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:

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The CBC catches fire, but here's one story they will never report

The CBC is on fire.

CBC-Television News broke from the pack this week, and it wasn't only its coverage of the Hillary Wilson-Cherisse Houle story.

The day of ignition was Monday, the day the Winnipeg Free Press reported that murder victim Hillary Wilson had known Cherisse Houle, a prostitute also found dead on the outskirts of Winnipeg one month earlier. (A reader has pointed out that CTV"s Stacey Ashley actually broke this detail on Sunday's 6 o'clock newscast - ed.)

From then on they did something exceptionally unusual in Winnipeg---they followed the story every single day, advancing it bit by bit throughout the week.

Sure, some of the scoops were bunk. The two dead girls both testified, reported CBC, at the trials of members of an Asian gang that traded crack for sex from as many as 20 young aboriginal girls.

It turned out the "gang" was six Vietnamese men in their mid-50's, half of whom were deported upon conviction.

And the "mysterious van" following girls from a rally at the Legislature turned out to be the overactive imagination of paranoid teenagers. But, still, it got us watching---every day.

And that's bad news for the other television newsrooms where reporters have to learn a whole new vocabulary, including the words "exclusive", "scoop", and "follow that story." This sort of competition hasn't been seen in decades.

And CBC has learned how to use their aboriginal journalists. Aboriginal "journalists" have been hired to fill quotas and to "reflect the face of the community." Actual reporting skill was a bonus, if it existed.

We know from personal experience; we engaged in a conversation with one of CBC's "aboriginal journalists" who told us he knew our Matthew Dumas story was true, but he wasn't going to do it because he felt the police were to blame. We wondered where he was when the inquest vindicated our scoop; probably finding his true calling as a mall security guard.

But this week we saw some true aboriginal journalism. Sheila North-Wilson used her access as an Indian to dig out stories. Good and bad, we still tuned in every day to see the latest. Now that's reporting.

And it wasn't just the aboriginal stories.

While the rest of the TV stations and newspapers sleepwalked past the drive-by shooting of a Simcoe Avenue apartment house, CBC went to the scene and turned up a barnburner of a story. Death threats spraypainted on the building. Residents terrified by the crack dealers opening selling drugs from their suites. An owner in B.C. who didn't care a whit. City officials who whimpered
"We've done everything we can. What else can we do?"

The next day it was a different story, and one we saw only on CBC. A pack of city inspectors descended on the apartment house, wrote up every infraction of every bylaw, and left with a message---
this place will be cleaned up or shut down, fast.

That's action. That's reporting. And that's why we're setting our dial to CBC television news to see what they've got first in the supperhour.

But here's one story you're never going to see on CBC or apparently anywhere in the Mainstream media in Winnipeg.

Not one MSM outlet picked up on the blockbuster news revealed last week by Colin Craig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation on

Craig had a sit-down with Patrick O'Reilly, the chief operating officer of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and Susanne Robertson, the chief financial officer.

They told him this jawdropping information:

"…while the museum's cost overrun figure has publicly been reported at $45 million,
the CTF learned the original overrun figure sat at $58 million."

That's 58 MILLION DOLLARS, folks.

Before a shovelfull of imported dirt was turned, the CMHR was $58 million in the hole. (That's 35 percent over budget for anyone keeping score.)

We were stunned. But not as stunned, we're betting, as Gail Asper and Patrick O'Reilly were on Thursday, May 21, 2009, before anyone knew the budget was as much as a penny over.

That's the day The Black Rod reported that by our estimate the museum was at least $55 million in the red.

You can see now why Gail and Paddy went scurrying to the Winnipeg Free Press editorial offices the following Monday to, er, discuss the museum's budget.

Those stupid bloggers got it all wrong. Sure there's a small shortfall, $45 million, but it's already being taken care of and there's nothing to worry about. We have "asks" out and expect to rake in the dough any day now.

Yeah... We got it wrong.

WE UNDERESTIMATED the budget shortfall.

And why the difference between the actual budget overrun and the $45 million they admitted?

It seems they had been busy as beavers while the deficit was still a secret.

They chopped $13 million out of the budget "by modifying electrical and ventilation systems, reducing the protective coating on concrete floors and opting for less costly stone for its walls," according to the June 11 Macleans magazine. (What were they coating the floors with? Gold?….ed.)

O'Reilly said something similar to the Winnipeg Free Press the day he confessed to a budget overrun.

"Patrick O'Reilly, the museum's chief operating officer, said the museum's board, appointed by the federal government, has gone through the entire budget and has been able to trim about $12 million from construction costs. He said most of the cuts -- which the public won't notice -- are for interior building materials, changes to floor supports and redesigning the air-conditioning and heating system."

But, like you, we never guessed the $12-13 million was on top of the $45 million. We assumed he meant that over the course of planning there had been snips and trims which had prevented the budget shortfall from being even bigger than $45 million.

It shows you how naïve we were.

They claim they've raised $2 million of the $45 million shortfall already, although they won't say how or where they got the money.

But the cheerleading Free Press, which hasn't reported the true deficit of $58 million, was all giggly Sunday about Gail Asper's new fundraising schemes.

The days of batting her eyes at fawning boards of directors of major corporations are long over. Now it's begging for spare change from the little guy, just like the rest of the panhandlers.

A mass grape-stomping at a Corydon Avenue restaurant, and pie-throwing at the University of Manitoba are among her brainstorms.

But it's watching her take money from a teenaged go-cart racer and kids in Junior Achievement that turns our stomachs.

A multi-millionaire is getting children to raise money for her pet project which will then send her on free trips around the world to, uh, see other museums.

It makes you want to puke.

Correction: We've been informed that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is subject to federal Access to Information requests. It's the material of the museum, which is exempt by an amendment to the law.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Gary Doer's out. He's in. Who?

The answer---
Lloyd Axworthy.

The question?
Who will replace Gary Doer as leader of the Manitoba NDP and as Premier of Manitoba?

Forget the knee-jerk professional pundits. The so-called potential candidates are either waist deep in delusion (Steve Ashton), shoulder deep in scandal (Greg Selinger) or nose deep in obscurity (Nancy Allan).

