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  • So you want to be a lawyer?

    06/26/2014 10:44 AM

    Admit it: Being a lawyer looks pretty glamorous.

    You're paid well, wield plenty of power, wear fancy business attire, have great hair, eat expensive steaks and get to shout things like "YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH" in court.

    At least, that's the glossy version presented in most television dramas and movies. 

    The reality, of course, is quite a bit different.

    Take Chris Sigurdson, for example. The Winnipeg defence lawyer is one of the hardest-working attorneys out there, doing a lot of the thankless grunt work that rarely makes headlines.

    Sigurdson represents many of the province's least-fortunate, and does a ton of work in remote Manitoba First Nations.

    Naturally, this involves plenty of travel to appear before docket courts held in some of these locales. And we're not talking first-class with those big comfy reclining seats here.

    Sigurdson is also active on social media, and often shares his experiences with followers. (Follow him on Twitter here.)

    His entries could probably land Sigurdson his own weekly reality show.

    Earlier this year, Sigurdson sent out a series of Tweets about how he was flying up north to a remote locale in a snowstorm, made it all the way up there only to be told it was too dangerous to land. So the pilot turned the plane around and headed back to Winnipeg -- only to be told they now couldn't land in the city because of bad weather that had moved in since they took off a few hours earlier.

    Plan C was to go to Portage la Prairie, where they did land -- only to learn they couldn't drive back to Winnipeg because the highways were now closed due to white-out conditions. Sigurdson finally was able to return to the city late that evening when the roads re-opened, but he couldn't exactly kick back and relax. He had to be up first thing the next morning to do it all over again, taking the very same flight up north to work the docket that had been weatheredout.

    But now that winter is behind us and the relatively nice weather has arrived, you'd assume those kinds of travel issues are a thing of the past, right?

    WRONG.

    Check out Sigurdson's latest Adventures In Manitoba Lawyering, courtesy of a series of Tweets he's sent out over the past day:

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  • Why won't the Crown take a shot?

    04/25/2014 1:08 PM

    Wayne Gretzky once said "You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don't take."

    It was a great quote from the Great One, essentially saying it's better to try -- and fail -- than to not try at all.

    Which brings us to the latest controversy within the Manitoba justice system.

    As I wrote about exclusively in Friday's Free Press, a Winnipeg family is angry that no criminal charges are apparently going to be laid in a devastating car crash that killed two loved ones. (Full story HERE)

    The facts of the case are incredibly tragic. A mother and daughter, Jeannie Haug and Brittney Chegus, were out for a leisurely drive together and had their lives suddenly cut short when a much-larger vehicle, reportedly travelling as much as 43 km-h over the speed limit, crossed into their lane and hit them head-on.

    It's truly one of those "It could have happened to anyone" type of stories that should send a chill through all of us. 

    Naturally, the grieving family would like to see those responsible for the two deaths held accountable. 

    Yet here we are, more than seven months later, and NOBODY is facing any kind of charge.

    Ther Crown did previously authorize a Highway Traffic Act offence against the male passenger of the vehicle, accusing him of grabbing the steering wheel just prior to the crash. But that charge was dropped in early April, when the Crown apparently accepted his explanation that he had to take evasive action when his girlfriend, who was driving, dropped something on the floor and bent down to pick it up, thus taking her eyes off the road.

    The family of the two victims have now been told that charges will soon be laid against the female driver. Yet it will apparently only be a Highway Traffic Act offence of careless driving, and not any kind of Criminal Code offence such as dangerous driving. 

    That means all that can be expected here is a simple fine, basically akin to a traffic ticket.  

    (A quick aside: The Free Press will name the driver if/when a charge is actually laid. And we will thorougly follow the case through the courts until its conclusion. I say this only because I've seen some comments online that we're somehow "protecting" her by not naming her. That's incorrect. We're simply not going to publish her name until/unless she's formally charged) 

    Under the Criminal Code, dangerous driving is defined as a "marked departure from the normal standard of care expected of motorists."

    To the family, this seems pretty simple. Driving far in excess of the speed limit, taking your eyes off the road, crossing into the wrong lane of traffic and killing two innocent people would appear, on the surface, to be a "marked departure."

    Sources tell the Free Press that police investigators feel the same way. 

