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The CBC….are you getting your $1billion dollars worth?

The unique tactile feel of a newspaper, especially in the early morning,  fresh from the presses, still damp with ink was one of the subconscious experiences which is now missed, and much forgotten. By admitting this, it is also admitting to being the older generation, possibly caught up in a romantic remembrance of journalism, nostalgic for the simpler times. However, it may be more significant, it may be that we are watching the tick tock death of responsible and professional journalism.

In our working lives we followed stories such  as the Watergate break-in, or Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, muted headlines and bylines over days and months, eagerly read each morning or in the evening during our daily commute. Hundreds of heads lined the subway cars, heads often immersed and hidden in the broad sheeted papers. Experienced readers were envied in their skilled ability to fold the paper in thirds making it more manageable and less intrusive for their seat mate.

None of the stories were “timely” in the current sense, but all were detailed, 800 or 1200 word stories, all attempting to abide by the accepted journalistic standards of the day.  It did not matter that the events that were written about were 24 or 48 hours “old” in terms of when they happened, what mattered was getting the full facts of that story. We believed that was written was the truth, had gone through a process of checks and balances and reliable sourcing.

None of us believed that the world would tip over if we were reading that news 12 or 24 hours after the actual event. The term “Breaking News” did not exist, we were able to quickly judge the seriousness of the story by the size of the caption lettering. The declaration of war was only a couple of inches in font size, the journalistic shout of the times.

Of course, this has all changed. We are constantly told now that we are on the edge, teetering, just seconds behind the latest “breaking news”. We need to hear about an accident before the blood has coagulated, to hear a political turn of events as the words are uttered so it can be analyzed and spit out replete with editorial content before it has echoed down the corridors of power. The death of a notable personality or celebrity, is shouted at us before the shroud covered gurney has reached the street.

All thrust upon us at lightning speed,  all possible because of technology, possible because of the inter-connectedness of the world. To be heard above everyone else, everything now is a shouted headline. Not enough time for more than 140 characters.

Of course to be first, to be the quickest, there is a cost.

Competitive speeds, literally leaves no time for thought, no time for reflection, and most importantly no time to question or verify. Conclusions are reached with little or no depth to the debate, no “other side” to be heard.  It is quicker for sure, but it belies the question of whether inaccurate or timely information is better than slower and more informed.

There has been much written about the declining media presence in this country, paper-thin newspapers, all struggling for survival. Video supplanting the written word, the truism of a picture being worth a thousand words is now being fully tested.

The media tells us that there is a rapidly dwindling interest in in-depth analysis or reportage.  We want to see pictures or video they say, we want  the news in staccato bursts which hints at a fuller story. The  full story now often remains uncovered,  buried and forgotten in a few hours.  Further development of that story needs more time and effort than the news agencies are willing to give.  They scrape the surface because they say we demand it, we want to move on, there is another story coming.

They blame our inattentiveness, our clear lack of interest in all things grey. They say we demand only black and white answers.

As a result, we are now  reaching absurd levels of polarity. We seek out what will quickly fit into our version of events, our pre-conceived notions reinforced.

To get the attention of all these scrolling eyeballs one needs to scream louder, one needs to make statements that inflame or capture ones attention by being outrageous or absurd. It is the most obvious in the  Red or Blue United States: FOX news exhorting Trump as a saviour, MSNBC seeing him sitting next to Hitler.

In the more modest Canada, cheap news reigns, a deer stuck in the ice is now headline news. Fire personnel rescuing a cat replacing city or provincial legislation coverage.

In this fight over dwindling ratings, empathy fuelled stories reign supreme.  Blood and tears in 10 second increments, video the needed currency.  Youtube and hand held devices determining the news lineup.

The CTV and CBC have purged senior reporters, even video librarians, replacing them with inexperienced twenty five year olds.

Writers working up through the ranks, covering city hall, writing obituaries are no longer required. Replaced now by pretty, under 30,  gender and ethnic balanced newsrooms. The new talking heads on fifteen minute loops endlessly playing throughout the day, with the “Breaking News” banners.

Monies that used to be spent in covering detailed stories, are now being spent on staged newsrooms, filled with massive monitors, all to give an impression of being technically advanced, cutting edge, trying to appear more like NASA’s control room. The assumption is that no younger generation person can resist a screen as a background. It is  blatant to the point of being laughable.

There are five maxims of ethical journalism.

1) Truth and Accuracy.

2) Independence – where it is expected that they should not act formally, or informally on behalf of special interests whether political, cultural or corporate.

3) Fairness and impartiality – most stories have two sides, stories must be “balanced” and in “context”.

4) Humanity – in other words, it should do no harm

5) Accountability – there must be correction of errors

Which leads into the role in Canada of the CBC in all this, the government funded Liberal backed and supported Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

This tax payer funded agency in 2016/2017   had a budget of $1.09 billion.

66% of that funding comes from government, which of course means the taxpayers. Only 8% comes from subscribers and a paltry 18% from advertising. They do not need to play by the same rules of fiscal responsibility when it comes to reporting of the news.  The government-supported CBC does not have to compete on a level playing field with the privately held television networks, or the newspapers. They have the advantage.

So one would have thought that if there were any hope for sticking to the ethics and professionalism of journalism, it would be the CBC, where striving to find viewers and monies was not crucial to survival. It was hoped that this may have been the one place where some in depth reporting could emerge without the usual budgetary constraints.

Unfortunately, they may be the worst offenders.

There is one rub that has become obvious. Besides showing all the vestiges of a government agency in terms of bloat and inefficiency, they owe their very survival to the government.  Clearly they believe that they must  be loyal to the government of the day, especially when it is Liberal, regardless of the rules of ethical journalism.

Their bias is discomfiting, no longer are they being journalists, they are being conduits for current government policy, whether it be the incessant push of indigenous issues, or defence and social policy.  Their editorializing and clear bias for the Liberal party is telling, difficult for them apparently, to bite the hand that feeds you.

Examples can be found everyday, one does not need to look very deeply.

The Colten Boushie coverage was a glaring example of both the Liberal/CBC  agenda towards indigenous policy and inflamed sub-standard reporting of “systemic racism”.  The facts took a back seat to their already reached conclusions. Editorial content blurred the facts.

Their follow up in their news series the “Investigators” pushed the agenda of a “botched police investigation”, pushed clearly by the Boushie family and their legal representative. Colten’s mother, said the “RCMP did a botched-up job”.

They “investigated” and then headlined their story, splayed it nationally, and trumpeted the police investigation as being  “sloppy and negligent”.

Of course, they had very little evidence to support this, and so even went out to find experts that would confirm their version of the story.  All of their allegations centred around the interrogation of Gerald Stanley and the seizure of his clothes. Claiming that Stanley had been let to go home prior to being interviewed, and that they never seized his clothes at the time.

Both of these allegations were completely false and eventually discounted. In a ten second apology they admitted to the wrong doing. Of course the damage was done. These top notch reporters had two basic facts central to their story completely wrong. Their sources clearly had not been tested, clearly their fact checking was completely lacking.

Were they further stoking the flames of racism that they had done throughout the whole trial? Maybe the intent was not that evil. But clearly they had a bias, and clearly nothing was going to stop them in their pursuit of the truth as they perceived it. It fit with the Indigenous theme.

If this had been the NY Times the journalists would have been fired.

Investigative journalism is for the most part invisible inside this journalistic behemoth. They are no longer reporting, they are “tracking” stories to use their own terminology.

It is no coincidence that they now concentrate on those teary stories which require no work in terms of reporting. The Humboldt crash fills our screens for days on end, where their reporters ask such probing questions as “How is Humboldt surviving this crisis”? to anyone walking in front of their cameras. Days of trying to have someone speak about one of the victims, then coverage of all the funerals in all the different cities, coverage of the Go Fund me account as much as the Stock Market. They even fly in the National talking heads to sit in front of the hockey arena.

A tragic accident to be sure, but days of self flagellation is not reporting, its just easy.

If we believe that other news sources are not being competent or trustworthy, we can turn them off, or cancel our subscriptions. The CBC survive only because they are funded. And generously funded. They have lost their way, they have lost sight of  the rules of honest journalism. What is covered in terms of news is often just the regurgitated stories of other news agencies. How does the BBC for example, enjoy the journalistic reputation they have, even though they are government funded. The two are incomparable.

So you can turn the CBC off; or go to a rerun of Schitts Creek , but it is time for a serious discussion of their role and whether it has any place in the sadly dwindling Canadian journalism landscape. Maybe it is time to read the paper instead.

 

 

Photo Courtesy of Elijah van der Giessen via Flickr Commons Some Rights Reserved

Children as pawns, all in the name of “Reconciliation”

“Are you clear to attend social services with reference to an apprehension of a child?”.  Reluctantly, you give the double click on the mike.  Signalling ok to the dispatcher. No further words are needed, you will go, even though you know there are no good outcomes.

This type of story plays out daily, across the country, in our largest cities, in the expansive rural areas,  and in isolated locations. In the Jane-Finch corridor of Toronto, or the Whalley “flats” of Surrey, it is not particular to any race, cultural or religious background.

However, recently the Federal Liberals and your ruling government have made First Nation and Indigenous child welfare a pillar of their next election platform, and have now made the returning of the jurisdiction for child welfare back to the First Nations and Indigenous groups a priority: to be run by them and for them. They are asking the Provinces to turn over their authorities over these very sensitive and complicated matters of safeguarding the undefended children.  They are making this a singular issue, and that issue is now resonating as a talking point in the constant “reconciliation” dialogue. The “Sixties scoop” like “residential schools” are always the cornerstones of their argument.

As recently as January of this year the Federal government led by the infamous two; Philpott and Bennett,  proposed a six part plan which they tried to strong-arm to the Provinces. Their plan involved the “drawing down” of jurisdiction on child welfare. In other words, in this “emergency” meeting, they were proposing that the Provincial governments sign on to handing over jurisdiction for Child Welfare back to the Indigenous communities.

Wisely, none of the Provinces signed.  As of yet anyways.

Their policy intentions for the First Nations and Indigenous groups is both naive and dangerous. There is no solid foundation to this house of cards, and what they want the general public to believe is more than misleading. It is built on a fallacy, a fallacy which is repeated daily in political circles, the old theory that if you say it enough it must be true.

One needs to explore the grit and grime of what these type of situations are in reality. Invariably, it will be something like this.

You anticipate that the house will be rundown, the evidence of poverty and neglect will be oozing from the either overly hot, or cold, un-finished residence. The kitchen will have stacks of unwashed dishes, grease layered frying pans, and boxes of macaroni or canned spaghetti will be overflowing from any nearby garbage container. The linoleum or worn carpeted flooring will be unswept, the toilets and sinks mineral stained and there will likely be evidence of alcohol or drugs or both. There may not even be running water.

The bedrooms will have clothes strewn about, and their will be piles of unwashed children’s clothes on the floor, encircling the washer and dryer. There will be dogs or cats or both. Children’s toys will be everywhere, misleading evidence of proper care.

And the children if young, will be running about, sometimes in dirty unchanged diapers, there mouths encircled with remnants of the last meal. They will cling to you, seemingly any attention being worth their efforts and affection. They will also be clinging to a favourite doll or stuffed animal. They will be invariably sick, running noses, and slightly fevered foreheads.

The teenagers will be either angry or sullen, rarely making eye contact or yelling at you with no apparent rationale. They will be usually be slumped in a chair or a couch. The girls will have too much makeup, and the boys will have too many cheap gold chains and sporting the latest WWF hoodie. Rap music will be on their ever present headphones as they pretend nonchalance.

The room will be filled with tension, and apprehensiveness, and you will be unable to distinguish which way this will end up. Violence or the threat of violence always simmers below the surface. What parenting is present is expressing incomprehension. We once removed a teenage girl from a residence and the mother did not see anything wrong with the fact that her 10 year old daughter’s morning chores including sticking a needle of heroin to her mother as she lay in the bathtub before she went to school.

The parents will be unable to explain bruises, lash marks from a telephone cord or t.v. cable, or the fractured skull and blurred vision of the child. If drunk, the male or female parent will likely physically try to intervene, screaming at the top of their lungs, dial 911 while you stand there in uniform, or call for the nearby friends and relatives to come to their aid.

The parents will often be teenagers themselves.

As you witness or photograph injuries, the bile will rise in your throat, you will want to hurt the offender who stares at you spitting obscenities.

And you will carry that young thrashing child from the residence, little fists hitting you in the face or pulling at your cheeks. And you will fundamentally realize that it is unlikely that this child will be “normal” again, nor will it likely get to know their parents in any meaningful way. But you may have saved their life.

The children may grow up hating the sight of the police who took them from their parents, or love you because they were terrified, and you were a calming voice. Flip a coin, the result is never predictable.

The ivory tower politicians and academics are never around when this is going on. Their reality is that this is a question of racism. This is not about safety of the children, it is about “cultural genocide”.

Carolyn Bennett, during the meeting with the Provinces, and in the subsequent media scrum, continually made her “impassioned plea” to take away the authority from child welfare agencies of seizing endangered children and placing them in non-indigenous foster homes. Bennett goes on to explain that she wants to not repeat the “mistakes” of the Residential schools, and the “Sixties scoop”, because she does not want to alienate kids from their traditional languages, and “culture” and “support networks”. She does not mention safety of the child.

Philpott calls it a “humanitarian crisis” and also echoes it being reminiscent of the “residential school system”. Philpott describes the seizing of these children almost as semi-conspiratorial, unknowing (white) authorities swooping in, and taking away these children.

There is little doubt that there is in fact a crisis. The Reserves are the epicentre of these child tragedies. Their numbers are staggering.

In Manitoba alone, there are about 11,000 children in custody and 10,000 are Indigenous. Across Canada, there are 4300 children under the age of 4 in care who are Indigenous. There are 40,000 Indigenous children across the country in care of all of the Provincial agencies.

Poverty is almost a guaranteed  undercurrent, common to many of these situations. Third generation welfare festers these social wounds. In Saskatchewan 2% of the population is on welfare, while 44% of the people living on Reserves are on Federal welfare.

And the Indigenous population is exploding, and as the population increases, there is a parallel increase in the number of indigenous children in need of care.

From 2006 to 2016 the Indigenous population of Saskatchewan grew by 42.5%. A growth rate four times that of the rest of the population. More children being brought into this world, more children succumbing to poor housing and indentured poverty, more children falling into the child welfare system.

So far Ottawa spent $200 million last year for child welfare to aid the Indigenous cause, and are spending another $256 million this year.

The Liberals are misleading the public. They are perpetrating a myth to further their political goals, in efforts to appease the Indigenous leadership. They want to be the heroes to the Indigenous, with little cost to them, as the Provinces have jurisdiction over Child Welfare. It is a cute move to brag about their moving forward, while at the same time downloading the responsibilities and the problems to the Provinces.

As one who has assisted in such seizures, the seizure of children and placing them in foster care is actually not an exercise born of racism, of wanting to disband a society and a culture, as they would like you to believe. These kids, which Ms Bennett and Philpott want to leave on these Reserves, in the care of “Auntie” are in real physical danger.

They  want to give the leadership of these Reserves control over the system which tries to save them from abuse and neglect, they feel that by giving them control of the Child welfare systems, everything will be righted. This logic is indefensible.

The truth is that when social service workers reach a decision to seize a child, it is after undergoing a very lengthy process including a full debate of the circumstances, a review of what has been tried and failed, often after a consultation with First Nations support groups or their own social worker agencies. They have proposed a foster outcome, after they have already explored the potential for other family members to be involved. And to foster these children, it is simple logistics, there are not enough foster homes on the Reserves, there are not enough capable “Aunties” to take all these children.

There is no need to accept this proposition, one just needs to explore the cases.

Lets take the case of “Levi” (a pseudonym) which is a case out of Alberta. His tragic eventual death was a glaring example of how cases flow through systems in all the Provinces which are struggling to deal with the Indigenous cases on the Reserves.

Prior to Levi even being born, the family, mom and step-Dad were the subject of Child Welfare authorities for the preceding eight years. If the problems of the family could be summed up, there are the usual obvious patterns; family violence, parental addiction and homelessness. Throughout Levi’s story addiction treatment was used, mental health treatment was given, parental supervision orders were issued repeatedly, and foster care was the final approach tried.

When Levi was 18 months old, living in a blended family of five other kids, his mother voluntarily asked that he be taken from her and placed in foster care. Instead, the Ministry worked with Mom, keeping Levi in the house.

Things settled down a bit, but it wasn’t long before the police were dealing with the family as there had been further assaults and restraining orders which resulted in charges.