Gary Doer's parting gift to his once-heralded-heir, Bill Blaikie, was a knife in the back Sicilian-style with a declaration on how out-of-touch Old Lefties (like Billy) are with the electorate.

The party brass could appoint an interim Premier---nice-guy Gord Mackintosh fits the bill---to carry them over the winter while the leadership "race" steals the spotlight from the Opposition. Or they could seize the brass ring now, install his Lloydship and dare the Opposition to challenge his holiness.

Axworthy is no stranger to the Manitoba Legislature.He was elected as a Liberal in Fort Rouge in the 1973 election and re-elected in 1977. He was the only Liberal in the legislature from 1977 to 1979 when he went into federal politics.

He left Ottawa in 2000, so he's distanced from the Liberal Party's Sponsorship scandal.

He's been President and vice chancellor at the University of Winnipeg since 2004. During his tenure he's made educating aboriginal students a top priority.

Dirt free? Check
Five years promoting education as an ethical priority? Check
Aboriginal cred? Check

He comes with a sackfull of awards and honorary degrees, and, he never fails to tell you if given half a chance, that he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997.

He just fails to tell you he was nominated by a single U.S. Senator and his chances were so slim he endorsed the ultimate winner, International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

During his stint at the U of W, Axworthy has run a parallel civic government, engaging in his personal urban renewal project all around the university with little input or interference from City Hall.

His funding partner over the years was none other than Gary Doer.

And best of all, Doer can rest easy that he's passed the torch to someone who will make sure Gail Asper has all the money she needs for her boondoggle human rights museum.

But he comes with a few negatives.

* His age. Almost 70, he's older than your grandfather. But he still looks younger than the army of living dead in the NDP's front bench.

* He's rabidly anti-Conservative and is a leader of the unite-the-left movement. If the federal government reduces the equalization payments that are the lifeblood of the NDP, Axworthy could launch an anti-Harper campaign which would trap the provincial PC's in the middle. He's also a knee-jerk anti-American, although he's keeping those tendencies in check as long as Obama is President. But those sentiments go a long way with the labour movement which will decide who becomes leader of the party.

* And scratch the surface and you'll find he's as much an Old Leftie as Bill Blaikie, except he engages in the rhetoric only among friends.

Blaikie, it's going to turn out, was Axworthy's stalking horse.

Never interested in the Premier's job himself, he let others say he was. He reported back to Lloyd on caucus issues and personalities so Axworthy wouldn't be walking in cold when the time came.

And the time has come.

The NDP needs someone with built-in name recognition, a familiar face they don't have to sell to the public. As an apostate Liberal, Axworthy will be expected to draw voters from the moribund Manitoba Liberal Party, possibly leading to an unbeatable merger of the left, aka the big fish swallows the little fish. And if he attracts the undecided vote, all the better.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Gary Doer's ethics cabinet

It was all he could do to keep from laughing out loud.

But Gary Doer was laughing up his sleeve every minute of it.

The time: Jan. 30, 2001
The occasion: Manitoba's Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections

The NDP was taking another opportunity to humiliate and torture the Tories over the scandal that cost the Conservatives the 1999 election.

Leading the hectoring was Steve Ashton, then the Minister of Highways, who took aim at what he called the win-at-all costs school of ethics.

I want to ask some questions that directly follow from some of the aspects we have seen in the last number of years in terms of elections, sort of, if one was to describe it, the lack of ethics that seems to have characterized the Conservative Party's approach in both the '95 and the '99 elections...

There was a cover-up engineered by senior PC Party officials of that specific incident. I think we are going to be asking today some questions as to whether there was a cover-up on a further matter, in this case the overexpenditure by the Conservative Party in the 1995 election.

Monnin was very clear. I mean, he referenced specific cover-ups by senior PC Party officials in regard to the running of the three candidates in Dauphin, Interlake and Swan River, and I guess I think it stretches credibility to suggest that it was somehow an honest mistake made by a party that managed to lose all of its records in a warehouse as part of the cover-up during the Monnin inquiry, records that were then found, and then were found to have exceeded the limit by more than $13,000.

Gary Doer must have been chewing his lower lip to control himself. Even as he listened to Ashton's tirade, Doer knew that the NDP was guilty of even worse.

They had cheated the public treasury of $76,000 in the 1999 election campaign and probably an equal amount in 1995. In fact, their election fraud scheme had been operating for almost 15 years, raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars illegally.

The refunds were put in a slush fund to be used secretly on the next campaign. After all, there would be no need to account for it to Elections Manitoba since it wasn't donated by anyone, except the duped taxpayer.

The fraud scheme run by his election team, which included Dave Chomiak as co-chairman, was started under Doer's predecessor Howard Pawley, then continued under Doer's watch.

Unions donated workers to the NDP and the party paid their salaries during the campaign. The unions then kicked back the exact amount of those salaries to the party, so that the cost of union help was zero. But the NDP insiders handling election finances would claim the union workers as paid help on their final election returns, and the party would collect partial reimbursement from the public trough.

I think the obvious questions have to be asked about the degree to which the overspending was, according to the Leader of the Opposition, a misunderstanding when everything else related to the financial statements in that election involved cover-up, deception, dishonesty. You know, the words that I used are understatements relative to what has happened.

We have the Conservative Party, and I mean this has got to be the ultimate oxymoron, sort of a Conservative Party code of ethics. We see a situation where they have been caught, their fingers in the cookie jar again. It has been demonstrated that they had a whole pattern of cover-up in this particular place. Now, what do we find in terms of the public of Manitoba? The Conservative Party says, oh, it was a mistake.

The violation of the elections law in 1995 cost the taxpayers of Manitoba money. It was not just the question of the Conservatives spending more money than they were supposed to. It cost taxpayers for the investigation. Let us not forget these investigations, whether they be in Interlake or the Monnin inquiry, have cost taxpayers a lot of money. When it came to the Leader of the Opposition, clearly his party having ducked this one because of the statute of limitations, he basically said, well, it was a misunderstanding, it was a mistake and that is the end of it.

The NDP fraud was finally uncovered by an Elections Manitoba audit in 2001, the same year as this committee meeting. But it wasn't raised in the Legislature until this year, 2009. The NDP continues to dispute the findings of the forensic auditor who red-flagged the practice in 2001 and who was removed from the file at the insistence of the NDP. It was an honest mistake, a difference of interpretation of the law, Gary Doer told the Legislature over and over again.

