Fires burning…

One wondered what would break the journalistic overkill on the Covid virus story. What could possibly interfere with that  endless diatribe of  stories?  The litany of accounts, after a few months were admittedly beginning to weaken slightly, as the practitioners of journalism began to pen items on how to wear a mask, the lack of yeast in the grocery stores, or the various coping skills of young and old when constrained in your individual hovels. The illogical and outright stupid began to blend with fragments of intelligent commentary but in the end it all became a stew of righteous and contradictory dialogues. The science on the virus was not clear then and it is not clear now. 

But fear sells and as such was the underlying theme running throughout the 24 hour news cycle—fear of dying— fear of others—fear of travel—fear of hugging—fear of having to wear masks which turned into fear of not wearing masks. 

The press finally tasting greater ratings after being in decline for the last number of years, fully gave over to the theory that the greater the pronouncement, the greater the fear generated, the more that people would be paying attention to those newscasts. They have always known that a multi-car crash always draws better than a two car fender bender, but this had the greatest potential—the ability to turn the daily infection numbers into a catastrophe of “never been seen before” dimensions.

Television news clearly told the banner producer on “Breaking news”, to just leave it running. Death was everywhere as if posing for the 5th Estate that pursued the glimmers of devestation .  The media became addicted. Pictures of bodies, pictures of people laying in the street, or pictures of gowned and masked fatigued hospital workers, sweat stains outlining their newly lined worried faces. 

In the early simpler days, the press always waited around for the picture or video of the body bagged victim, being rolled from the residence on a gurney. This virus was a new heaven to the throng of journalists who dutifully culled and edited videos from around the world, while sitting safely behind their laptops. Tents full of body bags or mass burial grounds were portrayed every night, over and over again, helping to keep the grim and ominous dark clouds hanging over the future. 

The media generated fear with single minded attention on a scale never seen before. The level of their deceit knew no bounds. Shallow unsubstantiated subjective reporting has now put the mainstream media in Canada in the category of grocery store tabloids. 

So as we entered the fourth month we braced for more covid stories while the death lottery numbers droned on. 

Then out of the blue, with head-snapping alacrity, that same intense media attention all swung south of the border. 

A new crisis was born and this new “crisis “contained all the elements of headline seeking editors and broadcasters; violence, crowds, tear gas, endless videos of police pushing the “innocent”, journalists being “targeted” with pepper bullets. A veritable smorgasbord of tweets, photos and videos were uploaded.  Unverified raw video, no background reporting, just a torrent of information from which to feed this new appetite for fear and consternation.  

Predictably, social media exploded, as did any pretence on the part of the Canadian media establishment of being “journalists”. Subjective, point of view, opinionated journalists have now replaced the old guard that had once prided themselves on being objective, who felt that they had a duty to report the news, not create the news. 

Damn the ethics and standards espoused for the last 100 years. Objective, fact checked and dual sourced reporting was now officially extinct. 

It has been replaced by the simple emphatic declaration stated and then presented as fact.  Black and white prognosis only, no longer room for the grey areas where most problems actually live. They have become accumulators of cellphone clips. Thirty seconds or stories of two hundred characters are now being encouraged, followed, repeated, and disseminated with alarming speed. The new short attention span generation, the selfie generation apparently needs to be satiated. 

Fear for your safety and those out of control police it has been decided now going to replace fear for your health. The death of a middle-aged black man has now been declared more dramatic than an eighty-four year old with “underlying” health’s issues. The fact that in Minneapolis that a man died at the hands of the police was the bonus, the fact that he was black was the ignitor to the combustible fuel of racism. The police were the obvious and easy targets.  

Thus, 21st century social outrage has once again been released. 

The Canadian media was not deterred in their presentations, even though it was hundreds of miles and a country away. They played the outrage at full volume and were then rewarded with Canadians now taking to the streets to protest racial inequality in the United States. Canada was pulled in by its proximity, and the internet pulled in the rest of the world. 

Videos began surfacing in Canada of various incidents throughout the country which the media now deemed as racist or intolerant. No details, no examination, just outright speculation and proclamations. 

The usual liberal fringe interest groups then began to emerge, excited by the prospect of a new fire to flame. The more vocal, outlandish, and hopefully photogenic, the more media attention they would receive. 

The Indigenous in Canada always willing to claim racism no matter the context, climb aboard the racist allegation train, a fresh spotlight pointed at them in which to air their complaints. There was no room or time for a counter narrative. Cameras immediately flashed to an Indigenous chief claiming assault at the hands of the police, which even in its subjective telling seemed dubious. A female is killed by police in Edmonston New Brunswick, which the media immediately imply is suspicious, hints of racism because she is “indigenous”.

Canadian media and much of the American media lives on the left of the political spectrum, so they spin victimization, and excoriate anyone with a counter view. They are thoroughly smitten by the  liberal democratic and “progressive” viewpoint. Everyone must comply with their viewpoint, to do otherwise is to pronounce you an “ist”…racist, chauvinist, misogynist— take your pick. 

Equally disturbing is that the new age politicians aren’t very far behind the media and what is “trending”.  They now always follow the herd. Where and when social media declares a story or video snippet to be of grave significance and it enjoys any kind of momentum, that is where you will now find the politicians. Politicos must be seen as on the leading edge, at the forefront of what is all good and righteous. As the Facebook or Instagram twirl begins to spin out of control a politician can not countenance disagreeing with the mob. Lead the mob, don’t be left behind or you court political insignificance or ostracization. 

So fully armed with a 30 second video clip as full and damning evidence they mount their pulpits; our Prime Minister and Opposition Leaders in full throat bemoaning the new “crisis”.  There is no time for debate or opposition. Trudeau is “deeply alarmed” over the incident involving the Indigenous Chief; Bill Blair comes out form behind the coat tails of Trudeau to chime in that “people across the country deserve answers” (on Twitter of course). The Indigenous Service Minister Marc Miller, on seeing only the initial report, despite any evidence “strongly condemned recent acts of violence by police against Indigenous people.” “I’m pissed, I’m outraged” said this Minister of the Crown using clearly his best Parliamentary language and putting his ignorance on full display.  

Is there anything wrong with this new age of media? Is there anything wrong with this semi-spontaneous “outrage”? The President of the United States is a great player of this game. Is there anything wrong with him standing in front of the White house with his bible, posing for his alt-right followers? Of course. Is there anything wrong with our Prime Minister, on the other side of the political spectrum, dressed in his current costume of long hair and a mask, kneeling amongst those protesting police brutality and systemic racism? Of course. These two individuals are very similar in their hypocrisy and deceit,  just opposite ends of the political stick. 

 It is this disturbing dumbing down of the facts that is the most concerning.  It is sapping intelligence and the need to think. It is crowd think. It is follow the herd and it is also fleeting. The need to react and deal with an issue and explore possible options to resolution is lost as quickly as it developed. The herd always moves on. 

Social media is spontaneous and therefore often leaderless. Its only mantra is that “everyone’s voice matters”, no matter how misinformed or irresolute that voice may be. Slogans and jingos are passing as possible policy. Apparently they want the disassembling of the Minneapolis police department, they just don’t know why or how to do it.

Make no mistake about it there is racism in all parts of the world, including our world. There is no denying of that fact. There are also bad cops, sometimes really bad cops. Why? Because they are human beings. There should be no tolerance for those that breach, but there must be a fair and just investigation as well. Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on the neck of George Floyd will face a trial. The other three officers, standing idly by were also charged. All the evidence will surface at the trial. 

But, George Floyd as a symbol of systemic racism?  A former convict with several convictions; high on fentanyl, and methamphetamine, and found with a baggie of powder at the time of the arrest. His most serious conviction involved him and others doing a home invasion, where he put a gun to the belly of a pregnant woman to force compliance. Is this who should be held up as the next Reverend King? 

A black conservative commentator Candace Owens recently brought up some interesting statistics. A police officer has an 18 1/2 times more chance of being killed by a black man in the United States, than a black man has of being killed by the police. She calls these protests and the black lives matter movement as “smoke and mirrors” in that the statistics simply don’t back up claims of systemic racism by the police. You may not agree with her, but you at least need to be allowed to hear her. The burning books mentality once confined to the right are now coming from the left.

We are truly in very unsettled times. Not because of covid, or riots, but because of the perilous road chosen by the media of this country and the dissolution of debate and learned thought. The media are fomenting fear and dissent in pursuit of remaining part of a social media fabric that now rules this 21st century. The politicians now govern and are being placed in power by implementing the tools of that same social media trade. 

Trump and Trudeau despite their political differences are now holding hands as they skip down this road to that dark spot where image has replaced substance. What it looks like much more important than what it is. 

And if you happen to be a police officer in these times, do not hope for any support from these same politicians, or your superiors, who are now poised to jump on this media driven bandwagon if given any opportunity. Their continued political and managerial existence depends on burning you at the stake.

In the last 48 hours police officers are being charged with new found efficiency,  Chief Saunders, the first black Toronto PD Chief, is running for the exit, and the National Police Federation and RCMP Commissioner Ms Lucki are in hiding. 

You are now officially on your own.

The Politics of “First Responders”

In March 2017, there was a blog on this site which posed the question as to whether it was time to cut back on Fire Services, who despite a diminishing need for their services,  were in fact expanding in terms of manpower, equipment, and general presence.

The self-justifications for the fire services expansion all hinged on their incursion into medical calls, fanned by the publicity burning opioid crisis. It was the continuing perpetuation of the somewhat mythical life saver dynamic, they being the foremost and therefore indispensable “first responders” that made up the Group of Three.

What stirred this pot which highlighted the decreasing need, was the review in Ontario of the Fraser Research Report, which reviewed Fire Services in Ontario for the period of 1997-2012.  It discovered that during this time period in Ontario the number of firefighters increased by 36.3% while fires (including autos) had decreased in the same period by 41.4%.  In British Columbia in this same time period the number of firefighters had increased by 43.8%.

The hourly wages for firefighters followed suit, in Ontario, their wages went up 47.8% in this same time period, whereas price levels only increased by 34.6%.

All of this growth in both wages and infrastructure, while at the same time there has been a phenomenal decline in the need for “fire” services. There are some estimates that say as little as 5% of the fire department calls now relate to actual fires.

Clearly, this should call for most persons aware of ever dwindling municipal budgets and ever increasing tax levels, that maybe one could do away with some of the equipment, halls and personnel involved in firefighting. Although Ontario did cut back some of their services, most areas including British Columbia seem oblivious to the seemingly obvious.

So how is it that governments, municipal counsels, and the governing bodies seem to have missed this obvious decline in the need for fire services?  In searching for explanations one finds a masterful blend of self-promotion, coupled with an outright expansion of their roles outside of their intended mandate, which this blog covered previously.

Now it would seem that we need to add another component, a political component.

But we need to review how we got this new level.

With subtle flourish even the modern day lexicon has been transformed. No longer, police, fire and ambulance. Now, all are “first responders”.  Their’s is the only one group who has a vested interest as being on par with the others, both in terms of how they are viewed, how they are paid, and the significance of the role they play.

To their credit the firefighters early on figured out that they needed to expand their roles, they need to aggressively move into other mandates, areas where they were not before. In terms of mandate, of course the only place for them to go was to cross-over into the ambulance and police services.

They even made the subtle name change from Fire Department, to Fire and Rescue Services as they jumped headlong into car accidents and medical calls and they have been remarkably successful. They point out in somewhat boastful tones that they estimate 70% of their calls are now medical, as they “rescue” opioid overdoses, or respond to heart attacks. This is true, even though they do not and can not provide the same level of service as the paramedics.

Even their “rescue” capabilities, has become more specialized, now under the umbrella of “Technical rescue”.  ‘Auto extraction’, marine, or bridge rescue components are now separate tranches, in an attempt to be more expansive and all inclusive.  They have also  become, through little debate, the Hazardous Material experts.

Why? Their very employment and infrastructure survival depends on a sleight of hand, the general public needs to believe that they are the “first responders” of record. They need to convince you that they are the white hats, always there, always the first on scene. They are the life savers which we can not do without.

In B.C. there was a recent budget increase for paramedics of $31million.

The firefighters had the audacity to actually complain that it had cut into their calls for service. They justified their complaint saying that they were often first and more capable of getting to a scene “quicker”. The argument of getting there first by the way, is a constantly repeated theme. The obvious counter argument would be if there were more paramedics on the road, people more qualified, than their ability to get there first becomes moot.

