters can not be bothered to check the truthfulness of the statement as they are being pre-empted and diverted to a story which may have caught the attention of YouTube and the assignment editor. If you don’t believe me, check out what is currently trending on Youtube, or what the top 10 stories are on Reddit.

Justin Trudeau gives speech after speech making generalized statements of fixing this problem or the next. It goes un-examined for the most part, but we will get pics or video of his latest selfie canoeing, or of him photo bombing a wedding. It makes me think that Trudeau may be a Canadian version of Trump, one who has mastered social media, but but not the relevant issues, but he is young, photogenic and polite. The left in the United States think he is god like, as they too are only reading the headlines. He is a former high school drama teacher, born with a famous name and reputation, how could we not be concerned about what he actually understands.

As experienced journalists are being replaced by the young, the photogenic, who stand in front of endless monitors and fast-moving graphics (I assume it is their attempt to show they are on the cutting edge of technology), and push buttons which play the latest newly trending video.

And now the Americans have confirmed that the Russians and other intelligence agencies have figured this out. You just need to put out the headlines, no need for details, nothing gets checked.

Facebook just revealed the confirmation of false ads, a total of 3000 from 470 “dark accounts”, during the American election, in-directly tied to the Russians, and aimed at altering the election to a candidate they feel they can manipulate. Despite some intrepid reporting a few months ago which Facebook initially denied, it was not until two days ago that Facebook admitted to the problem. The New York Times summed it up by saying “we are in the midst of a world wide, internet-based assault on democracy”.

None of this sounds good, or leaves much room for optimism.

Will we go back to newspapers, unlikely?  Will television be simply a stopping off point where they re-package video? Likely.

There is no immediate answer to these changing times, but this generation does need to question, and it needs to go deeper than Twitter; our democracy depends on it, and we will lose faith if truth becomes the first casualty.

Photo Courtesy of : Razvan Orendovichi via Flickr Creative Commons licence

 

 

 

An apology to my faithful but few readers

In the last few weeks there has been a lack of output from your faithful scribe, for two reasons.  The first is the inability to force myself to sit in front of a computer, which is  a human fraility, the failure to be disciplined. Instead, I have been enjoying the comforts of a warm summer; bbq’s, still and sultry nights, family members coming together, shorts and flip flops. But in my defence, I did feel a twinge of guilt.

The second reason is that about mid-August, just as I was being pulled back to the laptop, unannounced,  I was forced to undertake an investigation into the Canadian medical health care system; having being literally forced to my knees by sudden acute sciatica. A few weeks of intense pain has a way of taking away your ability to concentrate, and did not even allow me to sit in front of the afore mentioned computer. I am not looking for sympathy, just trying to justify my lack of written output.

My medical investigation so far by the way, has revealed that although better than the third world without a doubt, I have some serious questions on the costs of our system, and the eventual medical outcomes. I have concluded that you are your own best diagnostician, and the enormous monies being spent are feeding some segments but not others.  After two emergency room visits surrounded by crying babies, alcoholics, and drug addicts with their often ill-defined problems, and an ambulance ride where we discussed poor pay and our mutual dislike of firemen, I was left wondering where all the money that goes into health care. Is it really finding its way to where it is needed? But that is for another time and blog.

So now, still on crutches, and probably destined for a life style change which incorporates physiotherapy for the duration of it, I have been re-defined, and find myself in need of the succour of writing. When I first started this sometimes moving target blog I wondered if I would find enough issues which would inspire me to undertake and dedicate myself to a daily writing process.

Rest assured. That has not been the case. Quite the opposite actually as I, like you, are continuously being bombarded by “breaking news”.

There is the continual distraction of the bombastic, idiotic, and war mongering U.S. President, who can not put a grammatical sentence together. But that aside here are the few things that are of interest to me.

Hurricane Harvey in Houston happened a few weeks after BC was declaring the whole province a state of Emergency due to wildfires. Stunning photographs from Houston, while here, thousands of people evacuated under growing frustration with the process itself. Emergency planning as exercised in this Province, I think needs to be placed under a microscope. Hidden behind the “rescues” and the “hero” stories there is a need for an audit, a need for some non-emotional analysis.

In Ottawa, the Indigenous inquiry is proving to be a political disaster and at the very least, as predicted, will be an ineffectual exercise. But the Liberals push on, now making two departments in the Federal government to deal with indigenous affairs, rather than INAC.  Billions of dollars in expenditures seem to be on the horizon, apparently without a smidgen of opposition.

Also in Ottawa, Senator Mike Duffy, guilty of gouging the system legally and lacking any ethical and moral compass, he is now suing the RCMP and the Federal Government for $8 million. I suspect he is going to get a payout, due to an inferior RCMP investigation of which I have some personal knowledge, and an investigation which was wrapped in political interference.

Locally, Surrey and the surrounding areas seem to have a new drug war developing. So what else is new you ask?  Meanwhile, IHIT (Integrated Homicide and Investigation Team) at last count solving only 6 out of 36 murders this year.  I am hearing rumblings that the officers in the Unit itself, are now questioning the effectiveness of their own organization.

The daily Fentanyl news coverage has now dwindled from public view, the news agencies finally running out of variations on the theme of reporting the “crisis”.  A sense of acceptance seems to have taken hold in the general public.

The Mounties still have no Commissioner, still awaiting for a large committee of eight politicos led by ex-Premier Frank McKenna to render their decision. I wonder what that will all cost, and what direction will the new Commissioner take this organization.

And in a more comic and reflective vein, the CBC, could not make a decision on who to replace the venerable Peter Mansbridge. Instead, and I can just picture the boardroom meeting, they have chosen to not pick a singular person, but to pick four possible persons.  Why use one, when you can use four for the same job? And the genius of course, is that the four will represent the gender and ethnic groups that are now championed throughout the Federal government.

So there are just a few of the things that interest me and my wandering mind (and it may be the medication) …. I will keep you posted.

Photo courtesy of Enric Fradera via Flickr at Creative Commons 

 

Personal Story #2 – “Nick”

As I went up the dirt and tree lined driveway,  I became aware of people following on foot in the wake of the slow moving police car. It was forty-five minutes after midnight on a relatively warm August 15th, 1979, when I arrived at 282 Brown Road.

The call was to some vaguely described “fight” which had happened according to dispatch, at this rather broken down residence, and that someone had been “hurt badly” As I pulled up, with only my headlights leading the way, an eerie sense came over me, a sense of something not being right, of sides closing in, of my mind involuntarily narrowing its focus. A survival sense in some ways. A sense of being acutely alone even though there were clearly people gathering now,  watching my every move, which in itself was rather unexpected.

Parking in front of the small dwelling, I walked up the couple of steps to the front door.

I found out later that this was the well worn, dilapidated residence, of a male named Nick Dugay, but there were many other transients who often sought shelter here for all the usual homeless reasons.  As I walked the two steps up to the porch, the battered screen door was slightly ajar, and the inner, once white door, was open slightly, angling and pointing inside. I called out, but there was no answer coming from the darkened rooms. There was no electricity, no lights to turn on.

My shiny yellow plastic RCMP issued flashlight, provided a dim beam, but it was enough to show the first five feet inside.  On the floor in front of me, my beam caught what appeared to be a human form, in the middle of the room. Two open imploring eyes stared at me. It took a couple of seconds, as my brain tried to absorb what I was seeing. Focus and process. But the eyes didn’t seem human.

As my eyes  slowly adjusted to the darkness, and the dank room smell alerted my other senses, the form became more distinct.  In fact what I was staring at was not a pair of eyes, but two nostril holes, part of a mostly disappeared nose. I assumed the nostrils were still attached to a head but I could not even be certain of that because of the state of what was before me.  I forced myself to look away a bit, and take in the rest of the rummaged room. As my light struggled to light up the rest of the residence, the single bedroom residence had obvious red splatter everywhere. It was as if a child had got out of control finger painting. On the walls, with no design, in some haphazard, helter-skelter styled message. In every corner, and on all the dirty white wall space, literally every square foot, including the ceiling, had what I now realized was blood, in various stages of drying. Coagulated, blackened blood was pooled around and pointed to the ravaged body.

My eyes continually returned to the body as some sort of reflex. It looked like a scarecrow with its stuffing mostly removed, and weirdly disjointed, as if the legs and arms were trying to get away from the torso. There were marks on the floor like incisions. The head was virtually gone except for some brownish curly hair, and one arm looked like it had been dissected from the body.

