The Crime Scene
with James Turner
11/27/2013 6:32 PM
Unlike others in his unenviable position, Terryl Izzard — a young man with a lot of potential — has a choice to make.
And I'm hoping he makes the right one. But whether he will, there's no guarantees.
But the very fact he has a choice to make puts him in a better position than 95 per cent of the people he's currently surrounded by.
Recruited into the Mad Cowz street gang as a street-level crack slinger, Izzard's learning for the first time what it is to be "used" by his higher-level associates.
He took virtually all the risk by doing dial-a-dealer hand-to-hands behind homes in the West End.
His higher-ups took virtually all the profit. But now it's him paying the price with the loss of his freedom.
And, unsurprisingly, none of his higher-ups showed up to post for his bail [he didn't get bail after being picked up in a police sting on the gang earlier this year] or to support him at his sentencing this week.
Izzard was handed two years — a pen shot — for his first ever adult convictions for drug trafficking this week. He was lucky. Prosecutors wanted more than that.
I admit at first, I assumed Izzard was just another atypical Mad Cowz member, similar to so many I've seen come and go over the years. A younger, yet intelligent, person quite happy to thumb his nose at the law.
In late April, when city police announced they had arrested nine Mad Cowz members young and old following a classic "buy-bust" undercover sting, it was Izzard who remained outstanding and wanted.
Cops put out his mug shot in an effort to find him.
As an apparent lark, he quickly posted the mug to an online social media profile.
"Mug shot!," one pal of his posted underneath it.
"Did you get scooped (arrested)?"
"Nope," Izzard simply replied.
Too cute by far, I thought, when I saw this.
Not long after, about a day or so, police put out a notice saying he had been located and taken into custody "without incident" in the downtown area. The final of 10 suspects in Project Recall had been captured.
Well, turns out, it was Izzard's mom that outed him. "I personally called the police officer to come and get him," she told Judge Ray Wyant.
See, here's the thing: Izzard may or may not see it, but his family actually gives a damn about him.
And he may or may not see how lucky he is because of that.
"This is not how I wanted him to start his adult life," the mother told Wyant.
She admitted being surprised at the number of charges her son faced — she thought there were fewer, or maybe the reality of the situation had been downplayed to her.
"This is more serious than I thought," she said.
Wyant was told there's a "structured plan" in place for Izzard for when he gets out of the joint — likely on full parole after serving 1/3 of his sentence, so perhaps in about 3-4 months time.
There's a waiting move to a different city and a job with a relative who's established there waiting for him — if he chooses to take it, to divorce himself of his self-admitted gang ties and life as a "disposable" associate of the Mad Cowz.
It would be the equivalent of something akin to a fresh start, an option something few people at Stony Mountain get, and something I'm fairly sure many would take if offered the chance.
But will he take it? I have to admit I was left in doubt after listening to his reluctant exchange with Wyant.
"Don't tell me you got nothing to say," Wyant asked a virtually mute Izzard, who answered to his plea inquiries with terse "Yup"s.
"How do you feel about going to jail?" the judge asked.
"I guess I gotta do it," said Izzard.
"So what's the future? Are you ready to go to [new city] and get out of the gang?"
"Yeah," Izzard said, his voice barely, barely audible.
"Where do you see yourself five years from now?"
"I don't know. Probably working with my [relative]," Izzard said, sounding somewhat unsure.
"Hope so too. Where's he working, do you know?"
"Inside [the new city] or outside?"
Izzard's mom steps in to answer that: "He's outside of [the city] in [another suburb]."
"I suspect you're not going to want to listen to anything I have to say," Wyant tells Izzard.
"You'll live your life, and it will be what it is. I have to tell you it's always tough seeing someone 18 years of age being in jail, going to jail. I don't think that's where you should be," Wyant said, adding he hoped Izzard took advantage of the fact he's got people pulling for him, willing to help him out.
"But if you don't, I fear for your future," Wyant said. "You know the score enough to know what's going on... you know what the score is."
The hearing ended soon after, and Izzard's travails with the court system, at least for now, have come to an end.