The fire departments are unflagging in their efforts. Vancouver Fire Department and “Rescue Services” prior to the municipal elections were asking for an additional 21 fire personnel. They justify this of course on the need  to respond to 6200 opioid calls.

All of the above has been obvious for quite some time but what caught one’s eye during these same elections in the Lower Mainland was a somewhat new twist. It would appear that the firefighters are now honing their political voice, enhancing their political efforts, and are now becoming an active political force, a true definition of a self-interest group.

No more was this more obvious than in the City of  Burnaby, who have now elected an independent mayor, a former firefighter, Mike Hurley in an upset victory over Derek Corrigan.

Burnaby is an interesting case study.

All 281 firefighters in Burnaby belong to the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 323.

If one visits their website, they make no mistake as to what they believe: “When it comes to Political Action, we support those that support us” – May 17, 2014.

It is equally clear from their website that the building block from which any political action will flow is the charities. Golf tournaments, city fairs, parades, and charitable balls dominate their photos and exclamations of fealty to the community.

In recent years the Burnaby firefighters came into the news on a couple of occasions, one when Burnaby firefighter Nick Elmes and a couple of others formed the Florian Knights, who met with and were sanctioned to wear their “colours” by the Hells Angels. They used to ride to work showing their “colours” before management stepped in.

Then there was Bryan Kirk, a 36 year firefighter who decided to retire after being confronted on his support of “Camp Cloud” which was the campsite put up by Indigenous protestors at the site of the Trans Mountain pipeline in Burnaby. The camp was eventually taken down, via court injunction by the Burnaby RCMP, but Kirk supported the protestors and went on record saying “I’m more inclined to put out the Olympic torch then put out a First Nation ceremonial fire”.  (Newly elected Hurley is also on record, aligning with Kirk, saying that he supports no pipeline.)

As one watched the celebrations at the Hurley election campaign, which was held at the Firefighters Public House in Burnaby, where a smiling Hurley was surrounded by Firefighters in similar styled t-shirts as they celebrated one of their own being elected. One could guess that a serious look at the monies being spent on the firefighters in a time when municipal budgets are under crises will not occur in Burnaby, at least while under the faithful guidance of Mr. Hurley.

This was not the only example.

In Langley the Langley Township Fire Department IAFF Local 4550 were out endorsing certain candidates.

In Surrey, the Surrey Firefighters endorsed Tom Gill for mayor (who lost to McCallum). Already on counsel in Surrey was the former firefighter Mike Starchuk, who was a firefighter for 32 years, and still headed up one of their Charitable foundations.

In 2014 Surrey First party raised $1.7 million in support of Linda Hepner– one of the biggest donors, if not the biggest were the Surrey Firefighters who donated $32, 564. 01.

In fairness, it should be pointed out that other “first responders” have become active in politics. Former police officers have taken roles as counsellors on various cities and townships, and one ex-RCMP member is now mayor of Pitt Meadows.

But this firefighter involvement seems different. It seems more organized, more overt, with an exposed agenda. A concerted effort to get their candidate elected.

Many will argue that they are members of the public, they too therefore have a right to get involved in the politics of the day. That is true and there are special interest groups who put forward candidates, and organize to support those candidates. But this seems somehow different.

One needs to ask, do fire, police and medical personnel hold a special role in our society? Clearly their mandates enter into our lives in different ways than other members of the general public. Are they in a position of undue influence? Do they have access to the media which is not available on a regular basis to the members of the general public?  Should or could it be perceived that there is a political component to the service provided by “first responders”? Police are held back from overt political support by a pressing need to be neutral in terms of the laws and its applications. Should medical and fire service be bound by any kind of neutrality?

It is the slippery slope of mixing politics with your role, especially one that is specifically mandated to serve the public. One should be equally alarmed at the Chiefs of Police supporting a particular party, or ambulance attendants supporting a particular pro-union politician.

One can not help but feel that the firefighter new found interest in municipal politics is also being influenced by the need to get a friendly face on the inside. One who will not question the need for greater and greater expansion, who will not look at the statistics, one who will not worry about unneeded financial expenditures. Is there a faint taint on the Burnaby election?

Maybe we need to go back to “police, fire or ambulance?” which is the first question still asked by 911 operators. Maybe the three services should be examined as separate entities, both in terms of budget and mandate, not as a single group of “first responders”. Taxpayers need to pay attention.

But hey, it’s the Xmas season, and the firefighters are busy setting up the Bright Nights Xmas Train in Stanley Park, where a portion of the proceeds goes to the BC Professional Fire Fighters Burn Fund. The media will be fawning over the children and the sponsoring firefighters on every news channel and after all who could argue with the cause. It’s brilliant and not just because of the 3,000 lights.

It used to be beefcake calendars, it’s much more subtle now, but the impression remains the same.

Photo Courtesy of  Pete at Flickr Commons – Some Rights Reserved

Healing Lodges – just a better place to be

Tori Stafford was last seen alive on April 8, 2009, shortly after leaving school, heading home, captured on a video camera going down Fyfe avenue in small town Woodstock Ontario. She was being led by the hand by a woman, feeling be-friended,  no doubt filled with an eight year old’s optimism.

Almost three months later, on July 21, 2009 her body was found in nearby Mount Forest, naked from the waist down, her Hannah Montana t-shirt and a pair of earrings she had borrowed from her mother her last vestiges of her short time on earth. She had suffered broken ribs, a lacerated liver and had died as a result of repeated blows to the head with a claw hammer.

A slow torturous death. Unimaginable to most, perpetrated by two individuals, 28 year old Michael Rafferty and 18 year old Terry-Lynne McClintic. In a trial Rafferty was convicted of sexual assault, kidnapping and first degree murder.

Originally charged with being an accessory to the murder, McClintic eventually pled guilty to a higher charge of first degree murder.

It was a case that in the view of the general public demanded retribution, they needed to pay for their crimes. We have become inured to a lot of public deaths, not this one, it was one of those that went to a level that causes a visceral reaction, you taste the bile in your throat.

She was sent to the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario, a normal conclusion in our Canadian judicial world to a heinous crime. Justice, or some form of justice meted out.

But then she entered our correctional system. And that is where the story re-ignited.

There is a couple of truisms that usually play out by those prisoners doing “Fed time”. First and foremost they quickly develop the need to survive; they need to find the easiest route through the system, the best jobs, the placement of video cameras, where you sit at dinner, who you befriend, who you don’t. A child killer has a path fraught with even greater peril, their heads becomes a swivel, their own deaths anticipated.  If you are capable, you learn the game and then you learn how to play the game.

A second truism is that those that are incarcerated find religion on a regular basis. It would be fair to say that not many murderers or child killers are religious when they enter the institution. But imprisonment, like imminent death, seems to assist in finding that religious part of your soul and lo and behold a child of God is often re-awakened.

Federal institutions are not fun places and one suspects that McClintic somehow learned of a better place to be during her first years in prison. Somehow she became aware of “healing lodges” which had been created primarily for indigenous women prisoners.  Apartment style living, a kitchen, visitors, no guards, versus 8 x 10 cell living, constantly staring at your requisite Orange is the new Black poster. Who could deny the appeal?

One can imagine the semblance of the conversation, where she was told that you had to be Indigenous to get in (which isn’t true), so she asked how do they test for that? They don’t, she was told. You can just say you are.

It is only a short step to then apply, declaring oneself indigenous and probably throwing in for a little positive aggrandizement, that she was very spiritual in nature.

It took eight years, but at last she got her wish, making it to the Okimaw Healing Lodge.  She had just begun enjoying the comforts of something like a home when all hell broke loose; her case came back into the public eye, and finally the Liberals broke down and made sure she got sent back, the public backlash too much for the sensitive Liberals. Sensitive to public outcry, not the plight of the victims family.

One should not resent Ms McClintic, she was just working the system and it almost worked. It may be that her fellow women prisoners are having a good laugh about the whole thing, McClintic now a heroine for gaming “the man”.

But one must hold the “system” accountable. How the decision was made reeks of a bureaucrat not doing a proper job, but should we not be questioning the very existence of the healing lodges themselves.

According to Correctional Services Canada, a healing lodge is a place where “we use aboriginal values, traditions and beliefs to design services and programs for offenders. The approach is “holistic and spiritual”. A religious treatment of the whole being.

Non-indigenous can also live at a healing lodge however they must follow “aboriginal programming and spirituality”. You must be the same religion, in line with indigenous spirituality. One would think that a person fitting this category would be a rare phenomena.

Spirituality is “the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul”. But by no means is indigenous spirituality monolithic, there is no religious uniformity across the country, in fact of the 1.7 million indigenous, two out of three identify as being Christian. So it is sometimes difficult to understand what is being sought or would be practised.

Healing Lodges are funded either by Correctional Services Canada (CSC) and staffed by CSC, or funded by CSC and managed by “community partner organizations”.

There are a total of 9 lodges in Canada, 4 run by CSC and 5 by “community partners.”

How they came about is an example of the Ottawa world and the rarefied air they breathe. A constant whirling mix of academia, politicians intent on re-election, and business leaders trying to get in on the gravy; all feeding off each other, absorbing the latest en vogue thoughts and processes, all circling and feeding. A bureaucracy, acting autonomously, guided by the political flavour of the day, then developed and constructed without scrutiny. Nobody allowed to question or look within, and the process itself hidden behind multiple meetings in multiple layers, conducted in their own governmental language.

This force moves and adapts very slowly, moving in concentric circles, through steering committees, Senate and Parliamentary committees, inquiries, task forces, and fact-finding missions. They are unaware and uncaring of the public looking in, common sense often in short supply. To question is to be tossed out of the circle cut off from the government teat. Costs are not often part of the equation. It is from this process that came the belief that a healing lodge made perfect sense.

In 1990 there were calls and plans being made for five new regional correctional facilities.

A task force, as is often the case, was lurking in the background. The Task Force for Federally Sentenced Women, who in their report “Creating Choices” recommended that one of these facilities be specifically designed and run for indigenous women.

The Native Women’s Association, a Federally funded advocacy group, one of the groups in this Ottawa circle of life, proposed the concept of a healing lodge.

There was also a group at the time of  “former Federal aboriginal offenders who were advising the CSC”.  This would normally make one scratch their collective heads, however it is true. They of course agreed wholeheartedly and supported the Native Womens’ Association in the need for and development of a healing lodge.

So what is the logic behind this clearly subjective policy proposal. According  to the CSC there were two main reasons:

“Mainstream programs don’t work for Aboriginal offenders.”  This seems to have been presented as a statement of fact, but it is difficult finding any verifiable research this pronouncement is based upon.

Secondly, they stated that there is a dramatic “over-representation” of Indigenous people in Federal facilities. (Apparently persons convicted of crimes were now “representatives” and not convicts) They were not wrong.

In 2017 Indigenous individuals made up only 5% of the Canadian population; yet 25% of the males and 36% of the females behind bars were Indigenous. This number is expected to continue to grow, mainly due to the ever expanding birth rates and the continuing problems experienced by the Indigenous.

If one accepts the concept of needing a special place, a place where they would be treated differently from all other inmates, then the obvious next question is do they work?

A review of the digital brochures for each of these facilities talks about a holistic and spiritual approach, training and maintenance skills promoted as in other facilities, but all given the opportunity to “heal”, “grow spiritually”and re-connect with Aboriginal culture”.

Again, little to no evidence of its effectiveness, but they continually issue the statement that  “culturally-appropriate environments can contribute to the healing process of offenders”. That participants develop a “stronger familiarity with Indigenous history and traditional languages”. Not exactly an insurmountable goal, and it would be unfair to expect any kind of reduction of criminal activity, as this is after the fact after all. Heinous crimes have already been committed.

By offering beyond the usual training and teaching found in any correctional facility, does the offering of “weekly sweat lodges”, “pipe ceremonies”, “smudging”,”medicine wheel teaching”, “carving”, “beading” and “sun and rain dances” lead to a lesser recidivism rate among indigenous? Is it any better training than what is offered already to the rest of the prison population. Or is it serving as just an easier place to do your time.

In a 2013 government backgrounder, the government said that the recidivism rate was 6%, when the national average was 11%.

However, in an earlier government analysis in 2002, it measured the recidivism rate as being 19%, compared to 13% for indigenous released from minimum security facilities. A dismal failure.

In 2016 the National Post reported that 18 inmates had escaped from healing lodges over the previous five years. Not unexpectedly, as there are only security guards watching video monitors, instructed only to call the police if someone walks away.

