The Crime Scene
with James Turner
07/23/2014 8:41 PM
Bail — or specifically, how it's granted, revoked and supervised — has been quite the topic today.
Civil rights advocates came out this morning swinging, saying the Canadian courts' system of bail is broken and needs immediate repair — as some accused people are being held behind bars needlessly and injustly waiting for their day in court.
[The Canadian Civil Liberties Association's "Set up to fail" report can be found here. A worthwhile read.]
But back inside the courtroom, younger criminal defence lawyers are fighting their own battles just to get their clients a reasonable shot at release — something all accused people are entitled to — in the first place.
It's not an easy task, regardless of what the general public might think.
Bail hearings happen, generally speaking, in a rapid-fire courtroom setting where the smallest inattention to detail by counsel can result in a person spending years in custody waiting to deal with their charges.
As I noted on Twitter the other day — one provincial court judge was staring down the task of dealing with 55 different matters on one single bail docket for a single day.
That kind of staggering volume puts pressure on the court to make rapid-fire risk-management decisions, pressure on the Crown to present their opposition to bail in an abbreviated, hurried fashion, and pressure on the defence to get on with things, to keep the flow of the courtroom moving along.
That kind of atmosphere isn't good for justice and it's certainly not good for public confidence in the system overall.
But at the end of the day, competent, enaged advocates must do what they can to present the best possible case for their clients, regardless of external pressures.
But how to make that case in the most persuasive way given the systemic pressures? What's a young or inexperienced lawyer to do?
Enter Martin Glazer, a veteran city defence lawyer who has already tried and forgotten about more major cases he's fought than younger lawyers likely may ever handle over their entire careers.
Though the Manitoba Law Journal, Glazer presents what appears to me to be a quasi handbook for defence lawyers on bails and how to conduct the hearings, what points to hammer home to the court depending on the presenting circumstances of a case.
It's a fascinating, insider look at how a lawyer's mind works. And should be required reading for not just other lawyers, but also anyone in the public who wants to see how things actually work in a bail court.
Presented in full below, again, originally posted by the Manitoba Law Journal
06/6/2014 3:40 PM
If there's a regret I have in my career to date, not being able to say goodbye in person to Ted Hughes at the conclusion of the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry would rank among the top of them.
Over the months [perhaps years] of covering the hearings and resulting court cases that sprung out of it, I came to truly respect Mr. Hughes from a necessary professional distance.
He struck me just as a truly decent person, and that's meaningful to me.
Regardless of what anyone thinks of his mammoth Phoenix inquest report and resulting recommendations, I believe he's a man who truly cares about child welfare, children in general and has solid ideas that could allow us to do better.
Not just the governments of the day, the CFS agencies involved or other quasi-political actors.
Hughes' recommendations affect and involve all of us, as a community.
And the truly sad irony of it all is that if we all came to the table ready to make an honest effort to mend our fences and get on with what needs to be done, we'd have a vastly fairer and safer society to take pride in.
Maybe not today, tomorrow or in five years — but certainly in 20 or 30.
From my vantage point, of seeing some of the most tragic cases (largely adults and youths from the child-welfare system that 'graduated' into the black hole of the criminal justice system), it's wearying and yes, a little frightening at times to look down the road.
That's not to say that good work isn't being done. It is. But the workload is immense, complex and expensive.
Politics also gets in the way of repairing the social fabric, which should trump all else for elected officials of all stripes.
At least in my opinion.
But that's not the point of this post. My point is that Hughes, despite being an older gentleman who could be out gardening, hanging out with his amazing wife or just relaxing and taking pride in his life's accomplishments, isn't done his work.
Thursday, he gave a speech in his home province of British Columbia which all Canadians should read. It partially relays some of his experiences presiding over the Phoenix inquiry and the recommendations he made, so it has local impact.
What I took away from the speech are three things. One, the crisis of aboriginal children being vastly over-represented in child-welfare (and not just in Manitoba) is a big red flag, not just a piece of data among so many others.
It truly is, as Hughes bluntly puts, "a national embarrasment" for a country such as ours.
Second, Hughes makes a bang-on correlation between missing and murdered aboriginal women (and the "unacceptable" risks of violence aboriginal women face) and the child-welfare system.
It's important to remember that so many aboriginal kids get taken into care not because of abuse, but because of "neglect" — that their basic needs aren't being met (perhaps can't be met is better) by their caregivers.
That says something real about where we're truly at as a society.
"It is my belief that the unacceptable risk of violence that Aboriginal women and girls face is attributable to the same factors that I have earlier suggested explain the disproportionality with respect to Aboriginal representation in the child welfare system and the other sectors of our society that I have identified," Hughes said in his speech.
Third, Hughes rightly points out that Manitoba, through the provincial government, must take a serious leadership role in solving the seemingly intractable national political issues that thwart real progress (issues too large in scope for a post like this).
I believe this can happen, and that Premier Greg Selinger will follow Hughes's recommendation from the Phoenix inquiry that he put the "severity and seriousness" of aboriginal overrepresentation in child welfare on the national stage at a meeting of provincial and territorial leaders later this year.
I obtained a copy of the entire speech. After reading it, I thought it was important to put it on the record for all to read in full should they choose to.
I make no further comment on it than this: Ignoring Ted Hughes and his implied and explicit warnings has major consequences for us as Canadians.
Heeding his advice could be the smartest thing Canada ever did.
05/17/2014 12:17 PM
Remind me: What's the road to heck paved with again?
And it's this, dear reader, that's the sad reality/fallout from the latest Winnipeg story about police officers, tickets and the discretion they're entitled to use when doling them out to the citizenry. There've been a few of late. (here, and here, for examples.)
