The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

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Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Who doesn't like a good show trial? Ummm, us.

Put down your pitchforks.

Curl up the nooses. Extinguish the torches. Stop stirring the tar. Put the feathers back into the pillows.

Winnipeg is experiencing its greatest explosion of mob fury in living memory. Listening to the daily howl for blood is frightening. Anyone who wants to know what it was like during the worst days of the French Revolution need only read the daily papers. Tom Brodbeck has become Madame LaFarge, cackling as the tumbrels roll by with new victims for the guillotine and calling for still more heads. Dan Lett has announced there's no need to dawdle any longer, the police are guilty, scrap the trial and let's get on with the executions.

Reporters compete with each other as to who can express the greatest outrage, the utmost skepticism, the shrillest cry for a mass round-up of the accused. Radio talk show hosts sneer at and mock the same people they clasped to their bosom only weeks ago. All reason has been abandoned.

There will come a day when the reporters will be embarassed by their conduct and ashamed of being part of the mob. Just saying sorry won't be enough.

The cause of this mania is the so-called Taman Inquiry. It's another of those Manitoba show trials that would have made Joseph Stalin's heart swell with pride. Readers are advised to search The Black Rod archives for the Sophonow Inquiry and the Driskell Inquiry for chapter and verse on how these kangaroo courts are run.

The conclusion has been reached in advance.
The "guilty" have been branded before a word was spoken in open court. The final report is likely in the galleys even today, waiting only minor tweaks.

The witnesses before the Taman Inquiry were interviewed three, and sometimes four times, before being called into public where they have to play their designated roles of hero or villain. To date the inquisitors have identified at least 40 conspirators in an assortment of conspiracies. And the inquiry has weeks to go still.

In a perfect world, the press would denounce these quasi-judicial farces in starkest terms. Instead, today, the reporters act as a Greek chorus.

Count us out.
****************

Crystal Taman was killed Feb. 25, 2005, at Highway 59 and the north Perimeter Highway. A truck driven by an off-duty Winnipeg policeman crashed into the back of her small car as she was stopped at a red light.

The suspect, Derek Harvey-Zenk, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death and got a sentence of two years house arrest. The backlash was instant: the fix was in; the police would never let one of their own be convicted of drunk driving; they engaged in a conspiracy to scuttle the prosecution. Everyone "knew" it.

The government even sicced the RCMP on the East St. Paul and Winnipeg police to try and get someone charged for obstruction of justice. The RCMP said there was no reasonable chance of prosecuting anyone. The NDP then set up this "inquiry" which is not bound by simple things like facts, truth or the basic principles of law like intent and the presumption of innocence.

The guiding presumption of these show trials is the presumption of guilt. The "facts" will be adjusted to fit the verdict.

Harry Bakema

Cast in the role of the devil incarnate is Harry Bakema, the then-Chief of Police of the East St. Paul Police Force.

The press dutifully regurgitated the official inquiry view of Bakema's sins. A small sampling:

* The notes he took at the scene are scanty and make no mention that Harvey-Zenk was "pissed" as Bakema allegedly told someone later in the day.
* He failed to do the simplest investigation of Zenk's sobriety so that he wouldn't have to testify that Zenk was impaired.
* He kept any mention of booze on Harvey-Zenk's breath out of the official report
*He kept the suspect at the scene long enough to provide the suspect with a technicality that would let him scuttle any breathalyzer charge
* He even manipulated the police computer system to lose Harvey-Zenk's mug shot and who knows what else.

A recap of the timeline of events is necessary to understand the evidence at the inquiry.

7:10 The accident is reported to East St. Paul police.
7:16 Bakema and another officer arrive at the scene.
7:22 Constable Jason Woychuk arrives. He's the last of four East St. Paul police to get there.
7:23-4 East St. Paul paramedics arrive and talk to Bakema.
7:38 Sargent Norm Carter gets a call at home to go to the accident.
7:40 Bakema talks to Harvey-Zenk beside Harvey-Zenk's truck.
7:42 Bakema brings Harvey-Zenk to Woychuk's police car and leaves him with the rookie cop.
7:49 The traffic analyst is called.
8:00 Carter arrives at the police station where he expects to pick up a cruiser and go to the accident scene. He's told to stay in the office and take charge.
8:08 Woychuk leaves the scene for the office.
8:12 Woychuk arrives at the East St. Paul police station with Harvey-Zenk.
8:16 Harvey-Zenk is charged with impaired driving.