There is even a lack of acceptance by the Indigenous Reserves where the healing lodges have been proposed. In 2012, a Review by the government found that there was a problem with community acceptance as not every aboriginal community wanted or was willing to have the lodges in their communities.

So where does leave us. Everyone knows that the ‘real’ problems for the indigenous: substance abuse, inter-generational abuse, residential schools, low levels of education, low employment and income, sub-standard housing, sub-standard health, isolation, violence, greater inclination to gang violence, and mental health issues are the reasons the Indigenous and their youth incarcerations rates are at stratospheric levels.

In March 2018 the government released a report entitled ‘Updated Costs of Incarceration’. A male offender in a minimum security institution costs $47,370 per person or $130 per day. A female offender in a minimum security institution costs $83, 861 or $230 per day. An inmate at a healing lodge is the most expensive, costing $122,796 or $336.00 per day.

The Salvation Army gives out a bowl of soup and a prayer on the skids of Vancouver each and every day, before providing food and lodging, combining their spiritual beliefs of salvation with a social cause. But they are dealing and providing at the source. There is a measurable impact.

The Federal government has released records indicating that since 2011 over 20 child killers have been sent to healing lodges. The Liberal defence in the McClintic case is that the Conservatives did it too.

These lodges are better for the inmates, providing a nicer place to be, but as a tool in the Corrections toolbox, they have been a costly and failed experiment.

Is it not time to close down this experiment?  Besides, we don’t want McClintic to have a nicer place to stay.

It isn’t fair to Tori.

Photo Courtesy of Carlos Ebert via Flickr Creative Commons – Some Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crime and Punishment on the Prairies…

 

Like a prairie thunderstorm, building on the horizon and starting to move quickly, the normally placid bucolic life of the small towns of Saskatchewan now lay in the path of this building storm. The W.O. Mitchell’s “Who has Seen the Wind” version of the Prairie lifestyle, is being enveloped and blown aside in a dark wind of violence, racism, fear, and desperation.

This barometric change was entirely predictable. It has been developing over many years, all the while complacent government bureaucracies and police agencies stood idly by; consumed by “modern” issues, seemingly ignorant of the core basic need in government, that of public safety.

It is the most pronounced in the small unique and sparsely populated Province of Saskatchewan, where its main street small towns have become involved in a war of attrition. One side engaged in the fight of maintaining a largely rural lifestyle, the other side fighting for radical change and reimbursement, with an ill-defined final goal. As Ottawa fiddles, rural Saskatchewan is now burning.

This is in reference to the tenuous, often violent,  see-saw balance between the mostly white agricultural community and the Indigenous.  It has been in play for over a hundred years in Saskatchewan.

Reconciliation is the new cry. The Indigenous demand further rights, demand more monies, fresh water, oil rights, the right to hunt, the right to fish, the right to deal marihuana and their cut of the economic pie. These demands and expectations fuelling a seemingly endless amount of court cases.

Whether one sees these demands as fair or intemperate, underlying all of it is a group of Indigenous leaders that has lost control of its own constituents. Many reserves in this country have become crime infested, and a culture of crime is emanating from them in ever increasing concentric circles. Rampant poverty driven crime spilling out into the towns and countryside.  Those waves are now crashing into an armed and increasingly vigilant population not willing to be overrun, not willing to succumb to the apparent effort to subsume them.

The statistics back up the claim that the crime is becoming out of control. The most dangerous cities in this relatively peaceful country of Canada, the ones having the most violent crime statistics are in order:

a) North Battleford,  Saskatchewan

b) Thompson, Manitoba

c) Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan remains the most crime plagued Province. A dubious distinction for sure but they hold and have been holding it for many years.

The Prairies is where the Indigenous world meets the other world. It is where radical aboriginal rights meets head on with a stubborn and resistive farm community. It is where it is more eye for an eye, unburdened and unconerned by the latest socio-economic impact study.  It is for the most part, caucasian versus aboriginal, as much as we are not supposed to point that out. It is where racism abounds, on both sides.  The racism has become accepted, part of the dialogue, part of the new way of life.

North Battleford, the most violent city is the epicentre. It is of course near the Red Pheasant reserve, the home of the recent Colten Boushie/Gerald Stanley case. The one where the white Gerald Stanley was acquitted in defence of his property and his family. This was contrary to what the Indigenous wanted, contrary apparently to the outcome wished for by the Liberal government.

The Indigenous, the Boushie family and the Federal Liberals all held it out as a gleaming example of racism in this country. It became a National liberal cause, Canada’s version of the Confederate South and the Yankee North.

Actual details of the trial took a back seat to flashier banner headlines, stoked by a CBC media group which seemed intent on inciting the racist tone to the case.  The whites were forced into hiding, supportive comment for Stanley was pushed underground.

This factional divide did not start in the last few years in this part of Saskatchewan.  It has been building for decades, going back to as early as 1885,  during the North West Rebellion, where eight Indigenous were hung in the Battleford area.

There are two versions of this event. One, according to the whites, was that the suspects were hung for “ransacking”, for stealing from the residents of  Fort Battleford. The Indigenous version on the other hand, said they had only come to “plead” for supplies and were simply massacred. Which side you believe, which is your truth, depends on which side of the divide you fall.

The city of North Battleford is located two hours away west from Saskatoon. It has placed highest in the Crime Severity index since 2009 when they began compiling this information, and still carries this title into the 2017 records. This index and North Battleford’s ranking is heavily weighted by intoxication, theft, and a mass of mischief offences.

Fourteen (14%) percent of the population of Saskatchewan is Indigenous,  but in 2016/17 a staggering seventy-six (76%) of admissions to jails were indigenous peoples. This was the highest of all the Provinces.

The liberal left call it the result of rampant systemic racism, and decry that the system is not working. In response to the high incarceration rates, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations vice-Chief Heather Bear is quoted as saying “we are working with a broken system….its about lock the Indian up”.  On the conservative right they say the system is working exactly at it should; it is catching those that are committing the crime.

Two worlds colliding. Colonists initially enticed to settle this vast and often barren landscape with promises of 160 acre tracts of land. The ability to own their own piece of the land, made them set sail from faraway shores, leaving impoverished and desperate conditions to fight for a piece of land, a better life. Their new life was not always as advertised, it was often harsh and unforgiving whether fighting drought or bitingly cold winters.

The Plains Cree, hunters and traders meanwhile patrolled this same vast landscape, but they were a culture that did not share the same conceptual framework of property and ownership.

The settlers settled while the Cree continued to roam these vast, and for the most part, unpopulated regions. It was unlikely that anyone believed then that the country was not big enough for everyone.

Colonialism continued, evolved, and developed. Rules and laws were established. Responsibility was based on the concept of the individual. Being agrarians, the land which they struggled with from season to season was their reason for being.  This land was their very existence and thus needed to be defended to the death.

The Cree life began to stagnate, their economic system was beginning to falter. Two very different economic and political systems were destined to clash. One system continued to thrive, the other fell into the abyss. The Cree old way of life is now for the most part unrecognizable.  Successive governments of the settlers tried to reach agreements or impose agreements on sharing, and the treaty system and residential schools were all geared to some form of assimilation.

The 21st century Cree now believe that the historical wrongs need to be righted. Having stagnated for years on the Reserves, they now want their share of the economic pie. They now want what those first settlers wanted. A new life, free of recriminations along with financial wealth and independence. And if the government doesn’t want to give it to them, they will take it.

And therein lies the rub. If the government is going to give the Cree property or transfer wealth then someone else must lose it. The First Nations have tied their demands to the belief that because they roamed the lands, worshipped the lands, it is their land. It is all their land, because they never “ceded” the land.

This very concept is incomprehensible to a group like the Prairie settlers who believe that being here first is not a right to claim all of the land, that their rights should be considered as much as anyone’s, that there is no singular entity beyond the law, no one that is special, no one should have a priority over everyone else.

They describe a Federal government which is continually siding with the Indigenous, afraid to call out the violence, afraid to hurt their constituency.

They describe a cowering police force, sometimes miles away offering little support or even attendance.  The RCMP masters are this same Liberal government and therefore they dare not talk or point the finger at this obvious politically protected group.

So the unpleasantness grows, a liberal social media fuels the invective and the polarized arguments. The farmers in the small towns, arm themselves, preparing for a fight. The farmers demand that individual responsibility and adherence to the laws are a must, something not negotiable.

The result. Fort Battleford which went on to become North Battleford, is now the “most crime plagued city in Canada”. A town of 13,000 surrounded by seven First Nations groups with a total population of around 14,000, are still fighting and the battles may soon turn in to all out war.

The farmer, and the Plains Cree, who once worked together over the last hundred years has inexorably been pushed closer to the gaping chasm where extremists on both sides get the audience and the attention. Can it all be blamed on “colonialism”, or on the perpetration of “residential schools”? Does the 60’s scoop explain alcoholism, abnormally high pregnancy rates, malnutrition, and illiteracy. Not absolutely, it is much too simple an explanation.

The First Nation and Indigenous leaders, who trumpet the need for “reconciliation”, who are quick to cry systemic racism see the only remedy as money and more money.  Separate education, separate justice, separate police, endless health care workers, boundless hospitals and  health systems.

Another truism that never seems to let us down, is that people who have little, see people who have a lot, and they want it too. Two percent (2%)of people in Saskatchewan are on income assistance, while forty-four (44%) per cent of the Indigenous in Saskatchewan are on Federal income assistance. It has created an environment and an addiction to government funds on the part of the Indigenous, while helping fuel a belief that the other side is lazy, not willing to work, not wanting to be part of the larger society.

The Indigenous leaders are quick to jump into any fray, smelling fear in government circles of being branded racist, salivating at settlements way beyond the pale or understanding of the ordinary citizen. But at the same time blindly ignoring the obvious.

Colten Boushie grew up surrounded by alcohol and drugs, not atypical to many reserves.  He talks on Facebook about Red Power interspersed with bragging up the effects of marihuana, all while lamenting the raw deal given to his race.

Colten Boushie died because Colten Boushie grew up surrounded by violence; his banter  more in keeping with the Bloods and the Crips from a land far away.  He had a misguided bravery,  fuelled no doubt by a ridiculous video game level of understanding of that violence and its outcomes. To his group violence was heroic, copied from mediums which were far removed from their personal situations. Spewing toughness, “Fuckn punk d lee duck you talk shit back it up nigga I’m always on my tos come on niggah”, (Facebook – April 24, 2016) when none may have existed.

Colten Boushie’s uncle, his mother’s brother Colin Leonard Baptiste was found guilty of a home invasion in 1994 looking for gas and money. They put two people, Gordon Tetarenko and Bryan Kipp, in separate rooms, and then he and his co-accused Ron Coldwell individually shot them dead with a rifle. Colin was only 23 and served only two years for his murder conviction.

Stewart Baptiste was the Chief of the Red Pheasant Reserve and in 2012 was re-elected finding out from his jail cell where he had been put for breach of probation, and driving while disqualified.

Colten Boushie through no choice of his own grew up surrounded by violence and poverty. He did not have a chance.

The government talks about the “over representation of Aboriginal peoples in correctional services” as if it was a vote. Let us be clear, Saskatchewan aboriginal incarceration rates are reflective of who is doing the crime, who are committing the offences. They are not all innocent, they are not victims, they are hard core criminals, no different than any gang banger or a Hells Angel.

The government of see no evil will not go there. They say things like, the need for an “equitable justice” system. They want policies that address the “representation” of Aboriginal people in the justice system. They make it sound like a misunderstanding that they need to correct.

The Reserves like the ghettos of Jamestown in Toronto, the downtown eastside of Vancouver, are festering pits of violence, fueled by alcohol and drugs and mental illness. This is where criminal activity is bred. There are parts of Winnipeg in the north section which have greater crime rates than the Compton area of Los Angelas.

With over 600 Nations, speaking 60 different languages, they are not a united front, nor one where each nation is equal. Some reserves are heavily involved in the 21st century, building apartment complexes, developing their own pipelines, their own businesses. The others are living in poverty where the dialogue is representative of ghetto rap. They are often being governed by corrupt management and over paid chiefs and “development officers”. Some drive Mercedes while others have no covered windows in their residence.

Some Indigenous are using their political connections to a huge advantage, gaining air miles continually being summoned to Ottawa for their viewpoint. The others are smuggling cigarettes, have no running water, are drinking copier fluid, and breaking into cars in the city for spare change.

Which all leads to what is believed to be a pretty obvious certainty. If there is a chance to stem this growing civil unrest than there needs to be a meeting half-way. Personal responsibility by Indigenous leaders and by their followers must enter the equation.