As my breathing slowed, at least to a more manageable  pace, my eyes began to tell my head what to process. I spotted an axe near the door, somewhat propped up against the wall, quite distinguishable from the sparse furniture.

I made an effort to check the rest of the very bare residence, although the house was very small and it was unlikely that anyone else could have been in there. There was no sound other than my now bloodied footsteps as I walked through the spartanly furnished house.

Just as I finished checking the single bedroom, Constable Renaud Bourdages came through the only door, and the one that I had entered, making me jump slightly. He looked at me with an apprehensive and nervous smirk; taking in the scene which I stood in the middle of, and then in his heavy French accent, and resorting to the usual black humour of policing declared, to me, his captive audience, that “this ain’t no suicide!”

His presence and statement was reassuring, and now made me realize that I was there for a reason, everything was indeed real, and not some grotesque dream. I stepped over the body, and I passed the axe, and went outside to my police vehicle to radio for assistance.

So how did I get to this place, looking over this horrific scene?

I arrived in the area in February 1978 fresh from the RCMP Training Center in Regina. Leon Spinks had just gone 15 rounds and defeated Mohammed Ali; Ted Bundy had just been re-captured in Pensacola Florida; and Roman Polanski had just skipped bail and headed for France after pleading to having sex with a 13 year old girl.

I was freshly scrubbed and had been now schooled in the finer points of the RCMP.  Of course that wasn’t true, I wasn’t really prepared for anything other than maybe an ability to follow orders and maybe some cursory knowledge of theoretical law.

This is where for me, police theory as it existed back then, and the law would meet reality for the first time.

It was an impoverished area with layers of religion mixing with unemployment,  and lives revolving around the expansive Miramichi river and the bridges that went over it. A small society enveloped in poverty, and as is often the case, it had become a petrie dish for violence and crime.

Unemployment rates were broaching 20% throughout the Province of New Brunswick, but this Miramichi region was the poorest of the poor. The religious overtones created a perversive warp, which cannot be easily identified, but was palatable to those policing it.

David Adams Richards, a celebrated novelist and a former resident of the area, writes about an “underlying anger” which infuses the area.

Just outside Newcastle, sits the small village of Chatham Head, where I found myself this particular night.  A bailey bridge spanned the Miramichi river and connected Newcastle to Chatham Head. If Newcastle and the nearby town of Chatham seemed to be a simmering melange of the criminal elements, then the small community of Chatham Head which lay in between the two major town sites, would be one of the boiling points. It was termed at the time by the locals as “little Chicago”.

The use of fire to cover ones criminal tracks was common, and knives, and axes were often a weapon of choice. Of course, hunting rifles were prevalent whether in a corner of the house or in a rack at the back of a truck.

Liquor and drugs, the usual fallback panacea for the poor, were often acting as the motivation, or providing the courage to fight, or steal. It was a time when driving while impaired was not a stigma.

Fighting was a rite of passage both for the public and the police. Physical policing, unlike now, was a prerequisite, considered by some to be a necessary characteristic of any self-respecting officer. “Community Policing” had not been heard of or imagined. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms had not yet been passed.

So this was my environment, with its underlying community futility, and a distrust of the police that I faced in emerging from the house.

There was little I could do now with just the two of us, other than protecting the crime scene, stringing the usual yellow “Police” tape, and await for reinforcements. By now quite a few people had surrounded my police car, but they were not wanting to get any closer; almost as if they knew something further was going to happen. No one was saying anything, they just watched in silence. They seemed to be anticipating something, but what that was, certainly wasn’t obvious to me.

While standing there, I did find and spoke briefly with a man named Art Leblanc, who was part of the crowd, and as it turned out was the one who had directed me up the lane to the house.  Also there was Jean-Guy Savoie, who I later learned was the person who had called the police.

As I approached Jean-Guy and began speaking, he answered, but in hushed subdued tones, clearly not wanting to have the others hear what he was saying. This was not abnormal, and to be seen to be talking to the police, especially in Chatham Head could bring about some problems for you. So I had to bend down to hear him.

He said that a woman had called him asking for a flashlight.

More significantly, he went on to say that a teenager named “Robbie Cunningham” had told him that “someone” had “attacked him” and that he “hit back” and the guy was bleeding and ‘hurt”.

Now I happened to know Robbie Cunningham, even though I had only been policing the area for about a year. About a week before, Cpl Ben Walsh and I had picked him up for firing off a rifle in a Provincial Park, and we had transported him to the local jail.

Robbie Cunningham, was a petty thief, always in trouble, and had grown up hard as they used to say. He was only 18 years old.

As I scanned the crowd there stood Robbie Cunningham; trying to blend in it seemed, standing by his father Vince. Vince was a well known local character in his own right. Allegedly,  Vince would often employ his sons in the passed down tradition of thievery. One of the “godfathers” of Chatham Head so to speak.

“Come her Robbie” I said as I walked over to where he stood, on the other side of the yellow tape.

He stared at me and didn’t respond.

The crowd of people present seemed to fall silent. A group imposed hush, no doubt wanting to also hear what was being said by this young police officer. I could feel all eyes watching and following me as I approached Robbie.

Now,  Vince, normally is a very vocal supporter of his kids, and would have no problem under any circumstance telling the the local police to fuck off, and then would quickly transition into a lecture as to his rights. But Vince didn’t say anything.

“Robbie come here” I said a little more emphatically.

Robbie looked straight ahead, seeming to twitch a bit,  agitated, but still refusing to look toward me.

“Robbie come here” I said once again.

I got closer to him but this time, I reached out, grabbing his arm, and began to pull him towards me. I was expecting a possible full out fight as I steered him to the car but it never materialized. He feigned resistance as would a small child, but he came under the tape, and once back at the car got in the back seat. Vince maybe tellingly continued to remain quiet.

Once in the back of the car, Robbie seemed to feel free to talk. His speech was somewhat slurred, but not the common fuzziness brought about by alcohol.  He launched into a running monologue, of mostly indiscernible mutterings, incomprehensible statements not following any particular thought process. Our conversation, if one could call it that was not helped by the plexiglass shield which separated us. I opened the small window insert, and Robbie continued to go on, clearly only making sense to himself.  He was clearly distressed. But I furiously and dutifully wrote down what I could. But then, out of the ramblings, Robbie said something about an “axe”.  There was no mistake that he said it, it was clear and concise. And I had never mentioned an axe.

Staff Sargent Dale Swansburg, and Corporal Ben Walsh arrived, just as I was beginning to conclude that a coherent conversation with Robbie was out of the question, and I could no longer keep pace in any event with what he was saying.

Leaving Robbie in the car, I re-visited the scene (somewhat reluctantly I will admit) inside the house with Dale and Ben, pointing out what I could.

Dale was the head of my detachment, smoked a pipe, and reminded me of the stereotypical absent-minded professor. One time he had even set his paper money in his pocket on fire while walking around the office after sticking a too hot pipe into his pants. More importantly I looked up to him, and saw him as a mentor.

Years before, he was the primary investigator along with Greg Kalhoon who had solved the murder of two Moncton city police officers, a sensational and horrific case that had rattled the entire country. The two officers had been killed in front of each other and buried in shallow graves.

He was calm, unshakeable despite the carnage, and puffing on his ever present pipe as he surveyed the scene; like an architect or landscaper, quite unlike the rookie cop who was almost bouncing beside him.

He asked who I had in the back of the police car, and I told him Robbie Cunningham and that I thought he had something to do with it; describing the initial call, and Robbie’s blurting of the word “axe”. Dale asked that Ben Walsh and I take Robbie back to our office, and that we should try and get a statement from him, so at 1:20 in the morning we headed back to the office. This may not seem like much, but to have a senior officer with the reputation of Dale, allow me, a rookie cop, to continue to be involved in this way was a true signal of confidence, which I remember to this day.

Once back at the office, as I predicted, trying to take a statement from Robbie was an exercise in futility; Robbie at times falling out of his chair. The ramblings continued, and I continued my futile attempt to write down anything that I thought could prove significant. Clearly he was high, but he did not smell of alcohol or of marihuana. I booked him into the cells for the homicide of Nick Dugay, but I will admit the grounds to arrest and keep him were thin, based on a a single word, and his presence and mention by others at the house.