    Clearly, the Crown doesn't see it this way. And they've apparently cited another recent controversial case in Manitoba to try and explain to the family why they won't be pursuing a criminal charge. 

    Brittany Murray, 21, died in October 2010 while employed as a highway flag worker. The driver who struck her, 70-year-old Michael Blostein, was found not guilty last year of dangerous driving causing death.

    Queen's Bench Justice Doug Abra ruled Blostein's conduct didn't represet a "marked departure", even though there was evidence he was going nearly double the speed limit when he killed Murray. (Full story HERE)

    So here's what I'm having trouble understanding.

    The Crown has apparently told the family in this most recent double tragedy that the Murray case is playing a role in the decision not to pursue a criminal charge. Ironically, it was the same prosecutor, Craig Savage, assigned to both cases.

    "It feels like because he didn't win that one, he doesn't even want to try here," Darrel Haug, the brother and uncle of the two victims, told me this week.

    Yet here's the thing: The Crown is actually appealing the Murray decision, saying Abra was wrong in his verdict and didn't correctly apply the law. A date with the Manitoba Court of Appeal is pending. (Full story HERE)

    So why would the Crown use a judgment that they CLEARLY believe was wrong as the grounds for making a decision on this case?

    Furthermore, even if the Crown believed they may have a tough time proving dangerous driving, why wouldn't they at least try rater than settle for a paltry HTA offence? They certainly tried in the Murray case, and despite losing are now fighting for a new trial.

    And they certainly tried in another case that's currently before the courts, where a driver is on trial for dangerous driving for a crash where he was allegedly on his cellphone. My colleague, James Turner, wrote about the issue HERE.

    In fact, I could list dozens and dozens of cases that I've covered over the years where dangerous driving charges were laid. Some ended up as convictions, and yes, some ended up as acquittals. 

    Here are just a few local examples, all from the past two years, where the Crown laid dangerous driving charges:

    *Man charged in fatal highway crash 

    *Ex-student sentenced in rollover that injured six 

    *Driver not guilty in deadly crash on highway 

    *Ex-cop's son gets plea deal for car crash 

    *30 days for deadly inattention 

    *Fatal crash acquittal stuns Crown 

    *Driver spared jail time for killing pedestrian 

    So what's the problem here? The family of the two victims certainly want the Crown to lay a criminal charge, even though they know a conviction might not be a slam-dunk.

    Yes, the Crown has a duty to properly apply the law. But who in their right mind would accuse the Crown of being malicious, or frivolous, if they were to take a chance in these circumstances and lay a criminal charge? 

    As James Turner Tweeted on Friday, the Crown "has an obligation to pursue cases when it's in the public interest and there's a reasonable likelihood of conviction."

    So, given all that we know about this particular case and how they've proceeded in many other instances, why won't they take a shot?

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  • Cleaning out the notebook

    04/17/2014 8:29 AM

    Confession time: I’ve been a bad, bad blogger.

    I suspect (hope???) many of you have clicked on this page, expecting (hoping???) to see something new, only to be disappointed that it’s the same old post from ages ago. Meanwhile, my partner-in-crime, James Turner, is putting me to shame by dazzling you on an almost daily basis with his insight from the justice beat, including THIS incredible piece earlier this week.

    Well, folks, that’s about to change. I’m determined to start putting the "time" back in Mikeoncrime, effective now!

    So let’s get things rolling today with some legal odds and ends that are filling up space in my notebook, and my head.

    ***

    Plenty of courthouse reaction to this week’s launch of the "Cameras in court" pilot project, which went off without a hitch on Wednesday. Senior justice officials were apparently thrilled at the numbers, which included more than 2,000 unique viewers just on the Free Press live stream alone.

    I give my thoughts on the overall presentation, the reaction and where I think things are headed in a column published in Thursday’s paper, which you can view HERE. If for no other reason, read it to see how I incorporated a famous television sound effect into my lead paragraph!

    Not everyone around the Law Courts is smiling, however. I’m hearing from sources that there are more than a few Manitoba judges who are lukewarm to the idea, at best. But it’s clearly going ahead, whether they like it or not.

    Meanwhile, the best line of the week came from a local defence lawyer I chatted with briefly in the halls of the Law Courts Wednesday. He figures Manitoba justice may as well try to make some money of this concept and proposed selling advertising for the robes judges and lawyers wear in court.