But will he take the opportunity to go straight when he eventually walks free?
Stay tuned, I guess. I still have hope we'll never see Izzard again.
11/25/2013 4:31 PM
One could be excused for thinking that Manitoba's courtrooms of Manitoba are dry, boring and placid places where the pretence is that a higher sensibility is always engaged. Often it is, to be frank.
But observers have obviously never been to the Court of Queen's Bench Family Division's "uncontested motions list" courtroom — where it appears it's a bit of a boisterous and untameable wild west, a place of "chaos" where "things are done on the fly."
And that's not cool any longer, as Justice Marianne Rivoalen bluntly lays out in a recent published decision that puts the conduct of lawyers and others appearing in this bustling venue on blast.
It's rare, perhaps extremely so, for a judge to chide lawyers over their conduct.
But you have to wake up and pay due attention when a QB judge publishes a written decision deriding family court lawyers for showing a "serious lack of professionalism," who even, at times, engaging in "locker room" behaviour while seemingly at work inside a court of law.
But that's exactly what Justice Rivoalen has done, likely out of frustration in dealing with a case where the atmosphere of the room where uncontested family motions take place played a major role in how it became somewhat botched.
The UCML happens every Tuesday at 9 p.m., and its docket frequently sees more than 100 items to be dealt with. A motions co-ordinator (an administrative staffer) triages the docket and refers matters as needed to two standby judges and a master as needed. (These facts are cited by Rivoalen in a Nov. 14 written decision I came across today).
The matters the administrator is unable to deal with — remember it's supposed to be an "uncontested" list — are to be parcelled out to the judges and master to deal with.
As Rivoalen notes, the judge doesn't get the case file until it's been triaged to him/her, so they're likely unfamiliar with the file when they get it. It's the same for the standby masters, as well, she notes — but they deal with slightly different issues, often procedural.
"Things are done on the fly," Rivoalen says, adding as almost a sidebar that there's a clear distinction not being followed as to what should go before a master and what should go before a judge.
"Still, lawyers sometimes circumvent this procedural directive. That must stop. This is a reminder to counsel. Lawyers who ignore this may find their time wasted and that the consequences of their efforts sound in costs when requested by counsel who oppose the circumvention of this directive," Rivoalen writes.
In other words: Do an end run around the rules, and face the prospect of a bill down the road.
But there's bigger issues, she suggests.
And they arrive from the seeming chaos that unfolds in the UCML courtroom.
Rivoalen refers to the number of resources (the beleaguered motions co-ordinator, sheriffs, courts administrators, clerks, etc.) which are "fully engaged" in seeing that this busy weekly docket get dealt with.
The convention, she says, is that motions allocated to the standby judges are expected to be dealt with and disposed of in no more than five minutes.
But trying to create order out of "chaos" — Rivoalen's word — has devolved the state of affairs to the point that the forum is derisively dubbed "the zoo" by court staff and lawyers.
I'll let her take it from here. I was actually kind of surprised at how blunt Rivoalen is in her assessment. She's obviously unhappy at how things are playing out.
"There is reason for their ridicule. Many lawyers in the courtroom waiting to speak to their matters use their time to socialize. They chat away and catch up with their colleagues. Insufficient respect is shown to the Family Motions Coordinator, who is not vested with the authority to order costs or pronounce contempt orders.
Decorum goes out the window. Not infrequently noise levels are so high that he or she has difficulty conducting the docket properly. To make matters worse, the courtroom is often overflowing with lawyers, their clients and a large contingent of self-represented parties. Finally, the high-conflict nature of many matters on the List contributes further to its degradation because lawyers and parties are not always at their best under these conditions.
What flows from the foregoing is too often a serious lack of professionalism. Recently there were reports of locker-room behavior occurring in the courtroom while the List was being conducted. The scene overall has done little to protect the List from falling into disarray and disrepute. This reflects poorly on the lawyers who appear on the List and on the Family Division across the board.
Consequently, changes need to be made.