In this country which is often referred to as a cultural and social mosaic, there is no room for one group having greater rights than others. Each in their own sphere allowed to grow and cultivate their culture and language, but not to the detriment of others. A single set of laws acting as a binder, property rights recognized, but holding to central tenets of decency and honesty.  A respect for others must be re-gained. Assimilation not domination. There is no room for a separate state in Canada.

The Indigenous leadership needs to be held responsible for their people and the actions of their people. The radical statements and cultivating a culture of being owed, of everything being blamed on racism must end.  They need to address issues on these reserves. They need to gain control of their youth, the monies they are receiving need to be distributed down and put to the people directly. The government needs to monitor and audit that spending giving it a chance to be accountable and visible to all.

And it is then and only then that the other side will get out from under a siege  mentality. Once there is a recognition of an attempt to be accountable, only then will it be possible for a reconciliation. Calm measured voices from both sides need to meet in the middle.

In the meantime the farmers will continue to arm themselves and the Indigenous youth will continue to mimic their gangster kin, still destined statistically for a Regina jail.

Colten Boushie and his family, living in squalid conditions, no sense of a future, no  reason for participating, surrounded by a family who seemed to be hinging their future on “reconciliation” and what they believed the government owed them.

Glimpsing Colten’s facebook is in many ways similar to what one would expect from any immature early 20’s male. Random often non-sensical thoughts, but with repetitive themes of boredom, the beauty of marihuana, and the lack of money. But interspersed with comments no doubt particular to Indigenous youth; Red Power, the wanna be affiliation with gangster style and music. Their “bros” are their lifeblood. One friend brags about his friend “doing 25 to life in the Federal pen”

Always newsworthy when the cops are on “the rez”… “a good morning to all back in the saddle again middle finger up to the law” (Colten Boushie on Facebook July 27, 2016) ” and often brave talk of dying or the willingness to live on the edge.

“Its a good day to ride or die” (Colten Boushie on Facebook July 28, 2016)

“Back in the saddle again throw my middle finger up to the law, ain’t gotta rob nobody tonight but I do it just because I’m a nut i get bored did some pills but I want more fuck this world fuck this town” – (Colten Boushie on Facebook April 29, 2016.)

Until the Indigenous leadership recognizes and takes some responsibility for the problems on the Reserves and only when everyone can openly talk about the criminal element which saturates the Reserves and blinds people to real solutions, only then will there be hope.

The current Federal government doesn’t see the storm, only appeasing one part of the equation. This is a Federal Justice Minister who was an advocate for the Indigenous in her previous life and it is obvious to all that she is compromised. She is clearly an advocate of a separate state, a separate set of laws. She has no credibility with one half of the two sides that need to come together. The Poles, Ukranians, Estonians and others who also and equally “settled” this country need to be recognized and have a voice. They are after all the majority.

To do otherwise is a recipe for disaster. Blood is being and will continue to be spilled. The extremists on both sides need to be ignored and reasonable arbiters need to come forward.

Sylvia McAdam from the Big River First Nation in Saskatchewan and a co-founder of the IdleNoMore Movement was typical in her statements, saying after the Colten Boushie verdict that “There’s something very rotten to the core about what’s happening in Saskatchewan”. She’s right, but she is part of the problem, not the solution.

The truth and the road to understanding is in the facts buried just beneath the rhetoric.  Only an honest assessment by honest leaders will pull both sides out of this ever downward spiral.

As Henry David Thoreau said “It takes two to speak the truth..one to speak and the other to hear”.

Photo Courtesy of Mark Goebel via Creative Commons Flickr. Some Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Collusion, tampering, obstruction…only in the U.S you say?

The Donald is struggling, twisting and turning in the winds of feral politics– his family, and financial skeletons exposed and being rattled as a bright light is being shone on all things Trump. We marvel and tune in every night to be updated on the latest insanity.

Trump has been battling hard, in this “post-truth era”, where ridiculous statements are blended and bent into truths, where any factual examination is pushed aside in favour of  the strident comment. Where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

He has fired many, threatened to fire others, and has been tampering and belittling the Justice Department, the FBI and the Intelligence agencies in torrential bursts on Twitter.  He has fired the head of the FBI for not showing “loyalty” to him and continues to pursue Special counsel Mueller and the Deputy head of the Department of Justice Rosenstein.

Yet, for all his shenanigans, he has not prevailed, the hounds are still at the gates. The Mueller investigation carries on, in secrecy, seemingly oblivious to the rants of their President. The resulting outcome has yet to be revealed, but it seems unlikely that Trump will come out unscathed. We can only hope that someone continues to keep him away from the nuclear codes.

The President of the United States has been stymied by both an independent and highly resistant judicial and investigative arms, and a highly mobilized 5th Estate.  Freedom of the press is highly guarded in the U.S., supported and backed on many occasions by their most Supreme Court. Justices Black, Marshall, and Douglas wrote, in an infamous test in the courts concerning freedom of the press –” the courts lack the power to suppress any press publication no matter how grave a threat to security”

As much as we often dislike the Americans for their gung-ho bravado, their rights to bear arms, and their often fierce patriotism, one must have some admiration for their ability to pursue, once finally convinced of a wrong doing.  No one is above the law, even the President himself. And this is not the first time, we don’t have to go back very far to Clinton and Nixon, both of whom went down for their indiscretions exposed by a media and subsequent judicial examination.

Which leads us to wonder what about Canada? We are a bland nation in comparison, which maybe good depending on one’s point of view.  This is a nation which is complacent, its peoples often accused of feverishly pursuing the government pension rather than displaying an entrepreneurial spirit.  We are slow to demand answers, more wanting to believe rather than disbelieve our leaders. The political fire and brimstone, often seen to the south of us, seems dramatically lacking in this country.

We never seem comfortable rocking the boat, we thrive in offering support, counselling, “moving forward” and “working together”.  We are populated by the polyester crowd, both in dress and thought.  Does this make us immune to bad and dangerous politicians like Trump? Do we have a swamp to drain, or are we in nirvana?

If our politicians were corrupt ; if our Prime Minister or some of his cohorts were doing something illegal;  if our Prime Minister was trying to alter the Justice system in his or her political favour; would they be exposed?  Would our 5th Estate be there, would they be asking the tough questions even under threat of being ostracized by their political leaders. Would our police and judicial arms swing into action?

There does not seem to be any reason for confidence.

Lets refresh our memories.

When the verdict was reached in the Colten Boushie case in Saskatchewan, both the Prime Minister and the Solicitor General of Canada were implicitly critical of the jury; as they sided with the indigenous voices of the day crying racism. They incorrectly scapegoated the pre-emptory juror challenges. Despite legal criticisms, they were undeterred in their wanting to assuage their indigenous constituency–so in the last month or so, the same  Solicitor General has now put forward proposals  to do away with those pre-emptory challenges. The Boushie family, when asked to comment, approved.

It seems clear that our elected leaders are not hesitant to interfere with the judicial system in order to further their political goals.

In a recent foreign affairs fiasco to India, Justin Trudeau ended up at the same party as Jaspal Atwal, a Canadian convicted of attempted murder in a terrorist style act, and was sidling up for the requisite selfies with both Justin and Sophie.

To explain away this breach of security, the PM put forward a senior government official, Daniel Jean, who not only explained some security measures, but went further and put out a conspiracy theory involving the Indian government. The conspiracy was vehemently denied by the Indian government and now does not seem to stand up to any kind of scrutiny.

The significant part in all of this was that this government official felt the need to assist in taking off the pressure off the  Prime Minister. Was he put up to it?

Is it possible the Security and Intelligence group were trying to aid the PM?  In the worst case scenario the PM office may have directed that this government official to put some spin on this story, throw out a little smoke screen.

Have we forgotten Senator Duffy , paid by the PM Harpers Executive assistant Nigel Wright, who used his own private funds to pay Duffy for what were believed to be fraudulent claims. Duffy was paid $90,000 to cover all the expenses he said he had claimed, and which he could now pay back, along with a promise to go easy on him.

Michael Cohen, paid off Stormy Danials with $130,000, on behalf of Trump. Is the Canadian version of Stormy Daniels Senator Mike Duffy? In typical Canadian fashion Duffy is now back in the Senate readying himself for collecting a government pension.

A two year inquiry into former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and his connections to a German-Canadian arms lobbyist Karl Heinz-Schreiber found Mulroney accepted $225,000 in cash to hide the transactions.  The inquiry summarized the wrong-doing by saying,  in a typical Canadian spin,  “these dealings do not reflect the highest standards of conduct”.

Mr. Mulroney’s daughter recently ran for the leadership of the Conservative party of Ontario.

The point of this historic review, is that the potential for wrong-doing in this country is a reality.  This country is not immune. But we are not looking.

Our 5th Estate has been deeply wounded, the National Post, the Globe and Mail, CTV, and the smaller papers are burdened by decreasing budgets and are in a deathspin struggle to remain relevant and financially viable.

The CBC clearly has become an arm of the Liberal party, and have been rewarded by increases in their annual budgets. If you are not a believer, the extra money even comes with strings attached; that the CBC develop a 5 year “accountability plan”, with no details given or outlined what this involves.

So that leaves us with the police and the Department of Justice.

In a recent Globe and Mail article, the article notes that Commissioner Lucki has not given any media conferences since her appointment, but was busying herself with finding a home in Ottawa.

However, what was striking was one paragraph, where the author discovers that the government “has been preparing a mandate letter listing the goals she needs to meet in coming years”. It goes on to say that this is unusual, something usually done for the Minister of a particular portfolio, but in this instance “the Federal government wants to lay out exactly what Canadians can expect of their new top cop”.

The days of an independent and viable national police force seem to be rapidly disappearing.  The Liberals have taken the step over the line, the line separating the state from the police.

The mandate of the RCMP is pretty obvious, enforce the laws as constituted.

The Commissioner represents the rank and file of the RCMP and the width and breadth of the investigational and operational policing across this country. In this time of proposed civilian oversight, these could prove to be dangerous times, given the nature of the current crop of politicians who seem to want to wrest control over the direction and scope of the National police force.

Ms. Lucki seems to have been chosen for her amenability to accept direction from the Liberals, one does not get the impression of her pounding the table to defend the rank and file, or standing up to possible governmental interference. Operational policing once again seems to be being pushed into the back seat.

Principals and scruples seem less apparent with our current Prime Minister as he frolics on the beach with Aga Khan. The Solicitor General seems unaware that it is ethically wrong to change the laws to cater to her core political base, a group for whom she once worked.

But no where in sight is anyone who seems concerned.

 

“What people fail to appreciate is that the currency of corruption in elective office is not money, but votes” – William F. Buckley. 

 

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons by DonkeyHotey – Some Rights Reserved

 

The CBC….are you getting your $1billion dollars worth?

The unique tactile feel of a newspaper, especially in the early morning,  fresh from the presses, still damp with ink was one of the subconscious experiences which is now missed, and much forgotten. By admitting this, it is also admitting to being the older generation, possibly caught up in a romantic remembrance of journalism, nostalgic for the simpler times. However, it may be more significant, it may be that we are watching the tick tock death of responsible and professional journalism.

In our working lives we followed stories such  as the Watergate break-in, or Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, muted headlines and bylines over days and months, eagerly read each morning or in the evening during our daily commute. Hundreds of heads lined the subway cars, heads often immersed and hidden in the broad sheeted papers. Experienced readers were envied in their skilled ability to fold the paper in thirds making it more manageable and less intrusive for their seat mate.

None of the stories were “timely” in the current sense, but all were detailed, 800 or 1200 word stories, all attempting to abide by the accepted journalistic standards of the day.  It did not matter that the events that were written about were 24 or 48 hours “old” in terms of when they happened, what mattered was getting the full facts of that story. We believed that was written was the truth, had gone through a process of checks and balances and reliable sourcing.

None of us believed that the world would tip over if we were reading that news 12 or 24 hours after the actual event. The term “Breaking News” did not exist, we were able to quickly judge the seriousness of the story by the size of the caption lettering. The declaration of war was only a couple of inches in font size, the journalistic shout of the times.

Of course, this has all changed. We are constantly told now that we are on the edge, teetering, just seconds behind the latest “breaking news”. We need to hear about an accident before the blood has coagulated, to hear a political turn of events as the words are uttered so it can be analyzed and spit out replete with editorial content before it has echoed down the corridors of power. The death of a notable personality or celebrity, is shouted at us before the shroud covered gurney has reached the street.

