Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

The justice system is not a toy...but it's sure getting played

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Manitoba justice officials, police and our city leaders may not want to acknowledge it, but they have egg all over their faces courtesy of two low-life gang members.And their lack of response to what's happened is nothing short of an embarrasment - and sending a horrible message for the future.In case you missed it, Corey Amyotte and Gharib Abdullah - members of the Mad Cowz - both played the system like a fiddle in cutting sweet deals for themselves and then saving their own hides at the expense of an innocent victim. (Read story HERE)390[1].jpg That victim, of course, is Phil Haiart, the 17-year-old Winnipegger who became the face of gang violence in this city after he was literally caught in the crossfire of a west end shootout and took a bullet to the stomach in October 2005.As you no doubt have read, Haiart's killers may never be brought to justice following this week's shocking collapse of the high-profile murder trial against Jeffrey Cansanay.It is very likely a similar result will now follow for the youth accused who was set to stand trial in June.That's because the Crown was counting on the same two key witnesses as in Cansanay's case - the previously mentioned Amyotte and Abdullah.Both men strolled into court last week and flatly refused to say a single word. Then the judge in the case denied the Crown's request to play their videotaped statements to police, leaving the jury with essentially no evidence to even consider a conviction.Game over. Case closed.Now I'm not going to fault police and justice officials for putting so much stock in two clearly unreliable and very shady characters.It's the nature of the beast, and you play the hand you're dealt. As a defence lawyer once told me, not a lot of gangland murders are witnesses by a busload of nuns armed with video cameras.The point is, you often need witnesses like Amyotte and Abdullah to bring other criminals to justice.Unfortunately, you can't trust people like this as far as you can throw them and the results are often tragic.Now if I'm in charge of the justice department, here's what I do within minutes of Cansanay's trial collapsing on Monday morning in order to try and do some much-needed damage control.I send out a press release to all members of the media announcing a news conference later in the day.When the time comes I then get up to the podium - and likely have some police representatives with me as well - and announce our sincere regrets for what happened.We also tell the media - and hence the public - that we want citizens to know we don't take what happened lightly.And that we will go after the pair who caused this to happen with the full force of the law.That would be Amyotte and Abdullah, the two men who went back on their promises to testify, ignored warnings from the judge and then casually walked out of court as if nothing happened.I would announce that both men will be charged with everything I could throw at them - obstruction of justice, contempt of court, mischief, whatever.I would then announce that the rash of offences they had been given a free pass on - that would be a string of attacks on Cansanay and another man that likely triggered the retaliatory shooting which Haiart got caught in - would no longer be ignored.And lay a boatload of charges. Both men would be arrested immediately and detained in custody.And I would let the public know just how serious we take these kinds of matters and that people from all walks of life have to know the justice system isn't something that can be played with like a toy.Instead, what have we got so far from our senior leaders? Silence. And inaction.Amyotte and Abdullah, last I checked, haven't been hit with a single charge stemming from this debacle.Mayor Sam Katz didn't want to make any comment on what happened. Winnipeg police declined to respond to the collapsed case.And justice officials have apparently gone into hibernation, as I waited all day Tuesday for a return phone call to no avail.Now maybe they're all planning something big and I'm just guilty of jumping the gun.But I believe the time for action is now. Or more like yesterday. And time is ticking.Surely all these folks couldn't have been happy to wake Tuesday morning to the big front-page Free Press headline."Gangs are running this city" the bold print shouted, a direct quote taken from Haiart's girlfriend.And you know what? It's hard to argue with

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About Mike McIntyre

Journalist, national radio show host, author, pundit and cruise director ... Mike McIntyre loves to keep busy.

Mike is the justice reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press, where he has worked since 1997. He produces and hosts the weekly talk radio show Crime and Punishment, which runs on the Corus Radio Network in several Canadian cities.

Born and bred in Winnipeg, Mike graduated from River East Collegiate and completed his journalism studies in the Creative Communications program at Red River College.

He and his wife, Chassity, have two children.


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