They come with all the trappings of a court--a judge, a prosecutor, and evidence. But the verdict has been decided well in advance and the witnesses are cherry-picked to "prove" the verdict. And since the proceedings are non-adversarial, the accused don't get to present a defence.
A conniving body of reporters, columnists and editorialists legitimizes the dog-and-pony show by pretending the inquiry is a legitimate and honest search for truth and not the fraud that it is.
The verdict in the Taman Inquiry was written before a single witness took the oath to tell the truth.
The commissioner was going to decide that if the East St. Paul police, and particularly then-chief Harry Bakema, the Winnipeg police, and special prosecutor Marty Minuk had done their jobs properly, Derek Harvey-Zenk would have been convicted of drunk driving causing death and would have gone to jail. He'll say that because Harvey-Zenk was a police officer, they all backed off and treated him with kid gloves, botching the drunk driving investigation, covering up his drinking before the accident, and failing to unravel the cover-up. The trial judge wasn't even allowed to decide for himself if the weak evidence of alcohol consumpition warranted a stronger sentence than house arrest.
As we become more experienced in these show trials, we begin to see the wrinkles under the make-up and the cracks in the foundation that are overlooked at first glance. And we can see where the truth inevitably shines through.
Richard Peck, a B.C. criminal lawyer who has served as a special prosecutor, sang the Inquiry's tune on the "botched" invesigation.
"My comment is that the investigation was inadequate. In my view, there was a failure to gather meaningful evidence with respect to this matter. That includes the failure of the attending police to apparently do any initial assessment as to the condition of Mr. Harvey-Zenk in any meaningful way." said Peck.
Consider, then, Peck's expert opinion on what the priorities of the East St. Paul police should have been the morning Crystal Taman was killed in February, 2005:
"A When these police attended the scene, it seems to me they had three primary immediate responsibilities:
* First of all, to see to the injured;
* secondly, to secure the scene for safety and investigational purposes, safeties of the other members of the travelling public, and investigational purposes, particularly in terms of accident reconstruction;
* and thirdly, to carry out an immediate investigation as to how and why this occurred, who caused the accident, and what was that person's condition. And that was not done. And this goes back to what we started with, completely inadequate investigation."
Now look at what the evidence shows...
1) At about 7 in the morning on Feb. 25, 2005, Derek Harvey-Zenk drove his pickup truck into the back of Crystal Taman's small sportscar which was stopped at a red light at Highway 59 and the Perimeter Highway. Taman's car was rammed into the rear of another car at the light. She was killed in the crash.
2) Bakema and East St. Paul officer Ken Graham were the first of the police, paramedics and first responders to arrive, at 7:16. The first thing Bakema did was a scene survey, which is official lingo for checking the cars involved in the accident for anyone needing immediate help.
3) The traffic situation was pressing. Hundreds of vehicles pass that intersection at rush hour. The two policemen had to control the traffic while making a path for emergency vehicles.
4) East St. Paul Fire Department first responders and the first Winnipeg ambulance, Unit 24, arrived at 7:22. They did a scene survey of their own, then went to work at the Taman car. A paramedic called the East St. Paul extraction team.
5) East St.Paul Const.Glenda Pederson pulled up and was directed to set up on Highway 59 to divert traffic onto the Perimeter Highway. As she pulled away, East St. Paul Const. Jason Woychuk drove up. He was assigned traffic duties as well and began setting up traffic cones. In the short time he was there he saw 10 cars lock their brakes when they came up unexpectedly to the crash site, he said.
6) Bakema, having closed down the intersection, called for the RCMP traffic analyst and arranged for the Highways Department to set up blockades and re-route traffic. He and Graham worked to preserve the accident scene. He notified Dr. Hook to (eventually) remove the vehicles in the crash.
7) At 7:25 the second Winnipeg ambulance arrived. One paramedic went to the Taman car, the other examined the driver of the car that had been rear-ended by Taman's vehicle.
8) Also at 7:25, one of Crystal Taman's daughters arrived on scene. Graham took her into his police car to keep her occupied while her mother's body was being removed from her car. For the time he was tied up with the daughter, he was out of the mix and Bakema was alone with the emergency personnel.
9) Bakema called Norm Carter, a senior officer in the East St. Paul force, at home to come in as soon as possible because of a major accident.