A Family Supervision order was issued when Levi was 5 years old. When Levi was 6, Mom again requested that all three kids be placed in foster care, and this time her wish was granted, and in arriving at foster care, the kids were found to have head lice and needed extensive dental work. A week later, an uncle requested the kids back, got them back for about a month, but then he gave up, and he sent the kids back to foster care.

Levi eventually was sent home to mother once again, who had undertaken addiction and mental health courses as had the now back again step father. Living with mother lasted two months, and then he was sent to live with grandmother. While visiting his mother who lived nearby Levi was exposed to another serious assault, and also a suicide which occurred in the house. So another month went by, back to foster care he went.

By now Levi was in Grade 3 but reading at a Grade 1 level, and Levi now was asking that he be able to stay with his foster parents.  But on his 9th birthday, Levi was once again returned home to mother, again under another Supervision order. The violence and the drinking continued, and on his 11th birthday, Mom again asked that he be put back into foster care, but nothing happened.

When Levi was 12 years old the police attend to a residence where everyone was intoxicated, and this time Mom said she hadn’t seen Levi for a week. He was found living in a tent, saying he couldn’t handle the drinking and fighting any longer. For the next three years little is heard of Levi.

At the age of 15 Levi was taken to hospital for intoxication. He was cared for and sent home, but after a couple of weeks, and after talking about suicide by intoxication, Levi went to the hospital once again suffering from severe intoxication, but this time he didn’t recover. Levi died.

There are many other examples from many secondary sources. Some further examples come from The Office of the Child and Youth Advocate in Alberta.  In three other cases; the cases of 5 year old Sarah, 2 year old Anthony, and 1 year old Mikwan. (again all pseudonyms), the same pattern emerges, the same depressing attempts to save these children.  Their complete stories and their deaths can be read in the full report of July 2107. 

These three were all small defenceless children, all born to parents with multiple kids, with alcohol and drug addictions, and a history of domestic violence.  All the parents involved neglected and abused these children, all were returned to them after repeated counselling for violence and addictions, after repeated trips to foster care, and a litany of Temporary Guardianship and Supervision orders.

Throughout the workers, including workers from the DFNA (Delegated First Nations Agency), visited, wrote reports, questioned the parents during multiple visits. In Mikwan’s case they actually moved into the house on a 24 hour 7 days a week basis so worried were they about the parents.

All three died at the hands of their mothers, all died of “serious head injury”, “cardiac arrest” “injuries to brain and spine” and “acute head trauma” in these cases. And in all three cases Mom was charged with their deaths.

In summarizing the Mikwan case, the review, that there was a continuing “commitment to work together (between the DFNA and Child Family Services)…and although the policy is in place it does not appear that it is consistently applied.”

If you listen to the Indigenous leadership, all is blamed on lack of funding. There is the circular argument that the Residential schools and the 60’s scoop ruined people and their ability to function, but in the same breath, they say the kids need to be kept within their community, despite inhospitable and dangerous environments.

More money for child welfare, more money to train Indigenous social workers, the ability to run their own child welfare system will cure all according to these leaders. FSIN former chief Sol Sanderson who has spoken for many years about the need for indigenous rights and “reconciliation” says, “we have to do this, if we don’t it will be a disaster”. Mr Sanderson with all due respect, look at the roots of what is going on. It is already a  disaster.

By all means spend the billions of dollars some estimate to do all this, put the process in place, find those foster care residences that could not be found before, find all those in-house social workers who are willing to intervene and seize children, those willing to live in isolated communities, and seize children to whom they may be related. And this is after you fix all those social ills that plague the Reserves so that the children can be returned safely.

Maybe then you can take risks with the children. All the money in the world is not going to fix those problems overnight.

But until then, leave the children out of it. They are not pawns, they have no representatives, they can not vote.

For some reason, the cases like Levi, rarely get the public attention, or the attention of the Fifth Estate. Why would that be? Children are being harmed on the Reserves at a horrendous rate. Just look at the numbers.

However, we do hear about the Indigenous groups blaming a failed foster parent. We do hear about the girl winning a case back from the courts who had seized her child. Or the teenage Indigenous boy who was left in a motel at the age of 15 and committed suicide. Not much on the kids that were returned to their families with disastrous results, or when the removal saved the children.

We are not hearing from the social workers, no doubt in fear of being branded racist, or in fear of losing their jobs, as they have always been a politically correct group. There are several cases which show that in an effort to appease the family, was the priority and times when they did not seize the children and they should have.

Case after case, patching emergencies, striving to keep kids with families, many times leaving unconvinced that their supervisor order or plan will work. Every seized child is after a long litany of other possibilities have been tried. The idea that these children are “scooped” up willy nilly is simply wrong.

We are not hearing from foster parents. The majority of foster parents have been vetted, do it for a number of years and they are difficult to find. To think that all will be solved, according to Ms Bennett by finding “Auntie” to take care of the kids is insulting to those that deal with this on a daily basis. To think that all these cases can be absorbed in the Reserve communities on their own is absolute fallacy.

Climb down out of your ivory tower. Ride the social worker police patrol car for six months, bear witness to man’s inhumanity to child, witness the damage being done to those who can not defend themselves. Then tell me it is ok, as long as they don’t lose their culture.

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a well accepted theorem in the psychological, social, and judicial community. In the hierarchy of needs, there are five stages of needs for a person to arrive at self-actualization. The order in terms of priority are: a) biological and physio logical; air, food, warmth and shelter b) Safety c) love and belonging d) esteem and finally self- actualization. The first four must be met before there is any chance of self-actualization. Culture and language are in that fifth place slot, long after the basic needs are met.

The children in the Sixties scoop and in the current child welfare system are being taken in because their basic needs are not being met. Without that happening, without their physical survival, without their ability to be safe, the ability to be culturally aware is of little use or importance.

Political expediency is the obvious motivator here.  In a story from a couple of days ago, the Liberal government announced  that they are now going on to the Reserves to plan early “engagement initiatives, and cultural training for staff to better serve Indigenous voters at the polls next year”.  Pathetically obvious.

Today in another story from the CBC, they tell the sad story of a mother, Lillian Semaganis, who opened a paper in April 1973 to find pictures of her kids which had been seized being posted up for adoption in the United States.  She goes on to explain that all “six” of her children had been taken by Saskatchewan Child Services. Not one question as to why all of her children were taken?

To their credit, the author actually spoke with a person who ran one of the programs Otto Driedger, who said the only goal at the time was “finding children permanent homes”.  The alternative he no doubt patiently explained was for them to be in foster homes “because of the neglect there was, or the abuse that there was in families”. The intention of the program he said was not placing them with “white families” that was not the “basis of the child welfare program”. Clearly he is a lonely voice in the debate, who has finally chosen to speak up, however he is being drowned out by the First Nations and Indigenous frenzied claims.

So we now have the Federal government proposing another payment for the “60’s scoop” totalling $800 million. Money to compensate for the robbing of these children of their culture and their identity. No case by case review, no questions as to whether removing the children saved those children. Saving the children does not factor into it apparently.

So let this be a warning to the Provinces and to the Federal politicians who are grandstanding on this issue. First walk a mile in the child welfare shoes, be there, experience the conditions these children are in, look at what alternatives actually exist, and then tell me how this plan will work.

Everyone needs to start looking in the mirror as to real solutions for this crisis.

The first child that someone decides is not to be removed or placed in safety, in the interest of avoiding “cultural genocide”, and that child dies from broken bones or untreated disease as a result. The agony and death of that child will be on your hands.

Using children to further your political agenda will never be forgiven.

Note:

This blog is dedicated to “Joe” who played shortstop, while I played third base on a men’s team. He was a good baseball player and we laughed together a lot. The always smiling Joe was part of the Nuxalk nation in Bella Coola.

Joe had a job, a girlfriend, but lived in a home like Levi’s.

While still in his early 20’s “Joe” got excessively drunk, and put a rifle to his head, and pulled the trigger. He and his girlfriend had a fight, and he knew no other way of coping. His family environment dictated and predicted his demise. 

As one of the four police officers in Bella Coola, I had to answer that call, and pick up what was left of Joe. In doing the next of kind notification, his family looked at me, incomprehensible. 

Photo

Courtesy of Flick via Commons by Werner Bayer – Some Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Commissioner a symbol of Identity politics…

When I sit around with current and former RCMP officers there is a lot of shaking of heads in terms of where the RCMP finds itself now; buried in sexual harassment cases, about to face unionization, and about to have to deal with a possible civilian oversight group.

Operational problems are around every corner, whether it be the lack of policing in rural communities, a completely failed promotion system, mounting PTSD complaints, mounting use of force issues, and the likely partitioning of the RCMP.  All major issues, all daunting to say the least.

So it was baited breath that the members of the RCMP waited an eight month screening process taken on by ten committee members. Thats right. Ten.  These ten were to oversee a selection process, all living on expenses, and I am guessing pretty substantial hourly rates to complete what must have been a more complex task than I imagined.

The Committee was headed by former Liberal Premier and Ambassador to the United States, Frank McKenna. The rest of the committee was comprised of six women and three men, and a job description mandate which included ” having to demonstrate their knowledge of Canada’s indigenous culture and a sensitivity to the issues relevant to the diversity of the Canadian population”.

You will notice a bit of a theme with the Committee members.

Devon Clunis, former Winnipeg Police Chief and the first black police chief in Canada. He was known for dealing with the race issues in Winnipeg, but retired somewhat suddenly just before a police budget came down which included tripling of the promised police budget, and an RCMP investigation into a companies billings for the building of the new police office.

Malcolm Brown , the Deputy of Public Safety who would report to Ralph Goodale.

Daniel Jean, the National Security Advisor to Justin Trudeau, who has now gained notoriety as the fellow who came up with the Indian government conspiracy theory to cover Justin Trudeau’s dinner guest Mr. Atwal. It was a ridiculous slander on the Indian government which they had to apologize for and likely the end of his high flying career. He had no previous experience in Security and Intelligence before taking this job.

Barbara Byers, with the Canadian Labour Congress who specialized in issues such as the LGBT community.

Manuelle Oudar, the CEO of Canada Workplace Standards and Health and Safety.

Marianne Ryan, former Deputy Commissioner of the RCMP in Alberta, and now the Alberta Ombudsman.

Bev Busson, former interim Commissioner of the RCMP, and the first female Commissioner of the Force

Tammy Cook-Searson the elected Chief of the Lac La Ronge First Nation.

It is not difficult to guess, once you see this list as to what the tone and tenor of the selection process would be; clearly a woman, and clearly someone with an understanding or connection to Indigenous issues, or sympathetic to the causes of diversity and inclusion.

So after nine months, lo and behold there were four in the running; three women and one man (the male no doubt thrown in there to avoid any charges of being slanted in their decisions.) Statistically women represent 21.6 of the RCMP, but in this final selected group, they made up 75% of the candidates.

The other candidates were: A/Commissioner Joanne Crampton, A/Commissioner Jennifer Strachan, and Deputy Commissioner Kevin Brouseau.

And the winner and the “absolute best” person according to Justin Trudeau was Assistant Commissioner Brenda Lucki.

Now if they knew they were going to select a female from the RCMP, then I could have saved this committee a lot of work. Just open the internal phone list and look for any female officer above the rank of Superintendent. There aren’t many. I could have come up with this list in a couple of minutes. Now, if you tell me that they must have some sort of Indigenous acceptability, a second screening would have also quickly found Ms. Lucki who received recognition for her work on aboriginal rights. In other words I could have saved them a lot of meetings and expense.

Ms. Lucki, who joined the RCMP in 1986 has had a varied 31 year career, serving in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec and then with the U.N in Yugoslavia. She is most recently in charge of Depot Division, the training facility, a former posting of Bev Busson as well, before she became Commissioner.

At first glance it seems impressive but there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind. Every promotion for the most part in the RCMP means that you change jobs, you have to move, regardless. So someone like Ms. Lucki, was promoted seven times in 31 years, serving in a lot of different Provinces, did not land in a place for any length of time. Take off a couple of years while with the U.N. and it measures out to a move every 3-4 years. During that time, she may have had oversight on a couple of hundred officers at any one time. She is now being asked to oversee a vast bureaucracy, over 28,000 personnel, with a budget of over $2.7 billion.

So what put Ms Lucki ahead of every once else? Her resume is almost bland and typical of all white-shirted officers within the RCMP. Constant movement in the promotion process also means that she was not in any one place for any significant period of time, therefore with little time to have any substantial impact. (Bev Busson also suffered from this dilemma leading up to her being made interim Commissioner.)

There is little which points to accomplishments within the RCMP with the exception of the Jubilee award which were given out like candy, and were internally generated.  There is repeated mention of the Governor Generals Order of Merit of the Police Forces and her role with the Indigenous. This too is an internally generated nomination, about fifteen a year get nominated by the Chiefs of Police and almost all nominees are officers as well. There is no evidence or hard factual detail as to what this entailed or what she did to deserve this recognition. These nominations are often part of the upper management Ottawa game in the RCMP of self – promotion.

There are reports that the committee approached Deputy Commissioner Butterworth-Carr who it is said turned the job down more than once.  Butterworth-Carr is a rank above Ms. Lucki and is First Nation from the Tr’ondek Huech’in Han Nation of the Yukon.  She also had the Queen and Golden Jubilee Medals, and the Order of Merit of the Police Forces for her proactive work. There are a lot of similarities with Ms. Lucki, such as her short length of service in a number of locations in the West.

The RCMP is in serious jeopardy as an organization. The problems seem stifling and the threads of the organization are being pulled and torn in every direction. This has been the result of mis-management at the upper levels over the last fifteen to twenty years. There can be no doubt about that. The question in the interview should not have been what can you do for this organization in the future, the question should have been what have you done in the past?

Upper management in the RCMP is known as the “go along to get along crowd” with never a dissenting opinion or a willingness to take a principled stand. Should they be held accountable for this mess, of course. Are they being held accountable, of course not; it is after all government. The upper management of the RCMP are for the most part a self-perpetuating incestuous group, and they should all be given pink slips along with a “thank you for your service” as they are escorted out the door. The roots of this organization are rotting, and the various limbs need pruning so they can grow again. This is not going to be easy.

Ms. Lucki as nice, as personal, and smart as she may be; she was and is part of the problem, not a part of the solution. Shockingly, the Liberals after all this went with someone inside this  same dysfunctional and management challenged organization.  Being female does not exonerate her from management actions of the past. She was part of that management.

Do we really care whether the selected candidate was male or female? Whether your skin is black, white, green, or orange is not a factor. Facing a complicated issue with civilian oversight on the horizon and the disappearance of the administrative side of the Force, one would have thought they would have been looking for someone with a strong administrative or legal background, or a hands on operational background, or at least a familiarity of unionization and all that it entails. Mr. Trudeau assured us that there were “many extraordinary candidates”.  Maybe a Masters in Business Administration, or a speciality in Labour Economics? Were there none out there? Did none apply? Was a candidate with a Bachelor of Arts the height of the academic qualifications? Even the male on the selected group of candidates has a Master of Laws from Harvard, is  Metis, but he did not have a chance.  “He” being the operative pronoun. Clearly indigenous and being a woman were the heavily weighted determinants of their choice, and merit was a very distant third or fourth.

Trudeau’s classified questionnaire must have been multiple choice, no right answer, as decisiveness is not a pre-requisite;  It must have read, Are you:

a) Female?

b) Female?

c) Indigenous? Or do you at least have friends that are Indigenous?

d) Female?

e) Do you like me and agree with everything I say?

Self-declared feminist Trudeau was using his usual clipboard check list selection process, just like his selections to Cabinet.

This country is becoming dangerously polarized, and now the politicalization of the RCMP has reached a precipitous level as well. Trudeau from the left is very similar to Trump on the right, he does not seem to recognize the problems of political interference, the danger of slanting the law and investigations to favour a special interest group.

When you Google check Ms. Lucki, you find video of her participating in the Depot “dunk tank”. Well, new Commissioner Lucki you are about to be thrown in the deep-end once again.

This time the results could have dire consequences for those on the front lines of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and maybe the very survival of this historic institution.  In her speech she said that she is going to ask “all the right questions”. Doesn’t she know what the problems are at this stage?

What is really needed is someone with answers, someone with a vision and someone with the audacity and authority to do what is right. Rome is burning, we do not need another fiddler.

But good luck to you Ms. Lucki, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that you prove me completely wrong.