All thrust upon us at lightning speed,  all possible because of technology, possible because of the inter-connectedness of the world. To be heard above everyone else, everything now is a shouted headline. Not enough time for more than 140 characters.

Of course to be first, to be the quickest, there is a cost.

Competitive speeds, literally leaves no time for thought, no time for reflection, and most importantly no time to question or verify. Conclusions are reached with little or no depth to the debate, no “other side” to be heard.  It is quicker for sure, but it belies the question of whether inaccurate or timely information is better than slower and more informed.

There has been much written about the declining media presence in this country, paper-thin newspapers, all struggling for survival. Video supplanting the written word, the truism of a picture being worth a thousand words is now being fully tested.

The media tells us that there is a rapidly dwindling interest in in-depth analysis or reportage.  We want to see pictures or video they say, we want  the news in staccato bursts which hints at a fuller story. The  full story now often remains uncovered,  buried and forgotten in a few hours.  Further development of that story needs more time and effort than the news agencies are willing to give.  They scrape the surface because they say we demand it, we want to move on, there is another story coming.

They blame our inattentiveness, our clear lack of interest in all things grey. They say we demand only black and white answers.

As a result, we are now  reaching absurd levels of polarity. We seek out what will quickly fit into our version of events, our pre-conceived notions reinforced.

To get the attention of all these scrolling eyeballs one needs to scream louder, one needs to make statements that inflame or capture ones attention by being outrageous or absurd. It is the most obvious in the  Red or Blue United States: FOX news exhorting Trump as a saviour, MSNBC seeing him sitting next to Hitler.

In the more modest Canada, cheap news reigns, a deer stuck in the ice is now headline news. Fire personnel rescuing a cat replacing city or provincial legislation coverage.

In this fight over dwindling ratings, empathy fuelled stories reign supreme.  Blood and tears in 10 second increments, video the needed currency.  Youtube and hand held devices determining the news lineup.

The CTV and CBC have purged senior reporters, even video librarians, replacing them with inexperienced twenty five year olds.

Writers working up through the ranks, covering city hall, writing obituaries are no longer required. Replaced now by pretty, under 30,  gender and ethnic balanced newsrooms. The new talking heads on fifteen minute loops endlessly playing throughout the day, with the “Breaking News” banners.

Monies that used to be spent in covering detailed stories, are now being spent on staged newsrooms, filled with massive monitors, all to give an impression of being technically advanced, cutting edge, trying to appear more like NASA’s control room. The assumption is that no younger generation person can resist a screen as a background. It is  blatant to the point of being laughable.

There are five maxims of ethical journalism.

1) Truth and Accuracy.

2) Independence – where it is expected that they should not act formally, or informally on behalf of special interests whether political, cultural or corporate.

3) Fairness and impartiality – most stories have two sides, stories must be “balanced” and in “context”.

4) Humanity – in other words, it should do no harm

5) Accountability – there must be correction of errors

Which leads into the role in Canada of the CBC in all this, the government funded Liberal backed and supported Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

This tax payer funded agency in 2016/2017   had a budget of $1.09 billion.

66% of that funding comes from government, which of course means the taxpayers. Only 8% comes from subscribers and a paltry 18% from advertising. They do not need to play by the same rules of fiscal responsibility when it comes to reporting of the news.  The government-supported CBC does not have to compete on a level playing field with the privately held television networks, or the newspapers. They have the advantage.

So one would have thought that if there were any hope for sticking to the ethics and professionalism of journalism, it would be the CBC, where striving to find viewers and monies was not crucial to survival. It was hoped that this may have been the one place where some in depth reporting could emerge without the usual budgetary constraints.

Unfortunately, they may be the worst offenders.

There is one rub that has become obvious. Besides showing all the vestiges of a government agency in terms of bloat and inefficiency, they owe their very survival to the government.  Clearly they believe that they must  be loyal to the government of the day, especially when it is Liberal, regardless of the rules of ethical journalism.

Their bias is discomfiting, no longer are they being journalists, they are being conduits for current government policy, whether it be the incessant push of indigenous issues, or defence and social policy.  Their editorializing and clear bias for the Liberal party is telling, difficult for them apparently, to bite the hand that feeds you.

Examples can be found everyday, one does not need to look very deeply.

The Colten Boushie coverage was a glaring example of both the Liberal/CBC  agenda towards indigenous policy and inflamed sub-standard reporting of “systemic racism”.  The facts took a back seat to their already reached conclusions. Editorial content blurred the facts.

Their follow up in their news series the “Investigators” pushed the agenda of a “botched police investigation”, pushed clearly by the Boushie family and their legal representative. Colten’s mother, said the “RCMP did a botched-up job”.

They “investigated” and then headlined their story, splayed it nationally, and trumpeted the police investigation as being  “sloppy and negligent”.

Of course, they had very little evidence to support this, and so even went out to find experts that would confirm their version of the story.  All of their allegations centred around the interrogation of Gerald Stanley and the seizure of his clothes. Claiming that Stanley had been let to go home prior to being interviewed, and that they never seized his clothes at the time.

Both of these allegations were completely false and eventually discounted. In a ten second apology they admitted to the wrong doing. Of course the damage was done. These top notch reporters had two basic facts central to their story completely wrong. Their sources clearly had not been tested, clearly their fact checking was completely lacking.

Were they further stoking the flames of racism that they had done throughout the whole trial? Maybe the intent was not that evil. But clearly they had a bias, and clearly nothing was going to stop them in their pursuit of the truth as they perceived it. It fit with the Indigenous theme.

If this had been the NY Times the journalists would have been fired.

Investigative journalism is for the most part invisible inside this journalistic behemoth. They are no longer reporting, they are “tracking” stories to use their own terminology.

It is no coincidence that they now concentrate on those teary stories which require no work in terms of reporting. The Humboldt crash fills our screens for days on end, where their reporters ask such probing questions as “How is Humboldt surviving this crisis”? to anyone walking in front of their cameras. Days of trying to have someone speak about one of the victims, then coverage of all the funerals in all the different cities, coverage of the Go Fund me account as much as the Stock Market. They even fly in the National talking heads to sit in front of the hockey arena.

A tragic accident to be sure, but days of self flagellation is not reporting, its just easy.

If we believe that other news sources are not being competent or trustworthy, we can turn them off, or cancel our subscriptions. The CBC survive only because they are funded. And generously funded. They have lost their way, they have lost sight of  the rules of honest journalism. What is covered in terms of news is often just the regurgitated stories of other news agencies. How does the BBC for example, enjoy the journalistic reputation they have, even though they are government funded. The two are incomparable.

So you can turn the CBC off; or go to a rerun of Schitts Creek , but it is time for a serious discussion of their role and whether it has any place in the sadly dwindling Canadian journalism landscape. Maybe it is time to read the paper instead.

 

 

Photo Courtesy of Elijah van der Giessen via Flickr Commons Some Rights Reserved

PM and Justice Minister interfere with our Courts to further Indigenous cry of Racism…

Clearly not interested in facts, Justin Trudeau, your Prime Minister has hit a new and dangerous low in his attempt to become the ultimate superhero for the Indigenous and First Nations. In doing so, he is segmenting this country, siding with fringe radical elements, and showing no concern about trying to interfere with the Justice system. Rational, clear thought is being pushed to the side by blatant political opportunism.

Predictably, he is being parroted by his Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, who has already proven that she is Indigenous activist who happened to be chosen to be Justice Minister, rather than a Justice Minister who happens to be Indigenous.

They are playing to their constituencies in such a way that it would make Donald Trump blush.

Of course I am talking about the recent court case where Gerald Stanley, a farmer in Biggar, Saskatchewan was charged with the 2nd degree murder of Colten Boushie a member of the Red Pheasant reserve. Stanley’s subsequent acquittal took place in front of jury of 12 in a North Battleford Saskatchewan courtroom.  Colten Boushie,  was a 22 year old indigenous male, which it should be remembered is the only reason we are talking about this case rather than giving it a cursory glance.

The CBC, seemingly acting as an editorial arm of the government, insistently before and after the court case framed the case as being about racism, even before hearing of a single piece of evidence. In the days leading up and through the trial, the twitter monitoring journalists of the CBC, portrayed the case as one of a “white” male shooting an indigenous “Cree” male. Extensive coverage was given to interviewing indigenous members of the community, highlighting the “two solitudes” theme, and calling the situation “polarized” in terms of race relations.

This was not a race case, as the evidence showed in the end, but that is not a flashy or easy story to write and it certainly doesn’t fall within the narrative being pushed by the government and a radical few.

Boushie’s mother’s lawyer (unknown why, but interesting that she has already obtained legal representation), Chris Murphy  who said that the case “represents the elements of a larger conversation about reconciliation”. A  2nd degree murder case somehow being about “reconciliation”?

So what are the facts?

First, lets deal with the selection of the jury, because the first criticism brought by the Indigenous was that there were no “visibly” indigenous members on the jury, even now they do not for sure if there were indigenous members of the jury, but why bother a narrative with such a small detail.

Using health records to avoid bias, the courts aware of the growing climate, summoned over 750 potential jurors reaching with their summons all the way to the border of the North West Territories.  Under normal circumstances, the courts would only summons 250-400 persons. But the courts, in accordance and compliance with the Supreme Court of Canada,  exercised caution and over extended,  knowing that they would be open to accusations of a non-representative jury pool otherwise. Many of the communities that were included in their canvas are over 80%-90% indigenous; communities such as Beauval and La Loche.

On day one of the trial only 230 showed. There were close to 500 people who decided that they could ignore the courts.

The Judge, Chief Justice Martel Popescul reiterated that those that failed to attend “could” be charged under the “Jury Act”.  It was clear that a lot of the no-shows would be Indigenous persons, so given the opportunity to participate and extend the pool or jurors, decided not to attend.  It used to be considered a serious matter if one failed to attend for this duty, but clearly the dialogue has changed, and Indigenous groups feel they have the right to disregard the laws of Canada. Or do you believe that there will be charges forthcoming?

The Indigenous spokespersons of course explain this lack of caring in a dismissive way,  saying it was hard for them to get to court because of the isolated nature of their communities, and they could not afford to travel for jury selection. One lawyer stated: ” socio-economic issues can lead to people not being available. Health issues. Its anybody’s guess”.

A few years ago another court case reached the Supreme Court of Canada (R vs. Kokopenace) , where an indigenous accused argued that he had a right to have indigenous persons on the jury. One of the issues that this case explored and determined was that the response rate to summons for jury duty on the Reserve was 10% and falling. It would seem that the Boushie case got the same response rate.

A 2nd issue then surfaced; that being the right of the defence in this case, as in all cases, to have pre-emptory challenges to jurors without any reason needing to be articulated.

Of course, the indigenous groups said they were challenging all of the indigenous potential jurors, only because they were indigenous, and in their view this was another example of racism. But anybody who has been involved in these types of cases, and in particular have dealt with the jury selection process know that the defence always tries to exclude all jurors who show bias. Not because they are indigenous but because they are concerned about possible bias. It is not racism, it is our system which is designed to weed out bias, just as they exclude the police, or sherifs.

Historically, indigenous groups  have called to get rid of these challenges, which of course any criminal defence attorney would be opposed to, and would mean changing the concept and basis for impartial jury selection. Whether it works that way is another argument.   .

Furthermore, this entire matter has already been debated at length and even reached the Supreme Court of Canada in R vs. Kokopenace where in a 5-2 decision they decided that there was an onus to make the jury pool representative, but there was no obligation to determine the composition of that jury. Clearly in this latest case, there was an attempt to be all inclusive, and just as clearly there was insufficient response from the indigenous community. You are entitled to a representative jury, just not one you hand pick.

Now lets detail the actual facts of the case.

Five individuals including Boushie, all admitting to being blind drunk, were driving around the area in an SUV, after swimming and drinking at a local fishing hole. One “witness” claimed she was so drunk that she slept through the entire incident.

After leaving the fishing hole, they decided to attempt to steal from a neighbour to Stanley,  breaking a window on a truck, using a .22 rifle, that they had been carrying around with them, “target shooting”  from the vehicle. In breaking the window, they broke the stock on the rifle. This was according to the Crown witness Eric Meechance. (During the investigation he failed to mention the fact that they had a gun in their vehicle, because he had a “gun ban”. )

17 live rounds were found in the SUV vehicle, some in the rifle itself.

They then drove on to the Stanley farm, apparently somewhere in the process getting a flat tire.