I want to ask the Chief Electoral Officer how we can develop a system that can bring people responsible for this kind of cover-up, this kind of obstruction of the democratic process, to account, because we are faced in a situation here where we have the statute of limitations on the one hand and the new Leader of the Conservative Party, who, and I have to take him at his word as a member of the Legislature, says he was not involved in the specific transactions, was part of the campaign.

How do we get some accountability for this kind of action? By the way, I want to put on the record, this was no misunderstanding. A party that lost all of its electoral records in a warehouse as part of a cover-up is quite capable of trying to cover up what in this case was a clear violation of The Elections Act in overspending.

They have twice since failed the test in terms of electoral ethics. I want to know if they do not learn the lesson internally how we make sure we have a better system that can bring the people responsible for this kind of, I believe, deliberate obstruction of the democratic process and deliberate overspending to justice.

Doer, Ashton, Chomiak and rest of the NDP caucus have refused calls for a public inquiry into the 1999 election fraud.

But in 2001, Gary Doer couldn't resist getting into the fun.

My concern is, and when you read your report that is before this committee today, the '99 report, on page 55, the last sentence: "there was a cover-up engineered by senior PC party officials" and on the top of page 56, "that the PC party comptroller caused a false statement to be filed with Elections Manitoba contrary to Sec. 81 and 83(b) of The Elections Finances Act."

Then if you look at the review you find that on the one hand there was a cover-up and the materials and statements were not available and on the other hand the overspending, contrary to the act, that took place of $13,600 was not eligible for prosecution because of the time limits. Now it seems to me an act that was criminal, or certainly contrary to the law, illegal act as cited on page 55 and page 56, allows for a time for a separation from the '95 election by a cover-up, and then the Conservative party is therefore not subject to a prosecution because of time limits.

So, on the one hand, there was illegal activity in terms of the cover-up engineered. There was a breach of the laws in terms of the overexpenditures dealing with the $13,000, but the one act of the cover-up contributes to a lack of prosecution on the other illegal act. Then I read legal advice about the time limits. It seems to me, if somebody does not follow the laws in terms of disclosure, how then can a time limit let somebody off on breaking another law based on a technicality?

That to me is counter-intuitive to what the Legislature is trying to do with the public, what we are trying to do with each other, what society really believes, that justice should not only be pursued but be perceived to be pursued, and so the inescapable logic of the two conclusions of breaking the illegal act is if the one act contributed to the other act not being prosecuted.

So, in other words, one prosecution did not proceed because of another situation. If the records were available fully to you properly and legally in '95, '96, then the issue and I guess my question is this issue of the overexpenditure then would be on the public record and therefore subject to the prosecutions pursuant to the act. Would it not, Mr. Balasko?

The NDP stalled the investigation of the 1999 fraud for 2 1/2 years, then struck a secret deal with Balasko to pay back the money. The payback went on the public record---in an obscure mention in an obscure public document released three days before the 2003 provincial election.

But I am just wondering to the Chief Electoral Officer,... how we can put much faith into a system whereby the people that have been responsible for the breach of ethics not just on the one issue but here time and time again are then going to be again in the position of investigating, in this case making one phone call-this is the new Leader of the Opposition-and then saying: Oh, well, it was a misunderstanding; there was a mistake.

How can we have any faith in that sort of process and how can we restore some faith, because quite frankly when we have a situation like we have here, where once again, the Conservative Party, not only breached any sense of ethics, to my mind they broke the law.

Chief Electoral Officer Richard Balasko sang one tune in 2001 and quite another this year.

I am sure that everybody shares the common goal that the election law is upheld and that people who break the law are brought to account, and I have not heard anyone say anything other to me about that.

When the scandal broke this spring, Balasko said he was never interested in going after the party insiders who altered the NDP's election records. He was only concerned that the agents who signed the papers, not knowing they had been altered, did the right thing and signed corrected financial statements that could be put in the record.

And for the record, 13 NDP election candidates were informed in 2003 that their official financial statements were phony. Greg Selinger, the Finance Minister, was one of them, and he kept the secret for six years. Another one was Nancy Allan, who now holds the Labour portfolio.

Ashton, Selinger, and Allan are on the pundits' list of potential candidates to replace Gary Doer as leader of the NDP and Premier of Manitoba.

To understand Gary Doer's sudden recollection of the promise he made to himself to leave politics after 10 years, read this story in The Black Rod:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Gary Doer---Gittin' while the gittin's good

Manitoba Premier Gary Doer went for a checkup this summer and got some bad news.

His teflon was gone.

Internal polling showed that NDP support had gone softer than jell-o. The day when his personal popularity could carry the party through times of trouble were over.

The NDP has been running a stealth election campaign for over a month. We saw it, but couldn't figure out what was going on. By the new law of fixed election dates, the next election isn't until October, 2011. So how, we kept asking ourselves, could they precipitate an early election?

With Doer's resignation as Premier, we now know the game.

The NDP had to change its public image with or without Doer at the helm.
They launched their '11 election campaign early, counting on the momentum to carry them through the dark days ahead.

- Gary Doer is telling everyone he's leaving because he's been Premier for 10 years and its time to revitalize the party. Don't believe it.

He's bring driven out of office by scandal. Revelations that Elections Manitoba covered-up a scheme by the NDP under Gary Doer to fraudulently collect payback from the taxpayer for non-existent election expenses hurt more than the MSM wants to admit.

It was the first time that a political scandal touched Doer personally.
He knows he's dirty and he doesn't want to face the buzzsaw of questions in the House again, not when he can duck out now and claim the high road.

This is the best time to leave, right before the perfect storm that's brewing for 2010 hits.

- The Opposition has been in hiberation all summer, allowing the heat of the election scandal to drop from boiling to barely tepid. The Manitoba economy has escaped the ravages of the recession, and if the government has been told privately that equalization payments are being slashed, Doer will be long gone before the public knows how deep the red ink will be.

