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

Friday, August 15, 2008

Taman Inquiry Commissioner has his mind made up

Taman Inquiry Commissioner Roger Salhany took time out from his rush to judgement to get into an argument with the lawyer representing one of the tribunal's main targets -- where he tipped his hand to how he's going to write a part of the final report.

You didn't see that in the mainstream media, nor did you read how Salhany shared a joke with Gene Zazalenchuk, the lawyer for Crystal Taman's family, about her death. So read on.

Salhany was supposed to be listening to final submissions to the Inquiry on Wednesday, but he had other things on his mind; he wanted to get home to Ontario. So after hearing from Commission counsel David Pacicco and Taman representative Zazalenchuk, Salhany started speeding up the process with the remaining lawyers.

Don't read passages of evidence, just give me the reference and I assure you I'll read them later, he told them. "I don't want to continue in the parking lot on Friday", he quipped to the lawyer for East. St. Paul. In fact, he liked his own banter so much he repeated it to Hymie Weinstein, the lawyer for Harry Bakema.

But he tore a strip out of Shannon Hanlin, representing the Winnipeg Police Association, when she wasn't proceeding fast enough for his liking. Pick on a girl, eh.

However, he had plenty of time to debate Keith Labossiere, the lawyer representing the Winnipeg Police Association members who were out at the shifter with Derek Harvey-Zenk that fateful night.

Mr. LABOSSIERE:
We heard a lot about the officers' inability to place any alcohol, level of alcohol impairment with Derek Harvey-Zenk. And I'm going to ask you to review all of the evidence and consider whether that's a fair statement in the circumstances. Because it is quite clear, as I've just pointed out, that there is no suggestion whatsoever from anybody, including Chelsea O'Halloran, Darcey Gerardy, or any of the witnesses who weren't police officers that night, that Derek Harvey-Zenk did stand out in any way.

And that is why I say it is quite reasonable to presume that they would not have been in a position to give any evidence of assistance, or of not assistance to the prosecution.

Salhany responded with a jaw-dropping statement of his own opinion of the evidence.

THE COMMISSIONER:
There is another reason, they may have all been drinking too heavily that night, as the evidence of alcohol consumption seems to show. And, therefore, they may not have been in a position to assess the alcohol consumption of others because of their own drinking.

Salhany continued to reveal how he's already made up his mind.

MR. LABOSSIERE:

My learned friend also spent a lot of time on the issue of what he calls an intentional understating of alcohol consumption, and he points, and I'm not going to take you to it, but at page 170 of his aids to his argument, the reproduction of the chart of Derek Harvey-Zenk's alcohol consumption and the personal consumption, and I know what you are going to do is you are going to consider all of the evidence, and when you do, you are going to find, number one, the bottle of rye that we are talking about at Sean Black's house, Sean Black says was almost full, we don't know if that's 24 ounces, 25 ounces, 20 ounces, it is almost full.

THE COMMISSIONER:

There were two bottles.
MR. LABOSSIERE:
There was a second bottle that was a heel and Sean Black was very clear that he had one drink out of it.

THE COMMISSIONER:

He told the adjuster shortly after he was asked to come and give evidence or give a statement, that there were two bottles.
MR. LABOSSIERE:

And he explained that.

THE COMMISSIONER:

And then it changed, so don't tell me there is just one bottle. There is evidence that it goes from two bottles to a single bottle as the matter developed.
MR. LABOSSIERE:

And of the two bottles, you heard the evidence and the only evidence --
THE COMMISSIONER:

And they were all gone the next morning.
MR. LABOSSIERE:

One bottle had one drink in it, the heel.

THE COMMISSIONER:
No, he said there were two bottles. He didn't say there was a bottle -- one bottle, to the adjuster, a bottle and a heel, he said there were two bottles, I put out two bottles. So assuming they are 26 ounces and then it ends up a bottle with a heel and then it ends up with a bottle, so it gets less and less as he gives his evidence.
MR. LABOSSIERE:

Again, I recognize there are suspicions, there are suggestions, there are suppositions, but the only evidence you have is when Sean Black is asked about the two bottles that he described for the insurance adjuster, he explained it. And he explained that he had two bottles; one he poured a drink for him, the other he put out that was almost full. That's the evidence that was before you.

Poor Keith Labossiere. Either he doesn't know it, or he does and can't say it, but evidence doesn't matter in show trials like Manitoba's public inquiries where the conclusions are pre-determined.

The real significance of this exchange is how desperately the Commissioner is looking for booze.

Not for himself, silly.

No, if he can show that Derek Harvey-Zenk was drunk the morning drove into Crystal Taman's car and killed her (and he can do that by showing all the police were drunk that night), he can "prove" that the Gang-of-40 obstructed justice, which, after all, is the purpose of the Inquiry. So Salhany needs to put more liquor on Sean Black's table.

Black testified he put out a bottle of rye whiskey and a bottle of Bailey's for his guests. But he told an insurance adjuster he put out two bottles of whiskey.

One, he explained before the Inquiry, was a "heel", a term we've never heard before, but which obviously means a bottle with "what's left". He emptied that bottle by pouring himself a drink, he said, and let his guests share the rest of the liquor.
But a 26'er for at least 10 grown men over three or four hours doesn't give Salhany enough alcohol.

Hence the second bottle becomes a certainty, testimony be damned.

The Commissioner knows he's going to have a hard time manipulating the evidence of after-work drinking by police officers at Branigan's to prove Harvey-Zenk was sloshed.

He was counting on the testimony of waitress Chelsea O'Halloran who, after having her memory refreshed by Inquiry counsel, suddenly recollected lying to police investigators. Today she remembers that most of the police at the bar the night before Taman was killed were drunk.