He spotted Harvey-Zenk standing beside his truck. He spoke with the man briefly, then escorted him to Woychuk's police car. He put Harvey-Zenk into the car to warm up (it was 20 below that morning). Bakema told Woychuk Harvey-Zenk might be impaired. The implication was clear: watch him closely.
10) Bakema testified that Harvey-Zenk told him "I'm a cop" as he was led to the police car. He recognized Harvey-Zenk as someone he once worked with on the Winnipeg police force and for that reason he decided to separate himself from the investigation. Hence the instruction to Woychuk.
If Bakema had conducted a swift test for intoxication and found no sign, he would have been accused of a cover-up.
Now, the fact he did no test is taken as proof of a cover-up.
Bakema testified that the cold and wind would have muted the smell of alcohol, which is why he wanted Harvey-Zenk in a warm place for Woychuk to make his own assessment.
Remember that the commission's own "expert" said that the first priorities of any policeman at an accident scene are to first see to the injured and second, " to secure the scene for safety and investigational purposes, safeties of the other members of the travelling public, and investigational purposes, particularly in terms of accident reconstruction."
This is exactly what Harry Bakema had been doing for the first 10 or 12 minutes he was at the scene.
Up to that time, Harvey-Zenk had not been seen by any medical personnel and his injuries had not been assessed. Bakema had had no time to reach priority #3 ("to carry out an immediate investigation as to how and why this occurred, who caused the accident, and what was that person's condition") yet.
At 7:38 a Selkirk Ambulance arrived. They were directed by East St. Paul firemen to Woychuk's police car. The Selkirk paramedics got into the back seat with Harvey-Zenk. They took his personal information and past medical history and examined him for injuries. The paramedic leading the examination made notes.
The patient's pupils were normal. His grip was normal. His skin was unremarkable (i.e. not flushed or clammy). He noted Harvey-Zenk's eyes as "spont.", which we take as spontaneous, meaning he was not semi-conscious. He was described as oriented and alert, co-operative and able to obey instructions to demonstrate his motor skills.
Both paramedics noticed the smell of liquor from Harvey-Zenk and said they suspected it was a factor in the accident. The one taking the notes later told the RCMP it was a "stale" smell. Asked if he had anything to drink that morning, the patient didn't answer.
Even as the examination of Harvey-Zenk was taking place, the other emergency vehicles were leaving. The body of Crystal Taman was removed at 7:43 a.m. The second ambulance with the other driver left the scene at 7:45.
Jason Woychuk was getting antsy. He asked Bakema what he was supposed to do. He was told to wait for Carter. At 8 a.m. Carter arrived at the East St. Paul police station and Woychuk was told to take Harvey-Zenk to the station. Four minutes after arriving, Carter formally arrested Harvey-Zenk and charged him with drunk driving, largely on the strength of Woychuk's own detection of the smell of alcohol coming from the back seat where Harvey-Zenk sat, just as Bakema intended.
By all accounts, Harry Bakema acted professionally at all times. He looked after the safety of the surviving drivers; he acted to prevent other accidents; he preserved the scene and called in experienced accident investigators; he removed himself from the investigation to prevent allegations of conflict-of-interest; and he arranged for another officer to take over the investigation as soon as possible.
The Taman Inquiry didn't call a single witness in accident investigations to explain where the East St. Paul police did anything wrong.
Not one witness could point to the moment when Harry Bakema should have abandoned traffic control to ask Harvey-Zenk to recite the alphabet backwards. Or to explain how questioning the suspect would serve to avoid a charge of conflict-of-interest.
The Inquiry set out to crucify and slander Bakema, and succeeded with the full co-operation of the press. Not a single reporter tried to find a professional accident investigator to ask what Bakema did wrong. They simply parroted the official line.
Cst. Jason Woychuk has a lot to answer for. As the rookie on the force, he was still consumed by the book learning from the police training. He couldn't stop chattering about his worries that Harvey-Zenk's Charter rights had been violated by the time he waited in the police car. Never mind that as a police officer himself, Harvey-Zenk knew his rights forward and backward and could recite them in his sleep from years of reading them to other suspects.
Woychuk was convinced he was going to be made the fall guy if charges were dropped. So he tried to pin the blame on Bakema, crying to his superiors that Bakema made him rewrite his notes to queer the case against a fellow cop.