That's right. The conspiracy not to charge Derek Harvey-Zenk must be the shortest conspiracy on record because he was charged four minutes after being brought to the station. But, as we said, facts are flexible at these public inquiries.

The East St. Paul police officers had their work cut out for them. Bakema said hundreds of cars passed that intersection at morning rush hour. Woychuk said he personally witnessed "quite a few vehicles almost involved in other collisions, so I was definitely trying to prevent any other further collisions."

Traffic control was the first priority after checking on the condition of the drivers of the cars involved in the accident. The highway was blocked off with cruisers and traffic cones were set up as officers manually directed the cars around the scene which had to be preserved for the accident analysts.

Crystal Taman's daughters turned up, fearing, correctly, their mother was in the accident. One officer had to handle the sensitive issue of keeping them occupied and away from their mother's body which hadn't yet been picked up by ambulance. The police had to call East St. Paul paramedics, call Dr. Hook towing, call to get an accident investigator to attend, call Winnipeg police to notify them of the traffic jam, call the station to get Sgt. Carter out asap. The temperature was -20 C., adding to the stress. The four police at the scene were under-manned. Is it any wonder that Harry Bakema wasn't making detailed notes?

Before being so quick to condemn him, reporters should spend a couple of hours directing traffic at confusion corner in sub-zero temperatures while making phone calls and answering questions from pedestrians, just to see how easy it is to write down everyone they spoke with and everything they were told and what they said and when.

Bakema said he spoke to Harvey- Zenk very briefly, then led him to Woychuk's cruiser. You don't have to be a police officer to suspect a driver rear-ending another vehicle is drunk. It happens too often. Bakema said he couldn't smell liquor from Harvey-Zenk, which wasn't indicative of anything since winter cold stifles odour. He said he advised Woychuk, a rookie officer, to see if he could smell anything once Harvey-Zenk had warmed up in the car.

If Bakema told a Winnipeg police officer--- later that afternoon---that Harvey-Zenk had been "pissed", it was with the knowledge that Harvey-Zenk refused a breathalyzer request, generally a sure sign of someone who is impaired but who doesn't want to reveal how much.

Bakema had no time to start asking Harvey-Zenk to count backwards and walk a straight line to test his sobriety. And once he realized he knew Harvey-Zenk, who he worked with on the Winnipeg force, he tried to separate himself from the investigation as far as possible to avoid any allegations of conflict of interest.

Imagine the howls if he testified he gave Harvey-Zenk a sobriety test and found no evidence of impairment.

Jason Woychuk

Constable Woychuk was the Barney Fife of the East Kildonan Police Department. He testified he is a man of action who felt frustrated at being sidelined by having to play babysitter to Harvey-Zenk when he could have been doing real police stuff at the accident scene.

(At least he added some insight into the variations of Derek Z's name. He was known as Derek Zenk in high school in Brandon. His driver's licence carries the name Derek Harveymordenzenk. And the Inquiry, for reasons unknown, refers to him as Derek Harvey-Zenk.)

Woychuk, who admits he was told Harvey-Zenk might be impaired, waited 16 minutes with Harvey-Zenk in his car, during which time he wrote down the particulars from Harvey-Zenk's driver's licence and watched a paramedic talk to the man before getting him to sign a waiver that he refused medical treatment. Woychuk said the paramedic told him he smelled alcohol from Harvey-Zenk (or mimed a drinking motion to indicate the same thing).

But the police officer couldn't smell anything himself in the front seat and to get into the back seat alone with the suspect would be a breach of regulations for anyone in a one-man car.

Once word came that Carter was in the office, Woychuk left to take Harvey-Zenk to the police station. On the drive there, Woychuk said, he noticed an odour of alcohol from the back seat. Upon arrival, he told Carter what he smelled and Carter made the formal arrest.

Woychuk arrived at the police station with a problem.