One, in particular, she remembered from Super Bowl and she said he had eight or nine pints of beer. Sure, she couldn't identify Constable X, but she dropped enough clues for the Commish to deduce it was Derek Harvey-Zenk. She did remember he had blonde hair.

Next time you see Harvey-Zenk on TV, pay attention to his hair.

But those pesky police lawyers did a number on Chelsea's re-memory.

Q You also, in the course of your testimony with Mr. Clifford, indicated that you thought there might be about 15 or so people who were impaired at that event?
A Yes.
Q And you described how you thought they might have had eight or nine bottles of beer each. Am I properly interpreting your testimony to Mr. Clifford?
A They weren't bottles, they were pints.

Q Okay. And on my count, if we had 15 people drinking eight beer each, that would be 120 beer in total?
A Yes.
Q And there were only shown 130 beer being consumed throughout the course of that entire day. Do you have any comments to make on whether --
A It was a guess that I made. I wasn't exactly sure, and it was just a guess that I made.

Q Does it shake your confidence that the Super Bowl wing eater would have had eight beer or so?
A No. He possibly could have. I made a guess, but I know when someone is drunk.

Gene Zazalenchuk did his best to rehabilitate Chelsea in his final submission.

"...when Chelsea is interviewed, it's Exhibit 154, she tells the police officers very simply that she was serving them 35-cent wings and $2.75 pints, $2.75 pints, and that the average bill was $30. Simple math, very basic simple math will tell you that if you had 20 wings at $7.00, if the bill was $25, that leaves $18. If the pints are $2.75, we're talking about six pints."

Get it? He's saying that on average each police officer at Branigan's drank six pints of beer in under 3 hours. Wow.

Except for...the lawyer for the Winnipeg police association who did his own math based on the lounge's sales sheets.

Q "... $2.75 pints; do you see that?
A Yes.

Q I also see a count of 68, you would agree with me?
A Yes.
Q And this is, in fact, the total for the entire restaurant; correct?
A Yes
.
Q However, would it be your understanding that the people ordering the $2.75 pints on this date would have been police officers?
A Only police officers.
Q And so those would have been officers all being served by you, essentially?
A Yes.
Q And you note the count there of 68; correct?
A Yes.
Q So that would be your understanding that that is how many pints of beer you served to the group of officers?

Given that Chelsea remembered at least 20 and as many as 35 police partying that night, that's hardly enough beer to wet a whistle, never mind get a buzz on over a 3 1/2 hour span (11:00 to 2:30). On average, of course.

That's why the Inquiry counsel had to introduce--ta da--the invisible mystery pitchers of beer.

Yes, though there's no record of a single pitcher sold or given away for free, Pacicco got poor Chelsea to say she now remembers carrying pitchers of beer to the rowdy policemen (and a couple of policewomen). Instant evidence.

And nobody was happier than Commissioner Salhany.

THE COMMISSIONER:
I need a bit of assistance. I didn't get all of your testimony down. Can you explain again why you believe that the pitchers of beer are not on the sheet that you've been looking at?

THE WITNESS: They possibly could have not been on there because they weren't rang through, therefore, that means I didn't ring them through, but Darcey could have just poured them and not put them -- not rang them through on his tab either. Therefore, it would just be free flowing beer, it wouldn't be marked, it wouldn't be counted for.

THE COMMISSIONER:
It wouldn't be. All right. Thank you, thank you very much. But you are satisfied that there were pitchers of beer?
THE WITNESS:
I'm pretty sure, yes.

THE COMMISSIONER:
Do you know how many?
THE WITNESS:
No, I don't have an idea.

THE COMMISSIONER: Would you have served them, would you have brought the pitchers out to the table?
THE WITNESS: Yes.
THE COMMISSIONER: Yes.

Did we say nobody was happier than Salhany? We didn't count on Winnipeg Free Press reporter Aldo Santin. Yes, folks, it's time for----

Professional Reporters At Work.

Aldo Santin, Aug. 13, 2008, Taman lawyer alleges deliberate botch http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/breakingnews/story/4212166p-4804891c.html


"Zazelenchuk also was critical of the drinking-and-driving attitudes held by Winnipeg police officers. He said two officers drinking with Harvey-Zenk admitted to drinking four pitchers of beer during a two-hour period and the evidence showed that on average all the officers at the lounge had an average of eight pitchers of beer in a two- to three-hour period."

Gene Zazalenchuk, Taman Inquiry, Aug. 13, 2008
"... the average bill was $30. Simple math, very basic simple math will tell you that if you had 20 wings at $7.00, if the bill was $25, that leaves $18. If the pints are $2.75, we're talking about six pints."

Pints. Pitchers.
Six. Eight.
Petty details. To a big-city reporter.

It would be funny if it wasn't so tragic.

But, as we've seen, Inquiry Commissioner Roger Salhany likes a good joke. And he understands that the essence of comedy is timing. So what better time to make a joke than an inquiry into Crystal Taman's death.

Taman family lawyer Gene Zazalenchuk was questioning witness Richard Peck when...

Q And as a prosecutor in a case involving the loss of a human life, particularly a younger person, which is always more tragic than, you know, somebody who has lived a full and long life, although they are both tragic, we will agree.
THE COMMISSIONER: Speak for yourself. We elderly people have to be protected.
MR. ZAZELENCHUK: My 87 year old mother would agree with you 100 per cent, Mr. Commissioner.

BY MR. ZAZELENCHUK:
Q But in a case involving a sudden tragic death of a human life, that you were given the brief to prosecute, do I understand correctly that you would want to try and meet with the family, the victims, at an early stage of the proceeding, within a month or two or something like that?

Har har hardy har har.

Now imagine if the press learned that a police officer made the same joke. Where would that play in the daily news?

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