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 since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

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:

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Year-end Wrap-up

As Day 366 of the year ticks down (what? you forgot it was Leap Year?), there's just time for our annual announcement of The Black Rod's Newsmaker of the Year.

The title for 2008 goes to----- Derek Harvey-Zenk.

Or Morden-Zenk. Or Harvey-Morden-Zenk. Or whatever the hell his actual name is.

It hardly mattered. He was better known as Public Enemy No. 1 for much of the year.

No man has been so demonized in as long as we can remember.

Jon Waluk, a Hells Angels-connected drug addict who was convicted of killing a young mother and her two little children--her daughter, 5, and her 19-month-old son--- ON CHRISTMAS EVE in 1987, is walking the streets of Winnipeg on parole with less negative attention from the press.

What did Zenk do to enrage so many people?

He was a police officer.

A police officer who made a deadly mistake.

In 2005 he went to a bar with fellow police to unwind after their shifts. When the bar closed he went to a house party at one of the officer's homes. Then, instead of accepting an offer to crash on the couch, he decided to drive to his own home. On the way he rear-ended a car, killing the driver who was on her way to work in the morning.

Zenk pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death. He was sentenced to house arrest for two years less a day.

But that's just the backstory. It isn't what Derek Zenk did that made him the newsmaker of the year; it was the impact he had on the press, the police and the courts of the province.

In 2008 the province convened a public inquiry into why Zenk wasn't charged with drunk driving and why he wasn't given a jail sentence.

Derek Zenk turned the news media into a slavering lynch mob.

All semblance of fairness, of impartial reporting, of telling a story honestly was cast aside. Radio, television, and newspapers universally reported the Inquiry from the unchallenged premise that Zenk was drunk when he ran into the other car, his police pals fixed it so he wouldn't be charged, and the independent prosecutor arranged a plea bargain to ensure Zenk wouldn't go to jail.

The much-vaunted separation of roles evaporated in an instant; reporters became editorialists, headline writers became propagandists. Columnists and radio hosts competed to outdo one another in spitting vitriol at the police. Rationality was replaced with passionate hatred directed at Zenk and any individual who even remotely crossed his path and didn't subscribe to the theory of a conspiracy to protect him from the law.

The spectacle of a media mob was both astonishing and frightening. It should be studied in journalism classes for decades. The participants will, in time, look back in shame on their compliance with the ravening horde. Journalism students could only watch the so-called professionals engage in the worst mean-spirited pack journalism imaginable.

The Inquiry itself was equally reprehensible.

It was the third show trial held in Manitoba by the NDP (following the Sophonow Inquiry and the Driskell Inquiry). They all run the same pattern. They start with a predetermined conclusion - in this case it was that police deliberately botched a drunk driving investigation against Zenk and, if they hadn't, he would have been sent to jail. Then they trot out witnesses to "prove" their conclusion. Then they pretend that the "evidence" led them to the conclusion. It's carefully choreographed and the mainstream press goes along with the illusion.

In the Zenk case, the Commissioner Roger Salhany ran into a problem. Their expert in special prosecutions refused to play ball. He said the sentence given Derek Zenk was proper according to the law and precedents in Manitoba. Salhany simply found another witness to contradict the first one and give the "evidence" the Inquiry needed to reach the predetermined conclusion. That's called Manitoba Justice. If you don't like the truth, change it.

Never reported before is how much of an ego trip the Inquiry was for Roger Salhany. His report concluded that Zenk should have been prosecuted for impaired driving on the grounds that Zenk had been drinking at some time before he started driving home.

Salhany reasons that the law on impaired driving doesn't insist a driver has to be drunk before he can be convicted. The slightest evidence of impairment, say bloodshot eyes, should be enough for a conviction, he said.

And where did he get this wisdom? Why, from none other than---himself.

Exactly twenty years ago, December, 1988, the Ontario District Court rendered a decision in the case of R. v. Winlaw which has been described like this:

"There, the learned judge went through the law, as was presented to him, with respect to the law of impaired driving… namely, s. 253(a), creates an offence of being impaired, not markedly impaired, but simply impaired, and it does not require evidence of a marked departure from a norm or standard of sobriety; any kind of impairment, even slight, was sufficient to constitute the offence."

The judge in that case? Why, His Honour Judge Salhany.

It took 20 years, but Salhany finally got to validate his own high opinion of himself by using his own ruling as the basis of a highly publicized public inquiry.

Justice Minister Dave "Six Months" Chomiak reacted to the Inquiry by disbanding the East St. Paul police department and ordering the over-stretched RCMP to take over. He said he would continue persecuting police by launching still another "investigation" into officers of the East St. Paul police force (who have already been cleared by the RCMP once) for alleged obstruction of justice in letting Zenk off the hook. And he announced a new agency would be created to investigate police, to treat them like the criminals they are--- in his eyes.