He won't have to approve a harmonized sales tax that will raise taxes on everyone and everything; he'll leave that to his successor. By the time the Brian Sinclair inquest exposes the defects in the NDP's health care system, Gary Doer will be Mr. Yesterday . If the Public Utilities Board concludes the NDP's socialist economy-boosting Manitoba Hydro mega-projects are riskier than buying 649 tickets, they can talk to the hand.

And when the Canadian Museum for Human Rights sinks in a sea of debt, he'll leave it to the new Premier to bail them out.

- The MSM dragged out the usual dinosaurs to comment on likely candidates for the Premier's job. All they did was demonstrate how out of touch they really are.

Theresa Oswald, said poli-sci prof and media whore Paul Thomas. Uh, Paul, she's moving to Wisconsin, where her hubby just got a job and bought a house this summer. And the kid starts school in the good ol' USA this September.

Greg Selinger. You mean the man who ran a backchannel into caucus for the Crocus Fund so they could get pesky governance laws changed whenever they ran out of cash? The same guy who covered-up the NDP election fraud scandal for five years---after learning about it and demanding a letter of exoneration from the election team? That guy?

Steve Ashton. Uh, Paul, he doesn't represent a Winnipeg riding and that's the battleground, as it's been since the Nineties.

Bill Blaikie. Didn't anyone notice how deftly Gary Doer slipped the stilletto into Blaikie's ribs?

Doer returned several times to the idea his success was based on transcending the traditional attitudes of the Old Left, as he called it, and the Right. He, himself, had governed for all the people, he said. The Old Left was out of touch with the modern electorate.

Old Left? Is there anyone further left than Bill Blaikie? Rabidly anti-American. While in Parliament, as a member of the NDP caucus for 29 years, he voted the party line against every tax cut proposed and for every tax hike.

He demonstrates a dangerously selective memory on his years with the federal NDP. For example he has no memory of anyone named Joe Comartin, the NDP Justice Critic, nor does he remember the NDP's boast that it successfully kept deterrence and denunciation out of the Youth Justice Act, thereby successfully undermining any punitive measure against young criminals and fueling the car theft epidemic in Winnipeg.

- Doer mused about his legacy. He spoke whistfully about national parks. The man who set aside land for Assiniboine Park lost the next election, but we all thank him, he said. He peppered his quitting announcement with repeated references to the Point Douglas Provincial Park.

Up to now that was considered just a gleam in his eye, given how there have been no consultations with Point Douglas residents. But we see that it's much, much more.

It could be his parting gift to his sweetie Gail Asper and a finger in the eye of the Winnipeg taxpayer.

If he manages to create by fiat a provincial park that runs along the Red River from Waterfront Drive to Higgins Avenue, he'll also manage to include the Canadian Museum for Human Rights within its boundary.

The museum's address is 85 Waterfront Drive, didn't you know?

One situated on a provincial park, the museum would be exempt from city taxes, thereby saving them $5 million to $9 million a year. And screwing the City of Winnipeg out of that same amount.

Stop The Madness

Attorney General Dave "Six Months" Chomiak looked dour, as if he was attending a funeral. Winnipeg Police Chief 'Elvis' McCaskill yammered something about listening to the community or hearing the community or dancing with the community; nobody listens to him anymore, so it hardly matters.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Bill Robinson did most of the talking.

The province was setting up an Integrated Task Force for Missing and Murdered Women, he said. It's job: find out who's killing native prostitutes and dumping their bodies outside Winnipeg.

The news media swooned. It was official. They could now give themselves orgasms by saying "task force" as often as possible.

The unit is made up of three RCMP officers, two RCMP analysts and four Winnipeg police officers. And they're all experienced. Wow, imagine that.
How's it going to work, the reporters begged.

Well, said Robinson, they're going to review all the files of unsolved homicides involving female victims; they will review all the files on missing girls and women where foul play is suspected, and....they will analyze them to find similarities and links.

Oooooh, the reporters said. Why hasn't anyone thought of that before? That Dave Chomiak is a genius. How did he think of this?

But, there is even more Chomiak's office issued an official news release. "The unit will have access to the combined resources of both police organizations including the Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System (ViCLAS) database and the Project Disappear website."

Okay, enough.

We've seen staged news conferences before, but this was in a class all its own. How Robinson kept a straight face, we can't imagine.

They're going to review files and analyse them? Well whoop-de-doo.

What do you think homicide police do already? Sit around their office and play Clue?

And the super-squad is going to use ViCLAS? You mean the computerized program set up 12 years ago to let police departments share information on homicides, missing persons and unidentified human remains so that possible links between cases might be discovered and serial killers caught? That ViCLAS?

The one available to all police homicide units?

But Sheriff Barney Fife Chomiak was feeling the heat after the deaths of two native prostitutes in a month, and he did what the NDP does whenever it feels the heat. He issued a press release to demonstrate he's a man of action.

So the Integrated Task Force for Missing and Murdered Women is joining the Integrated Organized Crime Task Force, and the Integrated Gang Intelligence Unit in the public safety arsenal.
With better results, everyone hopes.

The NDP announced in the Manitoba Integrated Organized Crime Task Force in November, 2006.

"Our government is committed to an anti-gang strategy that allows prosecutors and law enforcement to focus resources on organized crime in the most effective way possible," Chomiak said. "Organized crime is directly linked to drugs, prostitution and violence in our communities, and fighting organized crime demands an aggressive, integrated response to keep our communities safe."

How's that worked out so far?

Are you feeling safer in your community now that "Six Months" Chomiak has run gangs out of town?

But, but, but, the Integrated Task Force for Missing and Murdered Women is modelled on the sucessful task forces in Edmonton and Vancouver, isn't it?

There's a discouraging thought.

Project Kare was started in 2003 to probe prostitute murders around Edmonton. They started out looking into 39 unsolved homicides and 40 missing women in Western Canada. They reviewed the files and looked for links. They even offered up a $100,000 reward for tips leading to the arrest of a serial killer.

After six years, they've made...

... two arrests.

* In May, 2006, a woman phoned police to say she found a woman's body in a hockey bag that had been left at her home in Fort Saskatchewan, near Edmonton. The bag was her brother's. Project Kare officers stopped reviewing files long enough to drive out and arrest the brother. They charged him with two murders, but he was convicted of only one; its hard to beat the rap when you're carrying a dead body in your hockey bag.