And what was he told to do? Take out the hearsay. Stick with what he saw and what he did, and leave the observations of others to their own notes.
The Inquiry didn't call a single witness to explain the do's and don'ts of note writing, and whether Bakema was right in his advice to the rookie. We're allowed to draw our own conclusions from the Inquiry's dereliction.
And what of Norm Carter, who replaced Bakema as Chief of the East St. Paul police force? Carter blew the only real slam dunk charge against Harvey-Zenk, refusing a breathalyzer, when he wrote in his notes that he asked the suspect for a BLOOD sample instead of a breath sample.
He would have been one of the Inquiry's heroes, though, for bringing Woychuk's allegations to the prosecutor, if only he hadn't refused to break the law on behalf of the inquisition. Carter refused to ask for a search warrant which the Inquiry contends would have proved that Harvey-Zenk was knocking back drinks at Brannigans pub the night before the accident. Carter said he didn't have the reasonable and probable ground needed to ask a magistrate for a search warrant, and he wasn't going to lie to go on a fishing expedition for the prosecution. For his integrity, Inquiry Counsel David Paciocco has consigned him to the list of conspirators.
And that's a loooooong list.
At last count, the list has at least 40 names on it---26 Winnipeg police officers, four East St. Paul police officers, special prosecutor Marty Minuk, defence lawyer Richard Wolson, four investigators for the Winnipeg police Professional Standards Unit, at least two RCMP investigators, the owner of Brannigan's, and Harvey-Zenk himself.
East St. Paul may have "botched" the investigation, but in the eyes of the Inquiry, the cover-up is centred on Brannigan's where a group of Winnipeg officers met after work to socialize with beer and chicken wings.
None of the police who attended could say how much Harvey-Zenk had to drink, something painted as suspicious from "trained observers."
The Inquiry brought out their "surprise witness" to counter the police evidence and to prove to the press that the police were lying. Enter beer slinger Chelsea O'Halloran.
She confessed that she lied to investigators in 2005 when she said none of the police were drunk that night. She especially remembered serving one of them, a champion wing-man, eight or nine pints of beer. Guess who loves his wings?
There were only a few problems with her evidence, problems that were conveniently sloughed over by the professional reporters.
She failed to identify Harvey-Zenk as the prodigious eater of wings, although she was given two tries to get it right. And she admitted she was just guessing that she served him eight or nine beers, albeit it was an "educated guess."
In a real court, a witness like that would be considered useless. But in a kangaroo court, a confessed liar willing to give the judge exactly what he wants to hear is solid gold.
But just in case, the Inquiry introduced the idea that the police at Brannigans were quaffing phantom pitchers of beer.
One officer told investigators he planned on buying a pitcher but the bartender told him that pints were on special and buyring individual pints was cheaper than a pitcher. There is no record of free pitchers of beer being handed out (they do keep records of comp'ed drinks). But the ever-helpful Chelsea said she "remembered" carrying pitchers to beer to the police.
So there you have it. The liar remembers. It must be true.
The Taman Inquiry castigated special prosecutor Minuk and the Winnipeg Police Professional Standards Unit for failing to expose the police cover-up. If only they had pressed the policemen and women harder, they could have cracked the cover-up wide open.
Harvey-Zenk took the stand, but he said he couldn't help the Inquiry because he suffered memory loss as a result of the accident. There was no record of head trauma, sneered Inquiry counsel Paciocco.
However alert readers of the Black Rod contacted us to point out that the Inquiry was ignoring some obvious facts.
At the moment of impact, the airbag on Harvey-Zenk's truck deployed. A small explosive drives the airbag open in milliseconds, pushing the front of the bag toward the driver at 200 miles per hour (that's MILES per hour, 300 kph). That's enough to kill small children and to injure anyone sitting closer than 10 inches from the bag.
A quick search of the Internet turned up a number of first-hand accounts of drivers in accidents saved by airbags. Here's just two: (emphasis ours, spelling theirs)
"I am 48 years old. I was stunned and dazed. I was having extreme diffucilty breathing. I can only describe getting hit by the air bag as being hit by a base ball bat full force in the chest. I was taken to the hospital and 3 days later developed simple whiplash to the neck. I still have neck pain to this day."