It was recently decided, for example, that the List would be monitored so that a digital recording of the proceedings could be accessed when necessary. Moreover, the List itself will be undergoing substantive changes. Within weeks of this decision's release, litigants who are applying to set aside or revoke protection orders, the majority of whom are self-represented, will no longer be appearing on the List (ed note: this appears to have happened post-haste).
A separate list will be established for their purposes. Other procedural changes are now under consideration to redress the situation further."
[EDIT 26/11/2-13: Fixes largely incomprehensible lead paragraph].
11/21/2013 9:56 PM
Believe it or not, trust is a central component involved when it comes to how the Correctional Service of Canada polices often gravely-risky offenders who are hard-core enough to earn a Long Term Supervision Order meant to keep them in check once they're released from prison back into public life.
Many names of those labouring under LTSO's should ring familiar to many Manitobans.
One needs only a quick review of their cases to realize there's a good reason why these offenders are placed on decade-long supervision orders.
But how well are they supervised and are we doing enough to support the community parole officers charged with this important public duty?
The jury is out on this as far as I'm concerned.
I base my opinion on testimony from a 30-year CSC parole officer called to court this week to testify at a dangerous offender hearing for a 49-year-old man accused of some of the most ghastly sex-related crimes I know I've ever encountered.
But setting aside the horrific facts of that case, the officer provided a window into a usually opaque world that is corrections and the work the CSC and the Parole Board of Canada does.
It may be best to start at the fundamental principle the CSC works under, as stated by a court expert on CSC process and procedure.
"Public safety is paramount and we believe that the absolute best is a gradual release to the community. So that an individual begins his sentence inside the institution and continues to serve his sentence, for instance, on day parole, at a halfway house in the community. We're there to assist the individuals and support the individuals to become law-abiding citizens," Jeannette Acheson told Justice Brenda Keyser.
Now, it's important also at the outset to remember that the CSC doesn't make decisions regarding the release of offenders. They develop case plans for them and forward on recommendations to members of the Parole Board of Canada, who are "the deciders" when it comes to releases and what conditions to impose, according to Acheson.
But let's say a person slapped with an LTSO is ordered by the parole board to be released or because their sentence has fully expired, and are freed with a special condition to reside at a community corrections centre. According to her testimony, Acheson said 63 per cent of LTSO offenders have a residency clause imposed on them by the parole board.
Why the clause is imposed, one must note, is because there's a perceived risk the LTSO offender may commit a "schedule 1" offence, namely: a violent offence that could result in serious harm (including serious psychological harm) or death, a sexual offence against a child or a serious drug offence.
Court heard much about Winnipeg's Osborne Community Correctional Centre on Main Street, which is a CSC-run facility of 40 beds, an in-house psychologist to which offenders have "liberal access" and surveillance cameras in all common areas.
The Osborne centre is different from halfway houses which are contracted by the CSC to provide services and are often located near parks or playgrounds, so they don't accept sex offenders and typically don't house violent offenders. The contracted facilities also take provincial inmates serving parole [because there is such a thing as provincial parole]. Often it's the high-risk sex offenders under LTSOs who are living there.
The following bullets are presented in no particular order.
- Judges can ask for certain conditions to be imposed on LTSO offenders, but they're not binding for either the CSC's recommendations or Parole Board decisions.
- The "general" offender can expect to report four times a month face-to-face with their parole officer; it can go up, depending on their "risk and needs."
- If the Parole Board imposes a "must reside at" or other special condition, the CSC is mandated, without exception, to write to the board every 180 days whether the condition should be removed. An LTSO offender who's not on parole [because the LTSO doesn't kick in until sentences run out completely] and who has a special condition imposed also are subject to this 180-day rule. That's a lot of paperwork.
- There are no "guards" per se at the Osborne centre. Commissionaires are posted at the door to note comings and goings. It's the commissionaires who also dispense medications and note whether an offender has taken them. The medications are kept in a safe in their office.
- From Monday to Friday, there are up to four Probation Officers and an area director on site from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or so. After that, it falls to a national monitoring centre in Ottawa to issue warrants of apprehension or suspension for an offender who breaches. There are no probation officers present on weekends.