I will go back now, to my coffee klatch of the disenchanted, and we will see what they think of Mr.Trudeaus choice, whether they think she will be the next saviour of this once proud organization, and whether positive change is around the corner.

I will withhold my prediction for now, but all should be prepared to hear “diversity” and “inclusion”, as much as we hear Trudeau say “going forward” “working with our partners” and “women”. Hopefully, the two officers that awkwardly fainted during your speech did not have a premonition as to what is to come.

And to this “select committee” of advantaged bureaucrats. Please call me next time, I could have saved you a lot of time and the taxpayer a lot of money.

After all we will be meeting again in four years.

Photo Courtesy of the CBC and may be subject to copyright

 

You better be paying attention….

The Boushie family was greeted and feted by assorted and sundry Ministers of the Liberal government in the days following the jury acquittal of Gerald Stanley.

Clearly blatant political opportunism, captured for posterity by an eager media, while opposition parties duelled it out to see who could prove to be the most empathetic.  No one taking heed of those on the outside of the Ottawa matrix, where lawyers groups one after another raised alarms about the politicians interfering with a judicial process.

Although this was enough to give one pause, what followed within a day or two of the visits, and more concerning was the “coincidental” major announcement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau  in the House of Commons.

In practised dramatic fashion he stated that he now intends to draw up new legislation to deal with Indigenous rights.  All coincidental of course to the Boushie verdict. He outlined his vision of a “government wide shift”, one that will affect Canada, somewhat ominously,  for the next “150 years”.

“Recognition” and “implementation” were the oft quoted nouns, as he proposed a new legal “framework” and “new rights legislation” that will allow indigenous groups to “control their own destiny”.  It would allow all indigenous to make ” their own decisions”  furthering the “Nation to Nation” that “all Canadians” according to Mr Trudeau were seeking.

They would enshrine the rights of the Indigenous, under the legal umbrella of Section 35 of the Canadian constitution and they would do so before the next election in 2019. The coverage of this announcement lasted about a day, but the implications of it could change this country.

Is it another grandstand moment, just another furthering of the effort of appeasement to the indigenous? Is it more of the “reconciliation” mantra with little substance, or is it going to be a legitimate effort to change Canada, and the role of the indigenous in this country?

After the announcement in the House by Trudeau, Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould, who speaks to all indigenous issues embraced Trudeau in a way which should have sent a shiver through the #MeToo movement. Clearly, the Justice Minister was happy.

As one watched this orchestration, the political senses were in full twitch mode.

Suspicions as to the true intentions weren’t calmed when out trotted the usual three Liberal amigos in front of the microphone; Wilson-Raybould, Philpott, and Bennett who tried to explain what was actually meant by this generalized announcement,  even though they insisted and continually described it as being “historic”.

They had an unenviable task to be sure, of announcing a policy commitment without clearly understanding which rights were being or about to be changed, or even how that would come about. Listening in earnest to Bennett for a full five or ten minute explanation left one more confused. Her often spastic manner of speech compounded by a clear lack of detail, was frustrating exercise even for the attending usually docile media. A few reporters asked the question more than once, “what does this mean?” only to be met with the usual parliamentary blurred double speak . While each one took centre stage in the scrum, the others bobbed their heads and nodded vigorously and approvingly, however there was no answer to the scope or expectations of an exercise that they were about to undertake.

It seems that they are going to fill in the blanks left by the the very generalist Section 35 of our Constitution Act, which speeks in broad terms on the rights of the indigenous.

No longer would there be a need for the Indigenous to go to Court, they were simply going to provide those rights, in some sort of legal framework, after a year of going “coast-to-coast-to coast” for consultations. Their upcoming road show would set about asking the Indigenous leaders as to what rights they would like to have enshrined, and then, with a wave of the political wand they were going to be granted, all in time of course for bragging rights going into an election.

Wilson-Raybould said that it was going to be a “box full of rights to be filled up by First Nations, Metis and Inuit across the country”. She wants them to be able to “control their own lives”, so they can “draw down jurisdiction” from other levels of government. This of course translates to mean that they will be devolving government jurisdictions in other areas, so that they can provide such things as health services, child welfare, education, health, and make their own laws on everything from elections to fisheries.

This is not a small promise, nor a small undertaking. It is also unlikely that the average Canadian spends a lot of time doing deep dives into the Constitution of Canada, or has been following the history of the relations between the Federal government and the Indigenous, but it is obvious that the Federal government needs to give a better explanation as to their intentions.

There is a level of arrogance being demonstrated by this fiscally reckless inexperienced Liberal group, and one should not be confident that any proposed changes will be fully outlined. It is a complicated messy state of affairs, deep in historical conflict and full of legal context.

The current state of indigenous “rights” and the definitions of those rights, that the Liberals are going to put up some “structure” around,  is a vast political stew of laws, proclamations, and court cases over the last 100 years. It is  a melange of sometimes non-sensical rulings and acts, but all seemingly motivated by a general agreement to right the wrongs, or fix the issues, whilst also maintaining a judicial and political balance.

To examine the threads, to understand the pros and cons of all the actions and inactions is often frustrating, and often finds the same people and groups arguing both sides of the argument, depending on the times. Acts, White Papers, and Declarations all being pushed into a crucible which has left a confused landscape, where people on the left and on the right can cherry pick which historical documents further their political agenda.

What one must also remember is that this road of action and inaction has for the most part been paved with good intentions. Many very intelligent individuals have studied the indigenous issues from all sides, and some have proposed courses of action which have been tried with only limited success, if any. However, Mr Trudeau seems to feel he has found the solution and he has entrusted a biased cabinet group to find what no one else has found in 150 years, and for that reason alone, people need to pay attention.

There are four broad developments which we need to understand where we stand currently in this country. The Royal Proclamation of 1763; Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution Act of 1982; the Indian Act of 1876 which has been amended over twenty times; the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and the significant court cases and Acts which flowed from these core sources. The process has been on one long historical continuum, going back over 200 years.

The Royal Proclamation of 1763, issued by King George III, was after the British acquisition of French lands in North America and at the end of the French/Indian war. It in effect drew a geographical line along the Appalachian Mountains and forbid  any settlement west of that line, without the permission of the Brits. It angered the American colonists, who wanted to continue westward into new lands for farming and wanted to keep control over their already settled lands. It was partly designed according to historians as one of appeasement to the Indigenous. Some Native Americans who had a long and close relationship with the French were unhappy, finding themselves now under British rule.

Pontiacs Rebellion in 1763 was an attempt by a group of Native Americans to push out the new ruling British. This hastened the passage of this Proclamation as the British hoped that it would somehow alleviate the tensions between the Native Americans and themselves.

Some in the Indigenous rights movement see and view this Proclamation as the fundamental building block for First Nations land claims and self-government. They feel that this Act established the important principal of the indigenous peoples having certain rights to the lands that they occupied.

Other scholars disagree on the interpretation and the intent of the proclamation, that this act by the British was only something that the British did to appease the Native Americans, as they needed their cooperation for further British colonial settlement.  This Act and the discussions that flowed from it led to the many land treaties between the British and the Native Americans.

With the founding of Canada in 1867, the new government of Canada, in 1876 passed the Indian Act, designed to address the Indigenous issues. This Act would over the next 100 years go through a series of over 20 changes, and it is this Act which currently the Trudeau Liberals and the Indigenous groups now want to do away with, after all these years and revisions. This Act has become the icon of wrong-doing, the emblem of “colonialism” by the current Indigenous movement.

Of course during its initial passage it was not seen as an instrument of evil.

What the Act did do was establish and try to address two areas of concern: how Reserves and Bands would operate and the powers of those Band Counsels; it also defined who would be recognized as an “Indian”, who had “status” and what would be the inherited legal arrangements.

This Act dealt with the registering of “Indians”, the formation of their Bands, and the system of Reserves. It should be noted that this Act did not cover the *Metis, or the Inuit at the time. (*This changed in 2013 with an Amendment to the Act which made both the Metis and the Inuit the responsibility of the Federal Government)

It further established that all Native issues were the responsibility of the Federal government, and it was also Canada’s legal response to the already existing Treaties.

It should be noted that in 1867 under the British North America Act (now the Constitution Act) Section 91(24) stated that the Federal Government has power over the subject matter of “Indians, and Lands Reserved for Indians”, so the Indian Act further codified this earlier Constitution Act provision.

What is interesting about the Indian Act as it was drafted, was its intent. It was supposed to lead to “enfranchisement” that the indigenous would eventually renounce their Indian “status”, and join in Canadian civilization as full members of Canadian society, no different than anyone else.

It was during this same time period that in 1884 further to this thought of enjoining the indigenous society with the rest of Canadian society, that the now infamous Residential Schools Act was passed. If the Indian Act is now considered evil incarnate in 2018, the residential school issue is the current flash point, the schools were where the devil resided. If one hears the term “reconciliation” not far behind as justification will be the residential schools.

However, historically from a political perspective it was just another extension of the  belief in the need to enfranchise the indigenous people. The intent of this Act as stated then, was parallel to the Indian Act itself.  They wished to mandate education for indigenous children, in particular the ability to read and write English.

Todays translation and viewing of this Act of course is much different; the Indigenous say that it was a heinous attempt to forcefully remove children from their lands, diminish their culture, and sever family ties. That the political masters were conducting a form of “genocide” on their cultures.

Just as one can legitimately argue that this may have been the result, you could also argue with some validity when one considers the political debates of that era, that this was not the actual intended purpose. For example, Duncan Scott, the Indian Affairs Minister stated at the time that the indigenous “only hope is eventual assimilation into the white race”.  Assimilation not genocide. Indigenous leaders now argue that they are one and the same.

In our present times, it was in 1969 that the ruling Liberal Party of Canada and its leader Pierre Trudeau began an effort to “finally” address the Indigenous issues once and for all, producing the White Paper as part of his “just society”.

The White Paper proposed to eliminate “Indian status” as a distinct legal status for the Indigenous. The Federal government felt that it was a needed step to achieve equality among all Canadians. This “just society’ was one where all discriminatory legislation would be repealed and it would enable “the Indian people to be free to develop Indian cultures in an environment of legal, social, and economic equality with other Canadians”.

Other key provisions proposed in the Paper included abolishing the Department of Indian Affairs, abolishing the Reserve system, and converting Reserve land into private, sellable property owned by the Band or Aboriginal landholders. A $50 million fund would have been established to compensate for the termination of the Treaties and the Indian Act. Also interesting was the fact that they would be transferring the jurisdiction for Aboriginal affairs to the provinces and thereby gradually integrating their services with the services provided to other Canadians.

In the end, this was a failed attempt by Justin’s father to assimilate the Indigenous into Canada. Somewhat surprisingly, the aboriginal leaders and elders of the time became the opposition. They argued in a counter paper (often called the Red Paper) that this proposal eliminated “distinct legal status” and there was no recognition of “special rights”.

Harold Cardinal a leading voice for Indigenous rights at the time called it a “programme of extermination through assimilation”, and wrote a book entitled “The Unjust Society”. (On February 23, 2014 the Liberal party led by Justin Trudeau renounced the White Paper authored by his father, as part of his push to “Reconciliation”)

The next significant development was in 1982, and probably the most significant Act in Canada’s recent history, was the repatriation of the constitution, also under Pierre Trudeau.

The Canadian government during the lead up to this event, and in the drafts, made no mention of aboriginal rights. Indigenous protests began over this oversight and in a last minute effort Section 35 was added and became part of the re-patriated Constitution Act.

Section 35 was a broad and brief statement that stated “existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed”.    (Section 35 recognized aboriginal rights- but did not create them and it is under this brief  general wording that the current Liberal government wants to fill in the blanks- however they are saying they can do this without a change in the Constitution)

Section 25 of the Charter of Rights, which was part of the larger Constitution Act also  recognized aboriginal rights, but did not go any further and did not create or constitutionalize those rights.

As mentioned earlier, during all these years, running in the background were several amendments made to the Indian Act too numerous to mention, or list here. Some significant, others not so much. They dealt with a variety of issues, from the role of an Indian agent, to gender equality, to voting protocols.

In addition to these multiple re-drawings of the Indian Act cases were now being referenced and gaining new grounds through the courts.

In 1973 in Calder v. B.C. the Supreme Court of Canada found that indeed there was an aboriginal right to land that existed at the time of the Royal Proclamation of 1763. However it split 3-3 on whether the claim to land was valid.

In 1990, there was an landmark case, Regina vs Sparrow, where the SCC stated that there was a “right to land, as well as to fish, to hunt, to practise one’s culture and to establish treaties” as had been outlined under Section 35. It “recognized” and “affirmed” the governments fiduciary duty to the Aboriginal people and that their duty should be exercised with restraint. However, it also suggested that aboriginal rights were not absolute, and can be encroached if given sufficient reason.

There were other Acts passed which allowed Indigenous people to opt out of the Indian Act for certain benefits. For instance, the First Nations Land Management Act passed in 1999 allowed First Nations to opt out of the land related sections of the Indian Act, and allows Bands to create their own codes on land use. In 2005 the First Nations Oil and Gas and Moneys Management Act allowed them to take over management of monies held in trust for them by the Federal government or to assume management of their oil and gas reserves on their reserves.

As the courts struggled away with back and forth arguments over rights, the Federal government was also struggling to find some definition.

In 1991 the Federal Government formed the  Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, in response to the Oka crisis which had turned into a fatal stand off between Mohawk and the government.

The Commission was chaired by George Erasmus, and Justice Rene Dussault of the Quebec Court of Appeal, which resulted in a report of some 4000 pages over a 5 year period.  Among its recommendations was the establishment of an Aboriginal Parliament; the takeover of education and health needs; training of 10,000 health care professionals; and the establishment of an Aboriginal university. The significant changes would have meant a change to the Constitution, and the recommendations by the panel of 7 (4 aboriginals and 3 non-aboriginals) went further than any previous Royal Commissions. There were over 2000 briefs and 350 research studies.

In June 2008, the government felt that there was now a need for another commission and thus began the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, formed in response to the examination of the Residential School harmful legacy. Justice Laforme of the Ontario Court of Appeal was the chair, but almost immediately got into disputes with two others on the commission, and quickly resigned. He was replaced by Murray Sinclair, an aboriginal and the first Associate Chief Justice of Manitoba. They concluded with 92 action items aimed primarily at restitution for those that had suffered as a result of the residential schools.

The government apologized and in a civil action agreed to the largest settlement in Canadian history in 2006. (As of 2012 $1.6 billion had been paid to 78,000 former students)

There were a few criticisms from both sides, some saying that the Commission had shown “indifference to robust evidence gathering, comparative or contextual data, and cause-effect relationships”, which resulted in a “skewed and partial story”. For instance the Commission did not compare rates and causes of mortality among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children in public schools.

Which finally leads us back to the United Nations Proclamation of 2007 which is described as an international “instrument”, which was adopted by the United Nations to “enshrine” the rights that “constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous people…”

It is a non-binding legal declaration that aspires to demonstrate how indigenous peoples should be treated. It passed 144 to 4. Interestingly, the four who voted against it were, New Zealand, the United States, Australia and Canada. (In 2016 under Justin Trudeau, Canada removed its objector status)

Justin Trudeau has stated that he wishes to incorporate this declaration as part of its “legal framework” so it is worth noting some of the Articles which are contained in it.

Article 3  “Indigenous People have the right to self-determination”

Article 4  “Self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs”

Article 5  “right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal…while retaining their to right to participate fully, if they so choose, in the State”

Article 7  States that their children can “not be removed to another group”

Article 14  Right to “establish and control their educational systems..in their own language and culture”

Article 16  States that the State run media needs to “reflect” the aboriginal culture

Article 19  The need to consult to obtain their “free, prior and informed consent before adopting” anything that may “affect them”

Article 28  States that they should have the right to redress

Article 39  That they “have the right to have access to financial and technical assistance from the State”

 

So where does all this leave us. Over 150 years of trying to deal with the indigenous issues in this country. Proclamations, Acts, Inquiries and Royal Commissions all circling never landing it seems. The demand of time and attention has been at times overwhelming.

In 2011 there were 851,560 First Nations, 451,795 Metis, and 59,445 Inuit. In total 1.3 million representing 4% of the Canadian population of 36.29 million. To show the relevancy of the numbers, in 2016,  there were more Canadians who identified themselves as “Italian” (4.6%).