Like Barney Fife, Woychuk is a walking, talking rule book. He convinced himself that the delay in bringing Harvey-Zenk to the station was a breach of his Charter rights. So the rookie went around bad mouthing the Chief for screwing up. Much later, with the preliminary hearing about to get underway, rumours were flying that Woychuk would have to take the heat if the case was thrown out on the Charter issue.

He wasn't going to be the fall guy, so he dropped a bombshell that derailed the prelim--- Bakema told him to leave the paramedic's observations out of the official report, he said. And, Bakema told him to say falsely that the reason he was taking Harvey-Zenk to the station in the first place was to have him fill out a traffic accident report.

The Inquiry is portraying this as the smoking gun of a cover-up.
You can do that if you avoid the facts.

The Inquiry was told that East St. Paul practice was for a police officer's report to contain only what he saw and what he did, and not the observations and comments of other public officials. They will be writing their own reports. Logical.

Of course, the Inquiry might be bringing forward evidence that Bakema planned for the paramedic to meet with a "suspicious accident" to shut him up, but we'll have to see.

And Woychuk was only showing his own inexperience by accusing Bakema of ordering him to make a false report. Harvey-Zenk was in shock at the scene of the accident. Bakema spoke to him for a brief time and only to check on his condition. While Crystal Taman's daughters said they saw Bakema speak with him for several minutes, other civilian witnesses said he either didn't answer people who spoke to him or answered in monosyllables. In short, he hadn't told the police his version of what happened by the time Woychuk took off for the police station.

And while police might suspect he had been drinking, they had no legal reason to charge or detain him for that reason. What were they to do? Ask him to hitchhike home? Give him a ride to his residence? Or take him to the station where he could be questioned out of the cold and in a quiet room?

To save his own skin, Woychuk cried "Conspiracy".

Norm Carter

If current East St. Paul Police Chief Norm Carter expected a hero's welcome at the Taman Inquiry he was sorely disappointed.

Carter blew the whistle on the "conspiracy" by taking Woychuk's allegations against Bakema to independent counsel Randy Minuk.

At the inquiry he was forced to grovel for giving Harvey-Zenk special favours, namely letting him phone his wife while still in custody.

The reporters who seized on the "special favours", failed to mention that Minuk told Carter at 10:35 a.m. that Harvey-Zenk would face a raft of charges but that he could be released immediately on a promise to appear. In other words, let him go, we'll charge him later.

Almost 40 minutes later, Carter let Harvey-Zenk call his wife. He was not charged with anything at that moment. He was just waiting to sign some papers before going home. The special favour was calling his wife to pick him up.

The inquiry counsel hammered Carter for failing to get a search warrant for the charge accounts at Branigans where a group of Winnipeg police officers, including Harvey-Zenk, met for after-shift drinks the evening before the accident.

Carter patiently explained that since police had no evidence Harvey-Zenk paid for his drinks by credit card, such a warrant would be nothing more than a fishing expedition and that would be ILLEGAL.

Well, simpered the lawyer, you could have just asked politely.

Chelsea O'Halloran

Every drama needs a hero, or in this case, a heroine. Enter former Branigan's waitress Chelsea O'Halloran.

As the only confirmed liar in the matter, she was, of course, feted as the only one telling the truth.

O'Halloran said she lied to police investigators when she told them nobody was obviously drunk when the group of officers left Branigan's the morning of the accident. Now she says that many of the police at the bar were drunk.

When the number of drinks sold couldn't be squared with the estimated number of police (25-35), at least not if you're trying to make them drunk over the course of 3 1/2 hours, the Inquiry introduced the existence of imaginary free pitchers of beer that Chelsea admitted "might" have been given to the policemen.

O'Halloran had her own measure of sobriety. If you came in quiet and left loud, you were drunk. Loud and loutish were her tests. Loud meant drunk and loutish meant drunker.

(Hmmm. Let's see. Men. Beer. Loud. Okay, it's not exactly E equals MC squared, but ask any woman about the science of that equation.)

Chelsea said the drunkest policeman was the one who made mean comments about her body. He told other cops to look at her ass.

(Note to men...While you may appreciate a well-turned behind ---- Hel-lo J-lo --- all women are convinced they have fat asses. Always say "Have you lost weight?")