Okay, you want to know---did the sister collect the $100,000?

The police wouldn't say, citing privacy laws. But her bro only got convicted of one murder, so he wasn't exactly a serial killer.

* Then, in September, 2008, Project Kare announced they had made a second arrest. Did the unit, now 50 strong, use some of their "state-of-the art technology and cutting-edge investigative techniques"( to quote an Edmonton Sun reporter)?


Three men and two girls were convicted of a rape-murder. They had to give DNA samples, one of which matched DNA on a girl killed two days before their victim. You know, a DNA like the one regular, non-super-special homicide detectives make every day in this country.

Oh, and their suspect just won a new trial on appeal on his original murder conviction.

After six years and $9 million in salaries, Project Kare has solved zero murders on its own. It took one phone call and matched one DNA sample.

And Vancouver? Well, they convicted serial killer Willie Pickton. And, uh, they arrested and brought Willie Pickton to trial. And...........Willie Pickton.
Maybe if they had a police helicopter... What do you think?

Which brings us to Cherisse Houle and Hillary Wilson, the latest cause celebres of the aboriginal victim industry.

Remember when Winnipeg Free Press reporter Mike McIntyre was saying his super-secret anonymous justice sources were telling him the skinny was that Cherisse Houle was killed by a serial killer? That's old news, today.

The new news on CBC (which has been doing a pretty good job on the Hillary Wilson homicide, we should say) is that the deaths of the two young women may be related to their giving testimony at the trials of a gang of Asian men who traded cash and crack cocaine for sex with a bevy of teenage girls, as many as 20 ( the Free Press today claims another victim says 50), and as young as 11.

Its gotten the other girls involved in a frenzy. They're paranoid and convinced they're next to be scooped up and killed. CBC did a story about a "suspicious van" some of the girls saw on a North End street following a vigil for Wilson.

Calm down. Reporters still haven't learned that Google is your friend.

That gang turns out to be a group of six Vietnamese men in their fourties and fifties. At least two were deported and the others given stiff prison terms several years ago.

We could be wrong, but the idea of homicidal Vietnamese men prowling the streets bent on revenge strikes us as far-fetched.

more to come...

Friday, August 21, 2009

more from court: The Law, and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Unions claim they exist to improve the lives of employees. Tell that to Gail Eckert.

She had been working for Canstar Community News Ltd. for 15 1/2 years when the company was unionized by Media Union of Manitoba. She had worked herself up through the organization and held the position of manager of sales development. She earned a base salary of $85,000 a year plus commissions.

The bargaining unit didn't include Eckert's job. But her Spidey sense tingled and, fearing the worst, she asked to attend the ratification meeting. She was barred by the Media Union.

And, you guessed it, at the eleventh hour Canstar and the Media Union added Eckert’s position to the bargaining unit. They changed her title to account executive at a base salary of $42,175, with a right to earn an additional $16,000 per year if certain sales objectives were met. Canstar guaranteed Eckert the additional sum for one year only.

In March 2008, she quit, claiming that she had been constructively dismissed without cause, primarily due to the reduction in her salary. She sued for wrongful dismissal.

Tough luck, said Court of Queen's Bench judge Perry Schulman in tossing the case.

"The issue on this motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim for damages for wrongful dismissal and interference with contractual relations is whether the fact that the plaintiff was dragged against her will into a union and into a collective agreement regime exempts her claim from the principles articulated in the case of Weber v. Ontario Hydro, [1995]..." he wrote.

And? Nope, he said. Case dismissed.

Solidarity forever.


The winner of the Nice Try Award of the day goes to ....Joseph William Zadworny, who sued MPI for his $200 deductible after a tree fell on his parked car.

The car was written off and he was paid $1,940 by MPI. He went to small claims court for his deductible back, arguing that pamphlets distributed by MPI---"The Guide to Autopac" and "All about Deductibles"---state that deductibles are waived for a wildlife collision.

He lost, but appealed to the Court of Queen's Bench asking the judge to interpret the word “wildlife” to include vegetation. He even quoted from dictionairies to support his proposition.

Nice try, but....

The court doesn't recognize dictionaries as legal authorities.

And the regulations governing MPI actually says deductibles don't have to be paid if you run into any "wild animal or bird listed in Schedule A of the Wildlife Act”. Yes, they have a list.

The claim was dismissed.

And Zadworny had to pay $100 in court costs.


All rise, court is in session...

So many good court stories are going unreported, we've decided to step in and do the job ourselves. Welcome to the Black Rod Court series.

Battlin' Mayors

The City of Winnipeg threw a hail mary pass to get out of a $2 million breach of trust lawsuit launched by the Aquatic Hall of Fame and Museum.

But a Court of Queen's Bench judge has knocked it down and told city lawyers to suit up and bring their best game to court.

The city filed a motion for a summary judgement---a ruling that essentially says, look, everyone knows there's really nothing to this lawsuit, so let's toss it out before we have to go to the expense and bother of a trial.

Madam Justice Lori Spivak, in a written ruling, said the hall of fame has enough evidence on its side, including an almost-forgotten signed agreement with the city in Mayor Steven Juba's day, to warrant a full trial.

The city plans to call its own former mayor, Susan Thompson, to dump on the aquatic hall of fame.

The trial will be a kick to the groin for modern pundits who tout "vision" as the touchstone of successful politicians, especially mayors. It's embarassing evidence that vision comes with a best-before date. 43 years after Juba lured the Aquatic Hall of Fame to Winnipeg as part of his vision for the city, it's been given the bum's rush out of town, vision be damned.

With the 1967 Pan Am Games coming to Winnipeg, Juba thought a Swimming Hall of Fame would be the perfect accessory for the newly built Pan Am Pool. He sold the Canadian Amateur Swimming Association on his idea and the hall of fame was created. It stayed until two years ago when a dispute over who had to pay for insurance ended the relationship and the hall of fame was shown the door.

They sued for breach of contract. As the city was preparing its arguments to get the case thrown out of court, their opponents made a last-minute discovery. Somebody blew the dust off a 1973 agreement between the city and the Aquatic Hall of Fame and "Voila."