They drove their “loud” vehicle on to the Stanley property, where Gerald Stanley and his 28 year old son were building a fence unbeknownst to the trespassers. The Stanleys heard and saw the vehicle come to a stop near to one of their ATVs, and watched as a person from the vehicle get on the ATV and appeared to try and start it.

Sheldon, Stanley’s son, ran towards them to confront them, and the male got off the ATV and ran back to their car and jumped in. Sheldon armed with the hammer he had been using on the fence, got up to their vehicle and smashed the window of the car, while his Dad “kicked at the taillight. The car then accelerated away, spewing gravel in their haste.

But instead of leaving the property, the car turned back and struck another of the Stanley’s vehicles. Gerald Stanley went to his shed where he kept a pistol for “scaring coyotes”, grabbed what he believed to be two bullets and put them in the gun with the intent of helping his son, who again had gone to confront the people in the car.

As he emerged from the shed Stanley fired a shot into the air as a “warning”. He could not see his son, but he could see two who had once again exited from the vehicle, and they turned and looked. He then lifted his gun again and fired “two or three times” into the air. He said he never pointed it at them, thought the gun was empty and popped the clip out into his left hand and carried the gun in his right as he went towards the vehicle.

As he approached the vehicle, he saw that the lawnmower his wife had been pushing was there, but not his wife. He said he felt a pure moment of “terror” thinking that the car had run over her. He said he ran to look under the car, and the car engine revved, and he assumed that he was going to get run over as well. So he went to the driver’s window, wanting to reach in to shut off the car.

He then sees something “metal” sticking out of the drivers side and he noticed the driver for the first time. He slapped at the metal, and simultaneously reached into try and turn off the keys in the ignition.

And it is then that the gun went off, killing Boushie, striking him in the back of the head. Although the gun was believed to be empty the defence argued that it had to be a delayed discharge, a “hanger”. The .22 rifle was beside Boushie in the front seat, as Boushie was in the drivers side.

Sheldon, the son, who had run to get his truck keys from the house and was intending to pursue them, said he heard two shots, and then a third. Consistent with his father’s later testimony.

The forensic evidence found by the police was consistent with this story.

That at least is the version of Stanley which was also consistent with one of the Crown witnesses.

Now, how about the testimony of those in the car, after all there were four of them.  Well, unfortunately, all proved to be unreliable and their testimony such as it was came close to  constituting perjury. Crown Prosecutor Bill Burge even warned the jury that they will here many “contradictions” in the stories.

One of the passengers in the Boushie vehicle, Cassidy Cross-Whitstone admitted to lying about trying to break into a truck on the other property and about how much he had to drink. He said he was worried about losing his drivers licence and that he “lied about that”.

Belinda Jackson, another Crown witness had earlier said that the only person with a firearm on the Stanley farm was a woman standing outside their SUV, but then changed her story to say that she saw Gerald Stanley shoot Boushie “twice” in the head. Boushie was only shot once, and two of the other Crown witnesses confirmed hearing two shots over their head, and then a third when they were in the process of running away.

So in the Crown’s case. Three of four potential witnesses were found, and admitted to lying or leaving out facts in the case. Another witness slept through the entire matter. All of the Crown witnesses admitted to drinking heavily and being at different levels of intoxication. All of course were indigenous, and I have not seen a single report after the acquittal mentioning that unreliable witnesses of the Crown were a big legal problem in this court case.

The Crown case was so bad, one wonders if Crown was pressured into the laying of charges. As a former homicide investigator I could not imagine getting charge approval on a case where all of your witnesses for the Crown were “unreliable” and admitted to high levels of intoxication.

So where does this leave us?

The Prime Minister of this country, a country who recognizes the need for an independent justice system, a justice system that should not be tainted in favour of a special interest group, a justice system that should be able to determine right from wrong without political interference. Our Prime Minister, touring in the United States immediately sides with the Indigenous outcry, and comments on Twitter.

“we need to do better”

“we have come to this point as a country far too many times”.

He then sends them his “love”.

Of course he is then echoed by our illustrious Justice Minister:

“Thank you PM. My thoughts are with the family of Colton Boushie tonight. I truly feel your pain and I hear all of your voices. As a country we can and must do something better – I am committed to working everyday to ensure justice for all Canadians.”

What message are they sending? Clearly they are saying that the court system didn’t work in this case and was biased based on race? It can not be interpreted in any other way.

Clearly both the PM and Wilson-Raybould were reacting as they always do, siding with the indigenous no matter the concern or the facts of a case. Grand standing to show their inordinate support.

In doing so, the clear implication is that the 7 women and 5 men who served on the jury, and the Judge who oversaw the case were tainted by racism. It displays both a lack of judgement, a lack of experience, and a supreme lack of objectivity on the part of these two leaders. This from a Prime Minister and a Justice Minister sworn to uphold the laws of Canada.

But this Liberal group for the last two years, bolstered by the two toadies, Jane Philpott and Carolyn Bennett have done nothing but embolden the radical fringe Indigenous leaders who are demanding different laws, a different Child welfare system, separate police departments, greater infrastructure programs, better schools, and a seat at Premier’s conferences as they strive to be a Nation unto itself.

“Reconcilation”, “colonialism”, and “residential schools” are the rallying cries and populate every conversation, whatever indigenous problem is being debated. They have even shamelessly compared the cultural genocide of the residential schools to that of the Nazi concentration camps.

More money, and more power are being demanded as part of this “reconciliation” and the monetary spigot is wide open as there are no impossible or improbable demands. Every government meeting is opened with the announcement about being on the ceded or un-ceded territorial lands of the local Indigenous group, which also furthers a point of view that most Canadians may not feel is appropriate.

The political parliamentary opposition firmly sit on their hands, and keep their mouths closed, clearly cowed by the thought of being branded racist, no matter what the logic of the argument.

The new NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, echoed the thoughts of Trudeau saying about the court case:

“There was no justice for Colten Boushie…today they have again been told that their lives have less value. We must confront the legacy of colonialism and genocide so they can see a brighter future for themselves”.  It is even more astounding when you consider that he is a lawyer, not a high school drama teacher, so should have had some appreciation of the facts of a case being paramount.

Yesterday, as I write this, finally the Conservatives and a few others are finally speaking up about this clear political interference on the judicial system. Conservative Deputy Leader Lisa Raitt, and Conservative Finance critic Rob Nicholson are asking the Justice Minister and the Prime Minister as to whether they were saying the jury had arrived at the wrong verdict.

Toronto criminal lawyer Sean Robichaud argued that it was “wholly inappropriate for elected officials to publicly undermine findings of a lawfully delivered verdict, particularly if it was one with a jury.” He goes further saying that the comments from the Prime minister and the Justice minister that by questioning the credibility of the judiciary, “pose a threat to Canada’s democratic system”.

The Liberals don’t learn easily though, as today they flew members of the Boushie family to Ottawa to meet with those oh so sympathetic cabinet ministers Philpott and Bennett, the Public Safety Minister, and of course Wilson-Raybould and Trudeau himself.

The Justice Minister in the House  is also expressing a need to change the judicial system and they are now looking at quickly getting rid of pre-emptory challenges. Justin Trudeau, in the House of Commons, realizing now that he has over-stepped, had the audacity to say during question period, that he could not comment on this “particular case”, to the laughter of the opposition.

The damage is done. He has already commented, he has already sided with the likes of Bobby Cameron, Chief of Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations that the verdict was “..a bunch of garbage.” He is sanctioning the words of  Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the First Nations who says “the system has failed indigenous people, it remains rife with systemic rascism”

So what has all this created?

It has created the fringes on both sides to spout racist comments on social media and the creation of a go fund me page for the defence costs of Gerald Stanley which in three days has now raised $130,000.00. The divide in this country is widening, being pushed by the ridiculous Twitter verse.

The Orwellian “thought police” nature of the politics of Canada today is leading to increasing polarization. The settlers of Saskatchewan who for generations worked this harsh un-forgiving land, who “colonized” this land, are now told to stay out of the debate.

The jury in this case has now been branded, and must be now questioning why they did their civic duty only to be called racists, even obliquely by their own Prime Minister.

This case was one of a rural crime resulting in a needless death. There was absolutely no evidence of this being a racist driven crime.

Tragic, as any death is, it is now further driving a wedge into legitimate debate as to the problems of being indigenous in this country; abject poverty and abysmal education feeding violence and disenfranchisement.  The refusal to look inward, the insistence on blaming everything on colonization, regardless of the facts, is only going to fuel a now slow burning fire among the still silent majority, who it can be argued, have just as much claim to this country as do the 4% of the Canadian population who were here “first”.

We expect our politicians to recognize the need for an independent judiciary, to guard against politicization, to be the rational measure of policy and programs. Trudeau, Wilson-Raybould, Philpott, and Bennett need to know that they represent the entire country, they should not be biased to any cause without considering the whole.  It seems that they are currently incapable of understanding this, and show no concern about attacking the very judiciary and the laws which have founded and served us for 150 years.

The indigenous groups don’t agree of course, so let’s open the debate, let us hear the concrete proposals as to how they feel the system should be altered to serve their needs. But then, let the country decide. Let the courts be the arbiter to insure fairness and individual rights. Yes, the very same courts that they now denigrate, but lets keep in mind they are very selective in their protestations as Courts ruling in their favour are often lauded by them.

There are no other options, as to do otherwise is contributing to a growing backlash in this country. We must continually guard against allowing the radical fringes from both sides who tend to kidnap and hijack an honest, and I stress honest,  debate and resolution. Tough, complicated issues, are not furthered by simplistic sound bites that play to a particular audience. Trudeau and his cronies are driving a very deep and irreversible wedge into the heart of this country, they are dividing an entire nation. That never ends well, just ask the Americans living in the Trump world.

In the end this will be most detrimental to the indigenous people themselves. Ironically, they have chosen this particular case, where there is no evidence of racism once the facts are known, as the one that will be their hill to die on. They should have chosen better.

And, if Trudeau and his Cabinet would like to meet with everyone and show preferential treatment to those that feel the court system has let them down, then warm up the jets, there are going to be lot of people awaiting government limousines at the MacDonald-Cartier airport. By the way, we may need to change the name of the airport.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr via the Commons and Renegade98 Some Rights Reserved 

Epilogue

Well a lot has transpired since this blog, which drew the most views of any written to date.  All of it very positive. I have been contacted by people in Saskatchewan, wanting a blog to cover the issue of rural crime etc.  and I have developed the expected Twitter cries of racism…although none so far has taken up the challenge to demonstrate how this case was racist.

Others, including the Saskatchewan lawyers groups  have also joined in the criticism of Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould for interfering in the process. It took them some time, but they finally got there.

Today, the Saskatchewan Crown said there would be no appeal which of course have renewed the cries of the Indigenous.

However, the Liberal fringe keep firing. The Boushie family have made complaints now of the police conduct. The first internal investigation found no wrong-doing, but why stop there, so they have made another complaint and the Public Complaints group in Ottawa who looks into misconduct, never one to miss getting some public attention, have launched their investigation. The investigation was self- launched by the Chair of the Commission. Political pressure?

They are going to investigate how the Boushie family was advised of his death, whether the Mounties followed policies and practises, and whether those actions were racial discrimination. Again, no evidence of any of that, but I guess if you say something over and over again, it must be true.

Clearly, this case won’t be going away for awhile.

Meanwhile the CBC top notch “investigative journalists” have revealed what they say are the problems of the investigation. They have found a couple of ex cops to say that there were problems.  The report and its bias by the CBC, is a clear attempt to keep this story in the news and fuel the racist claims by the Indigenous groups. The RCMP could not comment because of a possible appeal, and now an investigation by the Complaints commission. Shoddy one-sided journalism at best.

 

The above will likely be the subject of a future blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Story – “Heather” – Part III

It was now 0500 in the morning of the next day. So with the third or fourth coffee in hand, and we were back in the Surrey detachment main office, anticipating what was to come, somehow knowing that this office, this desk, and these walls could be my home for the foreseeable future.

Although it was distant from Cloverdale and the search areas, I also knew that this place, once daybreak arrived would begin to take on an atmosphere of its own. There is an ill-defined energy which any homicide generates in a police office. People coming and going in various stages of fatigue, an air of practised urgency, and every once in awhile it would be interrupted with sporadic shots of adrenalin due to some unexpected turn in the evidence.