It is clear that the First Nations feel that they are now in the driver’s seat, that they have reached the apex of their potential power. It is Xmas in terms of fiscal spending.  Their claims in the courts and in the economic practises of Canada are growing at exponential rates in an effort to enforce their “special status”.  Their arguments are for self-government, and ridding themselves of the Indian Act, but only on the condition that they continue to enjoy that “special status”. They argue against its paternalism, but are unwilling or reluctant to give up things like the tax exemptions or their reserves.

There are 634 First Nations Bands who speak 60 different languages spread throughout the country and 60 % of those Bands have a population of 600 or less. Unity in this diverse group is not a given. There are Bands that support the Trans Mountain pipeline and others against it.

Of course, one wonders how such a diverse group of Bands spread throughout the country would operate or function, especially when Bands are diverse in terms of economic viability or in terms of levels of modern assimilation and political sophistication. Some bands have a foot in the old world, the traditional hunting and fishing in remote areas of this country, while others are building multi-million dollar housing developments in the heart of the cities. Some are buying refineries while others are in abject poverty dealing with horrendous drug and suicide issues. Are the Inuit goals the same as the Metis or the First Nations? And how far does the Federal government plan to go in terms of being the “State” and the supplier of financial support.

Further complicating the issues of course are historic and modern treaties and land claims. For instance in British Columbia 60% of the First Nations are involved in the treaty process, but only 20% are said to be making progress, and 40% of the First Nations are not even participating. Recent Supreme Court decisions have extended aboriginal title well beyond the Reserves and now First Nations only need to show some connection to the land through hunting and fishing to potentially allow them effective veto power on resource development.

Like many political debates this one seems to be about power and money. There should be no mistake, “Reconciliation” translates into more power and more money, whether it be for education, health and welfare or infrastructure. Assimilation as imagined by Pierre Trudeau is off the table. Special status is the goal. And Justin Trudeau seems willing to give everything up to further his support, regardless of the eventual cost, regardless of the history that has gone before.

The outcome of this “coast-to-coast-to coast” extravaganza is already decided. Jody Wilson-Raybould your Justice Minister is also the former Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations. Her bias can not be more obvious.

Carolyn Bennett a second of the triumvirate just negotiated a land claim in Ontario on behalf of the Federal government which gives the Algonquins of Eastern Ontario $300 million in capital funding and 47,000 hectares of land. She is calling this “historic” as well. Her bias is equally on display.

The Canadian cultural mosaic which Canada has always held as a high principle, it is where all sects are equal and supported, allowed to practise their various cultures and languages, but all bound as equals under one Canada.  Now it is changing, and there is one group that wish to be special, wanting to write their own laws, claiming economic priority and advantage, and wanting a political voice that weighs greater than the others. For the ill-defined “reconciliation”?

There is little doubt that racism existed and still exists, and there is no doubt that there were ill considered policies passed and enforced. The Indigenous give great weight to the fact that they were here “first”, but how does one balance this with colonial advancement and the other ethnic immigrant contributions to Canada as we know it.

The Indigenous have been consistent in their claims of wanting “special status” and are not against resorting to and advocating violence to further those demands. They have been aided by Liberal filled courts in the last 20 years, but they have not won each and every fight. Any loss in the courts is followed by protests. But they now have a Trudeau in power who is acquiescing, there will be no place for a counter argument.

Is it possible that this effort is going to end as fruitless as the MMWIG? Yes, of course. And for the first time Mr Trudeau is falling behind in the polls and this group may not survive another election.

But there needs to be a solution to the Indigenous issues which haunt this country. It will require the Federal government and the Provincial governments, it will require introspection on the part of the Indigenous, it will require compromise, like minds that are interested in a “just society” where everyone is equal. George Orwell wrote in 1945  “Animal Farm”, a satirical tale against Stalin.  In this allegorical novel he described a world where “some animals are more equal than others” the implication being that totalitarianism would soon follow.

Pierre Trudeau borrowed his “just society” echoed Liberal philosophers such as John Stuart Mill, and in a speech to the Liberal convention in 1968 said that a just society, “will be one in which Inuit and Indian populations will be encouraged to assume the full rights of citizenship through policies which will give them both greater responsibility for their own future and more meaningful equality of opportunity”.

William “Bill” Wuttunee, was the first First Nations lawyer in Western Canada, a graduate in 1954 from the University of Saskatchewan. He was the author of “Ruffled Feathers”.  Coincidentally, he was from the same Reserve as Colten Boushie, the Red Pheasant First Nation.

He argued for assimilation, and believed in integration. He was ostracized by the Indigenous for his stand.

Their arguments were for equality not special status. It seems inarguable.

It seems that reasonable voices must prevail, we can not afford any other way, politically or fiscally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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William “Bill” Wuttunee, author of “Ruffled Feathers” and coincidentally was from the same Reserve as Colten Boushie, the Red Pheasant First Nation. He argued for the assimilation, and believed in integration. He was the first status indian lawyer in Western Canada graduating in 1954 from the University of Saskatchewan. He was ostracized by the indigenous for his stand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The courts are a forum where both sides are heard, where Canadian rights are measured against the rights of others including the indigenous. It endeavours to find what is fair and fundamental to a democracy..Trudeau doesn’t want to deal with the courts anymore, he wants to make a fundamental and altering change, where we just give up those rights without any argument, and avoiding the need for examination. It plays well on twitter, but not so much

 

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Photo courtesy of Canadian Press photographer Justin Tang as shown by CBC

Personal Story – “Heather” Part VIII – The Ending

On Saturday November 4th, Shane Ertmoed was brought into a small bland 9 x 6 interview room, a desk, and two chairs the extent of the furnishings. Video and audio recordings were turned on, and Greg began his interview of Shane. A few boxes on the desk gave the impression of waiting insurmountable evidence. Greg, always cordial, always playing to the theme that we were there to understand, to “help”. “You didn’t mean to do it did you Shane?”, “you are not an animal are you Shane?” It being more of a misunderstanding than a killing.

Gradually, Shane began to speak, quietly, some times nodding in agreement. Eventually, he began offering up possible alibis, each was perfunctorily shut down, escape routes closed as quickly as they were proffered.

Three hours in, Shane Ertmoed confessed to the killing of Heather.

As Shane nodded in agreement about the killing, I was sitting with others in a nearby room, staring at the television monitor screen our collective breath seemingly on pause. It was a few seconds before one of the investigators let out the restrained exclamation “yes!

On Sunday, the following day, a 2nd interview was conducted, this time by Bill Fordy, wherein all the evidence was reviewed again with Shane, going over specific details, and he in essence confessed a second time. Shane said his newly appointed defence counsel had told him to say nothing, but then he continued, virtually repeating the story of the day before. Not emotional, seemingly resigned to some future destiny he could only guess at.

The confession along with what our investigation had revealed seemed to run in parallel, there were no large discrepancies, and it was consistent with the limited forensic information.  How he killed her and how she was found partially clothed gave us the “holdback evidence”, the evidence that only the killer would know in detail.

This was the chronology of the events as confirmed by Shane in his words, with a few new pieces we were unaware of:

  • Shane lured Heather into his apartment to look at books that contained pictures of “birds”.  (This was new to us and gave us the impression that Shane may have previously spoken to Heather)
  • Shane coaxed her to the floor of the townhouse and was spooning her on the floor stripping off her pants and underwear. It was then that she began to struggle, and he put his hand over her mouth to keep her quiet. (He would not admit to how long that would take but she was likely dead before Dad had even called her in as being missing.)
  • After he killed her, he dumped out his hockey/football bag, and put her in the bag along with her clothes.
  • He carried her out through the fence in his townhouse to his nearby car. (In doing so, some plant material got in the corners of the bag we were able to later match some “cultivated juniper”, unique to that area, to the landscaping in front of his residence).
  • And he placed her in the back seat, and drove out of the complex. Upon driving out and looking east he saw the police doing radar traffic enforcement, and so he circled behind, using the secondary roads, to eventually get over to 200th St in Langley.  (Later a witness came forward, who also happened to be an artist, who sketched what he saw that day on hearing the news of Heather; he showed us his pencil sketch done on a single piece of paper–it was a vehicle pulled over, and a male was standing near the back of the vehicle, adjusting something in the back seat; the male in the sketch looked remarkably like Shane)
  • He needed gas and stopped at the Happy Face gas station on 200th St. He then drove further up the road, when the idea came to him to buy a theatre ticket as he rapidly concocted his cover story. (He never went to the theatre to actually see the show, as we believed and could now prove)
  • He thought of going to Maple Ridge because of the distance away, and he had earlier heard about Golden Ears park through a co-worker (we were able to find the co-worker who he had earlier asked about Golden Ears Park)
  • As he drove into the park, he got a few miles in on the roadway, pulled over, and then put the bag containing Heather into the thick woods, just out of sight of the roadway.
  • He returned home; but was not content with where he put her, thinking that she could be easily discovered. So at 5:30 in the morning he left, was checked by the officer on his leaving and he went back to the Park. (it was here when he was followed by the Park Rangers, driving slowly, trying to find where he left her)
  • He eventually found her, and parked roadside, and put his hood up as if he was broken down. (This was observed by the Park worker #2). But by this time he was running out of time and needed to get to work. He marked the spot, by putting a skid brake mark on the roadway, and he headed to work in Maple Ridge, leaving quickly. (Seen by Park worker #2)
  • He feigned having a headache at work around 10 in the morning, and left. But he went to a Canadian store and bought an inflatable raft and a single paddle. (We figured out the store where he bought the raft later, and were able to get a copy of the receipt).
  • He returned to the Park, retrieved the bag containing Heather, and then headed down to the boat ramp, where he got in and paddled out of sight of those who maybe on the boat launch. (Observed by Park Worker #3)
  • He put Heather in the water, weighed down with rocks (Shane in his statement totally denied putting rocks in the bag – a strange disclaimer considering everything he had admitted to)
  • He came back in and drove quickly out of the park, stopped at a dumpster and got rid of the raft. (we were never able to locate the raft, no doubt it had been emptied by that time)
  • Shane gave no insight, nor any denial of why he called in the break and enter case. (It was our guess that he was worried that if for some reason we were able to go after him, and we found something of Heather in his apartment, fingerprints or hair as an example, he would have a cover story that kids had broken into his condo)

By late Sunday afternoon, the weekend over, Shane was placed back into his cell and I like everyone else headed home, in rush hour for the first time in six weeks; content, feeling  lighter, not fully absorbing all the nuances of the last 48 hours, but aware that something good had just happened.

This was the dramatic end of the operational element of this case. The looming courts and their processes, would be the 2nd marathon.  The forty investigators would dissipate, all  returning to their regular duties.  The excitement of the pursuit would soon be replaced by drudgery, the arguing over minuscule points of law, and those bone weary hours of sitting in a quiet courtroom, the drone of lawyers providing the white noise of the court.

The many involved would become the few left to take the case to the next level. It is the unsung hero portion of the story, it is the under-appreciated, it is paper intensive, and it would be wrapped in all the myriad legal issues that always surface. Preparations would begin for a preliminary hearing, and a possible bail hearing. Both would need to be supported in terms of getting all the gathered evidence into the Crown. The Crown would become our constant companions and our usually friendly thorns in our side, always needing more, or a further explanation, or another copy. Officers notes, exhibits and exhibit records would begin moving constantly back and forth, in the rhythm of the  court dance.

The media would go home for the time being,  only to return rejuvenated for the eventual trial coverage.

The secondary reports, the officers notes, and the loose pieces of information continued to trickle in, so we continued the work of sorting, evaluating and follow-up continued at a manageable pace, but with far fewer resources. Some of the information was valuable background, while other pieces were of little value but still needed to be filed. Some of what came forward:

  • We learned that Shane Ertmoed had only arrived in the Lower Mainland in September 1999, a mere 13 months before committing the homicide on October 1. He had been kicked out of his house in Vernon, and recently fired from working at the Dairy Queen in Vernon.
  • Shane’s aunt confirmed that Shane had a hockey bag (unfortunately those DNA tests that were trying to filter out for a good sample of DNA, did eliminate too much of the core DNA and are results were therefore negative.) ( The Aunt told us that she had “jokingly” asked Shane if he was involved in Heather’ disappearance.)
  • Shane was described by his fellow workers as someone who liked to talk to “kids” and they gave an example of him hanging around a kids lemonade stand at their work site.
  • Eight years earlier, in March 1992, while living in Vernon Shane had been forced to see a counsellor for lifting the skirts of two girls on the school bus, and trying to touch them.
  • Shane had written sexually explicit letters to his teacher/counsellor, and eventually left the school, and he was often described as a “scary character”
  • He also had sexually explicit correspondence with this then girlfriend
  • At his work site, he had offered to babysit for one of his co-workers. (those same co-workers would often tease him about him being involved in Heather’s disappearance.)
  • Heather had apparently been on Paxcil and another prescription drug at the time of her death. (not by itself noteworthy, but one when examined by a court trying to determine cause of death would surface as a complicating issue)

When all the information began to settle, having been sifted through the needed or discarded filters, what we were left with what is commonly referred to as a “circumstantial” case albeit with one what we believed was an “voluntary” confession.

We would never find a magic bullet, such as DNA, fingerprints, or matched blood samples. Cause of death was listed as “undetermined.” Every Crown counsel wants these dream pieces before going to Court. This was not going to be that case. We were pushing  Crown’s charge approval boundaries of every case needing to have a “substantial likelihood of conviction”. As the years have gone by, the pursuit of a circumstantial cases seem to becoming rare events. Crown and the police are more reluctant to let the courtroom decide, and as Wally Oppal once opined it seems that the Crown and the police are trying the cases in the reports now, not having a taste for a courtroom, reluctant to face possible failure. One wonders where this case would have stood in this climate.

However in those years  we enjoyed a strong and positive relationship with Crown Counsel both in Surrey and at the Regional level. All of the Crown lawyers, that we dealt with on this case; through charge approval, bail hearing, the preliminary inquiry and the eventual Supreme Court trial were exemplary. They deserve special mention for the hours that they expended and the roles they played; Terry Schultes who provided almost daily legal advice to me on this case and many others; Winston Sayson who handled the preliminary inquiry along with Lana Del Santo; and finally, Ron Caryer who handled the Supreme Court murder trial along with Roger Dietrich. Their lives were put on hold and this case became all consuming, with the added pressure of a constant media spotlight.

On November 22nd, 2000 Shane Ertmoed appeared in Court in Surrey and pled not guilty to the charge of 1st degree murder.

The Preliminary inquiry in Surrey began a couple of months later on February 19, 2001. As in all preliminary inquiries, Crown does not pull out all the stops in terms of showing all the evidence, and for this case they primarily relied on the confession. All they needed to prove was that there was sufficient evidence to warrant a trial. And the confession by itself when admitted would accomplish this purpose.

All was moving along in quick order, and then came the final trial in Vancouver Supreme court. The defence, oddly had applied and been granted a “change of venue” from New Westminster Supreme Court, successfully arguing that they would not get a fair jury trial in the Surrey area. (This seemed illogical at this time, as this case had been getting extensive coverage throughout the Lower Mainland, but it was not argued  by Crown.) So it was decided that the court would instead be held in Vancouver Supreme Court.

As mentioned previously Ron Caryer was leading for the Crown, an experienced trial prosecutor and one of the few who for the most part conducted only murder trials for the Crown. His second on the case, or partner, was Roger Dietrich, a young prosecutor prone to wearing suspenders to cover his large bulk which he had previously used to his advantage as a player in the Canadian Football League. The two were Ying and Yang. Opposites but ideally suited.

The defence counsel was the rather infamous Sheldon Goldberg.  Mr Goldberg had been a criminal defence lawyer in and around Vancouver for a number of years. He  invariably found the police to be involved in some form of conspiracy or another, and this inevitably would form any part of his defences on almost every case. He had a jail-house reputation as one of the best because of the dirt he would throw at the police. He  was a classic example of  “tossing (expletive deleted)” at the police blue wall, and then standing back and see what stuck. He was also “thorough”, although some may say deliberately obtuse, bordering on obstruction. I have met many a defence criminal lawyer, some I liked some I didn’t. Mr Goldberg was in the latter category.

This was also not my first time dealing with Mr. Goldberg either.  Previously in the 1990’s I had been involved in the case of David Snow, a multiple killer and rapist, who was eventually declared a dangerous offender in North Vancouver, and later convicted in Toronto, Ontario of killing an elderly couple. I testified at both of these trials, and was up against Mr Goldberg’s version of cross-examination which is often derogatory and personal. I don’t know if he even remembered me by the time we got to the Ertmoed trial, nor do I know if his demeanour was more a matter of style rather than personal belief. Needless to say I was anticipating lots of defence motions, and a slow moving trial.