Here's the part the city hates:

NOW THEREFORE THIS AGREEMENT WITNESSETH THAT in consideration of the sum of One Dollar ($1.00) (the receipt of which sum is hereby acknowledged), the Hall of Fame hereby transfers its Aquatic Memorabilia to the City for permanent display purposes at the Pan-Am Pool, 25 Poseidon Bay, Winnipeg, on the understanding that the Hall of Fame will be maintained at that site.
In the event that, for some unforeseen reason the Pan-Am Pool should no longer be the site of the Hall of Fame due to the fact of the demolition of the building, the City hereby agrees to transfer all the Aquatic Memorabilia donated back to the Hall of Fame for and in consideration of the sum of One Dollar ($1.00).
The City hereby agrees to insure the Aquatic Memorabilia against fire and theft either through its current total property insurance policy or under such insurance scheme or self-insurance plan as it may decide upon from time to time, and in the event that a loss should occur through fire and theft, the City agrees to pay the actual cash valuation of such loss over to the Hall of Fame for replacement or substitution purposes only, such replaced or substituted article of Memorabilia to become the property of the City.

Furthermore, the museum directors say they were responsible for a $1.5 million expansion of the Pan Am pool which was supposed to provide more room for the hall of fame. Now that they've been given the boot, the city was wrongfully enriched by the expansion and they should be paid back, plus the costs of moving, plus the cost of the display cases they left behind.

Susan Thompson, the Mayor at that time of the Pan Am pool expansion, says the City negotiated with the other levels of government to raise the money to expand the pool facility, and there was never a deal with the Aquatic Hall of Fame for exclusive use.

City lawyers are now preparing to argue the 1973 agreement doesn't say what it says.

What is it honey? It's a present, because I love you so much.

Once he was considered one of Winnipeg's movers and shakers. Now he's hiding behind his wife's skirts to avoid his creditors.

A flock of creditors thought they had won a victory when they successfully sued Costas Ataliotis to get $875,000 by seizing his house at 604 Park Boulevard. They registered the judgment in the Winnipeg Land Titles Office on June 1st, 2007.

But on June 25, Suzanne Ataliotis, wife of Costas, told them to stick it because she, and not her husband, owned the house.

The court was told the house was bought in May, 1999 with title initially in both their names. On September 2, 1999 title was transferred to Mrs. Ataliotis alone for the sum of one dollar.

The creditors are arguing she holds title in trust for her husband. At the least he's the "beneficial" owner of half the property.

Mr. Justice Kenneth Hanssen, of Court of Queen's Bench, made the following observations after hearing a motion to get the registration of the judgement tossed:

[16] While Mrs. Ataliotis has been the sole registered owner of 604 Park Boulevard since 1999 there is evidence that in 2003 Mr. Ataliotis’s assistant Marion Murphy provided two credit unions with a net worth statement in which Mr. Ataliotis represented he had a 100% ownership in the property as a joint tenant. As well he listed 604 Park Boulevard under his real estate holdings. There is also evidence that in 2003 a copy of the net worth statement was provided to Culease Financial Services with Mr. Ataliotis’s permission.

[17] Mr. Ataliotis and Mr. Wolinsky were officers and directors of Maple Leaf Distillers Inc. until the company went into receivership in January, 2006. Until then, many of the expenses for 604 Park Boulevard were paid through the Maple Leaf corporate bank account. These expenses were allocated at Mr. Ataliotis’s request to his shareholder’s loan account.

[18] Mrs. Ataliotis’s evidence is that the transfer of the property to her name alone in 1999 for one dollar was essentially a gift from her husband. She claims that she never pledged or permitted the property to be used by her husband for any purpose whatsoever and never allowed the property to be used by her husband to support his personal guarantees. She did not work outside of the home from 1999 to 2007. She says the mortgage payments and other expenses for the property were mostly paid by her husband although some of the money came from her own sources.

[19] At an examination in aid of execution on August 16, 2007, Mr. Ataliotis gave evidence that his wife paid the mortgage payments on the property and he did not recall listing the property in a personal net worth statement. He also testified he never advised any of the financial institutions that one of his real estate holdings was 604 Park Boulevard. He says the property was transferred to his wife’s name on the advice of his accountants KPMG who told him it was a prudent thing to do.

"... findings of credibility will be necessary, I am satisfied a trial is required." he wrote.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The CMHR---what, exactly, as we getting for $310 million?

With attention now focused on the never-ending cost of building the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, something is being lost.

What's going to be in the building?

We know that construction is eating up almost 90 percent of the $310 million new, new, new, new budget of the CMHR. What's the other 10 percent or so buying?

Sooner or later every discussion about the museum hits a wall of competing special interests. How will the Palestinian story be told, if at all? Will the Armenian genocide have as big an exhibit as the Holocaust? What about the starved Ukrainians? The Hutus and Tutsis? Homosexuals? Trans-sexuals? Trans-sexual homosexuals?

The museum proponents know these catfights are senseless, but they've chosen to stay silent and not correct any misconceptions.

Is it because the truth might be more controversial than the baseless speculation?

To start, purge any idea of a traditonal museum from your minds. The CMHR will only have one major permanent exhibit--on the Holocaust. Canada's Indian peoples have Favoured Victim Status with the museum, which entitles them to "historical exhibits around the perimeter of the structure."

The museum backers have said repeatedly that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is an "ideas museum."

"That is, a museum based on an intangible conceptual framework - an idea." is how Patrick O'Reilly, Chief Operating Officer of the CMHR, explained it to the Canadian Museums Association in March.

And how do you tell the story of an idea? With the most modern of bells and whistles.

"We don’t have a collection as one would normally expect from a museum. We will house some artefacts (sic), and we will from time to time seek to borrow others, but our stories will be told through narrative dialogue, through first person accounts, through memory and oral history."

"That means, among other things, that our collection will be predominantly digital."

You read that right. "Our collection will be predominantly digital."

"A journey through the museum will take visitors through more than 1 km of interactive experiences." says an article on

"One display will employ a gesture-responsive wall full of factual information that will work in a fashion similar to Nintendo Wii technology; with a simple swipe of the hand in the air, visitors will be able to turn virtual pages. Upon entering the museum, visitors will be given a “human rights key” that will provide a digital recollection of their experiences that they can later take home." gushed a Canwest story.