But the case continued to grow, as they sometimes do when the Gods are smiling down on you. Cst Bourdages who remembered that Robbie had a sister in the area, went to the house, and recovered Robbie’s bloody clothes which he had gotten rid of, inside their washing machine. The washing machine had not been turned on, and the clothes were in a pile on top of other dirty laundry.

The usual flow of statements obtained by other officers, placed Robbie at the scene, and one theory that had surfaced was that Robbie had stored stolen property at the residence which Dugay had pawned or sold, and an argument over the monies led to the one-sided “fight”. In the parlance of the day, Nick was a “wino” who would often let the various thieves in the area hide their property at his place, in exchange for the odd bottle of booze.

It was estimated that Nick probably lived for 60 seconds of this attack. That is hard to imagine.  This was my purest example of the inhumanity of man as he had in fact been struck by the axe a total of  87 times; as those were the number of axe marks that went through his flesh and into the floor boards of the residence. The cuts in the body made it appear that at some point the killer had tried to dissect the body, striking several times were the limbs joined, in an attempt to dismember it.  We also found burned out matches on parts of the body.

As the evidence rolled in, over the next few weeks, Dale continued to allow me to be the presenter of the case,  prepare the reports, while he discreetly looked over my shoulder. Typed reports with carbon copies, hammering away on the single Smith-Corona available to investigators. All the reports were eventually submitted to Crown Counsel Fred Ferguson.

There were two difficulties with the case. Identifying that the body which was found was in fact Nick Dugay; and putting Robbie at the scene of the homicide. The case was weak in terms of putting Robbie swinging the axe.

We were able to eventually prove it to be Nick Dugay because of an operating room staple that we could see on X-Rays, and then were able to compare it to an operation he had undergone years before.

As to the second more perplexing problem as to how we could put Mr Cunningham at the crime scene we learned of a “new” investigative technique, which was being explored by a Doctor Bastarache in the Toronto Metro Police Crime Lab.

He was experimenting with blood “spatter” and what it could tell you. He was doing this by scientifically measuring the results of throwing blood on walls, and on floors, walls and floors made of differing materials. Dr Bastarache, would become our final witness at our trial, and testified that Robbie Cunningham, judging from his bloody clothes, was either swinging the axe, or was leaning over the body while someone else was swinging the axe.

Robbie was convicted of 1st degree murder, but in 1981 had the case reduced to “manslaughter” due to his level of intoxication. His sentence was reduced to 12 years rather than the 25.

My first directly involved homicide was over with a successful conclusion. The thrill under these circumstances is hard to explain. It is a combination of relief, anxiety and exhilaration which I never have been able to match unless under these same circumstances. It is this adrenaline which is addictive. Although in after thoughts and the usual press scrum, investigators talk about the welfare of the family, and the ability to bring closure to the family, for me, and if others are honest, it was much more, it is visceral.

Like many homicides there are a lot of side-stories, but in the interest of brevity I will not go into a lot of them in great detail at this time.

The most significant one worthy of mention is that Robbie Cunningham, in his defence, and in a later book, blamed the murder on a fellow named Allan Legere. Legere was Cunningham’s criminal mentor, Legere’s runner or go to boy, for menial tasks and criminal assistance.

This was not an insignificant person to point the finger at.

Legere would become infamous. He was convicted of killing a store owner in Black River by beating him to death, along with a Scott Curtis in 1986. However, while serving time for murder, he escaped from Sheriffs during a transfer. He would go on a killing rampage while on the loose, starting 25 days after his escape, with killing Annie Flam of Chatham. Five months later, he would kill Donna and Linda Daughney, and then five weeks after that would kill Father James Smith of the Chatham Head church rectory.  He was re-captured after a 201 day manhunt and  became known as the  “Monster of the Miramichi”. He was one of the first persons convicted of murder through the use of DNA.

So Robbie, by having Legere as a criminal partner gained misplaced stature in the community.

Five years before the Dugay killing, Cunningham and Legere were two of the suspects in the still unsolved murder of Mary Beatrice Redmond,  murdered in 1974, after coming home from church.

The 56 year old woman was stabbed over 80 times on her porch, never making it inside. In the same neighbourhood as Dugay.

Could Legere  have had something to do with the planning or execution of Dugay? It is quite possible that he may have orchestrated the event, but there is no evidence that he was at the scene of the crime during the murder.

The defence counsel for Cunningham trial for the killing of Dugay, also well known for his tenacious and sometimes impolite cross-examination, was Frank McKenna. McKenna would go on to be the Premier of the Province, and is now head of a committee seeking to determine the best candidate for the job of RCMP Commissioner.

Dale Swansburg, retired, is alive and well in New Brunswick, and in the last few months I had a chance to speak with him once again, and remind him of his impression upon me. He is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, but maintains a good spirit and is still as humble as he was some 40 years ago.

Ben Walsh, also retired,  is still going strong in Regina, but sadly lost his son to friendly fire while with the Canadian Forces. He will never be the same as the man who helped me on this case, but he too remains strong.

Cst Bourdages is still living in New Brunswick, having just recently retired, and having been a long serving member of the RCMP dive team; and he still speaks with the heavy warm French accent that I grew to truly appreciate.

I, on the other hand, after this case, had been instilled with a desire to do homicide investigations. This was my first where I could point to playing a meaningful role, and now I had the bug.

They had instilled in me confidence, made me believe that I could do the job. To see beyond the obvious, to look beneath the surface of the human condition. They showed me that there was a need to speak for the victim, as sometimes there was no one else who put any value on their life. It was a job that would take you to dark places, places where most people will never go.

They had shown me a team of people who wordlessly without direction came together; often with humour, a pride in their job, and with unbridled loyalty to their fellow officers. It was an environment of overwork, with each pulling its share without a negative word or comment, and then often helping the others without a need for applause. You needed to win at trial, there was no other option.

So, I did pursue this goal and would eventually be involved directly in over a couple of hundred homicides during my career. But, there is nothing like the first, and I always tried to mimic that unheralded crew who showed me the way.

Photo courtesy of the Author on a recent return to the area….the “new” bridge to Chatham Head from Newcastle over the Miramichi river..

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons in the testimony of James Comey….when politics becomes part of policing

Policing, throughout Canada, both in our Federal and our Municipal policing agencies is increasingly political, and it may be  proving detrimental to our form of government and the ability to do objective investigations.  Everything from recruiting and hiring, to what is being investigated, or how it is being investigated has become subject to the vagaries of a leadership which often cowers and acquiesces to its political masters.

Some would argue that this has always been a problem in our country, that this is nothing new. Others argue that the abject adherence to the desires of the political leadership has reached a more dangerous precipice.

Historically, we have adopted in this country the Westminster system, a system or division of powers where the model of governance forms around three distinct branches; the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. It has always been felt that the police fall on the judiciary side of the branches, and in terms of governance and accountability, the police are meant to remain above partisan politics. They are hoped to be apolitical and autonomous, above the fray so to speak. The public in our democratic system, need to have faith in the police, and their ability to do their jobs immune from political influence, otherwise there is the potential for chaos. As stated by  Robert Peel   “the police are the public and the public are the police”

So there are three distinct functions within our government; those that make the rules or laws (the legislative bodies and the executives of those bodies), those  that enforce those laws(the police), and those that are there to settle the disputes (the judiciary).  We run into trouble in this country when these levels get blurred, when politicians exert control over what or how rules are enforced, or begin to dictate how those police agencies are run.

This is not to say that the police should not be accountable, they should, and it can be argued  even more so than they are now. But they should be accountable for monies, operations, and their administrative management, not for determining investigative worth, or the focus of those same investigations. The judiciary are in place to hold the police responsible,  for the  proper enforcement of the laws, and the use of proper investigative techniques. This creates the needed counter balance. The police are on the judiciary side of the scales of justice, in counter balance to the executive and legislative branch. One balancing the other.

Which brings me back to former FBI director Comey, and his most recent testimony to the Senate Committee investigating Russian influence in the American election. Mr Comey is articulate, intelligent, and polished. His testimony to the Committee was thorough, and believable, which of course will hold problems for the bombastic Mr Trump, who has now established himself as a proven and often compulsive liar. However, it also underlined to me how Mr. Comey was not head of the FBI because of an illustrious investigative career with the FBI, but for the fact that he is good at playing the political game.  His “leak” to the NY Times after being fired, was a blatant example of how much of a politician he had become, as he admitted that he did the leak to help force the appointment of a Special Prosecutor. As much as I admired Mr Comey and his testimony, that was a shocking admission. This was all of course after Mr Comey came under fire for announcing the further investigation into the Hilary Clinton email fiasco. Mr Comey on both occaisons jumped with both feet into the political arena.