Judge Wally Oppal, also of some fame by this time as a prominent Judge was assigned to sit on the Supreme Court case.

As the jury was selected, and the first days of the trial began, it was quite clear that this was going to be a painful, slow moving process. It was decided that I needed to be at the courthouse for at least the morning portion of the case, helping to find documents, answering questions which had arisen the previous day, assisting with witness preparations and notifications, and being a general handy-man. I was given an office at the courthouse, and I moved in with the file, consisting by now of 17 legal 10″ x 12″ x 17″ sized boxes of paper; charts, photos, statement copies, all pulled and eventually returned. The small room a makeshift file library sitting amongst the usual detritus of coffee cups, plastic wrappers, and styrofoam lunches hurriedly eaten.

Monday thru Friday after lunch, I would then go back to Surrey Detachment, and begin my normal usual shift in the Serious Crime group. Other murder files began to come in, which sometimes would blur my memory on the “Heather file”, but only until the next morning at 800 Smythe Street.

The trial was set for 3 months beginning in March but by the time it wound down, seven months had passed and we were now at the end of August 2002. Final submissions were prepared and presented to the jury.

Crown’s submission was a moving testament to Heather’s life, and at one time, Caryer stopped mid way through, and pointedly asked the jury to consider in silence how long it would have taken to kill Heather. Ninety seconds then went by in excruciating quiet, interrupted by the occasional uncomfortable cough or nervous sniffle which seemed to reverberate around the old ornate courtroom. You could feel the forced thoughts, the ugly sequence of events as they would have un-folded being forced into the minds of all those there. Almost all absently bowed their heads.

The jury was then excused to consider the case and render their verdict.

Five hours later, in the evening of August 29, 2002 in one of the quickest decisions ever seen in a murder trial, the jury reached their verdict finding Shane Ertmoed “guilty” of 1st degree murder,

One can not adequately express what I was feeling that night as the news sprayed across all the television news, people interviewed expressing relief that a nightmare was over.

Shane went down swinging telling Judge Oppal at sentencing when asked if he had anything to say,  “….all that happened today was a fundamental miscarriage of justice”.

Oppal seemed surprised, and said rather unusually, “I happen to agree with the jury….you have been found guilty of the most horrific crime in law….you murdered a 10 year old simply to satisfy your sexual desires…” and then he confirmed and levied the heaviest sentence possible in the criminal courts of Canada. An automatic sentence of life without a chance of parole for 25 years.

The case was over at last.

Congratulations came in;  phone calls, letters, emails, and thank-you cards, over the next days and months, from as far away as Europe and the United States. Gradually I had time to absorb it all, to sort through my thoughts, what went right, what went wrong, the twists and turns, the bad luck and the good luck.

You quickly determine that any investigation of this sort involves multiple people, all doing right by simply doing their job. Policing is not magical when things come together, in fact for the most part it is mundane fact checking, onerous paper work, and incessant interviews, interspersed by heart-breaking disappointments, or adrenaline fuelled giddiness. There is no middle ground and very often there is little sleep.

There are no real heroes, that is the fodder of television as envisaged by those that have never been there. As a lead investigator you are holding the wagon’s reins but you are only holding the reins with little or no power as to how each individual facet is going to perform, or where the next turn will be in the road.  You just have to get on and try not to get thrown. If it all works, and you are thrown a bit of luck, you will succeed.

Epilogue

Chris Drotar my partner for this file has been promoted a couple of times and remains with the RCMP in a different section. He is still a friend.

My boss, Mel Trekofski who provided the confidence I was sometimes needing has since retired and doing well.

Ron Caryer, the Prosecutor was made a Judge and is now also retired. He returned to Golden Ears Park for many years on the anniversary of Heather’s death and erected a small cairn in her memory. We also became friends.

Roger Dietrich, the 2nd Prosecutor is now a senior Crown Counsel in the Toronto area. He wrote a book about the case, as a kind of catharsis, but never submitted it for publication.

Dr. Rolf Mathewes, the Botanist, who matched the “cultivated junipers” to the bag and to Ertmoed’s residence, shortly thereafter opened a Forensic Botany unit at the University of British Columbia. Dr Sweet, the dentist who was able to positively identify Heather also began to also specialize in Forensic dentistry.

Cpl Jean Bouchard the Forensic Identification officer who I had put under the hood of the suspect car went on to be an Instructor at the Canadian Police College in Ottawa, teaching other Forensic Identification officers.

All the other investigators are too numerous to mention, but as much as I have been able to follow them throughout their careers, as expected, they all seem to have done rather well.

We eventually determined there were two “leaks” as to the information which led to the media ultimatum. One was inadvertent and came out of the psychiatrists office, while the other was tracked to an upper level RCMP officer. RCMP HQ, a couple of months later said they were ending their investigation, as it was “unnecessary”, after all “you won the case in the end”. You can read what you want to in that.

Sheldon Goldberg, the defence counsel, in 2009 was forced to resign from the practise of law for 5 years, after being found guilty of professional misconduct and incompetency.

After 15 years Shane Ertmoed applied for early parole under the “faint hope clause” and was denied. He is now scheduled to be up for parole in 2025; he will be 48 years old when he is eligible to walk free.

Jodie Aspin Thomas, Heather’s mother is still a survivor, and still often wears a “Heather” button, with the same picture as you saw in Part I of this story. Her sorrow is always with her just like the picture.

I lost track of Pat Thomas but he was last known to be working as a carpenter in the Whistler area, no doubt, also trying to put his life together.

Heather would have been 28 years old this year. Of course I was never able to meet Heather in a way that humans are expected to meet. My thoughts still often go to her, despite the passage of time, and I feel that we quietly and in our own way travelled some type of dark road together. I think we would be friends now. But, nobody should have to meet someone this way.

 

Photo Courtesy of Flickr via Commons created by x1klima some Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

PM and Justice Minister interfere with our Courts to further Indigenous cry of Racism…

Clearly not interested in facts, Justin Trudeau, your Prime Minister has hit a new and dangerous low in his attempt to become the ultimate superhero for the Indigenous and First Nations. In doing so, he is segmenting this country, siding with fringe radical elements, and showing no concern about trying to interfere with the Justice system. Rational, clear thought is being pushed to the side by blatant political opportunism.

Predictably, he is being parroted by his Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, who has already proven that she is Indigenous activist who happened to be chosen to be Justice Minister, rather than a Justice Minister who happens to be Indigenous.

They are playing to their constituencies in such a way that it would make Donald Trump blush.

Of course I am talking about the recent court case where Gerald Stanley, a farmer in Biggar, Saskatchewan was charged with the 2nd degree murder of Colten Boushie a member of the Red Pheasant reserve. Stanley’s subsequent acquittal took place in front of jury of 12 in a North Battleford Saskatchewan courtroom.  Colten Boushie,  was a 22 year old indigenous male, which it should be remembered is the only reason we are talking about this case rather than giving it a cursory glance.

The CBC, seemingly acting as an editorial arm of the government, insistently before and after the court case framed the case as being about racism, even before hearing of a single piece of evidence. In the days leading up and through the trial, the twitter monitoring journalists of the CBC, portrayed the case as one of a “white” male shooting an indigenous “Cree” male. Extensive coverage was given to interviewing indigenous members of the community, highlighting the “two solitudes” theme, and calling the situation “polarized” in terms of race relations.

This was not a race case, as the evidence showed in the end, but that is not a flashy or easy story to write and it certainly doesn’t fall within the narrative being pushed by the government and a radical few.

Boushie’s mother’s lawyer (unknown why, but interesting that she has already obtained legal representation), Chris Murphy  who said that the case “represents the elements of a larger conversation about reconciliation”. A  2nd degree murder case somehow being about “reconciliation”?

So what are the facts?

First, lets deal with the selection of the jury, because the first criticism brought by the Indigenous was that there were no “visibly” indigenous members on the jury, even now they do not for sure if there were indigenous members of the jury, but why bother a narrative with such a small detail.

Using health records to avoid bias, the courts aware of the growing climate, summoned over 750 potential jurors reaching with their summons all the way to the border of the North West Territories.  Under normal circumstances, the courts would only summons 250-400 persons. But the courts, in accordance and compliance with the Supreme Court of Canada,  exercised caution and over extended,  knowing that they would be open to accusations of a non-representative jury pool otherwise. Many of the communities that were included in their canvas are over 80%-90% indigenous; communities such as Beauval and La Loche.

On day one of the trial only 230 showed. There were close to 500 people who decided that they could ignore the courts.

The Judge, Chief Justice Martel Popescul reiterated that those that failed to attend “could” be charged under the “Jury Act”.  It was clear that a lot of the no-shows would be Indigenous persons, so given the opportunity to participate and extend the pool or jurors, decided not to attend.  It used to be considered a serious matter if one failed to attend for this duty, but clearly the dialogue has changed, and Indigenous groups feel they have the right to disregard the laws of Canada. Or do you believe that there will be charges forthcoming?

The Indigenous spokespersons of course explain this lack of caring in a dismissive way,  saying it was hard for them to get to court because of the isolated nature of their communities, and they could not afford to travel for jury selection. One lawyer stated: ” socio-economic issues can lead to people not being available. Health issues. Its anybody’s guess”.

A few years ago another court case reached the Supreme Court of Canada (R vs. Kokopenace) , where an indigenous accused argued that he had a right to have indigenous persons on the jury. One of the issues that this case explored and determined was that the response rate to summons for jury duty on the Reserve was 10% and falling. It would seem that the Boushie case got the same response rate.

A 2nd issue then surfaced; that being the right of the defence in this case, as in all cases, to have pre-emptory challenges to jurors without any reason needing to be articulated.

Of course, the indigenous groups said they were challenging all of the indigenous potential jurors, only because they were indigenous, and in their view this was another example of racism. But anybody who has been involved in these types of cases, and in particular have dealt with the jury selection process know that the defence always tries to exclude all jurors who show bias. Not because they are indigenous but because they are concerned about possible bias. It is not racism, it is our system which is designed to weed out bias, just as they exclude the police, or sherifs.

Historically, indigenous groups  have called to get rid of these challenges, which of course any criminal defence attorney would be opposed to, and would mean changing the concept and basis for impartial jury selection. Whether it works that way is another argument.   .

Furthermore, this entire matter has already been debated at length and even reached the Supreme Court of Canada in R vs. Kokopenace where in a 5-2 decision they decided that there was an onus to make the jury pool representative, but there was no obligation to determine the composition of that jury. Clearly in this latest case, there was an attempt to be all inclusive, and just as clearly there was insufficient response from the indigenous community. You are entitled to a representative jury, just not one you hand pick.

Now lets detail the actual facts of the case.

Five individuals including Boushie, all admitting to being blind drunk, were driving around the area in an SUV, after swimming and drinking at a local fishing hole. One “witness” claimed she was so drunk that she slept through the entire incident.

After leaving the fishing hole, they decided to attempt to steal from a neighbour to Stanley,  breaking a window on a truck, using a .22 rifle, that they had been carrying around with them, “target shooting”  from the vehicle. In breaking the window, they broke the stock on the rifle. This was according to the Crown witness Eric Meechance. (During the investigation he failed to mention the fact that they had a gun in their vehicle, because he had a “gun ban”. )

17 live rounds were found in the SUV vehicle, some in the rifle itself.

They then drove on to the Stanley farm, apparently somewhere in the process getting a flat tire.

They drove their “loud” vehicle on to the Stanley property, where Gerald Stanley and his 28 year old son were building a fence unbeknownst to the trespassers. The Stanleys heard and saw the vehicle come to a stop near to one of their ATVs, and watched as a person from the vehicle get on the ATV and appeared to try and start it.

Sheldon, Stanley’s son, ran towards them to confront them, and the male got off the ATV and ran back to their car and jumped in. Sheldon armed with the hammer he had been using on the fence, got up to their vehicle and smashed the window of the car, while his Dad “kicked at the taillight. The car then accelerated away, spewing gravel in their haste.

But instead of leaving the property, the car turned back and struck another of the Stanley’s vehicles. Gerald Stanley went to his shed where he kept a pistol for “scaring coyotes”, grabbed what he believed to be two bullets and put them in the gun with the intent of helping his son, who again had gone to confront the people in the car.

As he emerged from the shed Stanley fired a shot into the air as a “warning”. He could not see his son, but he could see two who had once again exited from the vehicle, and they turned and looked. He then lifted his gun again and fired “two or three times” into the air. He said he never pointed it at them, thought the gun was empty and popped the clip out into his left hand and carried the gun in his right as he went towards the vehicle.

As he approached the vehicle, he saw that the lawnmower his wife had been pushing was there, but not his wife. He said he felt a pure moment of “terror” thinking that the car had run over her. He said he ran to look under the car, and the car engine revved, and he assumed that he was going to get run over as well. So he went to the driver’s window, wanting to reach in to shut off the car.

He then sees something “metal” sticking out of the drivers side and he noticed the driver for the first time. He slapped at the metal, and simultaneously reached into try and turn off the keys in the ignition.

And it is then that the gun went off, killing Boushie, striking him in the back of the head. Although the gun was believed to be empty the defence argued that it had to be a delayed discharge, a “hanger”. The .22 rifle was beside Boushie in the front seat, as Boushie was in the drivers side.

Sheldon, the son, who had run to get his truck keys from the house and was intending to pursue them, said he heard two shots, and then a third. Consistent with his father’s later testimony.

The forensic evidence found by the police was consistent with this story.

That at least is the version of Stanley which was also consistent with one of the Crown witnesses.

Now, how about the testimony of those in the car, after all there were four of them.  Well, unfortunately, all proved to be unreliable and their testimony such as it was came close to  constituting perjury. Crown Prosecutor Bill Burge even warned the jury that they will here many “contradictions” in the stories.

One of the passengers in the Boushie vehicle, Cassidy Cross-Whitstone admitted to lying about trying to break into a truck on the other property and about how much he had to drink. He said he was worried about losing his drivers licence and that he “lied about that”.

Belinda Jackson, another Crown witness had earlier said that the only person with a firearm on the Stanley farm was a woman standing outside their SUV, but then changed her story to say that she saw Gerald Stanley shoot Boushie “twice” in the head. Boushie was only shot once, and two of the other Crown witnesses confirmed hearing two shots over their head, and then a third when they were in the process of running away.

So in the Crown’s case. Three of four potential witnesses were found, and admitted to lying or leaving out facts in the case. Another witness slept through the entire matter. All of the Crown witnesses admitted to drinking heavily and being at different levels of intoxication. All of course were indigenous, and I have not seen a single report after the acquittal mentioning that unreliable witnesses of the Crown were a big legal problem in this court case.

The Crown case was so bad, one wonders if Crown was pressured into the laying of charges. As a former homicide investigator I could not imagine getting charge approval on a case where all of your witnesses for the Crown were “unreliable” and admitted to high levels of intoxication.

So where does this leave us?

The Prime Minister of this country, a country who recognizes the need for an independent justice system, a justice system that should not be tainted in favour of a special interest group, a justice system that should be able to determine right from wrong without political interference. Our Prime Minister, touring in the United States immediately sides with the Indigenous outcry, and comments on Twitter.

“we need to do better”

“we have come to this point as a country far too many times”.

He then sends them his “love”.

Of course he is then echoed by our illustrious Justice Minister:

“Thank you PM. My thoughts are with the family of Colton Boushie tonight. I truly feel your pain and I hear all of your voices. As a country we can and must do something better – I am committed to working everyday to ensure justice for all Canadians.”

What message are they sending? Clearly they are saying that the court system didn’t work in this case and was biased based on race? It can not be interpreted in any other way.

Clearly both the PM and Wilson-Raybould were reacting as they always do, siding with the indigenous no matter the concern or the facts of a case. Grand standing to show their inordinate support.

In doing so, the clear implication is that the 7 women and 5 men who served on the jury, and the Judge who oversaw the case were tainted by racism. It displays both a lack of judgement, a lack of experience, and a supreme lack of objectivity on the part of these two leaders. This from a Prime Minister and a Justice Minister sworn to uphold the laws of Canada.

But this Liberal group for the last two years, bolstered by the two toadies, Jane Philpott and Carolyn Bennett have done nothing but embolden the radical fringe Indigenous leaders who are demanding different laws, a different Child welfare system, separate police departments, greater infrastructure programs, better schools, and a seat at Premier’s conferences as they strive to be a Nation unto itself.

“Reconcilation”, “colonialism”, and “residential schools” are the rallying cries and populate every conversation, whatever indigenous problem is being debated. They have even shamelessly compared the cultural genocide of the residential schools to that of the Nazi concentration camps.

