RCMP criticized for actions in 2003 slaying probe

Arresting a suspect in a 16-year-old homicide, only to release him with no charge being laid — while telling the victim’s family and the public about it — is a black mark against the RCMP, a Winnipeg ethicist says.

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This article was published 11/03/2020 (1052 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Arresting a suspect in a 16-year-old homicide, only to release him with no charge being laid — while telling the victim’s family and the public about it — is a black mark against the RCMP, a Winnipeg ethicist says.

University of Manitoba Prof. Arthur Schafer, founding director of the institution’s Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, said he doesn’t understand why the RCMP would announce the arrest of the male suspect on Saturday if they didn’t have enough evidence to charge him.

On Monday, RCMP announced he had been released without charge after being arrested and interviewed.

U of M ethics professor Arthur Schafer doesn't understand why police issued a press release when no charges were laid. (David Lipnowski / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“It undermines confidence in the RCMP and the justice system and the police system,” Schafer said on Wednesday. “What seems extraordinary is for the RCMP to contact the family and the decision to make a public statement at such a preliminary stage.

“It seems amateurish and makes them seem incompetent.”

It is common police procedure to bring in people for questioning for many crimes, but RCMP don’t issue news releases when this happens, even for cases as serious as murder, Schafer said.

“In a sexual assault case, they might want some publicity to bring other victims forward, but what the RCMP are doing here seems to undermine the goals of the police system rather than uphold (them),” he said.

The 2003 murder of Nicolle Hands has never been solved. (Supplied)

The suspect was arrested in connection with the stabbing death of Nicolle Hands in Winnipeg in October 2003.

Hands was attacked in her Mountain Avenue apartment while her three children and their babysitter slept in the next room. She was rushed to hospital, and died three days later.

Until last weekend, no one had been arrested in connection with the slaying.

Project Devote, a joint effort between the Winnipeg Police Service and Manitoba RCMP, began investigating the case after the task force was formed in 2011 to probe cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Eleanor Hands, the victim’s mother, told the Free Press on the weekend that the arrest had restored her faith in the work of police officers.

But on Monday, she said she was devastated to hear the suspect had not been charged, especially since she had talked to her daughter’s three adult children about it.

“I had to turn around and tell them that wasn’t going to happen,” she said.

Eleanor Hands was elated by the news the suspect in her daughter's murder was in custody, only to be disappointed when the suspect was released. (Jason Bell / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The suspect’s arrest was “a very good news story,” and was “a good step in resolving that homicide,” RCMP D Division assistant commander, Jane MacLatchy, said on Monday.

 In response to more questions on Tuesday, RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Julie Courchaine said the arrest of the man on March 7, “was a significant development after an 18-month investigation.”

“We continue to share information on this homicide with the public and the media as we want to remain open and transparent on the progress of this investigation,” Courchaine said. “Be assured that officers with Project Devote are in regular contact with the family.

“Our officers remain committed to solving the homicide of Nicolle Hands and we will continue to release further information as it becomes available.”

Veteran defence counsel Ted Mariash, who has had several clients who have been questioned by police before being released — with no information given either to families of victims or the public — said he would never want to see people charged if there is no solid evidence against them.

“What’s worse? Arrest someone and let them go or release someone when they have been acquitted?” he said.

Mariash said the case may show RCMP should have done more to talk to the victim’s family and let them know the possible outcomes.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy called the arrest a good step in solving the homicide. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

But Mariash also speculated the arrest and release could be part of a police tactic.

“It gets people talking about it,” he said.

“I was involved with a previous cold case where police kept putting out press releases saying they were still looking for the killer. A person talked to the person who was accused of it — at a place where police had set up a wiretap. So it could be a investigative tool.”


Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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