" may mean using social networking to bring strangers (or, as they're known on Facebook, new friends!) together in dialogue and debate. We want to encourage that sort of virtual interaction, along with technology facilitated interaction in the museum, to bring about shared understanding and learning," added O'Reilly.

"We intend to be both a traditional museum in a gorgeous new building built in Winnipeg, and a virtual museum housed on the internet." said O'Reilly.

"We also need to be FUN !" he declared. (emphasis, his.)

Fun. It's the latest thing in museums.

O'Reilly told his audience the CMHR is adopting the cutting-edge ideas of Jane McGonigal, an award winning designer of reality games. At a lecture given to the the Newseum in Washington in December (which you might still see here:
), she laid out her theory that museums in the 21st century need to become more like games to attract visitors and keep them coming back.

Here's how McGonigal herself described some of her ideas in a National Public Radio panel:

Ms. MCGONIGAL: When people show up at museums, can't we give them a mission or a goal? Can we give them feedback? Are there virtual honors that you can show to your friends online afterwards depending on what exhibit you were interacting with? Is there a better community that we could provide real-time interaction with other visitors?

The American Association of Museums website summarized her ground-breaking theories better than we can:

Why Should You Watch This Lecture?

Games are astoundingly popular and pervasive in American Society, capturing market share and attention at an ever-accelerating rate. Ninety-one percent of youth under age 19 play computer games, and this participation does not drop off as they age. The average age of a gamer is 35, and one in four gamers is more than 50.

Dr. McGonigal challenges us to consider:
What makes games so compelling, even addictive?
How can museums become experiences as engaging as games?
Given the vast number of hours millions of people invest in playing complex, online games, how can museums harness this creativity to give their audiences opportunities to contribute to advancing their missions?

Museums can learn and benefit from studying popular games because:
Games are museums’ competitors—vying for people’s increasingly scarce leisure time.
Games present an opportunity for museums to engage new audiences and interact in new ways with existing audiences.
Successful games can teach museums how to create experiences that are deeply satisfying.
Games may provide new ways for museums to have a profound impact on society if they are designed, as alternate reality games are, to change people’s real world behavior.

It's an exciting idea. It also explains how the CMHR intends to get return "visits" and why they stress the importance of on-line visits in the visitor count.

But is also raises the question: are we essentially building a high-end computer video game in a $265 million shell?

What connection does the digital museum have to the glass palace with its 300-foot spire?

They knew you were going to ask that eventually.

In March 2008 Arni Thorsteinson, then-chairman of the Advisory Committee on the CMHR, wrote the government saying what a wonderful idea it was. At the time Thorsteinson, who is now chairman of the board of trustees for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, addressed the question of architecture in a roundabout fashion by summarizing what others said about it:

"Some respondents placed importance on the building design as an essential component to the museum’s overall success. A grand, attractive and iconic structure could reflect the value and importance that Canada and Canadians place on human rights, and could serve as a source of pride. Some respondents have suggested that a powerful and dramatic building design has the potential to draw tourists to Winnipeg."

"At the same time, some respondents have cautioned against sacrificing content and flexibility for an iconic yet unworkable building design. There was a perception that final decisions have been made with respect to the building design and therefore some expressed concern and criticism that having a site and potential building design already chosen was tantamount to putting the cart before the horse. Others have been critical of the budgeted cost. Bold and creative architecture can be important in attracting visitors and providing a meaningful visitor experience. Indeed, museums around the world have embraced monumental architecture as a solution to many of their operating challenges. The disadvantage in doing so, however, is an unbalanced focus on the building often at the expense of programs and services."

We all know it was a foregone conclusion. The "iconic" design was in from the beginning and is still untouchable.

They're no longer claiming, as they did in 2006, that the museum is a surefire tourist attraction which would see 400,000 visitors a year. And obviously there's no connection between the design and the theme of the museum, although they tried their hardest. Just read this hallucinogenic explanation of the design. (Warning. Barf alert.)

"Human Rights International Design Competition, 2005
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Winner of Competition:
Antoine Predock Architect, PC, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Other Finalists:
Dan Hanganu Architects & the Arcop Group of Montreal, Canada
Saucier + Perrotte Architectes, Montreal, Canada
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is rooted in humanity, making visible in the architecture the fundamental commonality of humankind-a symbolic apparition of ice, clouds and stone set in a field of sweet grass.
Carved into the earth and dissolving into the sky on the Winnipeg horizon, the abstract ephemeral wings of a white dove embrace a mythic stone mountain of 450 million year old Tyndall limestone in the creation of a unifying and timeless landmark for all nations and cultures of the world.

The Journey through the museum parallels an epic journey through life. Visitors enter the museum between the Roots, protective stone arms suggestive of an ancient geological event. Clutching the earth, the roots are calibrated to block northern and northwestern winds and celebrate the sun, with apertures marking paths of equinox and solstice. Containing the essential public interface functions of the museum, the Roots create a framework for ceremonial outdoor events with roof terraces and amphitheater seating.

The journey begins with a descent into the earth, a symbolic recognition of the earth as the spiritual center for many indigenous cultures. Arriving at the heart of the building, the Great Hall. Carved from the earth, the archaeologically rich void of the Great Hall evokes the memory of ancient gatherings at the Forks of First Nations peoples, and later, settlers and immigrants.

Like a mirage within the Museum, the Garden of Contemplation is Winnipeg’s Winter Garden. Basalt columns emerge from the top surface of the timeless granite monolith. Water and medicinal plants define space and suggest content. The First Nations sacred relationship to water is honored, as a place of healing and solace amidst reflections of earth and sky. The space of the Garden functions as a purifying “lung” reinforcing the fundamental environmental ethic, which grounds the building.

The journey culminates in an ascent of the Tower of Hope, with controlled view release to panoramic views of sky, city and the natural realm. Glacial in its timelessness, the Tower of Hope is a beacon for humanity. Symbolic of changes in the physical state of water, material and form, it speaks to the life affirming hope for positive changes in humanity. An allusion to the vaporous state of water, the Cloud, houses the functional support of the Museum. With strong overlaps to the visitor experience, the cloud is envisioned as light filled and buoyant, in marked contrast to the geologic evocation of the Roots and Stone Galleries, providing a visible reminder from the exterior, in tandem with the Tower, of the power and necessity of hope and tolerance. "

What, then, is the connection between the $265 million building and the $35 million museum?