- There is one probation officer to nine offenders at the centre. This means there's significant "practical limitations" when it comes to monitoring the offenders when they leave the centre. "We do our best to supervise, but a lot of times we have to trust what they're telling us," Acheson said. There is no 24-hour supervision. "It's not practical. It's not enforceable. It's not possible," she said. The parole officers depend on community collaterals to call to report any suspected breaches. Say, if for example, they see an offender on the provincial sex-offender's notification site and see that person lingering near a park. Trust is a major component. "We don't have 24-hour supervision available. So most times we rely on our relationship with them and being open and honest with them."
- Offenders can leave the centre at 7 a.m., after letting staff know where they're going. They must also generally check in between 4-6 p.m., but can leave again up until the final curfew. After curfew, they can get in, but have to sign out to leave.
- An offender first arriving at the centre can expect to have a 9 p.m. curfew for the first nine days; after that it's raised to 10 p.m. It can also be raised on the weekends, to midnight. It's up to the parole officer to set curfews.
- Searches of property are not done by random, but are conducted at regular intervals not disclosed to the offender.
- Some Osborne offenders can have computers in their rooms.
- The doors to the centre do not lock. Offenders know they have to just push on the doors to get them to open. It's a security thing. If an offender really wants to leave, you don't want to jeopardize the safety of staff by forcing them to stay. If an offender is, say, bound by a curfew, and leaves after that, police aren't immediately called. Instead, the above-mentioned national monitoring centre is called, and they're the ones who notify police etc. A report will be written up the next day.
- Offenders receive $10 a day to purchase all of their food, transportation and other items — assuming they're not working and have no other income.
- Corrections and parole officials cannot compel an offender to take a certain medication, like a sex offender to take a sex-drive reduction drug. Instead, the parole board can impose a condition telling the offender to "abide by a medication regime as prescribed by a clinician." This can get sticky because the parole officer has no authority to compel a doctor or an offender to discuss their medical treatment. They can request consent, but if they don't get it, the matter essentially ends there.
- Parole officers can issue a warrant to suspend parole or apprehend an offender on three specific grounds: to protect society, to prevent a breach, or because of a breach. The warrants have a maximum time limit of 90 days. So, if an offender is nabbed on one, the Crown must take action, or the parole board must recommend to the Crown they lay a charge in that timeframe. Otherwise, the clock's out — as is the offender.
- If an LTSO offender is charged with a breach of that order and detained for prosecution, their LTSO continues to run until the date they're sentenced (the innocent-until-proven-guilty principle). This fact drew an audible "hm" from Justice Keyser, for good reason. The supervisory order is meant for public supervision, not when an offender is safely locked in custody. That said, the overwhelming opinion was that offenders don't want to be detained, so the impact on the efficacy of the LTS orders may not be all that dramatic. Once the offender is sentenced to further time in custody, then the clock stops ticking. It won't click in again until the sentence fully expires, meaning offenders on LTSOs who are granted parole aren't technically subject to their LTSO conditions, unless the parole board imposes same as part of their parole conditions. Confusing much?
- Offenders declared dangerous offenders — the worst of the worst criminals, really — become eligible (it's an ask, not a right) for day parole at four years from the date of their arrest, and full parole at seven years from their arrest anniversary. They're then reviewed every two years after that point. The two-year review is mandatory.
Acheson had interesting things to say about the differences between dangerous offenders and LTSOs.
"The dangerous offender knows that he has to work for his release. He knows that if he gets suspended and that a warrant is issued for his arrest, he knows that he's going to have to make significant gains and progress prior to getting released back to the community.
"The LTSO, on the other hand... he gets released regardless of risk, regardless of whether his risk is manageable or not."
- Acheson said she and her boss discussed it and since 1997, all but one LTSO that's gone through Osborne centre has not breached conditions.
- Only four percent of all Canadian federal inmates (those handed sentences of more than two years), give or take, serve out their full sentences. The rest are granted parole or statutory release [mandatory for most offenders at the time they've served 2/3rds of their terms].
- That said, 55 per cent of offenders who are handed long-term supervision orders by the courts serve out their full prison terms.