All this from the minister who has watched criminal gangs overrun the province and car theft turn into an epidemic because of his refusal to treat criminals like criminals.

The Inquiry into the actions of Derek Zenk serves as a terrible example of untrampled power of the courts and this government. There is another public inquiry in the pipeline, this into the 1986 murder conviction of cocaine kingpin Frank Ostrowski. He claims he's innocent and he got railroaded. Poor boy. And the Commissioner who will be in charge---why, none other than Roger Salhany.

That should be be fair warning to former Crown attorney George Dangerfield who is going to be Salhany's target in the Ostrowski Inquiry. If he hopes to avoid becoming the next sacrifice to Salhany's ego, he had better use the persecution of Derek Zenk to his advantage. Hire a pitbull lawyer, attack your detractors without hesitation, playing nicey nice is a guarantee to having the NDP destroy your reputation and your name for their own purposes. Remember, the conclusion is already written.

Manitoba Judge Ray Wyant sentenced Derek Zenk. At the time he made a prescient observation about justice and the law. His words were ignored by the press, the government and Roger Salhany. And we'll all pay the price. Judge Wyant's words sum why Derek Zenk became the newsmaker of the year:

"They want their pound of flesh. They want to hear the clanking of the cell door.

But let me make it absolutely clear, Mr. Zenk, those factors are not something this court or any court can entertain in deciding a fit and appropriate sentence. To do so would corrupt the very foundations of our justice system and plunge our system into chaos. So it does not matter what we think happened, what we must do is only sentence or decide cases on the evidence before us.

If we were to substitute our opinions or the opinions of others for proof and evidence, we would surely undermine fundamentally our system of justice. For to replace our feelings or opinions for facts would mean that any citizen could be the subject of arbitrary justice, of decisions based, not on evidence and proof, but on innuendo and personal biases.

Sentence delivered
October 29, 2007

Looking back, we can't believe how busy a year it was for The Black Rod.

Something had to give, and we regret that it was our weekly coverage of the war in Afghanistan. We started it because there was a vacuum. We couldn't believe how the newspapers were ignoring a conflict where Canadian soldiers were fighting and dying, and making a difference, and demonstrating unmatched bravery day after day without any recognition.

In 2008 we dropped the ball. We promise to rectify that mistake and to redouble our efforts to cover the conflict properly, even if only through a weekly recap of events and analysis.

But we never expected to find ourselves staring down a lynch mob or breaking the biggest Manitoba story of the federal election or going behind the headlines and tripping over the secret plans of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. It's been quite a year.

* Covering the Taman Inquiry required reading hundreds of pages of transcript every night. But it was worth it. We were able to report how the Inquiry was inventing evidence, coaching witnesses, and twisting facts beyond recognition. And how the news media was letting them get away with it, including not reporting when Commissioner Salhany joked about the death of Crystal Taman.

The year ends with Chelsea O'Halloran, Salhany's star witness, charged with drunk driving. She had been a heroine at the Inquiry for confessing she lied to police investigators to cover up how, in her expert opinion, drunk the whole group of police were the night before Zenk drove into Crystal Taman's car. (It is also noteworthy that FP Legislature reporter Bruce Owen now concludes in his summaries of the Taman Inquiry, that Zenk "apparently fell asleep behind the wheel of his pick-up truck.")

* And the employees of the Winnipeg Free Press, who revelled at accusing the Winnipeg Police of a massive cover-up to protect Derek Zenk, ended the year engaged in a massive cover-up of their own to hide the truth of how they wound up with 1500 pounds of government subsidized pork in their freezers when it was intended for the poor and hungry clients of food banks.

* The Black Rod was nominated MVP Blog of the Election after we exposed former CBC radio host Lesley Hughes as a 911 Truther running for the Liberal Party in Winnipeg.

* Our three-part Hydro series examined in close detail the flood of red flags raised by the Public Utilities Board about Manitoba Hydro's multi-billion dollar plans for future power projects. The bottom line was that the plans were based on ideological wishes and were likely to result in Manitobans paying grossly higher rates to subsidize power exports to the U.S. that we're bound by contracts to provide. Hydro has to submit detailed reports to the PUB in January of how they reached their economic forecasts. Expect the mainstream media to be chasing our Hydro series after those reports are delivered, or excuses made why they can't be.

* The Canadian Museum for Human Rights was a regular topic for The Black Rod in 2008. We finally shamed the Winnipeg Free Press into discussing the true cost of constructing Gail Asper's white elephant project. For the first time ever, the FP published a figure-about $130 million. Then their editorialists conceded the cost was likely to balloon once the project moved from pretty pictures on paper to actual construction. Nobody now believes that the CMHR can avoid the 18 percent per year construction inflation that every other government project is facing.