"I fell asleep also at the wheel about 2 years ago and destroyed my car, hit a divider from an exit right of the Lincoln, cops said being tired like that is same as being heavily drunk, waking up to an airbag in your face is not cool, luckily I only came out wit a scratch on my chin, this was the second time I got hit with an airbag, shit feels like a 300 football player just tackled you"
Then there's the basic laws of science. Start with momentum.
A witness said Harvey-Zenk's truck passed his car on the highway. "He was going twice the rate of speed I was," Shaw said. "I was going about 40 to 50 kilometers per hour."
An airbag works by cushioning a driver's body so that he doesn't hit the steering wheel, the dashboard or the front windshield. But it doesn't cushion the brain. The brain of motorist driving 80 to 100 kph continues moving forward at 80-100 kph even after the body is restrained---until it hits the skull.
Parents worried their children will hit their heads by falling off bicycles equip their offspirng with helmets. Here's how one child safety website writes of the danger:
"Young cyclists ride at speeds averaging 11 to 16 kilometres an hour. If a crash happens, a correctly worn helmet cuts the risk of injury by as much as 88 per cent.
Even mild head injuries can cause long-term problems. Children with mild head injuries usually have trouble with their memory, concentration, and paying attention. This makes learning difficult. They may also have headaches, dizzy spells, and fatigue.
For one in ten children, these difficulties may last a lifetime."
It's not head trauma that causes problems like memory loss, it's brain trauma. Again, from the Internet:
Traumatic Brain Injury Questions
What is a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is caused by an unexpected force to the head, either by the head hitting an object, or an object splitting the skull and coming into contact with the brain. A TBI can also be caused when the head suddenly stops, causes the brain to strike the skull, without the skull ever striking any object.
Suffering a traumatic brain injury (TBI) usually changes the victim's life forever. There are many serious consequences that result from a brain injury, which may include:
· Speech impairment
· Perception difficulties
· Communication difficulties
· Mood changes
· Memory problems
· Difficulty concentrating
· Spastic muscles
How Can the Brain be Injured?
Concussion Injury - A person suffering a concussion may be unable to concentrate or may be confused for a few seconds, or they may completely lose consciousness and fall to the ground. The brain is able to recover from a concussion, but it is unclear how much force is needed to cause permanent brain damage.
- snip -
A concussion can happen to anyone, at any time. The most common causes of concussion include a blow to the head from a motor vehicle crash, fall or assault.
Direct Impact Injury - Any force that breaks through or fractures the skull may cause a severe brain injury, and is know as a direct impact injury. Direct impact does necessarily have to penetrate the skull. The force of the impact to the brain can cause the brain to hit the inside of the skull.
Direct impact can happen when the skull strikes an object, such as the sidewalk. When a moving head comes to a quick stop, the brain continues in its movement, striking the interior of the skull. This can cause bruising of the brain and bleeding.
Not a single reporter bothered to consult a medical expert, a sports physician, a nurse, or anyone familiar with brain injuries.
They were too busy mocking Harvey-Zenk
Winnipeg Sun columnist Tom Brodbeck went so far as to cite a paramedic's testimony as proof that Harvey-Zenk suffered no brain injury in the accident. The paramedic said Harvey-Zenk signed a waiver saying he didn't want to be taken to hospital. Ah ha, declared Brodbeck. He was sharp enough to make medical decisions at the time, and now he claims he can't remember a thing.
But Tom, those waivers have nothing to do with health, mental or physical. At least not the health of the patient. They exist for the health of the medical system.
They're tools to get the ambulance personnel off the hook if the patient develops symptoms an hour later, a day later, a week later. You can't sue us; look, you signed off here saying you didn't want medical attention. Want, not need. Everyone knows what a waiver is except, it appears, a columnist with a closed mind.
The most shocking testimony of the Inquiry came on the last day when another expert on special prosecutions, Brian Gover disclosed how carefully he was coached by the Inquiry counsel before being called to the stand.
The Inquiry had alread heard from one expert, a sometimes special prosecutor himself. But they didn't like what he had to say. He supported Manitoba special prosecutor Marty Minuk's legal decisions in the Harvey-Zenk case.
The Inquiry couldn't have that. Their conclusions were the exact opposite. So they had to find another "expert" to contradict Minuk and to say what they wanted said. Otherwise how could they claim their final conclusion was based on 'evidence' if there was no evidence to base it on.
