Former prosecutor ambushed on CBC
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/03/2010 (4581 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Former Manitoba prosecutor George Dangerfield has witnessed a few of his very complex prosecutions being flushed after paperwork reviews by Ottawa-based lawyers. Another is under consideration.
Last week, CBC’s The Fifth Estate, hosted by award-winning reporter Bob McKeown, took a look at those cases. Its condemnation of George Dangerfield was incredible.
The show opens and closes with a classic crusading-journalist stunt. A few hidden cameras record Dangerfield being bushwhacked as he walked down a Vancouver street. McKeown confronted Dangerfield — now 70-something — about his work. Does anyone believe a former prosecutor would (or should) on the spur of an unprepared moment, try to defend a multi-decade record of public service. The CBC is capable of better journalism and surely a more formal invitation to a sit-down interview would have sufficed.
And what about the CBC’s investigation?
It acknowledged that Dangerfield prosecuted a lion’s share of the province’s toughest cases over his many years. Then it went after him, starting with the prosecution of Thomas Sophonow for the murder of 16-year-old Barbara Stoppel in 1981. Today, he is innocent after being exonerated by a former Winnipeg police chief.
Some close to the Stoppel case contend that the CBC’s handling of the case was superficial and wonder why it heaped all of the prosecution’s ills onto one man? He was the lead prosecutor, for sure, but other Crowns were involved too. Dangerfield had well-qualified, well-paid bosses. Where were they? The Stoppel murder was big. Dangerfield was a mid-man, not a lone cog in the wheel.
The show moved to other Dangerfield cases: Frank Ostrowski, James Driskell and Kyle Unger were convicted and all cried foul.
The CBC’s lack of depth in its treatment of those cases was astounding as it set out its series of irregularities, insinuating that lying and perjury and payoffs were part of the Dangerfield game plan.
The question is, did the fifth estate have an obligation to dig further so that a national audience would have some meat with which to make up its own mind?
In the case of former cocaine dealer Frank Ostrowski, there are allegations of a deal and perjury by star witness Matthew Lovelace, who testified in the 1980s that Ostrowski orchestrated a murder for hire. Viewers were told that Lovelace made a secret deal to have drug charges dropped, but denied it when questioned at Ostrowski’s trial.
An audience might have found it helpful if the show had talked to Lovelace or his lawyer, Hymie Weinstein. Last fall, Weinstein testified about that deal and according to CBC sources (not the fifth estate) said that “he negotiated the deal for Lovelace, but never told him about it so as not to taint his testimony.” He also said that his deal was with federal authorities, not Dangerfield.
A similar theme surrounds the Driskell matter and witnesses Ray Zanidean: deals and lies.
McKeown claimed an $84,000 payment to Zanidean for testimony. If he had dug further, he might have found federal documents detailing that $84,000 was paid out in Zanidean’s name, but that most didn’t go into Zanidean’s pockets. It went to pay for the salaries of the cops assigned to protect Zanidean and the safe places to lodge him pending Driskell’s trial.
As for allusions to perjury by Zanidean, McKeowen might have tried to uncover why Zanidean was never called to testify at the Driskell inquiry. Zanidean should have been subpoenaed to an inquiry that was largely about Driskell serving more than a decade as a result of his testimony.
Zanidean is dead now and unable to offer anything. But viewers may have been interested to know that after the inquiry and before his death, police outside of Manitoba reviewed the file with an eye on perjury and Zanidean. They found no basis to charge him, much less convict him.
Kyle Unger was prosecuted by Dangerfield in the 1990s for the satanic-like murder of teenager Brigitte Grenier. The show was critical in part because some physical evidence has been discredited since trial and claims that the undercover RCMP sting unfairly induced a confession from Unger.
It’s too bad McKeown didn’t speak to key Mounties. He might have learned about the strict laws that govern sting-confessions and of the RCMP being ready and willing to take the case back to the courtroom.
The show was an unfair indictment of George Dangerfield.
Jay Prober, Dangerfield’s lawyer, smelled a hatchet job before the show aired. He contacted the producers and offered an interview to provide balance to what he knew was coming. The show wasn’t interested. Prober says another highly respected Winnipeg lawyer was contacted by the show but after telling CBC that Dangerfield was one of the most straightforward Crown prosecutors he knew, the show never called back.
Manitoba’s NDP government has not exonerated Driskell and it has refused to pay Unger one red cent. As for Ostrowski, he’s just passed the application stage and technically may have to return to prison. Politics says that’s unlikely.
As for the fifth estate, for most it’s just entertainment.