More money, and more power are being demanded as part of this “reconciliation” and the monetary spigot is wide open as there are no impossible or improbable demands. Every government meeting is opened with the announcement about being on the ceded or un-ceded territorial lands of the local Indigenous group, which also furthers a point of view that most Canadians may not feel is appropriate.

The political parliamentary opposition firmly sit on their hands, and keep their mouths closed, clearly cowed by the thought of being branded racist, no matter what the logic of the argument.

The new NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, echoed the thoughts of Trudeau saying about the court case:

“There was no justice for Colten Boushie…today they have again been told that their lives have less value. We must confront the legacy of colonialism and genocide so they can see a brighter future for themselves”.  It is even more astounding when you consider that he is a lawyer, not a high school drama teacher, so should have had some appreciation of the facts of a case being paramount.

Yesterday, as I write this, finally the Conservatives and a few others are finally speaking up about this clear political interference on the judicial system. Conservative Deputy Leader Lisa Raitt, and Conservative Finance critic Rob Nicholson are asking the Justice Minister and the Prime Minister as to whether they were saying the jury had arrived at the wrong verdict.

Toronto criminal lawyer Sean Robichaud argued that it was “wholly inappropriate for elected officials to publicly undermine findings of a lawfully delivered verdict, particularly if it was one with a jury.” He goes further saying that the comments from the Prime minister and the Justice minister that by questioning the credibility of the judiciary, “pose a threat to Canada’s democratic system”.

The Liberals don’t learn easily though, as today they flew members of the Boushie family to Ottawa to meet with those oh so sympathetic cabinet ministers Philpott and Bennett, the Public Safety Minister, and of course Wilson-Raybould and Trudeau himself.

The Justice Minister in the House  is also expressing a need to change the judicial system and they are now looking at quickly getting rid of pre-emptory challenges. Justin Trudeau, in the House of Commons, realizing now that he has over-stepped, had the audacity to say during question period, that he could not comment on this “particular case”, to the laughter of the opposition.

The damage is done. He has already commented, he has already sided with the likes of Bobby Cameron, Chief of Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations that the verdict was “..a bunch of garbage.” He is sanctioning the words of  Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the First Nations who says “the system has failed indigenous people, it remains rife with systemic rascism”

So what has all this created?

It has created the fringes on both sides to spout racist comments on social media and the creation of a go fund me page for the defence costs of Gerald Stanley which in three days has now raised $130,000.00. The divide in this country is widening, being pushed by the ridiculous Twitter verse.

The Orwellian “thought police” nature of the politics of Canada today is leading to increasing polarization. The settlers of Saskatchewan who for generations worked this harsh un-forgiving land, who “colonized” this land, are now told to stay out of the debate.

The jury in this case has now been branded, and must be now questioning why they did their civic duty only to be called racists, even obliquely by their own Prime Minister.

This case was one of a rural crime resulting in a needless death. There was absolutely no evidence of this being a racist driven crime.

Tragic, as any death is, it is now further driving a wedge into legitimate debate as to the problems of being indigenous in this country; abject poverty and abysmal education feeding violence and disenfranchisement.  The refusal to look inward, the insistence on blaming everything on colonization, regardless of the facts, is only going to fuel a now slow burning fire among the still silent majority, who it can be argued, have just as much claim to this country as do the 4% of the Canadian population who were here “first”.

We expect our politicians to recognize the need for an independent judiciary, to guard against politicization, to be the rational measure of policy and programs. Trudeau, Wilson-Raybould, Philpott, and Bennett need to know that they represent the entire country, they should not be biased to any cause without considering the whole.  It seems that they are currently incapable of understanding this, and show no concern about attacking the very judiciary and the laws which have founded and served us for 150 years.

The indigenous groups don’t agree of course, so let’s open the debate, let us hear the concrete proposals as to how they feel the system should be altered to serve their needs. But then, let the country decide. Let the courts be the arbiter to insure fairness and individual rights. Yes, the very same courts that they now denigrate, but lets keep in mind they are very selective in their protestations as Courts ruling in their favour are often lauded by them.

There are no other options, as to do otherwise is contributing to a growing backlash in this country. We must continually guard against allowing the radical fringes from both sides who tend to kidnap and hijack an honest, and I stress honest,  debate and resolution. Tough, complicated issues, are not furthered by simplistic sound bites that play to a particular audience. Trudeau and his cronies are driving a very deep and irreversible wedge into the heart of this country, they are dividing an entire nation. That never ends well, just ask the Americans living in the Trump world.

In the end this will be most detrimental to the indigenous people themselves. Ironically, they have chosen this particular case, where there is no evidence of racism once the facts are known, as the one that will be their hill to die on. They should have chosen better.

And, if Trudeau and his Cabinet would like to meet with everyone and show preferential treatment to those that feel the court system has let them down, then warm up the jets, there are going to be lot of people awaiting government limousines at the MacDonald-Cartier airport. By the way, we may need to change the name of the airport.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr via the Commons and Renegade98 Some Rights Reserved 

Epilogue

Well a lot has transpired since this blog, which drew the most views of any written to date.  All of it very positive. I have been contacted by people in Saskatchewan, wanting a blog to cover the issue of rural crime etc.  and I have developed the expected Twitter cries of racism…although none so far has taken up the challenge to demonstrate how this case was racist.

Others, including the Saskatchewan lawyers groups  have also joined in the criticism of Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould for interfering in the process. It took them some time, but they finally got there.

Today, the Saskatchewan Crown said there would be no appeal which of course have renewed the cries of the Indigenous.

However, the Liberal fringe keep firing. The Boushie family have made complaints now of the police conduct. The first internal investigation found no wrong-doing, but why stop there, so they have made another complaint and the Public Complaints group in Ottawa who looks into misconduct, never one to miss getting some public attention, have launched their investigation. The investigation was self- launched by the Chair of the Commission. Political pressure?

They are going to investigate how the Boushie family was advised of his death, whether the Mounties followed policies and practises, and whether those actions were racial discrimination. Again, no evidence of any of that, but I guess if you say something over and over again, it must be true.

Clearly, this case won’t be going away for awhile.

Meanwhile the CBC top notch “investigative journalists” have revealed what they say are the problems of the investigation. They have found a couple of ex cops to say that there were problems.  The report and its bias by the CBC, is a clear attempt to keep this story in the news and fuel the racist claims by the Indigenous groups. The RCMP could not comment because of a possible appeal, and now an investigation by the Complaints commission. Shoddy one-sided journalism at best.

 

The above will likely be the subject of a future blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Story – “Heather” Part VII

On hearing the new living arrangements of Shane Ertmoed, I will admit that my first reaction was to drop the “f” bomb a few times, something which was not unusual if you had ever worked with me, but maybe these ones had a little more emphasis and artistry behind them, and I did manage to string quite a few together in sequence.  Of course, after I took a couple of breaths, I realized that I needed to now sell our ability to prevent another child from being hurt, when a five year old girl, was now living steps away from a homicide suspect, with only a ceiling separating them.

So at 8 that morning, in a briefing with upper management, I argued two points which would hopefully allow us to continue on course for the remaining few days. First, surveillance of the new residence was able to determine that there was a separate entry to Mr. Ertmoed’s apartment; which meant that if he tried to gain access to the upper floor, where the 5 year old lived, he would have to first come outside and then go up a separate set of stairs. Secondly and more importantly, the girl was only 5, and therefore was never left alone, and a parent or an adult would always be in the immediate presence of the girl.

The argument was accepted, albeit with some trepidation, but we were allowed to continue on. Needless to say the surveillance team was now under an even greater pressure, especially at night, when visibility to the residence was greatly limited.

(Unbeknownst to me,  I would find out later that one of my manager’s, in an effort to placate the concerns of upper management, took it upon himself to go the landlord of this residence in Langley, and advise him of our homicide target now living in his rented out house. This manager, who will remain nameless,  did not tell me or any of the investigators that he was about to break the police silence on our target, and in effect, jeopardize our entire operational plan. The landlord as it turns out, liked the RCMP, and decided not to tell his tenants right away, to allow us a few days as had been requested. So in the end, we survived this transgression by one of our own but anger would not sufficiently describe my reaction on finding out. My meeting, or confrontation, with this boss did not help my career aspirations I am sad to report. )

As the interview and arrest team continued their preparations, we were also busy with the reporting, the Report to Crown Counsel, and our ending Operational Plan. Other investigational results continued to come in, continued to be reviewed, evaluated, and re-assigned if necessary.

The interview team was in full bloom by Wednesday. The “team”was in its infancy in those days, just having come together more as a think tank, and there was little doubt that this case would be its biggest in terms of the investigational scope, and clearly they would be measured by the outcome and their role. This was the first time that I would not be calling on actual file investigators for the interview,  feeling that a fresh set of eyes, a physically fresh group, a group which did nothing more than concentrate on the interview was a concept worth trying. Greg Bishop who was a member of the team from the North Vancouver detachment was chosen as the primary interviewer, he was going to be the actual “guy in the room” with Shane.

Greg, was similar in stature to Shane Ertmoed, and he had also played junior football like Shane, who as we now learned had played briefly for the Vernon junior football team. (we were interested to learn that Shane would have a large equipment bag when playing football) In fact, Greg bore a resemblance to Shane. Greg’s interest in conducting interviews had begun in North Vancouver detachment, where he specifically took an interest in interviewing sex offenders. This led him to join the interview team. Greg had not interviewed many if any at all homicide suspects.

So it was a bit of a risk, but I was convinced they were going to go to incredible efforts and a better prepared group would not be found. Even two psychologists were hired to take part in the developing of a psychological profile of Shane.

By Wednesday, November 1st, at the end of the day, the interview team sat in the board room with Chris and I, and all the other investigators. For three hours everyone tossed about ideas as to approaches and themes that may work with Shane based on what facts we knew about the case. It was a worthwhile exercise, and what was clearly evident was that almost everyone had taken some ownership of this file, they were all personally invested.

By now we had confirmed that the prints that had been found in Shane’s apartment were not those of Heather, they were a small childs, but who exactly would never be determined. Some minor blood stains which had been found near the bed, also turned out to not be matched to Heather. Blood stains that had been found in the car were also negative.

As to the gymn bag, the Lab was examining the handles and had now identified three DNA samples, and they were now “cooking them”. In layman’s terms this meant that a series of filters were being used to get to the pure sample of DNA. The problem was that this cooking process, this cleaning may actually remove too much, and we may be left with no core sample of DNA. It was a risk that we had no choice but to take.

Some hair had also been found in the bag, but the Lab testing and their eventual results  would be at least another seven days. So any results would not be available to the investigators until after the arrest. Crown counsel would have to take a flyer as to whether we would get positive results in considering charge approval.

Also by this time, we had gone back to Shane’s Cloverdale address and rented the same apartment, allowing our forensic investigators to re-visit the site, but now they could do so with no time constraint or having to anticipate Shane’s return home.

It was also on this day that the funeral was held for Heather in Surrey. Cpl Janice Armstrong, our primary media person, attended along with our Forensic Ident group, who made a pretence of filming the crowd. This is often done by police in the event that the suspect shows up. In this case, we knew where he was, however, a lack of police presence may twig an astute media journalist who may find it strange that the police were not among the crowd.  So far our secret seemed to be holding.

Wednesday quickly led into Thursday, and our report teams were up to date, and the arrest team was now prepared and ready to go once given the word. Our deadline for the arrest was Friday at 5:00 pm.

Thursday morning began with a flurry, when we learned that investigators had uncovered some letters from the complex garbage bins, hand written by what we believed was a young girl to “Shane”. They were able to quickly identify the girl and she and the father came into the office to speak with us. In the interview the girl, probably frightened, probably leery of her present father, would not elaborate on the “diary” letters. It seemed highly likely though, that Shane had befriended other girls in the complex, not a calming notion, but one would have to wait for a few days in terms of searching for other possible victims.

The afternoon also brought some more disquieting news, from the news media itself. Janice Armstrong, our media spokesperson came to meet to discuss a phone call she just received. A reporter was calling to say that they knew we were about to make an arrest, and they knew who we would be arresting!

Clearly our boast of having no leaks to date was now untrue, and our ability to stay on the timeline may now have been jeopardized. The reporter was seeking a comment from the RCMP and the story would be running that night on the 6 o’clock news. However, they wanted to make a deal.

If we allowed them to film the arrest, they would hold off until Friday to go to press.

We played out the various scenarios out loud, the what ifs, and I kept going back to my belief that they likely had one source, thus the need for comment from the police to confirm or deny. They needed confirmation because to go with such an explosive story without doubling their sources could prove devastating (at that time it was well known that news people would not run a story with only one source, sadly, that is not the case today). A final decision was made, we decided we would not have a comment; we would not confirm or deny. No deals would be made.

Of course at 6 o’clock that night, we raptly watched the VTV news, to see if our gamble had paid off.  If they broke the news, then we would need to arrest Shane Ertmoed that night and not as planned. As the headlines scrolled up, the background music intensified, but there was no mention of any arrest. The bluff seemed to have worked, so as we headed out the door that night for a few hours of rest breathing a little easier.

Friday, the 3rd of November arrived.  At 11 that morning I briefed all of upper management of the days activities that were coming, laid out our operational “plan” and the procedures that we were going to follow in terms of the arrest, and subsequent interview.

At 1200 noon, the Crown approved charges under Section 235(1) of the Criminal Code.  1st degree murder. This was the last piece of the operational puzzle that we needed prior to the arrest. So at 3:00 we briefed the arrest team and had them attend to await Shane Ertmoed’s return from work, outside his current residence at 206th and 44 A Avenue in Langley.

Chris and I could do nothing now but wait, so we drove to the perimeter area of the residence, a couple of blocks short of the house, occupied ourself with idle chat and  monitored the surveillance and arrest teams. The calm before the media storm,  waiting for that final radio transmission “subject in custody”.

Of course no arrest ever goes according to a book. The surveillance team lost him briefly for the first time in two weeks. Then they found him again. At 6:00 pm as darkness was falling and the air had become cooler, in this suburban residential area of Langley, with its tree-lined streets, and 1980 style homes Shane Ertmoed arrived home. A passenger in his commuting partner’s vehicle. Just as he stepped out of the vehicle, a plain clothes officer grabbed him by the arm and eased him out, and put up against the police vehicle, There was no struggle or resistance. On being told he was under arrest for murder, he feigned surprise, but said little else, and he was placed in the back of a van where members of the interview team awaited for the drive back to the Surrey detachment.

At 6:05 the local radio station, CKNW, was already broadcasting that an arrest had been made, and as we approached the Surrey detachment, media trucks were waiting at every intersection trying to identify the vehicle that Shane may have been in. They clearly now had their confirmation.

That evening, a press conference was held, where our managers took the podium to announce the arrest, pose for the usual congratulatory pictures, provide the usual “unable to comment at this time” to questions and provided the fodder for the 30 second sound bites. We stood at the back of the room able to hear, but out of sight, some of the adrenaline now draining away. A lot of work was looming ahead, but some satisfaction creeped in, temporarily blocking thoughts as to the further efforts that were going to be needed.

Shane spent the night in a jail cell, with an undercover roommate that had been arranged for him (in the event he would be stupid enough to say something); eating a microwaved meat pie and drinking instant coffee, no doubt preparing for the next day as well.

As he was watched on the cellblock video monitors, listened to on the audio coming from the implanted mikes in cell block, he didn’t seem scared. Was he struggling to control his thoughts, trying to steady his  physical mannerisms, nonchalant, unperturbed by what had just happened to him?

As evening turned to night he curled up under the grey prisoner blanket and went to sleep, snoring slightly.

 

Photo Courtesy of Les Bazso of Vancouver Province newspaper Some Rights Reserved

Personal Story – “Heather” Part VI

So at 6 in the morning of October 25, 2000 I found myself in front of a chalk board in a large darkened briefing room, with Chris as my sounding board and solitary audience, sketching out a rough two week calendar; the range which was now being dictated by one single necessity. We needed time to find evidence, and at the same time we needed to come close to a guarantee that our suspect Mr Ertmoed would not re-offend while we carried on in our quest for the so far elusive evidence.

Earlier, I had asked our surveillance teams, which now consisted of RCMP as well as VPD groups,  as to how long they could keep someone under 24 hour surveillance; with an expectation of never losing the target, while maintaining  three shifts of teams. The consensus was that “maybe two weeks on the outside”. For anyone who knows surveillance with all its ramifications, to request that they never lose the target was a bit preposterous and presumptuous. But it was not the time to be timid with our ask.