It is becoming more obvious in this country that heads of police offices, whether Provincial, Federal or Municipal, on many levels, are no different than Comey; they are playing the political game, they are appointed because of their political adherence to the politics of the day. They survive, get promoted, and reach the top ranks not because of their investigative or enforcement prowess, or because of their integrity, but because they reflect and mirror their political masters of the day.

We are about to have a new Commissioner of the RCMP appointed. So the Liberals have now appointed ex-Premier and staunch Liberal, Frank McKenna to head a selection committee of up to 10 people. Is there any doubt that this person will reflect the wishes or policies of Justin Trudeau?  In an article by Allison Crawford, quoting from an internal memo by Ralph Goodale (Solicitor General)the Liberals are pushing for someone versed in sexual harassment, bullying,  workplace relationships, mental health issues, and post traumatic stress. Lofty goals, and not necessarily wrong in their intent, but investigations and the ability to lead investigations, or to be adequately schooled in the law and the operational problems facing the RCMP seems to have been slid to the back burner.

It is highly unlikely that whoever is chosen will be appointed because of their abilities proven in the police environment; it is far more likely that they will be “representative”, reflective of the Liberal principles and someone who will protect, support, and promote the Liberals politically.

It is a rather small step to think that who and what gets investigated becomes something determined by the politicians, or at the very least under the influence of the political elite.  And when the politicians decide who or how to enforce the law, you are indeed in very dangerous territory.

If you don’t think that it is possible, ask Mr Comey, who was being told to close off the investigation into  Flynn by the President of the United States. Look back to Nixon in the U.S. or if you prefer Canadian examples,  how about Harper and his executive assistant in the Mike Duffy investigation, when Vic Toews oversaw the RCMP and even monitored correspondence between the RCMP and government.

If you combine these thoughts with the recent talk of a civilian oversight for the Mounties (again, not absolutely bad), the ability for a police department to be unduly influenced by their political bosses because even more of a possibility.

Did you know that the commanders of RCMP detachments are often needed to be approved by the local government, so that the Mayor of Surrey for instance has a say in who leads the local detachment. Without their approval they are unlikely to get appointed. In a place like Vancouver, or Victoria,  the Chief of Police is appointed by the government of the day.  On what criteria do you think they would base their decision? When Jim Chu retired as Vancouver Police Chief, he was appointed to the Translink board, clearly another political appointment, and I am not so sure Mr Chu was a transportation expert. Do you think Mr Chu may have been loyal to the local politicians when he was the Chief? It is a very fine line to walk between accountability and subservience.

It goes even lower than this in the rank structure. In many of the recent RCMP appointments, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity are clearly playing a significant role in promotions and advancements. Of course it is all sold as being “reflective” of the community, but when does being reflective turn into pandering to special interest groups.

This is not to say that any of these appointments are bad, or wrong, but they need to be scrutinized as they open up the question as to where the loyalties of these chiefs or these officers will lay if they are ever in a position like Mr Comey found himself. The police need to exude objectivity, we need to trust in their ability to be fair, open, and not influenced by outside forces.

We have lost sight of the 1st goal of policing, to enforce the laws. Not to make judgements or to show favour to particular groups of society, but to enforce them in an objective and non-political manner. The rash of charges against white officers in shootings of blacks, again in the U.S., is clearly politically charged. There is a demand for charges from Black Lives Matter and similar groups, and lo and behold charges in these cases are growing astronomically. The fact that most are being acquitted by the judicial system doesn’t get enough mention, but there is little doubt that political groups are influencing the politicized District Attorney system in the United States.

By way of a Canadian example, clearly one of the Liberal platforms is indigenous rights and reconciliation. To that aim, financial accountability by these groups has been specifically lessened under Trudeau. The Liberal Justin Trudeau government reversed Harper in the need for the Bands to show their financial records. The compliance rate for these documents has now dropped further, and the potential for fraud has greatly increased.

Do you think that investigations of fraud on these very same Reserves will ever be brought into the investigative light under a new Commissioner of the RCMP, a Commissioner who in seeking this promotion and who has been told that he or she must be more incorporative of the indigenous groups? It would seem unlikely.

It is subtle influence, probably unspoken and unmentioned, but it is there non the less.

This is all to say that there is evidence building in Canada that policing has and is becoming more political, more subjective than objective, and more guided by special interests. There is a greater danger looming in that the public will lose faith in their police; that they will come to believe that their agency is politically motivated, not in search of the truth, but in search of a mandated truth. A politically tainted truth.

When leaders such as Trump emerge, we are reminded that there is a need for preserving unswerving integrity. We must be reminded as Julian Assange said in a recent documentary that “most principled people don’t last very long”, and therefore we too are susceptible. We must always be on our guard for breaches in an always fragile democratic system, a system with its separation of powers and governance that binds our democracy together. We, often docile Canadians think we are above such things, or immune to impeachable politics.  Do we think that any politician who caters to special interest groups, or represent a certain constituency that they are not open to unduly influencing policing authorities to bend in their favour.   As Sandra Day O’Connor the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice said:  “It matters enormously to a successful democratic society like ours that we have three branches of government, each with some independence and some control over the other two”. We need to be cognizant of our history, learn from that history,  and be reminded by the lesson of Mr. Comey that politics and investigations of integrity do not mix.

Photo and Caricature Courtesy of DonkeyHotey via Flickr Commons some Rights Reserved

lawyers, judges, and the need for a speed

 

In  2016 the Supreme Court threw out its previous guidelines on trial delays, and in a 5-4 decision they said that the previous rules of 1992 had created a “culture of delay and complacency”. In other words, the previous rules had given the lawyers and the judges to much leeway, allowed them to go beyond a reasonable time limit for cases to get before the courts.  So in 2016,  they are now saying that there should be a limit, and have now put in place a guideline to put a limit of 18 months for a Provincial case, and 30 months for a Supreme Court matter.

Interestingly, when the guidelines were announced, there was a hue and cry from the lawyers. Even the minority group on the Supreme Court wrote that it was “wrong in principle and unwise in practise”.  So anytime lawyers get angry or judges speak up, I tend to perk up and take note, and in this day and age, this usually means that someone has cut into someones pay cheque.

At first blush, I thought that this 18 month parameter for Provincial Court seemed reasonable as did the 30 month parameter for Supreme Court matters.  I struggled to try and remember a Provincial court matter that took me longer than 18 months to put together; nor can I remember a Supreme Court matter, such as a homicide file which took me longer than 30 months to get before the courts once a charge had been approved.  That being said I can think of a few horrendous public files that seem to be taking forever to get to some settlement; for example the Surrey 6 file will be going on 10 years before Mr Bacon sees inside a Courtroom.  Why are these long winded affairs different than the others, is there some commonality to certain cases being a marathon more than a sprint?

How many cases are actually being  constrained by these timelines, how many are in jeopardy because of this ruling?

Statistics Canada measures the length of time for trials and the types of cases which are “completed” in adult court. So here are some of the things which stand out when you delve into the numbers:

In 2014/2015 in terms of all adult cases in Canada; 49% were completed in less than four months; 42 % between four and eighteen months; 6% between eighteen and thirty months; and 3% were greater than thirty months. So of all the adult cases in Canada, there is a potential for 9% of those cases be in some sort of time jeopardy.

Now one must also remember that this is when you lump all the adult cases both Provincial and Superior Courts into one envelope. An overwhelming 99% of all adult cases in Canada are at the Provincial level.

And 77% of those 99% adult cases are “non-violent” which include such things as impaired driving, theft, breach of probation and similar type offences.

The findings of these cases show that 63% of all cases are settled by a finding of guilt, or by guilty pleas. Probation is by far the most common sentence. Only 37% of cases end in custodial sentences, and 88% of those custodial sentences,  the average sentence was 6 months or less.

In terms of how long these cases take, the average or median length of time for the vast majority of Provincial cases is 120 days or 4 months. Clearly, these cases are falling inside the time parameters that have now been outlined, however, despite this decent average, 23,850 cases in Provincial court took in excess of 18 months.