O'Halloran remembered there were two women in the crowd. One was skinny and the other was heavy-set and enjoying herself. Mee-ow from the server with the big heinie.

Some of the police that fateful evening were regulars. The bar owner encouraged police business by giving them special prices on pints of beer and wings. (In other cities, police are bribed with free food. In Winnipeg we give them the cheapest price on the menu, Tuesday's special on Thursday.)

While the police at Branigans told investigators they couldn't say how much Harvey-Zenk had to drink, Chelsea said she could. We said she was a heroine.

Chelsea remembered this one guy she saw at a police Super Bowl party at the bar. Same guy showed up the night before the accident. He sucked back eight or nine beers.

Bingo. The press went wild. A witness confirmed that Derek Harvey-Zenk had eight or nine beers at the bar. Then he likely had more to drink at a house party that followed. Can you spell c-o-v-e-r-u-p?

But here's what the reporters didn't put in their stories.

Chelsea failed to pick Harvey-Zenk as Super Bowl guy out of a photo lineup even though she was given two kicks at the cat.

And she said he wasn't one of the drunk cops, at least not by her standard.

She was cross-examined on "Super Bowl guy".

Q Yes. But let's confirm that that person was not loud like me, not loud; right?
A No.
Q Not belligerent?
A No.
Q Not rude?
A No.
Q Not staggering?
A No.
Q Not stumbling?
A No.

****
Let's stop for a brief interlude, something we call Professional Reporters at Work.

Aldo Santin, Winnipeg Free Press, July 25, 2008
That waitress, Chelsea O'Halloran, told the inquiry she was forced to lie about the sobriety of the officers by one of her managers.

Kevin Rollason, Winnipeg Free Press, July 17, 2008
A server says her manager urged her to lie to investigators three years ago about how much police drank during the contentious "shifter" party preceding the crash that killed Crystal Taman, an inquiry into the woman's death heard Wednesday.

The Taman Inquiry, July 16, 2008
Q You also talked about the direction that Mr. Bravo was providing to you?
A Yes.
Q You advised that he said to just play dumb?
A Yes.
Q Don't say more than you needed to in response to the officer's questions, keep it
short?
A Yes.
Q Pretend like you didn't remember very much?
A Yes.
Q I didn't hear anywhere in there where you indicate that Mr. Bravo told you to lie?
A Correct.

********

The Branigan's waitress said she was following the advice of her boss when she lied to the police. He told her, she said, to keep her answers short, to answer questions with yes and no, to play dumb and not elaborate on her answers.

Sound familiar? Of course. He was TALKING LIKE A LAWYER.

The inquiry doesn't want to nail him for obstructing justice.
They want to get him for practicing law without a licence.

Last week, the inquiry heard from police who left Branigan's and went to a house party the morning Crystal Taman was killed. They said they couldn't say how much Harvey-Zenk had to drink at the party. The press had a field day mocking them for being "trained observers" who failed to observe Harvey-Zenk's drinking.

What it really showed was that reporters are rarely invited to parties. If they were they would know the dynamics of a party and where people gather.

There's the living room people who want to be near the music, the kitchen people who want to talk, the hallway people who are having more intimate conversations and the smokers who gravitate in and out every twenty minutes.

The only one everybody can remember is the class clown, the proverbial guy with the lampshade on his head, who demands attention and will do anything to get it. There's no indiction Derek Harvey-Zenk was that guy.

There was some evidence that Harvey-Zenk was the last to leave the party, somewhere around 6:30 a.m. There's no indication that police ever considered that this was consistent with the action of a responsible drinker, someone who knew he shouldn't drive after consuming alcohol and who stayed as long as needed to get the liquor out of his system before heading home.

Maybe when special prosecutor Marty Minuk testifies he'll elaborate on the alternate possible causes of the accident---fatigue and/or using a cell phone while driving. There's already been testimony that a cell-phone charger was in Harvey-Zenk's truck, but no cell phone was found.

So why did he refuse a breathalyzer?

We all know the answer.
On the advice of his lawyer.

And that's one thing you can bet you'll never see---a public inquiry into lawyers.

We'll bring the tar.

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