We now had an investigational time line, bracketed by our surveillance capabilities.  We had just 14 days and nights to find evidence. And just as importantly, we needed to find that evidence without Shane Ertmoed finding out we were looking. We wanted to poke around in his life, in his residence, around his vehicle, amongst his friends and acquaintances without him finding out. We wanted to know Shane Ertmoed better than he knew himself, and for him to be none the wiser.

The element of surprise was now on our side and if it came down to an interview it could prove invaluable in terms of the balance of power in that 5′ x 8′ room. That sounds hardened, conspiratorial, big government leveraging their power. But in essence, when it comes down to criminal interviews, the accused has all the advantages; any inappropriate comment, a slight promise, a refusal to allow for a chat with a defence counsel, even one asked for and given many times, could in todays courts completely destroy the evidence revealed in an interview.

So armed with a start and an end in our timeline, the end being a possible arrest and interview; I begin to sketch in the remaining days, with the idea that one day would flow into the next, in a continuous seamless operation, where the 2nd day activities were determined by the 1st day, or the 3rd day determined by the events of the 2nd day. Surveillance would run throughout and besides keeping Ertmoed in view, the surveillance could be used to background other elements of the investigation.

We quickly began to divide the forty or so investigators into teams, with a total of seven teams. Each team had an individual responsibility, each team had a leader who would  be given the ability and virtual free rein, to make their own determinations of which investigative tools they would use to pursue and reach their goal.

Our belief was that in all likelihood Heather was killed inside the residence of Ertmoed, and then in all likelihood transported in his car to the Maple Ridge area. We needed to see inside the residence, to examine the most likely crime scene, and we needed to forensically examine both the residence and the vehicle. And that examination needed to be done in secrecy. We needed to commit a legal break and enter, and steal a vehicle, or at least have Shane believe that someone stole his vehicle.

To enter his residence, we needed legal authorizations, “general” warrants under the Criminal Code which which would allow for surreptitious entry and an examination of his vehicle. Team 1 was assigned the thankless, but central task, of writing those warrant applications. They were given a deadline of 24 hours to have them signed and authorized. It was a momentous task, maybe only appreciated by police officers in terms of the short time period, but everything would flow from Team 1 and the seal of approval from the judiciary.

Another group of investigators, Team 2,  was assigned to travel to Vernon, to begin inquiries as to the background of Shane and his family, school, and sport activities. They could not raise suspicions and would have to develop reliable sources inside the various bureaucracies that we may need to access.

A third team, the entry team for the residence was made up of some Forensic Identification personnel, and some investigators who would be disguised as construction workers. They were left to brainstorm on their own, how they would get in, and to co-ordinate with the surveillance group to find the opportune time.

A fourth team was assigned to “steal” Ertmoed’s vehicle. We needed to get the vehicle into a police garage where it could be checked for hair, fibre, blood, fingerprints. Clearly, this had to be done at a time and place which would draw the least amount of attention.

Did I mention that the media had established an outpost at the housing complex. A reporter assigned, with a satellite truck, to be there in case anything developed. With no breaking news, they would often interview neighbours and do a human interest story. For instance they had begun interviewing neighbours in terms of whether they would let out their children for the approaching Halloween festivities, when there could be a “child” killer on the loose. We thought that this could be a problem for sure.

Other teams included an arrest team and an interview team. The final team was the group that had to write the story, the group who had to put all this planning, all this effort and its results in a readable and a formatted Report to Crown Counsel, whilst also keeping Crown Counsel briefed on the matter. The ultimate goal was to get “charge approval” from the Crown, but to get to this pot at the end of the rainbow, all of the teams had to come through, they were all reliant on each other, if one failed they could all fail. All the teams were aware of how it would work, each knew that they were only as good as the sum of their parts.

The briefing broke up and the teams began assembling in smaller groups in the briefing room, the noise level clearly rising as people became acquainted with their new team mates.  We had been somewhat lucky in gathering this particular group of  hard working, canny and astute investigators; which is not always the case in these last minute assembled project groups. They in turn were clearly  now relieved to be specifically  focused, they had a hard target. Not one complaint was ever heard from this group, even the Warrant team who very quickly realized that a 24 hour deadline for their role, meant they were going to be working all night.

I went off to a meeting with C/Supt Smith, Supt. MacIntyre and Inspector Jane to outline and sell them on the plan. After forty minutes and some back and forth, their approval was given.

So we were off and running. Team 1 began the warrants, and Team 2 was off to Vernon.

With this new found buzz, it would be difficult to keep things quiet. If we could keep things quiet for two weeks it would be a bit of a miracle. Cops like to talk, we like to gossip, we like the background story sometimes more than the central story. Even an overheard conversation in a bar or restaurant could jeopardize everything. Any reporters worth their salt had police “sources”. Reporters were just like us.

The surveillance team began to piece together Shane’s daily activities, including his evenings when he liked to walk to the local 7-11 for an over-sized ” Slurpy”. He seemed to be a loner, who would hitch a ride with two or three others to his work site in Maple Ridge where his construction crew was removing asbestos from old buildings. He was in essence proving to be a boring target. That is a good thing if part of your task was never “losing” him.

By Day 2, the warrant team had managed to get their job completed. General warrants had been signed and judicially authorized. Teams 3 and 4 started in motion with the plans to enter the residence and go after Shane’s car.

Chris and I flitted between the various teams answering questions, helping with some of the logistical and some of the more mundane issues. We answered the phones a lot and continued having two daily briefings with the investigators, and a daily briefing with upper management.

During this time the general overall investigation was now armed with the name “Shane Ertmoed” and this forced a review of the entire file to date,  to see if his name, or his vehicle, had surfaced earlier. There was a high probability that we may have run across our suspect in some form or manifestation.  This proved to be more than a little accurate.

We quickly learned:

  • Our neighbourhood inquiry group had spoken with him briefly, and filled out the form we had designed for this investigation. Mr Ertmoed had been spoken with, and basically told the officer that he didn’t know much about it, that he had been “out”… he had “gone to the movies”
  • One of our officers who had been stationed at the entrance of the complex, watching those coming and going in the first three days of the investigation, had gone to the extra effort of writing down every plate parked in the complex. Mr Ertmoed’s vehicle was noted parked, but more importantly this same officer had checked Mr Ertmoed and his vehicle leaving around 5:20 in the morning on October 2nd.  She had spoken with him, took a quick look into the vehicle, which she remembered as being “clean”, nothing in the back seat. He said he was going to work.
  • Mysteriously, Shane Ertmoed on October 2nd had reported to the Surrey RCMP that he had been the victim of a “break and enter” at his residence, and he wanted the police to attend.
  • An examination of the large “hockey bag” showed some botanical material in the pockets of the bag, the main zipper was broken. The handle was removed from the bag and sent to the Lab in the hope that we could salvage some DNA from the bag.

It was 48 hours after Shane reported the “break-in” that the Forensic Ident officer attended to Shane’s residence, as was routine in most residential break-ins. As is normal, he took notes of what he found. The residence was quite clean, a red upright vacuum cleaner stood in the middle of the living room, not put away. But the investigator also made note of a pile of clothes thrown in a pile, in the middle of the floor, as if someone had emptied a bag. This would not be uncommon as often culprits take a pillow case or a bag to carry the stolen items. So he asked Shane if he was missing a bag of any kind. Unexpectedly, Shane said he was not missing any bag.

Was he trying to distance himself from the bag that was found in the lake? Was the break and enter report some way of covering if at some point Heather’s prints were found in his apartment? Clearly Mr Ertmoed was thinking in anticipation of a possible meeting with the police somewhere down the road? Paranoia or just good planning?

So as the days moved forward, the first major entry was made when the forensic investigators, in the middle of the day, entered Shane’s residence, dressed in coveralls and ball caps, carrying their “tool” boxes.

Shane was working in Maple Ridge being watched by the surveillance team in the event he decided to go home early.

Photographing as they went, examining anything that may have been interesting. Dusting for fingerprints, removing any prints, and then leaving the scene looking untouched.

In the condo, there were no obvious signs of a struggle, no blood, or hair in some irregular place. But then again, this was a few weeks past the time of the killing. Some child sized prints were found on one of the windows, but they did not seem likely to match Heather’s. It seemed like a typical young person’s suite, not overly clean, clothes in random places, a sink of waiting dishes, a desk with young person collectibles. A wrestling logo sweatshirt hung from a hanger.

However, in opening a desk top drawer there were some normal bills,  but there were two receipts set aside, separate from the others in a seemingly organized and deliberate way.  Both were receipts; one for the “Happy Face” gas station, and the 2nd for the “Colossus Movie Theatre” in Langley. If you drove a vehicle up 200th Street in Langley you would come to the Happy Face gas station, and if you continued on up 200th St., you would come to the movie theatre. Both were for the date of October 1st, 2000, the date of Heather’s abduction and believed murder.

The gas station receipt was time stamped for 5:20 p.m on the 1st of October, and the movie receipt was for a 7:00 pm evening show also on the 1st, for the movie “The Exorcist”. It now seemed completely obvious that Shane Ertmoed was setting up his alibi, getting ready to prove that he was not home at the crucial time.

The receipts were photographed and left in place. The surprise element we were trying to keep in place would be instrumental to the interview process. If we knew in advance his cover story, and were prepared to surgically destroy it, there could be nothing more deflating to a suspect convinced he can beat the system.

On October 26th, an autopsy was conducted on Heather by Dr David Charlesworth at Royal Columbian hospital. Charlesworth was known as fastidious, exacting, and thorough, but in this case, he could not make a cause of death determination. The water had taken it away, destroyed the tissue enough to not allow for our hoped for our speculative diagnosis of strangulation.

Also, to add further to this negative report, there was no sign of sexual trauma in the vaginal area. DNA swabs were taken, but it was believed that they too would be of little value due to the water contamination. It now appeared that  the interview team was going to need to find out from Shane himself, as to how she died, and what he did to her. It would be a large hurdle, and it would be a major hurdle in any prosecution.

The team in Vernon began to also uncover some details of particular interest. It turned out that Shane had a local police record, which would not have shown up in our earlier criminal record checks of those in the neighbourhood. It should be kept in mind that we thought it would be unusual if a sex offender went straight to killing someone, there is almost always a history. The team found it.

Shane had a girlfriend in Vernon who was babysitting. Shane was over to keep her company but after the babysitter fell asleep, Shane went in to the child’s bunk bed, pulled her onto the floor and was spooning her in some sort of sexual way.

But he got caught in the act. His girlfriend caught him, and told the parent on their return to the house. Father, incensed, at one point had Shane pinned up against the wall, fist tightened on his shirt collar. In the end  he thought better of it, and instead did the proper thing, and let Shane go. It was reported to the police and an officer was assigned.

Unfortunately, that officer failed to interview Shane, and it was not until 8 months later that they decided to go forward with the victim statement to the local Crown Counsel for charge approval. The officer contacted the father, the guardian, and asked if they were ready to go to court, and the shocked father who could not understand how it had taken this long, reluctantly decided that it was not worth putting his child through the court process. Sloppy and lazy police work meant that Shane was never charged. Justice was not done, and a sex offender walked free.

If Shane had been charged, he would have been likely found out by our neighbourhood inquiry team, in the first week, because they did criminal record checks on everyone they interviewed.

The only plus was that maybe it displayed the method and nature of the assault on Heather? Just maybe, we had been given some hints on how Shane may have approached Heather. The flip side of this was that Shane had also learned a valuable criminal jailhouse lesson: don’t get caught.

After the house had been entered by the team, the next day, our auto thieving cops orchestrated Shane’s vehicle being opened, and then towed from the complex.  There was a hiccup though when they called us to say that the media, sensing something newsworthy about the vehicle being towed, began to follow the tow truck.

The tow truck driver, an uncle of one of the officers, was now driving in circles throughout Cloverdale, trying to shake his tail so to speak, not wanting to head straight to the police office.  A quick co-ordination with our dispatch centre allowed us to orchestrate the media truck to be pulled over for a traffic “offence” by a nearby patrol officer, making them break off their surveillance. They were none the wiser, but they were not happy.

So the tow truck deposited the green 1971 Chevrolet Impala in the bay of the police office, eagerly awaiting by the Forensic Identification group. Knowing the residence had turned up little, we were anticipating a little better luck with his car, with the licence DRE-666. We stood staring at the large trunk, pausing with a deep breath, and then turned the key and opened the trunk.

Staring back at us was a whole trunk filled to the rim with a hydraulic lift kit (favoured by California “low-riders”, thousands of dollars of pumps, and cylinders designed to make the car lift, lower, and “hop”. Impressive,  but unexpected and pretty well eliminating the possibility that the body could have been put in the trunk of that vehicle.

As Cpl Jean Bouchard (the same forensic specialist who had attended Shane’s building for the break and enter) and I scratched our heads, he related a short story about seeing a documentary about the smuggling of illegal aliens under the hood of cars like this one we were staring at. So we opened the hood, and it was cavernous inside, and there was a very noticeable area, about 3 feet long on the driver’s side which looked like someone had removed the dust, or something had been put in that scraped away the dirt.

Was it possible Heather, in the hockey bag, had been placed under the hood of the vehicle. Seemed unlikely, until the good corporal climbed in himself and despite his rotund frame managed to shut the hood over top of him. Jean would spend the next several days trying to match the bag to the scraped area, with minimal results in the end, but extraordinary forensic effort.

Remembering the vehicle being seen with the hood up, in a wooded area by the Park staff, and with the plants and leaves in the pockets of the bag, we now believed that Shane Ertmoed had initially put the bag in the woods, and on the 2nd of October went back, put her under the hood, and drove to the boat launch to put her in the water instead. He was worried about her being found, which was I believe a very remote possibility. Our theory that there would be a second movement of the body turned out to be true, but the 2nd movement turned out to be 40 kms away. The suspect had made another mistake.

So the first week ended, and Sunday was picked as a day of rest, but turned into a day which was spent on report and note writing, a seemingly endless task.

The search for botanical evidence had been given to a professor at UBC, Dr Rolf Mathews; the Lab continued to work on the fibres, hair etc that had been sent to them; and members viewing the video from 22 cameras inside the Colossus movie theatre now allowed us to show Shane buying tickets, but we were able to say categorically that he never went into watch the movie.

A towel found in the hockey bag matched the type and colour of towels found inside Shane’s apartment, a towel sold by the Bay department store.

And on Friday, Shane had shown up at the counter with his aunt, to report his vehicle having been stolen.

He was clearly frustrated and told the front counter staff that a reporter had told him that it was a BCAA vehicle which had towed it out.

And on this hoped for quiet Sunday, the surveillance team observed Shane giving an interview to Vancouver Television news.  Shane seemed to be moving boxes out of his townhouse, and in doing so was approached by the television crew.

That night, on the 6 o’clock news we watched Shane speak about “moving out”  expressed his concern for his safety, and worried about the danger if his young “cousin” came for a visit. The reporter asked if he had spoken to the police, and he said no, and then laughingly as an aside “not that I want them to come to me”.

He also said that he was not home at the time, he had gone out to the movies. The male helping Shane, as it turned out was his brother, and told the interviewer that he too had been over that day, but he had left around 5 or 5:30 that day, a suggestion of Shane, as the both of them debated on camera as to the time. Shane,  is a somewhat lowered voice, almost as an aside, said that he had “gas slip” to prove it.

The square rimmed glasses, the casual sweater, and his amiable boyish disposition with the interviewer would not let the audience believe that they were actually seeing a person who strangled the life of a 10 year old girl. It was almost cocky, over-confident, and he seemed comfortable in his ability to lie.

He had not only made a statement, exposed and confirmed his alibi,  he was also now in the process of moving.

As we ground inexorably and hopefully towards an arrest, the 2nd week looked like it might be noteworthy to say the least.

On Monday morning, the 1st day of the 2nd week,  the 30th of October, as Halloween approached, we found out where Shane had moved.  Shane had moved into a basement apartment across from an elementary school in Langley; and a five year old girl lived in the upstairs apartment.

 

Photo Courtesy of Google….note this is a 1973 Chevrolet with hydraulics in the trunk, not Mr Ertmoed’s vehicle; but you get the idea…

 

 

Personal Story – “Heather” Part V

It was just two days since Heather had been found, and I was sitting, head down in a concentrated effort to get through the neatly arranged stack of reports, fighting the late afternoon doldrums, when I was approached by Gary Burke. Gary, was a former troop mate of mine who was currently working for the E Division Major Crime team, and their unit had been brought in to help.