This early inherent urgency, or drive, can sometimes be short-lived.  There seems to be a direct correlation between victim type and the length as to how long an investigator can keep a file moving.  In this case, a small girl was a possible homicide victim, and she was still missing, in some senses an investigators nightmare.  Twenty hour days would be the norm. There would be less bitching, more cigarettes, less week-ends off, less time with one’s own family, and pizza would be the culinary favourite.  It is not like the television shows in that it is not as emotional as some would like to portray it; it is more of a machine kicking into a higher gear, but like a marathoner, where one had to control pace, and hold focus.

This first quiet moment between Chris and I was therefore likely to be the last for awhile, just a momentary pause.

This of course was the “old days”. So this investigation done on paper.  Hand written reports, forms and notes, would become the 8″ x 10″ medium through which the investigation would take shape. Paper would be filling cardboard boxes, and those boxes would eventually take up spaces around us, giving a bit of a warehouse feel. Often Librarian skills would be more advantageous than investigative skills.

Each piece of paper being assigned a number, each piece of paper being a separate piece of information. If an officer filled in a report, and it addressed or revealed four pieces of other information, then four separate reports would then be generated, then all wold be put in four different folders pertaining to each item. Laborious? You bet. Efficient? We thought so. But of course the coming digital electronic age would make this all seem comically archaic.

For instance, if we had to  search for a single item. Well we had to remember where we had seen it, and in what folder. So, as an example, if someone mentioned a white Ford pickup, we would have to remember where we read it, and in what folder. It worked well when the file may be only a couple of hundred folders and a couple of hundred pages. It relied on a good memory and a concentrated effort.

However, when the file reached thousands of pages, as this one would, it became an exercise in re-reading, duplicated efforts, and it was often frustrating. Overlaying it all,  like Poe’s Raven, was the inherent fear of missing something key to the investigation.

As the days came and went, in amoebic fashion the paper would grow, taking on a life of its own. Everything found, every person spoken to, every news item mentioned, every tip called in would need to be read, documented and filed. It was a mind numbing process and complacency was the enemy. Any follow up was hand-written and forwarded to the individual investigators. An increase in investigators naturally led to an increase in paper, the Catch-22 of police bureaucracy. In a few short days, the investigative team would grow from two of us to over forty or fifty individual investigators, borrowing from Robbery, Serious Crime, and other sections within the detachment.

Decisions big and small, would need to be made as fast as the questions could be uttered, answered more by instinct than a layered thought process. There would be no time for routine debate, or second-guessing, hoping beyond hope that somehow we had learned something over the years that would not let us down, or cause us to overlook something in our needed haste.

And of course there was numerous calls from the general public, which led to the establishment of a “Tip Line”. My immediate boss, Sgt. Mel Trekofski, wanted to pitch in, and offered to take up the monitoring of the tip line, a thankless task at the best of times. It required “carding” each individual, call-backs to verify the information, and therefore seemingly endless conversations with persons, some good, some ridiculous.

As the file went on, over five thousand tips would eventually be received, with over forty psychic callers alone. The self-described “professional” psychics would all offer up where the body of Heather could be found. So you heard the “Woods”, the “water”, and “buried in a shallow grave”. There were many calls where they went on to say who was responsible,  and in many instances it was “the father”.  But, if not then a “white individual” who “worked with his hands.”  Some even offered to take investigators to the body, something we couldn’t ignore, but of course these did not pan out, but did extend my belief that there were a lot of “crazies” in the world. I never had a paranormal observer, if Im being kind, solve a file for me, and this wasn’t going to be the first.

The logistical jigsaw puzzle continued as we needed to address staffing issues and all the usual secondary administrative issues, at times like a Rubik’s cube, multi-dimensional, spinning on the singular axis of trying to keep the investigation on track.

As the searches ended, the neighbourhood inquiries continued in earnest, as did the forensic examination of objects which had been found. Investigators were assigned to each parent, and other investigators began criminal record checks, as well as local police record checks, on all individuals spoken with or identified as part of the investigation.

Panties, jeans, shirts, jackets, socks, sandals, some of which were in dumpsters were shown to the parents in the event that they had belonged to Heather, and if not, catalogued and maintained in any event.

Neighbourhood personalities, like “Pedophile Darcy”, surfaced through the townhouse inquiries as we began to dredge through the individuals in the Cloverdale complex, and the other people in the neighbourhood. “Darcy”, was typical of the type who surfaced. Darcy, of course, drove a white van, and in his past had been caught masturbating on a child’s  bed, and had a record of sexual assault. So he became a subject of our surveillance team, and in the end we were able to eliminate him from any involvement. There were others similar to Darcy, and each took time, each tip had to be ground out, and it took several days to eliminate Darcy and the other archetypes as they surfaced.

Checks through our VICLAS (An RCMP victim Classification software) system for this area of Cloverdale surfaced a possible fifteen individuals of interest because of their sexual predations. Each of these individuals would be located, interviewed, and reported on. Each would need to provide an alibi.

Checks of all those with criminal records for sexual assault and now free in the broader City of Surrey of which Cloverdale was just a suburb, revealed another five hundred possible “individuals of interest”. It would take years to eliminate that many so we had to narrow the search, at least in the short term, to just those that had violently offended on pre-pubescent children living in the Cloverdale area. This still gave us twenty-seven names. Investigators were assigned to each.  It may surprise some to realize that in most cases these individuals co-operated, and were expecting us. When the investigators arrived some had even already prepared their statements and had their alibis in order.

Others, of course would try an investigators patience, testing their emotional mettle, and you could not help but be pulled you down into the dark reaches of sexual perversion.  In matter of fact voices, they would describe how it couldn’t be them involved, as their method was different in terms of the suffering they would inflict in their need for sexual satisfaction. Some described why she could be alive, to be kept as a sexual play toy.  Any killing of her would have be only to get rid of the evidence, and a “waste”,  and any killing of her would be a signal that things must have gone wrong. This insight would later prove to be accurate.

A crack dealer living in the complex, who had been described by persons in the complex as coming and going in another  “white van”  became an obvious possible suspect. Once identified, he admitted to dealing drugs, and offered up his sales notations, his “crib” sheets as evidence of where he was at the time of Heather’s disappearance. No “normal” criminal he explained likes sex offenders; whether in jail or on the street and the drug dealer wanted to help.

As the investigative team grew, briefings, and de-briefings were our life-blood. Every morning at about 0630 I would brief upper Surrey detachment management, and then at 0730 I would brief the investigative group as to any developments or any change in focus. At 4:30 in the afternoon a de-briefing would be held with these same officers to learn of any highlights. In between of course there was the media to deal with; calls dealing with expenses, computer check results, surveillance assignments, tip line results, and other more sundry items.

By 6:00 pm, as things slowed a little, I would sit in front of a stack of reports, about 2′ high, and begin reading. Chris would then read the same paper after me, just to insure there were a second set of eyes. We would check for any cross references, then the paper would be filed, new follow ups drafted and assigned. Coffee was my particular drug, and stretching for the long walk to the bathroom began to be a highlight which broke up the trance like nature of our task.

Three or four hours fitful sleep a night would be our routine.  Upon returning to work, the process started again. Days drifted into nights. Nights became sunrises.

Suspects surfaced and then drifted away after examination; mounds of dirt reported as shallow graves were examined and dug out; clothes continued to be turned in; suspect vehicles were identified from having been seen in the area; and the psychics from around the world persisted on being heard, each with their own, but similar investigative theories.

Americas Most Wanted called wanting to profile the case. That in turn generated two tips that proved of no value. Europe, and parts of North America were all now paying attention.

We read, often re-read, re-shuffled, and then sometimes re-assigned.

And of course, there was the ever present media, their trucks stationed inside the complex itself,  giving nightly broadcasts and voicing the concerns of the general public. With Halloween getting near, they often regurgitated the growing parents concerns with a killer “on the loose” and asking whether they would let their children go out trick or treating.

As the investigation wore on I kept remembering how I was once told (by who I can not remember) that in every murder there are five mistakes made, its just a matter of finding out those mistakes. Simple really.

Of course every murder is different, every set of circumstances different. In this case we believed that this had been an “opportunity killing” by a stranger, and likely sexually motivated. Statistically, at least, the most difficult of all types of murders as these things go. Many remain unsolved. For instance, in 1996 only 14% of homicides were committed by a stranger. In 1976 it was only 18.4%, and in 1985 17.3%. Consistently low numbers.

If you looked further, and included the age of the victim, in a U.S. study only 3% of homicides were committed by strangers of victims under the age of 12. When a sexual related offence was the motivation, it drops even further down to 1% of the cases.

In checking with the FBI on this case, we learned that there had been only 4 or 5 of these cases in Western North America at the time of Heather’s disappearance in the year 2000.  So although abduction of a child is a parents greatest fear, it is actually an extremely unlikely event. Patterns are harder to detect, as there is insufficient historical data. A serial offence on children was almost unheard of, but of course none of the statistical data, or lack of data was of much consolation for the mother and father of Heather.

Investigative pressure does grow, from the public and from within. Maybe not at the levels of the tv drama series, but it is there. The greatest pressure is put on by the investigators themselves. At some point you begin to realize, rightly or wrongly, whether solved or unsolved, that this investigation will be attached to your name, especially in police circles. You will be perceived in a different light in the future.

A sense of pride takes over, the not wanting to be beaten. The emotions shut down, as the  constant images of the victim is too disarming, too distracting. One could not function coherently if you allowed yourself to become fixated on the depravity of it all, the senselessness of it all, the speculation as to whether Heather was alive or dead. To contemplate her alive and being held was in some ways an outcome that could be worse than death.

As a bit of an escape, a need at the very least to breathe fresh air, both Chris and I took a few hours on a Sunday to step away from the office. It was day twenty-two, and I decided to drive up the Coquihalla highway, a lonely stretch of highway in the middle of British Columbia, surrounded only by trees and rivers, just in an effort to clear the fog which had permeated my nerve endings. I stopped at the only rest stop, perched at a 3000′ elevation, three hours from Surrey. It was cold and gloomy, but I went into the darkened men’s washroom in this remote part of British Columbia. There at the urinal, staring at me was the Missing poster of Heather, eye level. I had always taken pride in my ability to disassociate from files when away from work. But clearly, this file was not going to let me do that. There could be no escape, not now anyways, so I decided to head back.

As I drove down the steep decline through the highway snow-sheds, once again I began to fruitlessly re-trace all that had been done, despite my blaring radio trying to change my obsessed thought process. I kept coming back to the fact that we needed to find one of those proverbial “mistakes”. I was not greedy, not all five, just give me one.

As I approached the Detachment in the darkening hours of the afternoon, just to check in, that I got a phone call. I needed to get back a little faster, because they think they had “found” Heather.

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons by TrixSigio Some Rights Reserved

And then there were none….

Last night I re-watched the 1976 movie “All the Presidents Men”; the story of an investigative journalistic effort that led to the discovery of the illegal activities of The Committee to Re-Elect, and then to President Richard Nixon himself. In the end there were many guilty pleas, and the resignation of the President himself. The two year long investigative reporting was unprecedented, and may be never duplicated in our current climate as we head forward, where we seem to only want news fixes, like a junkie in the alley looking for a cap of heroin. We want this short burst of adrenalin laced news feeding our eyes and not our heads, before we duly nod off.

The parallels to the situation in the U.S. in 1974 to today, become obvious upon review, almost startling. The Trump presidency is difficult to even fathom, but in no way do I think that Trump and the family lackeys who are already proven liars, are not capable of further deception, not capable of illegalities, in order to maintain their power.

The positive side of this, in some backward fashion, at least in the short term, has been the rejuvenation of an active and determined group of journalists who have now tasted blood. They have the resources, and the experience to both confront the administration and write about it. Even more importantly, they seem to have the backbone necessary to withstand the onslaught of government power run amok, who try to bend, or deny each and every story with a spin that is both dangerous and sometimes laughable.

The Washington Post and the New York Times seem to be the central figures in this relentless daily battle with the truth. Both are decorated newspapers. The Washington Post with Woodward and Bernstein were the central figures in the Watergate matters in 1974, which brought down Nixon. And here again the Post is providing in-depth laudatory coverage of the daily crisis, which is the Trump Whitehouse.

Before Trump, both newspapers were in financial trouble, both cutting personnel and funding. Since Trump, their subscriptions have increased and they have been given a temporary respite from the unenviable and seemingly inevitible dwindling of subscriptions.

The sourcing of their stories, and protecting those stories is relentless. Anybody with an interest in how to conduct, and source investigations should take note. This is not an easy undertaking, their jobs are often on the line should they misspeak or be wrong in any of their reportage.

