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This article was published 6/5/2011 (3432 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Probation's a problem in this province. At one time, the illusory faith and healing power of probation must have been extraordinary.
Remember 2003? That's when a teen-turned-killer was sentenced to one day in custody and 15 months probation for attacking an innocent man and killing him with a weapon -- a pool ball in a sock.
That precedent-setting decision said a lot about the system's faith, although for those on the outside the decision was as frustrating as it was shocking.
And those shock waves still reverberate. The pool-ball-in-a-sock decision was part of the arsenal that shored up three years' worth of probation for two teens convicted in the death of 29-year-old Martyn Hendy, who was beaten in the streets of Gimli during the Icelandic Festival in 2008.
When convicted killers never see the inside of a jail cell, it can only mean that confidence in the probation system is at a whole new level, something far beyond super.
But, Broadway, we have a problem. Faith in probation services is eroding faster than a speeding bullet.
Not long ago, Attorney General Andrew Swan admitted that the probation system was "not perfect" and that "it needs to be improved."
That understatement came on the heels of an embarrassing revelation in which officials failed to report two dozen probationary breaches of a high-risk car thief. Left to carry on, the thief stole another vehicle and slammed it into another car, killing the driver.
Questions swirled not just about the seeming negligence of the particular probation officer, but about the bosses and provincial policy, too.
It was a stark demonstration of what happens when agents of government flirt with criminal negligence.
Such inaction runs contrary to the province's law-and-order image.
For years, the provincial NDP has been calling on Ottawa to do something about the nonsense tied to lax laws, and rightly so. But these particular circumstances bring a hollow sound to tough-sounding rhetoric.
Connect the dots: Probation did nothing. A man is dead. A boy was given enough probationary rope to hang himself. And he now wears a killer's moniker.
The failure goes beyond words.
But not for Manitoba's Court of Appeal.
It recently weighed in on this case after Queen's Bench Justice Lea Duval had sentenced the young killer to the maximum allowed by law, two years in custody followed by a year of open custody.
The defence team was hoping an appeal could shave away some of the lockup time in favour of more probationary influence.
The appeal court wasn't biting.
In its decision, the province's high court took specific aim at probation services. The use of discretion had already failed spectacularly and the court was not inclined to serve up one more chance.
Justice Michel Monnin was pointed about the "lack of faith in probation services" and "the interests of society."
He was clear in denying the appeal. "With respect to the manner in which probation services had managed the young person when he was previously under its supervision, it is understandable that (Justice Duval) would have serious concerns as to how open custody would be managed in the future."
And another case is keeping probation services strapped in the hot seat.
Last week, a hearing was to determine the fate of two teen gang members recently convicted of a targeted, multi-shot, daytime hit of a rival drug dealer outside a North End crack house four years ago. Pre-sentence reports had been ordered to help determine the appropriateness of an adult or youth sentence while addressing details about the teens' backgrounds and prospects for rehabilitation.
Such reports are the responsibility of probation officers and they were presented to Queen's Bench Justice Deborah McCawley.
She was blunt and dismissed the reports as "wholly inadequate." Both killers, now adults, reportedly smiled and appeared relaxed during the hearing.
A media report says the probation officer did not include any recommendations in her report because she feared gang retaliation and having a message sent "to have somebody beat me up."
Intimidation can have no place in the justice system. If that account is true, what's being done to address it?
Fundamental is a word to describe probation's role in the justice system. But with such reports, words like dysfunctional, broken, even sloppy, are the ones coming to mind.
High-profile cases like these should be sending a clear signal right up the food chain that probation's leash needs to be yanked. Hard.
Robert Marshall is a former Winnipeg police detective.
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