    He was joking, of course. But it would be quite the spectacle if judicial attire started resembling that of European hockey sweaters such as THESE, wouldn’t it?

    ***

    A couple updates from this week on fairly high-profile cases in the news.

    Remember the strange tale of the Manitoba woman accused of a bizarre, extortion-scam that targeted a prolific NBA player, among many other U.S-based victims? (Previous story HERE)

    Well, Shelly Lynn Chartier made her latest court appearance on Wednesday in Easterville. Nothing of substance happened, and the case was adjourned until May 14. Chartier remains free on bail. Remember, the wheels of justice move verrrrrrry slowly, especially in a complicated, cross-border case such as this one.

    Meanwhile, the bizarre trial of a Manitoba RCMP officer accused of uttering death threats against a fellow Mountie was back on the docket Wednesday morning. Crown and defence lawyers made closing arguments. (Previous story HERE)

    As expected, defence lawyer Bruce Bonney says his client was just blowing off steam, didn’t really mean what he typed and shouldn’t be found guilty, especially since the so-called threats weren’t even sent to the alleged victim. The Crown, of course, takes a much different view and argued this meets the criteria of a threat under the Criminal Code.

    The judge in the case has reserved a verdict until later this spring, with no specific date set for announcement. It's a pretty unique set of facts, and I'm curious to see how it plays out. Stay tuned.

    ***

    Must say I’m personally thrilled for Cliff and Wilma Derksen, whose long-time vision of a "safe house" for victims of crime is finally coming to fruition.

    My colleague, Dan Lett, wrote extensively about it Thursday, which you can read HERE. Having spent nearly every working day down at the Law Courts since 1999, I can vouch for the fact that is a long-overdue resource.

    As many of you know, the Derksen’s hold a special place in my heart. I wrote about the awful abduction and murder of their 13-year-old daughter in my most-recent true crime book, "Journey For Justice: How Project Angel Cracked The Candace Derksen Case", which was published in 2011.

    Seemingly every time I chat with Cliff, Wilma and their extended family and network of friends, I come away more impressed than ever. They are truly incredible people, among the most courageous and stoic I’ve ever met. They’ve had to face down the worst society has to offer, yet continue to work tirelessly towards making this community a better place.

    And now their dream is about to become a reality.

    ***

    And speaking of books.

    I often get asked if/when I’m going to write another one.

    Well, I can finally provide an answer.

    Mike On Crime: True Tales Of Law & Disorder is set for release later this fall. Once again, it will be published by the fine folks at Great Plains Publications.

    This one will be a bit different from my previous five true crime books. Rather than focus on just one story, I’m putting together a collection of shorter pieces on some of the most notorious, memorable cases I’ve covered during a career that began in 1995.

    It’s been quite the trip down memory lane going through thousands of bylines over nearly 20 years, but I’ve come up with a list of a dozen cases which will be featured in the paperbook book.

    More details about the content, release date, signings, etc, will be available down the road.

    ***

    Got a question? News tip? Story idea? Email me direct at mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca. 

    And if you're not already doing so, don't forget to follow me at www.twitter.com/mikeoncrime 

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  • Was "evil rapist" doomed by circumstances?

    06/13/2013 12:36 PM

    Grave. Serious. Vulgar. Horrific.

    Those are just a few of the terms used by a judge to describe a random attack that saw a troubled Winnipeg teen break into a Fort Richmond home, confront the young female resident and then brutally sexually assault her as she pleaded for mercy.

    It was, without a doubt, one of the more chilling crime cases I've covered in my 18 years.

    On Wednesday, Judge Ray Wyant decided an adult sentence was needed for the youth to reflect the brutality of the crime. He concluded provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act are not sufficient to properly condemn what happened and protect society from the accused.

    It was a remarkable sentencing process, one which isn't done yet. Lawyers will return to court later this year to make final submissions on their proposed length of what will now be a penitentiary sentence. The Crown wants a double-digit term, which may represent the longest sentence ever given to a Manitoba youth for a non-homicide.

    This sentencing actually began last fall and continued sporadically over the past nine months as Wyant requested more and more information and Crown and defence lawyers provided further reports and evidence.

    Much of it was designed to learn what made this young man tick.