* We also revealed how the CMHR had turned into the Incredible Shrinking Rights Museum. In January, 2006, proponents said it would bring 400,000 visitors to Winnipeg each year. By 2008, that figure had been cut in half and they conceded they were counting cybervisitors who would click on the museum's website.

* We looked at the museum's board of directors and found Grand Chief Phil Fontaine, who was on the record as opposing the extension of human rights laws to Indian reserves. And we looked at the museum's advisory committee and found Anthony Hall, one of Canada's most prominent 911 Truthers, an anti-Zionist, and a critic who called the Asper family's Canwest Global media empire almost "treasonous".

* Finally, after years of delay, there was an inquest into the police shooting death of Matthew Dumas. The mainstream media found themselves reporting what we revealed in The Black Rod THREE YEARS AGO. Way to go there guys.

* The anti-police lobby found new poster boys to replace Matthew Dumas in 2008. They fit the profile: aboriginal, criminal, stupid,and dead.

The Black Rod revealed that one of the main critics of police-public relations, University professor Elizabeth Comack, was a flaming Marxist who brings her class warfare opinions to her "research." We'll be watching to see if the news media mentions that at her next blame-the-police news conference.

* When Dr. Larry Reynolds was fired as head of Family Medicine at the University of Manitoba, we turned up the real reason, and it wasn't what the University and the Winnipeg health authority said it was. But we didn't know at the time that we had actually uncovered the tip of the WRHA's secret plans to take control of the University's medical school. We'll be keeping a very close eye on this power grab.

* The year saw a few old stories wrap up. The last whisper of the Driskell show trial was heard in 2008. Remember that the entire Driskell Inquiry was premised on the, ahem, fact that Ray Zanidean, the key witness, perjured himself when giving the evidence that convicted James Driskell of the murder of Perry Dean Harder. The government, in a fit of high dudgeon, announced they were launching a perjury investigation against Zanidean. But, when the Inquiry opened, the government revealed that, ahem, they had misplaced the plans for an investigation, but it would be launched as soon as the Inquiry was over. And it was. And in February, the results of that investigation were announced---there wasn't any evidence of perjury that would stand up in a legitimate court of law.


Since then, the Winnipeg Free Press, has been exceptionally careful to avoid using the word perjury in any of their subsequent stories about the Driskell case. Compare their stories before and after to see the stark differences in how they explain the case.

* And, of course, what would a year be without Krista Erickson, former CBC Winnipeg host and now reinstated CBC Ottawa reporter. Krista got in a pickle in '07 when it was revealed she had provided the Liberal Party with questions to ask former PM Brian Mulroney at a public committee hearing. Everyone, except Liberals, saw this as crossing the line between legitimate reporting and collaborating with a political party.

This year the CBC Ombudsman delivered his report on the incident. He said Krista's critics were the ones to blame---for daring to suggest there was some political favoritism involved in her actions.

She was a babe in the woods, an innocent nymph (in the classical meaning of the word) who just tried too hard to do her job. Sure, she went too far and overstepped CBC's own policy on getting cozy with politicians. But those are unwritten rules and Krista is blameless. Ombudsman Vince Carlin even blamed himself for Krista's predicament, because he should have been more vigilant in assuring young nubile employees like her know the rules.

In other, less star-struck words, the critics were right to challenge the CBC for collaborating with the Liberals. She did. She got caught. And after she got caught she confessed and threw herself on the mercy of the CBC court.

Carlin says there was political bias behind her cozy arrangement with the Liberals because there was no evidence of political bias. But, as he should know too well, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. The evidence is that the CBC covered up then, and continues to cover up, the name or names of the Liberals that Krista was working with. And the CBC even allowed the Liberals to lie to the public without contradiction when the Liberals denied receiving questions from Krista Erickson at the Mulroney hearing.

Nice try, Vince. It didn't work.

2008 was a watershed year. We welcome the new contingent of local bloggers that's popped up throughout the year. Aggressive, opinionated, and capable of breaking news stories of their own, they're rewriting the rules and history of journalism. The day of the gatekeepers is passing, and they hate it.

We wish a Happy New Year to all you bloggers out there.

And to all our visitors, especially the many thousands of new readers who discovered The Black Rod this year.

And to the many who people sent us notes of appreciation and encouragement.

And even to those whose regular jibes we accept with good spirit.

And to those who have offered help and support, don't think we've forgotten you. If we've failed to get back to you promptly, its because there are more things in the works than we can say right now.

Happy New Year everyone.

Now bring on '09. We're ready.

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