One measurement of movement of a case through the courts would be how many times there is a court appearance, how many times are counsel and accused appearing, only to have the matter set further over. On average, again according to Statistics Canada, these Provincial matters took 5 court appearances, roughly the same amount of appearances that it took 10 years ago. So not much has changed in that regard.

That being said those matters going to a Superior Court took on average 565 days and over 15 court appearances. That is about 18 months, still in reasonable time considering these cases now have a 30 month window. (Homicide cases take an average of 493 days and 19 appearances)

In reviewing these numbers, there is one item that stands out, in terms of length of trials. That is the use of the Preliminary inquiry. For those unaware, a preliminary inquiry in effect is a trial before the main trial, where the Crown is obligated there is enough evidence to go ahead. One must keep in mind that this is a court option if you have been charged with an indictable offence, or a more serious offence under the law.

In Regina vs Hynes, the preliminary inquiry was described by Justice McLachlin as : “…the preliminary inquiry is not a trial. It is rather a pre-trial screening procedure aimed at filtering out weak cases that do not merit trial. It’s paramount purpose is to protect the accused from a needless, indeed improper, exposure to public trial where the enforcement agency is not in possession of evidence to warrant the continuation of the process.”

What is happened over the years is that Crown to avoid being rejected for trial often errs on the side of caution,  and produces its case in its entirety. In three decades of going to Court, I never experienced a case being rejected at the Preliminary inquiry stage. Its unlikely that I was lucky, the simple matter is that few cases get rejected at this stage. As a result there are two trials of similar duration and length. Now before one says that maybe it is time to get rid of what seems to be an increasing waste of time and effort for a minimal advantage to the accused, one must realize that the Preliminary inquiry as a process is fully codified in the Criminal Code of Canada beginning at Section 535.

Is there a chance it could be amended? Yes, but keep in mind lawyers in Parliament make up the vast majority of the House, so what is the chance that they are going to cut into a segment of the law society that benefits and is able to monetize some extra court work? Like the Charter of Rights a preliminary inquiry is a costly process, but make no mistake about it, it is something that benefits lawyers.

But lets at least consider the figures for those cases involving a Preliminary hearing. There were 9179 adult cases that were completed after having gone through a preliminary; 7432 were completed in less than 30 months; however, 1747 of those cases took over 30 months.

If we total those possible files that may be in jeopardy due to the length of the cases, there is clearly a problem, with just a rudimentary examination of the stats showing that in Canada there could be 25,000 cases both at the Provincial and the Superior court level.

The damage is now beginning to come to the fore and several cases have been dismissed by the courts for not meeting the now imposed deadlines. In a recent murder case in Alberta the case against the accused was dismissed, but the case had taken five years to get to court. The accused killer walked free of the charge. Is this not as damaging to the legal system as an improperly convicted accused?

A little closer to home, as another example, the police officers charged in the Surrey 6 case with four officers facing over 20 charges has yet to go trial, and that was six years ago.

The Willy Pickton case took three years to go from the preliminary hearing to the trial itself.

All countries don’t seem to share our problem, it does seem to be part of a Canadian narrative.

For instance, in comparison, the Oklahoma bombing perpetrated by Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols, which killed 168 people, took place in April 1995 and was the deadliest terror attack prior to the World Trade Centre. The FBI conducted 28,000 interviews, and collected close to a billion pieces of evidence. Both parties were tried and convicted in 1997, just two years after the event.

There are many other U.S. examples but suffice to say, none seem to match the turtle like pace of Canada. And yes, their laws are different than ours in some respects, but in terms of getting the case into court and tried our Canadian courts are,  as now outlined by the Supreme Court, clearly built on delay.

More judges are clearly needed. Walk through the Surrey Courts anytime, and count the number of unused courtrooms if you want to see it for yourself. At a glance it would appear that at least half the courtrooms are empty. In a busy place like Surrey or Vancouver, should we not also be thinking of an evening court?

It is obvious to those who participate in this judicial system on a regular basis that the goings on inside these hallowed buildings is askew. The roosters are guarding the henhouse; what the Supreme Court calls “complacency” is actually a system well suited to lawyers, a system which is slow but lucrative. Every police officer who has spent endless hours sitting around a courtroom, can easily testify to the length of trials, the constant delays, the constant abuse of the system which seems to only aid the lawyers, and of course the accused.

There are many well known cases that seemingly drag on for months, even years. The delays are almost invariably the justice system itself, which in essence is the lawyers and judges, and to a lesser degree the Sheriffs.  (A recent case in Victoria was thrown out because there were insufficient sheriffs to get the accused to the courtroom, which after having spent 3 decades going to court was a new one on me)

Ask anyone who has had to be a witness to a case recently, and ask them what they thought of their experience there. To a person, I am betting, they will say that they will never get involved again, as they sit there day after day, delay after delay, usually all in aid of the accused. They sit on hard benches for hours on end, often taking time off work, only to have the case dismissed; or to be told to come back another day. Meanwhile the lawyers seem to be always scurrying about with a practised harried look on their faces.

It is a system that must change. Eliminate endless court appearances, look at getting rid of the Preliminary inquiry, appoint more Judges and Sheriffs. Always keep in mind that a wronged person going to jail is a horrible outcome that must be avoided at all costs, but the accused person walking free because of simple inefficiency is equally in-excusable in this 21st century.  Lawyers undoubtedly will be in favour of more judges, but don’t expect them to be carrying the torch for remedies which impinge on their livelihood. It will be interesting to see how many cases get dismissed before someone steps in to push things forward.

Photo Courtesy of the Author

Epilogue: On Wednesday the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs issued a 205 page report on legal reform in light of the Jordan decision. Not surprisingly they say that the justice system is in “urgent need of reform”. They say the courts need to do a better job of managing files (you think?) and they point out after numerous interviews of judges and lawyers in the system; that it takes 5 to 10 times longer for cases to get through the system compared to the U.K. , Australia, and New Zealand. They point to the Stinchcombe decision and the need for more urgent disclosure (see previous blog) and they also say that lawyers need to shorten the number of motions etc. They also affirm the “culture of complacency”. The Liberal government, and in particular Jody Wilson-Raybould are offering up no solutions yet, and in fact they are farther behind in Judicial appointments then ever.

“Stinchcombe” and the need to reevaluate how investigations are done

In 1991, Stinchcombe vs the Queen was before the Supreme Court of Canada; a case where a fraudster, who happened to be a lawyer, was the central figure of the case.  The Court ruled in favour of Stinchcombe, who was arguing that a witness statement that was in the possession of the Crown, but never used at trial, hampered his defence. It was argued that the Crown held it back due to it being positive to the accused.

The Court favourably ruled that any accused did in fact have the right to see all “relevant” information gathered by the Crown; saying that “fruits of an investigation are not the property of the Crown …but the property of the public to be used to ensure that justice is done”. They said all information needed to be placed before the accused, and further stipulated that the investigational information had to be provided prior to a plea or prior to going to trial.

The Stinchcombe decision has been hailed as groundbreaking by many in the legal community,  and a landmark decision for Canadian jurisprudence. The result is that now all police agencies have to be prepared to present full “disclosure” of a Crown’s case prior to any plea or trial.

It is difficult to argue the logic of the Court, that an accused be given the right to all the investigative information, the right to full and frank disclosure.  And it is unlikely that the issue of the need to disclose will be contested to the Supreme Court level in the near future; so it is here to stay.

However, despite its apparent common sense rationale,  Stinchcombe and its application has become the Moby Dick to the police’s Captain Ahab, an alarming thorn in the side of those concerned with investigational flow and quick action.

It is subverting trials; causing massive delays in cases going before the courts; using up untold numbers of officers in disclosure preparation; and costing extraordinary amounts of money. Cases are being dismissed because of police failures to disclose “all” the relevant information, and arrests are being delayed because the police haven’t got all the disclosure information fully available. Charges are being withheld as Crown refuses to move forward without an all encompassing police report on the evidence.

So what happened in the application of Stinchcombe, this seemingly altruistic ruling? What is going on? Why has the turning over of evidence to the courts become such a costly and lengthy nightmare? It is not discussed in polite police circles, or observable to the general public,  who are ultimately the ones paying for excessive trial delays and grossly inflated costs. It is a dull subject when it comes to police reporting and therefore unlikely to grab many headlines but “disclosure” is a fundamental building block in the policing world, and it needs to be at the very least brought to the forefront of police managerial discussions.