    We learned plenty about him: how he lived, as Wyant put it, a "lifestyle of anti-social values and attitudes"; how he has admitted gang ties, severe alcohol and drug issues, lives with attention deficit disorder and, likely, fetal alcohol syndrome; how he went through a traumatic childhood which included being made a permanent CFS ward as a child and placed in foster care; and how he continues to raise hell even while behind bars.

    None of this, of course, is designed to make anyone forgive or forget the terrible crime he committed. It was savage and senseless, and he must be punished severely.

    But attempting to gain a better understanding of the root causes of his abhorrent behavior is important to finding a potential treatment plan that will, hopefully, reduce his risk to society for the eventual day when he is released from custody. 

    It is far too easy to simply say this young man is "pure evil" and think nothing more of it. I'd like to think everyone is born with a fighting chance in life, but many — either through their own actions, the actions of others or a combination of both — eventually find themselves down for the count.

    And so I share with you a very revealing email I've just received from a woman who knows this offender well — who had a front-row seat to his upbringing and shares some very alarming details about what she observed.

    The only editing done to her note is to remove the name of the accused, as that can't be made public until his adult sentence is formally imposed.

    ---

    "Mike,

    "It's difficult to find the right adjectives to describe this brutal attack," says Judge Ray Wyant. What he should have said was "Its difficult to find the right adjectives to describe the way this child was brought into this world and raised"

    (The accused) lived across the street from me. I got to know him and sympathized with him as he has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He was in a foster home. In all the years he was there, not once did I ever see any of the foster family play ball, go for walks, or interact in any way with any of the children she had. When it came time for family gatherings, (the accused and three foster siblings) were sent out for respite. Boy, did they feel wanted or loved? Never. So lets ask the Judge, how in the hell is he supposed to feel? Humans destroyed him before he was born. There is no help for kids like him. You cannot possibly think that any program was going to help him. It would be like buying a bag of apples and finding one bad one in the bag and putting it on your counter and think its going to be OK, well news flash, it will just become more rotten. Its hopeless. He did make lots of money for the government though. Lots of useless programs employ lots of useless people who in turn pay taxes.

    Was it his fault? Nope, was it his parents fault? Nope. Was it gramma and grampas fault, possibly. They should have shot the people who took gramma and grampa away and sent them to residential schools. Yup, that’s where it all started. The natives were jailed if they tried to raise their kids other than the white man way. It was something the Indians knew nothing about and the way they were raising them was fine.

    After so many of them were murdered, raped, secluded, beaten, of course would you not turn to alcohol? They had their identities stolen, the same way my mother did. She was a lousy mother, but it was not till now that I understand why. Finding my relatives including my mothers brothers, they told me horror stories of what happened to my mom and my aunt in the residential schools not to mention what happened to them. They would sodomize the boys. Pretty sad eh? This is what the government ordered.

    Now we have to live with the consequences. (The accused) paid dearly for being born. As did his brothers and sisters who are all FAS. They will pay for what happened to their families. They say he showed no remorse, would you if this happened to your family? I would like to ask Wyant that question. I most certainly do not condone what (the accused) did in any way, my feelings go out to the lady. But with what the government did to (the accused's) family? Judge Wyant should know what goes around comes around and now the off spring of the residential school survivors, if you want to call them survivors, is here.

    Yes I had (the accused) in my home many times. Actually he was here that same year. Waiting for his foster mother to come home and let him in. I always told him he could wait at my house. He was always polite to me, he talked, little but we had conversations. My son felt sorry for him as well, and (the accused) would always visit with him and watch him when he was rebuilding a motor or whatever in the garage. Something no one ever did with him. He was an outcast in school, bullied, only the bad kids would hand out with him. That’s how he got into drugs.

    Mike, although I believe (the accused) would never be better, no one showed that kid love at all. He was a wage for the lady across the street. That’s all. Sad Eh? All the kids she had ended up in jail. (The foster mother) was pregnant at 13, kept the baby, then gave it up for adoption, and had another boy and kept him.

    These FAS children are doomed. There is no way to heal them. Its so unfortunate. The people who created his family situation should be hung. But I am guessing by now they died thinking they did the right thing with the residential schools. So now the government is paying dearly for their mistakes. They will be paying for many many years to come."

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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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