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Matthew Dumas: We thought the public should be told

Three years ago The Black Rod scooped the pants off all the mainstream newsmedia in Winnipeg with an exclusive story on how Matthew Dumas spent the last minutes of his life.

At the Dumas inquest Thursday, the lawyer for the family cited this brief moment of time as the most important in the story next to the actual shooting of Dumas because, as Canadian Press reporter Tamara King put it, it was "the last chance to subdue the young man before it turned fatally violent."

Why did every newspaper, television and radio station ignore the story for 3 years?

The answer lies in why The Black Rod came to do the story in the first place.

1. We cared.

We cared about the facts.

What happened that day on Dufferin Avenue? Who did what in what order?

We cared about the truth.

The MSM was devoting its coverage to the blame-the-police crowd who were shouting racism at every opportunity. The Police Chief was holding secret meetings with native so-called leaders to offer them special secret access to the investigation of one of his own officers. The CBC was spearheading a campaign to accuse the police of negligence for failing to handcuff Dumas when they caught up with him and before he began his final, fatal flight.

We felt that if we knew what happened, we could determine the truth of why.

The CBC's handcuff agenda rested on an interview with Rod Pelletier who said a policeman caught up to Dumas on his doorstep and led him away by the arm. But there had to be more to learn from Pelletier, we agreed.

2. We went to the scene.

We scouted the area where Dumas was shot. We walked up and down the street trying to imagine where the police would have been, where Dumas ran from, where the snowbanks had been, what people could have seen from what angle.

We used our eyes to suss out the area. And we spoke to the neighbours. One of them showed us where all the police markers had been in the back lane.

What police markers?

None of the news accounts of the shooting mentioned the back lane any more than to say Dumas ran from the police down the back lane. The shooting took place on Dufferin Avenue. What had the police been marking in the back lane?

We went looking for Rod Pelletier. In one backyard was a dog the size of Godzilla. We were in the right place.

Pelletier told us he saw how Dumas showed up at his back door. He told us he saw the police chase Dumas up and down between the houses. He told us his daughter saw Dumas fighting with police in the back lane.

Now we knew what the markers were marking. And we knew we had a hell of an important story.

The Black Rod story "Daddy They're Beating Him Up" ran April 24, 2005.

3. We thought the public should be told.

We immediately notified all the newsrooms and offered to help them find Pelletier. We were met with silence.

They didn't care. The story that dominated the headlines a month earlier was now old news.

The Winnipeg Free Press, which would later go to court to snoop in Mayor Sam Katz's private divorce records and claim it was only doing so in the public interest, didn't think the Dumas story that had split the city in half was worth pursuing.

The CBC reporter behind the handcuff diversion contacted us to say Pelletier told him about the fight between Dumas and police in the back lane. But he didn't think it was important. And anyway it was hearsay. And against CBC policy. And the important thing was police hadn't handcuffed Dumas; it was their fault.

We were, to put it mildly, stunned. We had simply done what used to be known as reporting, Old School style.

But the new so-called journalists don't do that anymore. If it doesn't come wrapped up in the package of a news release or news conference, it's not news anymore. So they waited until it was presented to them in a nice package known as the inquest.

But the result is some of the most convoluted, disjointed, D-grade reporting we've ever witnessed.

The reporters assigned to the inquest don't have any understanding of the case, they don't know what's important and what isn't, they have no context for the evidence and worst of all from their perspective, there's nobody to spoonfeed them.

So they just spew a little bit of this witness and a little of that and hope there's something of interest in their report.

A CKY reporter spent almost as much time on Willie Sinclair's weight loss as on his testimony that Dumas almost stabbed him with a screwdriver while trying to escape from a policeman he had punched to the ground.

The day the policeman who fought with Dumas testified, the T.V. stations led with the Dumas lawyer on the steps of the Law Courts saying how much he looked forward to the testimony of the policeman who fought with Dumas.

Tamara King of CP wrote Thursday: "Police believed Dumas, 18, was a suspect in a robbery earlier that day. It was later determined that Dumas had no part in it."

It was? You could have fooled us. We thought the cab driver who drove a group of people to and from the home of a man robbed in East Kildonan testified to the exact opposite. Shown a mug shot of Dumas and the picture snapped of the passenger in the taxi, the cabbie said they looked like the same person. That was never reported, by the way.
And neither has anything that cleared Dumas of being a suspect in the robbery. So, what was the evidence that Tamara King is relying on?

Why haven't the news outlets shown readers the mug shot next to the taxi photo? Why haven't we seen the infamous screwdriver Dumas used to menace the police officer who shot him. It's an exhibit isn't it?

Why? Because that's too much like reporting.

And the MSM don't care.

The paper is piling up on The Black Rod's desks. Let's clear some of the backlog up.

Cone of Silence Drops Over Good News Story
* In a city that was prepared to hear the worst, it was good news indeed to hear that nineteen-year-old Tara-Lynn Still was found safe after being the subject of a public missing person alert. But apart from that, the news stories were strangely vague about why she went missing in the first place. Only Global News hinted at the reason. Their story slipped in the word post-partum as in post-partum depression. Still gave birth 9 months ago and later gave the child up for adoption.

But why is everyone acting like post-partum depression is still something to be ashamed of? Where are the women's groups that we fund so lavishly? Why haven't they seized on this case to promote awareness of post-partum depression? Where are the strong women of the NDP? Why haven't they stepped forward? Oh, right, they're too busy being props for NDP photo ops to actually work for women's issues.

A Crocus Inquiry At Last?
· The Manitoba Securities Commission is no longer a defendant in the Crocus Investment Fund lawsuit. So why haven't they announced a date for the hearing into charges against members of the Crocus board of directors. The hearing has been postponed for more than two years now because the commission was considered in conflict of interest. That's no longer the case. Why the delay now?

Honest Mistake or Con Job? We Report. You Decide
* And will the Manitoba Securities Commission be investigating the Canadian Museum for Human Rights for misleading statements by a charity?

Here's just a sampling of the latest news stories about CMHR fundraising:
"At last count, Gail Asper and her team were about $17 million short of their $105-million goal for private fundraising." (Human rights museum receives donations, Winnipeg Free Press, April 28)

"Second reason: three gifts of $1 million each were announced yesterday, bringing to $88 million the amount of private money raised. Asper has to raise another $17 million before turning her baby over to the federal government. (It's that our Canada includes a commitment to human rights, Martin Knelman, Toronto Star, Mar. 7, 2008)

"Asper hopes the legislation will spur a flurry of donations so that the remaining $17 million in private capital can be raised." (Tanenbaum donates $1 million to rights museum, Rhonda Spivak, Canadian Jewish News, Thursday, 13 March 2008)

But the CMHR website says they've reached 89 percent of their fundraising goal. 89 percent of $265 million leaves $29.15 million outstanding.

So which is it? $17 million or $29 million to go?

People being asked to cough up to cover the shortfall should know the facts before they open their chequebooks and get a charitable tax receipt.

Shouldn't they?