Think about that, then re-read the above on their community supervision.
11/19/2013 1:40 PM
The equation is simple.
No evidence = no case. No case = no conviction.
So it's curious to me to see so much angst and questioning of the plea deal and joint-recommendation that saw a double killer sentenced to 20 years without a chance at parole for at least nine (3,285 days) for the killings of Carolyn Sinclair and Lorna Blacksmith. Not to mention he's already been in for about 18 months.
We should be sending thank-you cards to the Manitoba Prosecution Service for the deal they were able to reach and secure with defence lawyer Martin Glazer in the Shawn Lamb case, which puts Lamb behind bars for a very long time.
In fact, it was said many times in court Lamb could die in jail before he gets out.
Instead, there's now wide-spread criticism of a very good deal. And a profound lack of understanding, apparently, about the plea bargaining process, how it works and how our justice system would grind to a halt without it.
Instead of haranguing you further, I simply present senior Crown attorney Sheila Leinburd's fantastic and frank explanation in court regarding the plea deal, why it was arrived at, and what the alternative really was. (The facts of the case are here).
Usually, explanations of the how and why of plea arrangements aren't nearly as comprehensive.
For the record:
"It is clear upon perusal of all the facts before the court, this investigation was inherently both challenging and difficult for the City of Winnipeg police department.
Despite the best efforts and lengthy investigation of the Winnipeg Police Service, there is very limited evidence available to the Crown.
There are no witnesses to these two homicides. There was extremely limited forensic evidence.
And given the passage of time prior to the discovery of the bodies and the consequent deterioration of the bodies due to the exposure to the elements, there were limited medical findings in each of the autopsy reports - to the point in the instance of the death of Lorna Blacksmith there was no determined cause of death.
Consequently, the description of the killing of both of these women is left to be taken exclusively from the accused's own statement.
The conviction of Shawn Lamb therefore rests solely on his statements to the police, and on the admissibility into evidence of those statements.
Were there to be a voir dire on the admissibility of Lamb's statements, uncertainty existed as to whether or not the statements would, in fact, be ruled admissible by the court.
There are persuasive arguments that can be made on the part of the Crown as to the admissibility of these statements.
Equally, there are compelling arguments that can be made by the defence to the exclusion of the statements.
Consequently, and after careful examination of this exigency by the Crown, the admission into evidence of these three inculpatory statements which are necessary for the conviction of the accused, cannot be reasonably assured.
It is fair to state that in this particular case there can be no real certainty as to the admission of the accused's statement. It is equally fairly stated - but for the admission of the accused's statement into evidence, that the Crown's case would fail.
Given the lack of any other available evidence to the Crown, the significance of the potential exclusion of the accused's statement from evidence takes on additional weight.
In fact, its potential for exclusion - in fact, likely exclusion - takes on critical significance in terms of management of the prosecution.
Justice Rick Saull: You said, 'Likely exclusion?'
Leinburd: Yes. And I say reasonably, likely it would have been excluded. There was a real possibility to that.
Consequently, the evidentiary exigencies in this particular case are such that were the statements to be ruled inadmissible that there would have been little, if any likelihood of the prospect of holding Shawn Lamb responsible for the deaths of either Lorna Blacksmith or Carolyn Sinclair.
There would be no accountability on the part of the accused for those tragic events, nor would there be certainty for two affected families or the public at large.
In return for those exigencies in the evidence, the accused has given up his right to a trial. He has entered guilty pleas to two counts of manslaughter in exchange for consideration.
This consideration has taken the form of a reduction of the original charges from murder to manslaughter and the sexual assault allegations currently before the provincial court will not proceed.
These resolution discussions were the result of lengthy, methodical, comprehensive and scrupulous consideration by both the Crown and defence counsel.
Rather than expose both of these two tragically impacted families and the public at large to the risk that Shawn Lamb may walk free ... it is the Crown and defence counsel's considered opinion that this is in fact the quintessential instance of a true quid pro quo."
[EDIT 23/11/2013 — CORRECTS TYPOS]
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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