Gover revealed how carefully he was prepped by the Inquiry counsel. He was shown all sorts of internal research prepared by Inquiry staff to get him to agree that Minuk was wrong in accepting a sentence of house arrest. And wouldn't you know it, that's exactly what Gover decided his own opinion was.
What a farce.
The Taman Inquiry took weeks yet had one glaring omission. There was no attempt to explore an obvious cause of the accident---Derek Harvey-Zenk fell asleep at the wheel.
The accident analyst said that was a possibility. Harvey-Zenk had been up all night after working a short shift the day after working an overtime shift. He had been drinking the night before and early morning of the accident, there's no dispute of that.
Yet even the most ardent critics concede the prosecution could never prove that his driving was impaired by alcohol the morning he killed Crystal Taman. They argue that any evidence of alcohol consumption at any time before the accident should have been enough to send him to jail.
If the Taman Inquiry had been a true search for the truth, it would have explored sleep deprivation as a cause of the accident. It's not less reprehensible. As one of the Internet posters above stated, "cops said being tired like that is same as being heavily drunk."
That's the proof that the Taman Inquiry was a show trial.
It wasn't interested in looking for what really might have caused Crystal Taman's death. It was interested only in perpetuating a myth, that authorities acted in concert to cover-up for a drunk cop.
The other most shocking aspect of the Taman Inquiry is the extent the news media acted like a lynch mob. It was an example of pack journalism at its worst. It will serve as a case study for sociologists for years to come.
The press mob raised the double standard to a high art.
The reporters, columnists, and editorialists competed to outdo each other in expressing their contempt for the police who they accused of collusion for failing to reveal how much Derek Harvey-Zenk had to drink the night before the fatal accident.
Yet when the Winnipeg Free Press fabricated a quote in a blazing front page headline to slander a witness at the Driskell Inquiry, the entire Winnipeg press corps was silent.
Not one reporter had the guts to call the Free Press on the most egregious violation of journalistic ethics---making up the facts.
The evidence was undeniable. The alleged quote does not exist in the transcript of the Driskell Inquiry. Yet the Winnipeg press corps colluded to keep that fact from the public. The Black Rod exposed the lie.
The Taman Inquiry got lots of press regarding the alleged alteration of notes by East St. Paul police. But when the Winnipeg Free Press had the audacity to publish two very different, mutually exclusive, versions of the same interview of Lloyd Axworthy by then-Ottawa reporter Paul Samyn, not a single columnist in the city demanded an explanation.
And when the FP admitted they had a tape recording of the interview which would clarify which version of the story was true and which was false, none of the so-called journalists in the city demanded to hear the tape. The Black Rod did.
Blatant falsehoods, anyone?
Re-read The Black Rod's coverage of the Taman Inquiry for Professional Reporters At Work to see how they can't get the most basic facts straight.
Arbiter of truth
The press peppered every story with the opinion of Crystal Taman's husband, Robert, on who was telling the truth and who was lying.
During the Driskell Inquiry, the press didn't go running to the family of Perry Dean Harder to judge whether James Driskell was telling the truth when he testified.
Nobody demanded Driskell answer under oath where he was the night Harder was murdered, whether he killed or had Harder killed, or why his account differed so radically from the witnesses who testified at his trial that he confided to them that he had Harder murdered.
It seems that the press just didn't care about the truth of the murder of Perry Dean Harder. They were more interested in the legal loophole that Driskell was using to duck the charge of murder.
And, of course, the Driskell Inquiry show trial wasn't interested in who killed Perry Dean Harder either. Not when they could slander the police and prosecutors in the case.
What about the Sophonow Inquiry? When the Inquiry turned up stronger evidence against Thomas Sophonow in the murder of Barbara Stoppel than was available at his murder trials, did anyone in the press go running to find someone to comment about Sophonow's credibility on the stand? C'mon, you know the answer.
Manitoba judicial inquiries are show trials, but the role of the press has gone from ignorance (Sophonow) to partial collusion (Driskell) to full fledged lynch mob (Taman re: Harvey-Zenk).
The Winnipeg Free Press published an editorial Aug. 8 headlined "Shattering public trust". They meant it as an attack on the police serving in Winnipeg and East St. Paul.
They should have looked in a mirror first.