Where is television in all of this?  Unfortunately, in the last few years, it is trying to re-invent itself, it has become a medium, not a message. They are consumed with banner headlines, breathless “breaking news” but make no mistake, and they seem to have abandoned the time and effort needed for investigative reporting. Their  “news” is no longer journalism.

In an effort to capture the attention of the latest generation, they have come to believe, maybe correctly that this generation is only capable of 30 second attention spans. Therefore anything on video, twitter, Facebook, or trending on YouTube is re-invented as the news regardless of its worth. A good video of a cat up a tree jumps the news queue and becomes headline material. It is cheaply available, and citizens with their phones have become their “stringers” in the field, at no significant cost.

In covering Potus, the TV news groups; CNN, Fox, CBS etc. are for the most part reporting what the newspapers are writing, then putting a lot of talking heads around a dais to pontificate about it.  The more outrageous the talking head, the better the chance of capturing the eyes of the viewing public so we get the likes of Kelly-anne Conway spinning ludicrous analysis and misinformation about the latest Presidential gaff posing as policy.

In many ways, this President has mastered Twitter and the wants of the new age, and has reduced governing to a sitcom. His statements, such as the one where he talks about grabbing women by the genitals, is outrageous, but it goes no further than that, the outrageousness is the news, not the meaning or the implications.  The United States reputation around the world is now tarnished, and may not recover for some time. The United States is now reduced to being a large military with an unstable leader. Sound familiar?

Of course this lack of investigational interest is all applicable to Canada, with its smaller population concentrated around the cities and the borders with the U.S., our television is a smaller mirror image of the U.S. It is astonishing to see how much the CBC National news coverage now revolves around the U.S. trending stories. In  the last couple of days, hours of repetitive footage of the hurricane stories. Here they are able to rollick in the abundance of 10 second videos that are available showing  bent over palm trees, shot through a rain covered lens;  and of course always maintaining a look out for  a “Canadian” located in the centre of the storm to give them some relevancy to Canada.

I am not saying this big story should not be reported, but it should not be all consuming. Are there no issues in Canada worthy of some form of journalism? Of course there are, but they are hampered by this new age of video at all costs, and dwindling funds to conduct those stories. A journalistic Catch-22.

As I opined before, television should be written off as a model of investigative journalism as it simply does not exist at any measurable level, nor is it even possible in their new corporate mission statements.

Newspapers in Canada are in equally dire straits, The Globe and Mail, although business oriented still is the bell-weather of Canada’s newspapers, today they announced a couple of further layoffs.

But the other problem, although we are a highly literate country, is that we are no longer reading.

The newest generation has fallen prey to the love of convenience, wanting summaries, not depth in their reporting. Coles Notes versions, not the details. They need to be constantly fed only enough for them to form an opinion in a few seconds, and damn the details.

Of course, the devil has always been in the details.

This leaves us susceptible to being victimized by misleading or downright false reporting. We are often misled by the headlines, and only when one chooses to read the whole article does it make sense, and it is usually a more calm explanation than advertised.

We are manipulated as a result. Our own governmental agencies have learned that if they issue singular statements of little meaning, it goes unquestioned. The reporters can not be bothered to check the truthfulness of the statement as they are being pre-empted and diverted to a story which may have caught the attention of YouTube and the assignment editor. If you don’t believe me, check out what is currently trending on Youtube, or what the top 10 stories are on Reddit.

Justin Trudeau gives speech after speech making generalized statements of fixing this problem or the next. It goes un-examined for the most part, but we will get pics or video of his latest selfie canoeing, or of him photo bombing a wedding. It makes me think that Trudeau may be a Canadian version of Trump, one who has mastered social media, but but not the relevant issues, but he is young, photogenic and polite. The left in the United States think he is god like, as they too are only reading the headlines. He is a former high school drama teacher, born with a famous name and reputation, how could we not be concerned about what he actually understands.

As experienced journalists are being replaced by the young, the photogenic, who stand in front of endless monitors and fast-moving graphics (I assume it is their attempt to show they are on the cutting edge of technology), and push buttons which play the latest newly trending video.

And now the Americans have confirmed that the Russians and other intelligence agencies have figured this out. You just need to put out the headlines, no need for details, nothing gets checked.

Facebook just revealed the confirmation of false ads, a total of 3000 from 470 “dark accounts”, during the American election, in-directly tied to the Russians, and aimed at altering the election to a candidate they feel they can manipulate. Despite some intrepid reporting a few months ago which Facebook initially denied, it was not until two days ago that Facebook admitted to the problem. The New York Times summed it up by saying “we are in the midst of a world wide, internet-based assault on democracy”.

None of this sounds good, or leaves much room for optimism.

Will we go back to newspapers, unlikely?  Will television be simply a stopping off point where they re-package video? Likely.

There is no immediate answer to these changing times, but this generation does need to question, and it needs to go deeper than Twitter; our democracy depends on it, and we will lose faith if truth becomes the first casualty.

Photo Courtesy of : Razvan Orendovichi via Flickr Creative Commons licence

 

 

 

Breaking News…well, not really, just kidding

In this story rich times of Donald Trump, where the President of the United States and POTUS politics have become a long running (about 100 days so far) sitcom, a combined version of a political Gilligans Island and a Washington DC Survivor series. Like everyone else I have tuned in daily to see if the Americans with Mr Trump as their fatuous leader have launched another tweet, then a defense of said tweet, and then the round of procrastinations that follows on the alt-right and the liberal left. Its tiring but enthralling. Now that Mr Trump has thrown bombing targets of zero resistance into the mix, there now has become an element of danger added to the fray.

The media has been reinvigorated, subscriptions are up in newspapers, such as the NY Times, and the Washington Post, and the major cable news-stations are attracting more viewers, like me. Which all leads me to my complaint.

I watched two full hours of CNN, the other night, and every story line, was preceded by the announcement by a breathless anchor, usually in a sombre voice, intoning about how the next story was ” breaking news”.  One story would be followed by another “breaking news” story.  Eventually, I had to shut it off, I could not handle this artificial exaggeration of a story, which was not “breaking”,  and sometimes would not even be considered “news” on any kind of  importance scale.

CNN of course is the worst offender in this, but it is a attention getting tactic which seems to infuse all the media, including our local media here in British Columbia. They combine this with the often heard line “and in a Global exclusive”…or in “a CTV exclusive” which in the end usually means that someone talked to them and nobody else. Whether it is newsworthy seems to be secondary to saying that it is exclusive.

Of course the papers can’t sound the alarm in this way, so the newspapers instead make the headlines bigger, in capital letters, or with exclamation marks, which forty years ago usually meant the start of a war, or in the Tabloid circles of England was reserved for the Royal watchers when another baby was born into the monarchy.

A few weeks ago, in an anticipation of another snowstorm, Global dispatched all their reporters around the LMD so that they could report on the grief and upheaval that a few inches of snow may bring. The storm did not materialize, so we were left with anchor Chris Galius describing in great detail, dressed in the pre-requisite parka, telling us of the “slushy” road conditions as if a tsunami had been barely avoided.

It caters of course to a generation with numerous sources of information, a generation that seem for the most part only interested in the headlines, maybe not so much the explanation, and can scroll through several media outlets with a quick twitch of their thumbs.  The traditional media outlets are drowning in this undertow of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. They are in a desperate fight for every viewer and advertising dollar that another claim to a set of eyes will bring them. At some point it becomes pathetic.

Everyone is falling to this ruse, and the police media sites are in full drive trying to keep up with bringing “breaking news” to us, the apparently eagerly anticipating public. Now to be fair, the media is often pestering and pushy when dealing with the police, because they want to get the “exclusive”, and break that “breaking news” story.

So the police issue ridiculous and premature summations often are short on detail,  such as that the killing “was a targeted hit” or “there is no safety concerns for the general public”.  They are  often issuing these pronouncements after a very short period of time at the site of the incident, so in other words they don’t really know if it was a “targeted hit” or not.  A few years ago it became au courant to have someone of a higher rank there for the photo opportunity, armed with a few day media course offered to police. A nattily attired Inspector would make sure he or she was present at the scene, to be the focal point for the 30 second sound bite.  Fire chiefs and police chiefs alike are drawn in like moths to the light.

There is also a real concern of details being spoken about which could be detrimental to the case, but that concern seems to fall on deaf ears, when there is that need to speak to the public within minutes of an event. At some point this need to feed has become secondary to a possible investigative need.

Well here is a news flash for you; every murder is targeted. And if someone is shooting someone in public places, there is a concern. These trotted out phrases have little or no actual meaning to the circumstances.

By the way, do you need to be told again that the police “are seeking the public’s help”, or do you need to see another table of guns, money, and stolen goods laid out for the photo shoot to demonstrate that there were actually things seized. Is it possible that they just keep the same table, with fake guns and money on it, and then bring it out every news story? Just kidding, but it could save a lot of time and effort.

Another trend is to have a number of senior officers at every press conference, with 5-10 individuals standing behind the speaker, not saying anything, not adding anything to the conference. But clearly, trying to make some sort of impression, as to their strength and to give one a photo impression of long and complicated investigations. The  Warhol quote “everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes in the future” seems to be in full evidence as they are often jockeying for position in this media directed receiving line.

To guide this growing police media presence,  the police now call themselves media “strategists”.  (When and why did the police feel the need to have a media strategy?) The police have gone from a “strategy” of saying nothing to the media and a perfunctory “no comment”  to one where they feel that they need to control  and guide the media stories, creating a “spin” conducive to the police efforts.

The police have become more sophisticated in their approach, and are now using the media appetite for a video or grainy photograph to use to an operational advantage.

For instance, when investigating homicides or other major crimes, the police have often used video or photographs to draw the publics attention, while at the same time not really caring about the general public commentary; but behind the scenes,  concerned with drawing out or observing a suspect once it gets played in the media, hoping the reaction of any suspect may further the investigative case.

This of course is tenuous ground, fraught with cynicism, but it invariably worked. The  media sites are forever pulled in by a 10 second black and white fuzzy video without any kind of editing or wondering of its relevance.  This should make everyone pause when seeing the news, and a police bulletin, or alert, or a “breaking news story”. Approach with a modicum of caution, as it may be part of a “strategy” of the police.

So where does this leave us in this world where Facebook now is the supplier of news for 44 % of the American public and where fact checking  and “fake news” has become a growth industry.

As writer John Irving observed in a NY Times feature, “I don’t think the news has changed much over the years, only the way we report it”.  And how it is reported of course determines the level of sophistication of its readers, and their ability to discern reality from imagined, when it is being bombarded with screaming headlines, full of pizazz,  but lacking any discernible mature content.

How can we trust when it is possible that the news is being manipulated by the hackers of Russia, or Wikileaks with their clearly political agendas. Or maybe, an investigative agency closer to home who is “strategizing” the news release to orchestrate a reaction.

It leaves us in a quandary. The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression states that (in an opinion shared by many others) that Canadian’s have a right to information; which is “the raw material of expression…enables citizens to engage fully in a democracy and hold their governments to account”.  A lofty principle no doubt, but the journalists themselves and the people they work for are abandoning or have abandoned the ability to provide researched and accurate information, and are busily festooning themselves in “Breaking News” and Youtube videos. Graphics have become the news.

They should be held accountable and follow the lead of such media sites as Politico, or the Atlantic, and the Washington Post who are some of the few remaining stalwarts of accurate and well done journalism, and who have recently been brought to further life with the advent of Trump.

In Canada, the CBC and its clear political slant pervert their attempts to be fair and accurate, and the Globe and Mail tips to the right sometimes to their detriment. Locally in British Columbia, our newspapers are dying before our eyes, as they continue to downsize their journalist ranks. The ethical use of sourcing and journalistic integrity seems to be degrading. I worry about the truth being delivered, and the truth actually being read.

As to the police. Please stop with the pat phrases, stop the officers from wanting to be in the spotlight, stop worrying about presenting a diverse set of talking heads, and please stop spinning the story. Stop being breathless, or crying, or feeling the need to show empathy as if it is more important than the job you are hired to do. The public sees you as an arm of the judiciary so they want to know the facts, and how they are impacted. You don’t need to strategize, you need to be there in times of crisis as a sturdy and competent voice, unswayed by politics, unassailable in terms of the truth. Your ethics should be unquestionable and it is then, and only then, that the public will regain their trust and appreciate your efforts.

 

Photo: Courtesy of West Midlands Police via Flickr Commons