The problem stems from the single fact that investigational files are getting larger. Processing these much larger files has become a central cog that will need to be addressed in each and every investigation, big or small, serious charge or minor charge. Technology and the current police approach to files, has turned what was once simple to now being complicated.

What used to take two people, now takes ten. Every investigation is grossly expanding in terms of documentation, and the larger multi-year investigations have almost become immobilized by the sheer level of the “disclosure” package. The often referred to investigational triangle of managing, now includes “File co-ordinator” as one of the central three roles. It is the result of the modern way of criminal and civil investigation information processing; more specifically electronic formatting, and the numerous investigative tools and formats that often are tied to technology, which are now being adopted and utilized by the police, sometimes without sufficient study and cost/benefit review.

This is of course contrary to what one would believe in that technology should by its very definition speed up the process. It has actually had the opposite effect in policing.

As an example, lets take a simple witness statement.

Now in the “older” days prior to the mid 1990’s for argument sake, a witness statement would be hand-written by the police officer as the witness dictated what they saw or heard. He/she would then make a photocopy and everyone gets a copy.  Then along came the typewriter. No longer would the Crown take a statement that wasn’t typed. So the police, began then taking the statement in writing, then provided it to an administrative clerk,  who then needed to type the statement, and then the copies would be turned over to the Crown etc. This of course is a built in time delay, and added more additional manpower, as the typing pools began gathering up reams of written statements that needed to be typed.

And then along came audio and video. Now officers routinely audio and video record all witness statements, whether big or small. The audio or video or both is then submitted to transcription.  After being transcribed. (It is estimated that one hour of audio or video takes 8 hours to transcribe) then all audio and video statements are returned to the officer and reviewed for accuracy. They review the statement in real time and compare the audio to the transcribed statement.  Any alterations are once again submitted back to the transcribers.

Of course as most people who use audio on a regular basis can attest, when someone is recording a statement it will run extensively longer as it is effortless, compared to writing it by hand,  so the transcript is often filled with “uhmms” or “ahh’s”, pregnant pauses or long drawn out conversations with no relevance to the actual matter at hand. All now duly transcribed.

So now the one step process has become a four step process, and the 3 or 4 hour process of a hand written statement could now involve 27 or 30 hours. Some larger cases could involve numerous statements, even into the hundreds. Thousands of person hours are the immediate result, and the costs begin to bloom accordingly.

And of course the video, or audio simple statement and the transcriptions, and any alterations are all added to the now digital file.

In speaking with a Port Moody officer he described having a case, where a lone gunman attended a residence in Port Moody, with the intent of killing the girlfriend or father, ran away, and later that day ended up being tracked down after having committed a sexual assault in Coquitlam.

Now in the bad old days, that may have led to a long hand written Crown Counsel report, maybe 100 pages or so.  After 48 hours, Port Moody using the electronic system and falling the modern guidelines to a tee, submitted a 5,000 page electronic document to Crown. Maybe not a fair comparison, but “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy,  rated as one of the longest books ever is 1440 pages. Clearly,  a day of police investigation had a much longer and greater story to tell than that of the Bolkonsky family and Russia in the 1800’s.

In the Willy Pickton case, according to various police sources, there was  17 persons fully assigned to the disclosure group; and that at one point they were disclosing up to 45,000 electronic pages per month, which needed over 6 Crown Counsel to review.  Hundreds of investigators were used, but the case boiled down to a single crime location, and about 20 key witnesses, a few key pieces of physical evidence, and a key statement made in the presence of an undercover operator.

However, the investigative team, seized 600,000 exhibits, 200,000 DNA samples, and they sifted through 383,000 cubic yards of soil. (it should be noted that no evidence was found below ground).  The vast majority of the information turned over in this case would not be used in court, some not deemed to be “relevant” to the case, and therefore of no real probative value. The problem was that hundreds of investigators generated hundreds of notes and reports, they seized and processed, everything regardless of investigative potential.  Everything was forwarded to allow for “full disclosure” and to eliminate the risk of defence calling foul.  There is very little likelihood the defence even read all of the material, as this mountain of paper would have been a logistical nightmare.

A preliminary inquiry for Pickton was held in 2003, and then four years later it finally made it to trial in 2007, with the major delay being the full “disclosure” of the reams and reams of investigational material.  In December of 2007 he was found guilty of six counts of second degree murder, and the remaining 20 charges were stayed.

The cost of this investigation is estimated at $70 million. Roughly $12 million per conviction. By normal homicide investigative standards, that is an exorbitant amount. The specific cost of just conducting the disclosure and the efforts of Crown to deal with the massive information has never been articulated.

Of course the police were in a very difficult situation with a large pig farm being the scene of the crime, and the political pressure was mounting in relation to the missing women, so investigators spared no expense; brought  in more investigators; seized more exhibits than the Lab was able to initially process. Maybe it was impossible under the circumstances to use a smaller investigational team, that they be more scrutinizing in terms of exhibits,  but it is a question which never got asked. It is a good example of the exponential growth that these files generate when monies and resources are not an issue and spending oversight is put to the side.

These investigational files  grow for two reasons; the first one being the “piling on” of investigators, regardless of the actual operational need. This is basic math. The more investigators, the more information is generated.

Fifteen years ago, as an example, when a body was found and called into the police as being suspicious, two officers from the Serious Crime Section (of which I was once part) would attend the scene. To assist them if needed they would draw on the local uniform officers that had answered the original call.

Today, the uniform officers in Surrey call IST (a plainclothes team attached to the Watch, usually consisting of 4 or 5 officers), they in turn would call the Serious Crime Section in Surrey (who insist on being the ones to make the judgement of whether it is a homicide or not) who will also send 3 or 4 officers. The Serious Crime Section then would call IHIT who are actually responsible for the investigation (Integrated Homicide Investigative Team) who would send their usual team of eight officers. All those attending would have to supply notes. So the two persons of the old style homicide team, just on the initial call, has now grown to 10-15 persons.  As a result, the current first step in any of the homicide investigations has become a “briefing”, with the initial few hours of the crucial 48 hours, being largely taken up by having to sort through the initial investigative maze of the parties attending.

The second reason is the electronic formatting, which is now the tool that allows for larger and larger files. Video files, audio files, electronic statements, photos can all become part of the file. Technology in the policing world is now often equated with sophistication, the more technology employed, the greater their believed investigational worth. Size matters in policing, and there is a misguided belief that the bigger the file the more skilled the lead investigators. (if you don’t believe this, check any press conference held by the police on a file, and see if they don’t talk about how many investigators have been assigned to the file)

So as these enlarged investigational groups accumulate all this information, but as Stinchcombe stated, supposedly that they only need to provide the “relevant” information.

The police by their very makeup are conservative organizations, not known for thinking or stepping outside the box. So when they are left with the original review of what is relevant, and what is not, in a criminal case, especially a serious criminal case, they err on the side of caution. Rather than deem something irrelevant, and run the risk of having to defend their decision, it is much easier so the thinking goes, to just give them everything. Can’t make a mistake if you don’t make a decision would appear to be the logic.

So is the Canadian system doomed, is their no answer to this Canadian system of ridiculous amounts of time to get a case into the court system? Has Stinchcombe bound the police to the point of no return? One of the biggest misconceptions out there is at policing has become more complicated, more advanced. Not true to a large extent, but then again we can not return to the times of pen and paper.

Technology can be good and lead to innovative investigational strategies, or be used for the filtering and dissemination of investigations, sometimes leading to the quicker identification of suspects. The Boston Marathon bombing would be one of the best most recent examples.

But disclosing everything is resulting in ridiculous sized files, warrants of stupendous length, overblown lengthy statements and reports. Another Pickton case could effectively bankrupt a police agency like the Vancouver Police Department if it happened to fall in their jurisdiction.

I think part of the solution if not the entire solution is to minimize the investigative “teams”. There needs to be greater control of the nucleus of investigators. The smaller the team, the less the resulting fallout from the team. Stop the sometimes ridiculous staffing levels of those files that are deemed to be highly political. Get seasoned investigators who can make decisions on cases on the go; less referencing to “expert” groups. “Interview teams” and “warrant teams” for example should not be used on files as a matter of course. Original investigation teams should look at getting smaller rather than larger. And before anyone says that they are better at solving files now, the statistics say otherwise, solvency rates are going down over the last several years.