Gary always had a smile on his face, whether delivering good news or bad news,  but as he plunked himself down in front of me, his grin was a little wider, he looked like he might burst. “I think we have something good for you” he said.

He began to tell me his story. Two investigators in his unit, Laura Livingstone, and Randy Hundt had just called from the road. They had some promising information on a lead they were following up on in the Maple Ridge area.

The day before, a Maple Ridge dispatcher had called our desk. She, like everyone else it seemed had been watching the tragic news and the recovery of Heather in the Park.  She had strong recollections of the day Heather had actually disappeared, and in fact had been working in Maple Ridge on that same date, when Surrey announced the search for Heather in Cloverdale on October 1st.

Hearing that Heather had now been found in Maple Ridge, more importantly in her detachment area was numbing.  She began to replay the time and events of those days in early October, the files she may have dispatched at that time. Disconcertingly I suspect,  she thought she remembered having had a call that day, one specifically concerning  Golden Ears park. It stood out in her memory as the Park was usually quiet at that time of year.

She was hazy on the details, remembering it being something about a vehicle. As she sat home that night reflecting on the news it continued to bother her. She needed to find out more and  try and fill in the blanks for her sake even if there was nothing to it. So she drove down to the Maple Ridge detachment to try and find the dispatch ticket.

She found the ticket by scrolling through the daily dispatch tickets, but it was actually on October 2nd, not the 1st, that she had the call that involved Golden Ears park. It quickly came back to her as she re-read the information.  It was in fact a call of a reported “suspicious vehicle” that  had been called in by park staff working there.  The dispatch information was brief, but indicated that an officer had in fact been dispatched, but there was no licence plate, and the eventual patrols closed the file saying that the vehicle was G.O.A. Gone on Arrival.

Nevertheless, even though she was let down somewhat, she called our office saying that we might want to look into it further, if possible.  So a new investigative tip was created, as were many that day, and Laura and Randy had been given the assignment to see if they could do any follow up on it.

Before I go any further I should point out that Laura is an extremely affable person which often belied an intelligent and investigative mind. Randy, a big guy with a flair for practical jokes, was smart, as stubborn as I, and a no holds barred approach to investigations. Paired up as they were on this date, it could be assumed that they would not miss anything, there would be no cutting of corners, or an un-checked investigative path.

They pulled the old dispatch ticket and identified the complainants as the campground workers; Mike Zabaglia, Michelle Mackie, Kyle Johnson and Stuart Paul.

So Randy and Laura set about finding and speaking with the workers, and they learned that: on October 2nd at 0650 in the morning, the employees were driving into the park heading to their office to pick up their respective work vehicles.

As they drove in their car pool, a slow moving “big boat” of a car appeared in front of them, the driver wearing a hoodie.  It was difficult to pass, so they followed it for quite awhile, until about 1 km south of the boat launch. They thought the behaviour was rather strange, but on they went to the office, got their vehicles and headed out, some going south towards the entrance to the park; in other words back from where they had just come.

One employee, began his work assignment, and was driving back towards the entrance to the park, and is somewhat startled to see this same questionable vehicle, this time parked, also facing south. The hood was up but no driver could be seen in or around the vehicle.

So the park employee drives by but calls on his radio into the office, and reports this second sighting. It was agreed that it was too suspicious to ignore, and decided to call the local police to see if they could come and check on the vehicle.

Meanwhile a second employee around 1030 or 1100, also driving towards the entrance to the park, and after hearing the previous report of the vehicle being parked alongside the road, had driven by and noticed that the vehicle was no longer pulled over on the roadside. So he continues on, heading to do some work at the boat launch area.

As he drives into the normally deserted parking area, there is the vehicle again. This time parked on the boat ramp, again with no sign of the driver in the area. He too calls into the office via his radio, and gives them the updated information.

The Maple Ridge RCMP were now sending a police officer to check it out some the employee continues on his work schedule, and eventually leaves the boat ramp area. The vehicle was still parked and vacant on the ramp as he left.

More minutes go by and now this same employee circles back to the boat launch as much out of curiosity as anything else, but as he approaches the general vicinity of the boat launch, he meets the suspicious vehicle, now heading out of the park, this time driving at about 80 kms an hour. He later describes the vehicle as “large”, and “blue or grey” in colour.

Needless to say by the time the RCMP patrol they do not find the vehicle. Too much time had passed prior to their arrival. The officer concludes his file, typing GOA into the electronic dispatch system. A routine call had ended with little or no effort.

Laura and Randy press on with their inquiries, and they learn from one employee that he thought they had written down the plate number, possibly on one of the park log books, but he could not be certain. They decide to go back with the employee, now with their interest slightly peeked, to try and locate the logbook.  Sure enough they find the logbook. And there in a corner of the book, under the date of October 2nd, there is a hand written inscription, written at an angle along the edge of the page simply stating  “DRE -666”. Clearly a licence plate number.

Now hearing the numbers 666, if you don’t know, it is often referred to as the number of the “Beast” in the New Testament; a symbol of the devil, or used to invoke the devil, a symbol of the anti-christ.  So at this stage of the story it gives me a bit of a pause and I look at my story teller with a raised eyebrow.  To say that I was not in the mood for a black humoured prank would have been an understatement. “No, No” Gary says, picking up on my look. And then he goes on with the story.

The vehicle licence plate, now checked, comes back to a 1971 Chevrolet Impala ( a big boat of a car would be a fitting description), green, and the registered owner was one:

Shane Ertmoed, born December 22nd, 1977. making him 23 years old at this time.  The vehicle was associated through registration records to an address in Vernon.

But it got better, as Gary continued. They had learned on October 2nd, one day after the disappearance of Heather, and on the day that the vehicle was spotted in Golden Ears Park, Mr. Ertmoed had renewed his drivers licence, and dutifully provided his new address, which was now:

Unit #8 at 17700 60th Avenue, Cloverdale, British Columbia. The same address as Heather’s complex.

We both exhaled, and I sat back in the chair, Gary just looking at me. A few seconds went by in silence as if by talking we would have broken a magic spell, the news too good to be true. If I was tired before, that was now all gone. A nervous energy began to build in both Chris and I, as we began to realize the enormity of this information. We may have just caught the the break of our lives. Another mistake by the suspect may have just been uncovered, a big mistake.

Coincidence is defined as a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection. I don’t believe in coincidences, never have, and I did not believe for a moment that this was going to turn out to be a coincidence.

Was it possible that an individual named Shane Ertmoed, who lived in the same complex as Heather, just happened to go for a drive in a park some 40 kilometres away, one day after her disappearance, and it was the same remote park where Heather was found half-naked floating face down in the lake?

Although all the neurons were now firing, I still  needed to restrain initial impulses, needed to be alive to it actually being a coincidence and nothing more. I needed to be alive to the fear of all investigators, the dreaded “tunnel vision”.

After briefing the investigative team, we all headed home around ten that night, exhausted but needing a rest from the marathon, but a marathon that now had become a head long sprint.

There was also one thought that overrode the excitement of the day, one idea, one realization that seemed to be intent on beating the investigative break Gods into submission.

There was no evidence.

We had nothing.

We had a young male that we suspected was involved, but nothing tying him to Heather. No evidence to tie him to the killing in any way, other than proximity to two separate and diverse crime scenes. To know of him, to identify a possible child killer and to not be able to prove it may be a worse fate than not knowing at all.

Exhaustion provided a few hours of sleep, but a very early morning was met with the same mangled thoughts, the testing and re-testing of investigative options, most reviewed and discarded in a few seconds.

But from this filtering and deciphering, this constant give and take, clouded with fatigue,  resuscitated by coffee, something emerged.

I now had a plan.

It was a relatively simple plan, a plan reliant on a single elemental investigative tool, but a tool relished by investigators. We still had the element of surprise.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons via Flickr by John Lambert Pearson entitled “Clue” Some Rights Reserved

 

 

 

Diversity vs Merit…planned discrimination?

The term, affirmative action, in the 1960’s was a dictate given to the Government of the United States under then President John Kennedy to hire or give equal opportunity to the disadvantaged, to hire “without regard for race, religion and national origin”.  It was often designed to compensate for past discrimination, persecution, or exploitation by the ruling class.

A laudable goal to be sure, as the intention was to pull up those that were disadvantaged, to take away any roadblocks that kept some down and not able to compete in the economic world of the day. It was a typical liberal policy reflective of those times, it was  “Camelot” and the Kennedy era, where equality and fairness were the principle objectives and would be emblematic of the ensuing two decades of U.S. policy. It was the era in which I grew up and came to self-identify. It was the era when governmental change was an instrument of good and it was a time when people wanted to give back.

The goal of  affirmative action advocated a generational change, a lengthy process to be sure. Not to be accomplished overnight, or even over a single Presidential term. In almost all circumstances, a formative change actually requires patience, and it requires a cultural change.

If these goals outlined by Kennedy and to a smaller extent by Pearson in Canada in the 1960s were to reach fruition, then there needed to be education and time. Politicians being what they are in our democratic and fixed term systems are not patient, they want to see and boast about change in shorter windows of time. Long term planning or even projecting out for 10 years is difficult if not impossible, and there in lies the rub.

So “affirmative action” and what it came to mean began to evolve, mainly to suit political need for instant gratification.  They needed to force the issue, to put persons into roles or jobs, or education, earlier than generational change would allow.  Qualifications, or deservedness would have to take a back seat. That some tolerance be built into the selection process, that qualifications be bent and sometimes lowered so that these persons could immediately or quickly fill these roles.

In other words instead of all boats rising with the tide, it became necessary to “favour” certain groups. This re-interpretation of the meaning of affirmative action was not a subtle change, it was one which has had a massive ripple effect.

The world began to follow suit.  Some countries, including the U.S. even began to use a quota system, where a certain percentage of government jobs, political positions, and school vacancies were reserved for specific  members of certain politically chosen groups. And this continues to this day.

Of course this by definition means that not everyone is treated equally and it would be only a matter of time, before some took umbrage with a system, which by its very nature excludes certain individuals, albeit usually the more advantaged groups.

So in most recent years, it has been generally true that countries where there are laws dictating racial and gender “equality”, many of these affirmative action programs which had dictated quotas were now declared illegal. The U.S. courts in particular saying that affirmative action programs  dictate that not all persons are treated equally, and therefore should not be allowed.

However there are countries in the world where quotas are still allowed, and have been used, and continue to be used extensively.

Nathan Glazer in the Harvard Crimson argues that the quota system divides people into categories, into racial, ethnic, and gender profiles. And benefits, and penalties would now adhere to these various compartments. “People would try to advance on the basis of group membership rather than individual capacity”.

In Canada, the politicos sensing some possible rejection of affirmative action and quotas,  began to use a new term, something they believed to be less offensive.  So we now have been programmed to accept the new “diversity”. Diversity, is defined as “the condition of having or being composed of different elements”. The Miriam dictionary then goes on to say that it can mean”the inclusion of different types of people, (such as people of different races or culture)”.

It is government speak for affirmative action in general, and they have replaced the likely illegal “quotas”, with “goals” or “targets”. They play to the “disadvantaged” groups, to try and counter balance a legally tenuous position. There is little argument to the fact that affirmative action is in fact discriminatory. Discrimination defined as “treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favour of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather on individual merit”.

But whether one agrees or not, we have a government who has become fixated with the need for “diversification.”

Of course the real balancing act is how far does one swing the pendulum, how far and to what level  is for instance, is one prepared to ignore merit in favour of ethnicity, or gender, or a visible minority.  Practically, in terms of hiring or university admissions, it is difficult to give specific policy or guidance as to how one needs to approach the problem without stepping over the line. How does one apply goals or targets without imposing quotas? Very few politicians and bureaucrats seem capable of reflection, they approach it like a quota, easier to apply, and easier to boast about their numbers.

In 2016, the Federal government announced a new appointment process for boards, agencies, tribunals, officers of Parliament and Crown Corporations. It specified that “diversity” was the goal, while it opened up the applications to the public. In other words, it did not set or say the word “quota”  per se but encouraged the government mandarins, and put them on notice that they would be measured by their attempts and delivery of “diversity”.

According to this same article, the Privy Counsel office has now released its numbers so that of the 429 appointments that have been made to date since 2016; 56.6 per cent women, 11.2 per cent were visible minorities, and 9.6 per cent were indigenous.

It then goes on to prove its point by counting the numbers:  48.3 % women, 16.1 per cent minorities, and 6.5 per cent indigenous. In Canada it points out, there is actually 50.9 per cent women, 22.3 per cent visible minorities, and 4.9 per cent indigenous. They are not arguing a generational change, they are pointing to their targeted “goals”, their “quotas” having been met. There is no other way of explaining it. Are we to believe that in one year, more indigenous people, or more visible minorities have been in a position to apply for more governmental posts because of improvements in their education or in their qualifications. That would be difficult to believe. It is far more likely they have been pulled up to fulfill a quota.

Justin Trudeau often brags about his “diverse cabinet”.  What he actually means is that his cabinet has been chosen in a quota system. Today in the news, the CBC headlines the fact that the Canadian government is now beginning to be as “diverse as Canada”.

Wendy Cukier, who is the director of Ryerson University “Diversity Institute” is happy with the numbers and lauds PM Trudeau for having made “great strides on gender”. She would like us to believe that in a year period, more females became more qualified for various jobs because there was “equal opportunity” got those jobs. Or is it possible that they were told to fill more positions with women regardless of merit?

This is playing out in every walk of governmental life. In policing we went through the quota hiring of women, and various visible minorities over the years. Every government department Provincially and Federally has fallen in line with this type of quota hiring.

Persons are gaining management positions, or being accepted into specialized jobs, not because they are the best person for the job, but by the fact there application is being skewed in their favour, sometimes to a large degree; skewed by their colour of their skin or their gender. It is troubling, for example, if a hospital is hiring a doctor, should merit not be the only single factor?

There are those that would put a strong argument in favour of “quota” hiring as a way of righting the wrongs of the past. If one accepts this principle, one is in effect accepting and proposing one level of discrimination, to right the wrongs of a historical discrimination. But be it as it may, my argument is that if the government of the day feels that this is acceptable, then at the very least they should be honest in their intentions.  It should not be allowed to be portrayed as an equal playing field to the general public. It is not.

Where “diversity” is a stated goal and gender or sex is part of the selection criteria it should be stated clearly. People should know that if you are applying for a police force as an example, other factors are coming into play, including the colour of your skin and your gender, and they should be told what is the given priority, and how it would affect their application.

An issue that also naturally evolves from this process is the growing need to determine if there are some significant after effects to this practise. If one continues to hire under qualified people, does the job suffer, does the output suffer? If they are not the best people for the job, is the job being done in the proper manner? If one throws out merit, or lessens merit in a bureaucratic system, does advancement and morale suffer?

We are now in a position where we have to question both the deserved and the undeserved. When you know the hiring process, and the priorities of government, it makes one question, why or how someone was chosen for this job. It may reflect badly on the person holding the job, tainted by this quota policy, even in cases where in fact it was deserved.

Were members of Trudeau’s cabinet chosen because they were the best for the job, or because they met his mandated quotas and play to his constituencies for whom he wants to be seen as the saviour. Women voters, non-visible minorities, and the up and coming indigenous groups are the stronghold of the Liberals, the bastion they hope to win over in future elections. The answer seems obvious.  Trudeau and the Liberals are engaging in obvious vote buying, and the Conservatives and the NDP are trying to do the same and get in on the action.

They are all playing politics to a high level, and it is costing this country. Merit has been given a back seat, “diversity” is the mantra being extolled by every politician from every pulpit. Do not challenge or you will be portrayed as a racist.

One could point out that the apartheid government in South Africa, as a matter of state policy favoured white-owned, especially Afrikaner owned companies.  It was clearly in place  to prolong white rule and power, and this quota system was discriminatory and the world celebrated its eventual downfall. But any quota system is discriminatory, the only thing that changes is the target of that discrimination.

I believe that when merit is given such short shrift, when merit becomes secondary to optics, everyone loses. We become compartmentalized. My stand is the one echoed by Nathan Glazer in that affirmative action, as it was originally intended is still a worthwhile intention. However,  quotas, thinly disguised as “targets” or “goals” should not be acceptable at any level, whether being practised by your government or your workplace.

And if you think some level of discrimination is o.k., then at least have the backbone to articulate and specify who in society you wish to treat as more equal than others. And then let the public decide.

 

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons via Flckr by Edyta Mazur – Some Rights Reserved