Currently, local (and even not so local) social media is in a bit of a froth over an interaction a group of males had with general patrol officers near Portage Place mall on Portage Avenue. It was Wednesday, around 11 a.m., if the documentation is correct.
As I can tell from online and some news reports, the story goes like this: The group is walking side-by-side down the sidewalk when all of a sudden, officers appear and hand one of them a ticket under the Highway Traffic Act for walking more than two abreast — s. 143(2).
(Picture, sourced from Facebook, of said ticket is attached to this report).
Keeping left and walking two abreast
143(2) Any pedestrian proceeding along a highway where no sidewalk is provided or where the sidewalk is not passable, shall walk as closely as is practicable to
(a) the left-hand edge of the roadway or of the shoulder, as the case may be; or
(b) any person who may be walking on his left side;
but persons walking on a roadway shall not walk more than two abreast.
Now, a reading of this HTA section shows that the ticket handed out was bound to go nowhere in court.
But in any event, a friend of the ticket-bearer raises a stink, calling it a "cheap and cheesey (sic) way to fill quota and make money!!!"
The Facebook post is widely shared, and picked up by at least one mainstream media outlet.
Police responded to them by saying the wrong offence was cited and a new ticket was issued.
They wouldn't say what the new offence was.
Their response captured my interest, so I made a few quiet inquiries with sources.
And as it turns out, they say there's a lot missing from the story.
Yes, general patrol officers approached the group as they walked down the street.
However, just before this, one of them had been spotted with a can of beer in his hand.
Eye contact was made between the can-holder and police, and a surreptitious effort to stash the can and move on was made, according to my sources.
A discussion was had, and an initial denial about having the beer was made, my sources tell me.
Then came an admission and an apology to the officer for the fib, I'm told.
The officer considered writing an appropriate ticket under the relatively new Liquor and Gaming Control Act.
No consumption in public place
57(1) Except as permitted under this Act, a person must not consume liquor in a public place.
This is a class "H" offence in Manitoba's Brown Book, meaning the fine is a hefty $673.75.
The officers clearly felt some compassion for the guy because of the sticker shock, and elected to use their discretion to find a lesser offence that provided a penalty in line with the true nature and character of the infraction, my sources say.
That wound up being the HTA 143(2) offence, a class "A" category (the lowest) in the Brown Book - totalling $113.10. (I won't harp on about the legal chances of the tag sticking in court).
And that was that - at least until the social media/media-fuelled backlash began.
After a review of the situation, the original ticket was ripped up and the more expensive (and appropriate) one handed out in its place, I'm told.
There are a few things at play here that bug me, but I'll simply list two for now.
We expect police to *police* our downtown. When they're perceived to not be doing this, we're generally quick to point fingers.
Clearly, one of the problems that's plagued the area and its safety is open liquor and people being drunk in public.
So, here we have police proactively addressing the situation while trying to use some compassion about it. And it all blows up on them.
The officers are made to look like the bad guys, the quota-hungry, feckless ticket-mongers. Yet, clearly, that's not the case here in light of all the circumstances, not just the ones people conveniently pick and choose to disclose.
The other issue I have is that now, there are two officers on the force who may be forever disinclined to use their discretion as the situation sees fit.
And that's not cool, because that discretion is a necessary part of police work.
In fact, it could lead now to citizens seeing them exactly as they've been falsely portrayed.
And that's just a shame.
[EDIT: SUNDAY, 18/05/2014 — fixes grammar]
05/15/2014 8:14 PM
Over the past few days, I've been doing my level best to stay on top of the Vann Hansell trial in the Court of Queen's Bench.
This is no small case.
It's ugly and, yes, heart-wrenching at times to take it in. But it's an important matter worthy of attention.
Mr. Hansell is 22 years old today. I won't drag out the allegations: He's accused of being behind the wheel of his truck and texting while impaired, leading to a crash on Duglad Road that killed Mark Derry, 53. He's presumed innocent.
I write this today simply to say that if there's a bright spot in the pall of this tragic case, it's been the number of high-school-aged youth coming into the courtroom and taking in at least part of the trial.
I couldn't imagine a better demographic for the public gallery in this specific instance.
Setting aside the issues of 'distracted driving' (and impaired driving) at the heart of the case, I hope these younger people got a good look at Mr. Hansell as he sits in the prisoner's dock in his suit, taking in the evidence.
If there was a sadder, more ashen-looking person in the room I've yet to see them come by.
Mr. Derry's wife has been dutifully sitting in the case each and every day now, and my heart goes out to her. It must be hell to sit through the hearings.
But, I confess, I have a large chunk of compassion for the accused, as well.
Not necessarily because he's charged with a crime that could — could — result in major consequences for his future, but because looking at him is a reminder to me of what it was like to be 20 and feeling invincible.
Because that could have been me sitting in that box. It's really only just sheer luck that it's not.
And I write this short post just to recognize that. I hope the younger people attending the trial might see that too.
In a perfect world, this trial would have been broadcast to all Manitoba high schools.
Not just because of the subject matter, but also because it's an opportunity to get younger citizens engaged in the Canadian court process — to show what it is, how it works, and why it's so important in our society.
About James Turner
James Turner rejoined the Free Press as a justice-beat reporter in August 2013 after a number of years away working at other media outlets, including the Winnipeg Sun and CBC Manitoba.
A reporter in Winnipeg since 2005, he got his first taste of the justice beat as a former Free Press intern, then as the newspaper's police reporter from 2008-09.
Among the topics he's eager to cover are youth crime, street gangs, child-welfare and how the mental health and justice systems intersect.
An avid blogger and early adopter of Twitter, James (@heyjturner) loves to write long, much to the frustration of his editors.
He despises animal cruelty. He loves 80s music and his tubby labrador retriever.
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