Police estimate that over 1100 investigators were involved in the Surrey 6 case. Over 400 statements were taken. To demonstrate that they had expended all police effort, millions of dollars were spent, which resulted in four people being charged with the six murders and the conspiracies to commit those murders. The case by the way is still before the courts with the last suspect, Jamie Bacon; a decade, after it all started.

And of course one of the latest defence motions is the lengthy delay in getting to trial.

Now I am not saying that 5 or 6 people could have done the Surrey 6  file, but 1100 investigators was ridiculous by any measurement. I can assure you that 400 statements did not end up in court.

The police need to spend their technological dollars on hardware and software that further the investigation, and they need to employ file management tools that smooth out the process and are intuitive, not just on programs that compile and accumulate information.  The current system being used by IHIT is called E&R (Evidence and Reports) a file management system developed by Ottawa in 1998 for the Swissair plane crash off the coast of Nova Scotia. Really, this is the most advanced case management tool? Maybe they should be exploring greater technologies in the fields of artificial intelligence, advanced imaging, tools, and machine learning  that could speed up the process, not slow it down.

Finally the police need to take a stance on relevancy, that is accepted by the Crown. These files need to be skinned down into their bare necessities in terms of meeting the goal of full disclosure, so that a trial can begin in months, not years.

The current Supreme Court has now dictated that these trials need to be sped up, and have put up time restrictions for cases to get to Court. The very same court that gave us Stinchcombe is now saying that the process has to be less complicated, less onerous, and it needs to speed up. Hopefully this now imposed deadline will force all involved to take a hard look at how files are being managed, processed and readied for Court. They have to, or more people are going to be walking out of the Courts, free because of stifling bureaucracy. It is not the fault of investigators who are under daily pressure trying to cope with this ridiculous system, it is the fault of our modernized police managers who ferociously stick their head in the sand, refusing to rock the proverbial boat. These delays are not going to be cured by more judges, more Crown, or more Sheriffs; not if the investigational file can not make it through and into the court system in a more timely and cost effective manner.  Twenty-six years after Stinchcombe, maybe they have had enough time to begin to address the problem.

 

Image Courtesy of Keith Williamson via Creative Commons licence some rights reserved

A Personal Story #1 – “Mom”

Like most everyone when we think of our mothers,  I have a certain specific image which comes to mind. Something we quickly go to, without thinking, that seems to reflect who they are or were. For me, it is her sitting in a brownish green, worn,  La-z-Boy chair, next to the picture window in the living room. The room is tidy, with couch and other chairs, a few knickknacks, but nothing which catches the eye more so than the windows. This particular window,  looks out onto a large bay, part of Lake Ontario. And as you look out, through a mid size birch tree and a maple or two, you also notice a somewhat imposing cement government wharf in the foreground. It is seldom used for its intended purpose, which is a customs stop for any Americans boating across the Lakes to the Canadian side. It is better known as a swimming platform for local teenagers, or for fishing for small pan-size perch and sunfish. It is the platform for many a small child’s first caught fish.

My mother’s chair is worn but comfortable. It is like her preferred clothes, some sort of stretched working style sweatpants, a popular  garment of the older crowd, and usually a sweatshirt from a big store brand like the Bay or Sears, so no logos, or sayings in bold letters. She is sitting with her over-sized 1990’s headphones, eyes partially closed, listening to either a French broadcast,  the news, a classical music station, or the latest business report out of Toronto.

Of course this is an image which comes about from the last twenty or thirty years; in easy memory range, as it is much more difficult for me to remember her when I was a small child, or even a teenager. In the overall time spent in life, I lived with my mother for 18 years, and have been away from her, unable to observe her on a regular basis, for more than 40 years.

It is much more difficult to know of those younger years, as Edan Lepucki wrote about in the NY Times recently, those years “before they were a mother”. Pictures from those times help and allow us to put some substance to our image, but for the most part we rely on a string of stories, heard at off times, always accepted to be true, and with little corroboration from others. My mother did not even have a lot of photos, none on display in the usual mantel or bedside table.

So I needed to rely on stories. And as best as I can tell, in those more formative younger times, she was not atypical of women of her generation; a stay at home housekeeper performing all the normal assignments of her generation.  Cleaning, laundry, making meals, and making beds were the regimen.

There was little that disrupted or interrupted this routine. We, even as a family, rarely went out for dinner, never went to church, never went to the movies or to sporting events. So I never saw her outside that achingly routine element.  I have no recollection of me being out with just my mother, none of the usual mother son interconnection, and I am not sure about this, but I don’t think that there were many kids of this generation who did. However, we did go on vacation in the summers to our cottage, but even for those two months, she would fall into that familiar role of meals and cleaning regardless of where we were.  We kids, running, swimming, and fishing, always on the move with friends, always banging in and out of the cottage doors on our latest mission. And she would always be there.

Everything seemed inevitable. Meals was fish on Fridays when we were going through the charade of being good Catholics, and on the other days, always meat and two vegetables.

There was no shepherding of children from one “activity” to another like today.  I played a lot of sports, but can not remember my mother or my father for that matter, at a game, or even having driven me to a rink or a playing field.  Even if she had been there, I can not imagine my mother jumping up and down on the sidelines as is required by the overly enthusiastic driven parents of today.

It was the day and age when families had one car, and that was taken to work in most households by the father or in the terminology of the day the “breadwinner”.  So in practical terms, by necessity the home maker was stranded on this island of domesticity, with a front and back yard. Stepford wife like, but without the pearl necklaces and dinner dresses, and they were real of course, not robots. This was the 1950’s and the 1960’s where the custom of the day seems now so bland and accepting of the routine that it is often difficult to imagine.

In my mind’s eye she was always serious, determined, but maybe confused about the ultimate goal. She grew up of course where custom dictated marriage, family, loyalty, and that your role in life was to move your family further along the economic ladder and to let your children have it better than yourself.

I do have slivers of memory, brighter, and pronounced surrounding certain moments of time.

For example, my mother crying sitting on the sofa, dishcloth in hand, not saying anything when I came in the door from school.  The assassination of John Kennedy had just occurred in Dallas, gunned down in the back of convertible while he waved at the crowds. It seemed to stop time, even for me as a 9 year old. Something was gravely wrong, my mother never cried, and here she was crying real tears as Walter Cronkite intoned the news of his death. I didn’t understand a lot, but it showed a side of my mother I didn’t know, a side which seemed foreign to me.

Her younger pre-motherhood personality is even more difficult for me, as I try to put pieces of the fragmented memories into an overall picture, like a jigsaw puzzle with several pieces missing.  To even envision her being single, and acting with the frenetic pace of someone in their early 20’s, nor can I conjure up her being frivolous, or lackadaisical, as only younger people are allowed to be.

She went off to the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto after high school, where she studied piano and trumpet, but she spoke little about it in terms of enjoying or hating it. I have seen clippings of her public piano recitals, with small town newspaper write ups of a few column inches.  But, I do know that she cherished her graduation ring, and it was one of the very few things she kept in a 3″ x 6″  wooden jewelry box, one of maybe five or six items.

When she finished at the Conservatory, my mother went to work in a music store in downtown Montreal.  I never determined why she went to Montreal, there was no reason ever given but this would not have been a logical choice for someone from rural Ontario. But, this was my youthful mother, who at that time must have had the same stirrings of any person in their 20’s. She must have met friends, socialized, fallen in love, or woken up hung over. I can’t be sure, but there were hints. There was even shadowy talk amongst relatives, of having had a possible abortion.

In those days the music stores often contained musical instruments where patrons could come and try them out, or practise when they could not afford to buy.  One day, a large black male piano player, came into the store where my mother worked, and sat at the piano to practise. The free piano and place to practise in a quiet space, meant that he, and the single female employee, developed a friendship,  and as the story goes, it became an ongoing meeting. He would often ask my mother to play with him, affectionately calling her “Ruthie”.  This bear of a man, with a natural but dour smile was Oscar Petersen. He went on to a rather remarkable career throughout the 1950’s to the 1970’s, playing Carnegie Hall in New York, and becoming one of Canada’s iconic figures in music.

I have no idea whether he fully appreciated the long-lasting affect that he had on my mother, it is unlikely. This was a time in the 1940’s, that my mother spoke softly about, with a seeming tenderness. It was a remembrance, that she would recall and bring out at those sporadic family story times. They were the same age, and I have no idea whether this was anything more than a meeting, or a rehearsal, but I like to think at the very least, there was a fondness between the two. A shared laugh, or a shared sidelong glance, an implied romance and that my mother was happy.

Of course real life intervenes, and my mother went off on the well worn path to marriage, children, and saving for the eventual retirement. She married my father after the War Years, becoming a maternal head of an Air Force family,  living in squat and square private military residences.

We were an Air Force family and therefore moved every three or four years, and even had a stint living in France. Of course this meant new friends needed to be made, easier for us children, not so easy I suspect for my mother. She was somewhat aloof, or distant, and had only a passing interest in those people who would be in our Air Force dictated social collective. She never seemed interested in the “normal” wives circles.  I often speculate that my mother was born and lived a few decades too early. She would have fit into my generation easier I believe, maybe  even more at home with the Millennials of today.

An obvious side affect was that quite naturally she began to slowly withdraw, entering into a more insular world, a naturally fermenting process, maybe due to the boring sameness of her routine, or her square peg trying to fit into the round hole that had been dealt to her.

Although excluding herself from others, she often used the time to pursue her interests. She was a person who taught herself French by listening to cassette tapes and by listening to the Francophone news. She  had a broader interest in the world, in economics and politics, which as I got older often launched us into long political debates at the dinner table.

There was another significant factor in her life. You see, my father was prone to violence. I never saw him violent to my mother but he never held back on me though. It was a day when any kind of domestic abuse was hidden, kept from the neighbours, blinds pulled down. My mother of course was the silent witness to these beatings and I believe it drove a wedge between her and my father that could never be fully repaired. As for myself, I was saved when I physically got bigger than my father, and left the house at 18. I left with a sickly guilt of leaving the my mother and younger brother behind, like the wounded soldier leaving the battlefield to let the others continue the fight.

When I did return home for a visit, I was often updated about the continuing dysfunction between my parents. My mother and I would take long walks and have conversations, the recurring theme being her unhappiness,  and the need to escape. She told me she was going to leave “him”, that it was finally over, that she could not take it any longer. She never did leave him. It was rarely done in those days.

As time marched on, the family group evolved, and then there were just my two parents living together, children gone, and a seemingly more peaceful air, however stagnant, seemed to settle over the house. My mother continued to withdraw, not wanting to socialize or even remain in communication with the few friends she had made over the years.

While at the same time holding a mysterious sway and control over my father. Routine became the god they both worshipped, with my mother sitting next to God.  Maintaining that routine — with meals, breakfast, lunch at 12, dinner at 5:30  setting the parameters under which everything needed to fit. My parents seemed aware of each others existence, but just barely. Coming together to eat, and then once again retreating into their own apparently cloistered but contented spaces.

This almost hermit like existence, meant reading or watching tv, or listening to the radio, and sitting for long hours at a time. Her short afternoon naps became longer and like many older people,  her maladies began to exponentially increase with the years, spurred on of course by the latest reading of the medical encyclopedia.

She  never delved into or questioned what my actual work entailed over those many years. She seemed content to pictured me in some form of uniform, writing tickets. She did not believe that policing was a righteous living, it was a blue collar job and not the one she envisioned for me. She refused to come to the police graduation as she did not equate it with some sort of accomplishment.

Always at the end of the weekly Sunday long-distance conversation which went on for many years, she always expressed concern and that it would be good if I could get “off the street”  but I do not think the danger was really known to her. It was likely imagined from some television version of policing.

Her only brother, Royal, was a pilot during WWII, a dashing dark haired man, with the Errol Flynn moustache who as legend had it, cut a large swathe through both the enemy and the ladies on his return home. But he was an alcoholic. He lived in the skid rows of Canada for the vast majority of his life, but it seemed clear to me that my mother missed him dearly. Every few years, my mother would ask if I could confirm where he was, using my police contacts, or where he was living, or just whether in fact he was still alive.  He died in the streets of Calgary with the usual grotesquely distended liver, in a single room flop house, as alone in many respects as my mother, never their two worlds managing to come together after the War years.

During the 1980’s my mother was discovered to have a brain tumour, which turned out to be benign, but the operation itself, left her somewhat deaf in one ear, and suffering from partial paralysis on the right side of her face. She no longer needed to have a reason for cancelling any of the usual social interactions as this became the un- spoken and somewhat tenable reason to withdraw.  Even going to buy groceries became impossible she explained, due to her “infirmity.” She did not want people to see her, or have to talk to others, happily sending my father to “town” instead.

For me and the kids, living away, birthdays were always a card and a cheque for $100, with a “Love Mother” inscription. No notes or urgings to eat better, or get lots of rest. I was o.k with this, as this was the mother to whom,I had grown accustomed, and I gave it little thought. Clearly the 3000 miles that separated us had become a mental distance as well as physical. She never came to see her grand-children, only visiting Vancouver once from her now closeted life in Ontario.

The tenuous thread to which we clung was that often mandatory Sunday phone call. This call was often brief, punctuated by the  “wait until I get your father on the other line”, and ending with “we better let you go, it costs a lot of money for this call”.  Curiously though, she seemed to look forward to that call and would always remark on the odd time we could not keep the Sunday deadline.

From her chair, she contented herself by watching  the business reports, moving monies around her various accounts, now free to do it from home with the advent of telephone banking. She clearly longed to be a business woman, and she clearly enjoyed the thought of saving money, and listening and debating the latest moves by the Bank of Canada. Predicting the next depression was a favourite topic.

Curiously she also began to divest herself of many of the objects around the house which formed any memories. Objects which would normally be cherished in family circles. The garage was emptied, the storage room equally removed of items big and small; the chess table made by my brother in high school shop classes, old baseball gloves and child toys were without ceremony sent to the dump.  She was a hoarder in reverse. It was not talked about, and there did not seem to be an excuse given or felt to be needed.

And then it all ended.

Three years ago today, my mother got up in the middle of the night, walked out the front door, walked down to the dock she used to stare at for years, and at the age of 89, jumped in, drowning herself in the dark frigid water of Lake Ontario.  She was eventually located by a search and rescue helicopter, when a diver jumped in and pulled her into the dangled rotor blown basket.

She left a note saying “It was not what you think, it was everything else.”

To this day “everything else” remains inexplicable;  was it for an entire life, something that happened in that life, for being unfulfilled, for being unhappy, for not being loved, or all of it together? I don’t have an answer. As much as I cared for my mother, it was difficult for me to grieve. I have been too many suicides, always trying to get in the head of the victim, and to comprehend and put a logical framework around the mental thoughts at the time when they pulled the trigger, put the rope around their necks, or took the clearly fatal dose of pills. I felt guilty that It was just as hard for me to understand my very own mother.

On a recent trip to Ottawa I was strolling with no particular purpose  on the sidewalk which lines the Rideau Canal, and I came around a corner at the National Arts Centre.  As I rounded the corner, there stood  a life size black stone statute of Oscar Petersen. He was seated at the piano, captured with that same smile. Inexplicably, uncontrollably, tears began to run down my face as I stared at it, trying to focus and understand these emotions coming over me. I needed to sit on the cold marble bench to compose myself.  It seemed so real,  where for a few brief seconds, I had been transformed back to that music store in Montreal, and for a few seconds, I was sitting there with the two of them.  “Oscar” and “Ruthie” in the florescent lighted store, after hours, surrounded by vinyl records and instruments.

She was in the end no doubt  more courageous than I have ever been, but also burdened by some sort of undiagnosed depression. But, I think she was also scared, and I wish it could have been me who had pulled her from the water. Because of my working life, I am forever burdened by the fact that I am still able to graphically picture her in the water; bluish tinged skin, blank stare, matted clothing and hair.  A fragility having taken over, a pallor that comes with death. I wish I could have been able to hold her one last time, that I could have pulled her from the water, to give her back one last somewhat uncomfortable hug, to tell her that it was now o.k.  I really did not want her to be alone at the end. But as usual I was a distance away.

Later, my brother and I would put her grey ashes back in the lake, the very same lake she had been pulled unceremoniously from, in front of that very same window, about 100 feet from where she used to sit, physically comfortable, but I think somehow uncomfortable in the life she had been given. As we approach Mother’s day you will forgive me I hope, for having a mixed bag of thoughts, pieces of the cheap life puzzle still  unaccounted for, scraps of memory whirling like torn pieces of newspaper never to be re-assembled.  Some good some bad.  Eighty-nine years, and for sixty of those years she was my somewhat flawed mother, but she was my mother all the same, and I miss her.