Gail Asper.

To her this isn't just another project.

It's her idea of public service.

Millionaires don't have to concern themselves with those trifling matters that plague little people---will the overflowing garbage bins be picked up before the kids set the mattresses on fire; can my children go out to play without being victimized by gangs; will my house be peppered with bullets in the next drive-by shooting?

Millionaires get to think about big things.

Vision. World peace. Global Warming. Human Rights.

But millionaires need complete freedom for their activist endeavours. They can't be bothered with grubby politics, what with all those rules, and freedom-of-information demands, and persnicketly unschooled fools second-guessing you every minute.

So when Gail Asper sets out to change the world with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, its got to be done with panache, with the proper architectural flare that bureaucrats and wage-earning moneygrubbers can't understand. And with complete freedom.

No government interference or even influence.

No freedom-of-information requests to be filled out.
And with other peoples money.

"Technology can be dismissed as smoke and mirrors, as the flavour of the month, and it would be easy to assume that it will be mothballed as soon as the fads pass. We have to assume some risk in trying these new technologies but Museums can become valued resources for schools, in part through our leadership in implementing new technologies and using the web." said O'Reilly.

Who's taking that risk? Pardon us if we think it's the taxpayer who's paying the freight.

The CMHR, as O'Reilly says, clearly has a mission: to instill a sense of activism in children.

"We see strong links through formal education, and this is where we will engage educators in curriculum development and where we’ll tie in a student travel program that will engage students in preparatory studies at home, a trip to the museum and a contributory project in their community upon their return. "
But isn't the next obvious question, what direction will the CMHR be pointing these little human rights crusaders?

"Our goal isn’t to find the truth, nor to present “the story”; rather it involves bringing many people together, challenging all to think differently, and to consider other points of view." O'Reilly said in his speech.


What do we find in the museum's own bumpf?

In the very beginning of the 7 stages of the museum we find:

1. Aboriginal Rights (Exterior)
On the exterior of the theatre are Aboriginal sayings that express concepts of community, co-existence, respect and modes of governance.
The other side of the structure displays the titles of treaties between Aboriginal peoples and the British Crown and Canadian government.
Historical exhibits around the perimeter of the structure let visitors explore Aboriginal history and the struggle to regain rights that were lost.

That's funny. Aren't we told that the museum isn't out to present any "truths" and all sides of contentious issues will be presented fairly and evenly?

It's starting to look like the museum's promises of fairness are as credible as their budget projections.

Let's say it again: what, exactly, are we getting for $310 million?

Education or indoctrination?

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Friday, August 14, 2009

CMHR won't be able to revise this history

He ducked. He dodged. He weaved. But in the end, he coughed up.

A drop-dead number. On the record. In stone.

CJOB radio host Geoff Currier sparred Thursday morning with Arni Thorsteinson, chairman of the board of trustees for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and with Gail Asper, chairman of the fundraising campaign by the Friends of the museum.

It was carefully choreographed with scripted questions and absolutely no fielding of calls from the public. But in an uncharacteristic display of journalism, Currier wouldn't let Thorsteinson get away without answering if the museum project had a "ceiling," a cost that wouldn't be exceeded no matter what.

"We're at that point now," Thorsteinson finally said. "We've got our final budget. We're highly confident that we will complete the project at that cost."

That cost: $310 million. Write it down. Print it out. Paint it on the wall.

Because Thorsteinson and Gail Asper must be held to account to that number. No excuses. No more moving finish line.

Not that we believe it.

They'll be back, begging cup in hand, within a year.
"That steel work was trickier than anyone expected."
" That glass is so unique, it's worth every extra penny."
"We've spent so much, already, we can't stop now."

You know the drill.

Still, CJOB, without apparently recognizing a real news story even when it's biting them on the ankle, actually squeezed out a lot of information the museum proponents would sooner have kept secret:

* they were aware before construction began that the museum budget was wildly out of whack and easily $50 million in the red

* they have formally asked the City of Winnipeg and Manitoba Premier Gary Doer for more millions.

* the provincial Department of Education will be providing backdoor funding to the museum to subsidize visits by school children.

* they insist that their claim of 250,000 visitors a year means real people going through the turnstyles, and not visits on-line.

Is CJOB switching format from a news station to a history station?
Readers of The Black Rod have known for 2 1/2 months that Gail Asper and Arni Thorsteinson were aware that they were at least $45 million over budget before the first shovel hit the imported dirt on the project in December.

Friday, May 29, 2009
The truth is a rare commodity from backers of the CMHR

The board of trustees of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights knew six months ago that their financial plans had gone horribly off the rails.

And that's not counting the $5 to $9 million in property taxes they will owe each year and which they haven't a clue how to pay, and which Currier carefully avoided mentioning.

Or maybe they do.

They've gone to the city and province panhandling for more money, haven't they? How much? Why hasn't anyone at either level of government revealed the approach? Why are our elected officials hiding Gail Asper's midnight call?

Are they trying to find some backdoor way to channel money to her pet project, like the Department of Education? Funny how that use of taxpayers' money was never publicized. How much money has Education Minister Peter Bjornson promised to spend on propping up the Canadian Museum of Human Rights? Was he ever planning to tell the public?

The funniest claim is that the museum backers expect a quarter of a million real people to visit the museum.

Currier failed to ask about Gail Asper's own bogus claims of tourists flocking to Winnipeg, which, as revealed in The Black Rod
were based on adding up all the visitors coming in groups and claiming the CMHR was responsible for luring them here.

Did Thorsteinson and Asper forget that in March, 2008, a report from the Advisory Committee on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights was delivered to Josee Verner, Canada's Heritage Minister, in which they stated:

"It will be important, though, to acknowledge that visitors to this museum will also include online visitors, people engaged through outreach and through travelling programs."

There, in black and white, they confessed that online visits will be included in their visitor total. And the CMHR plans travelling shows to attract people in other cities.

Wow, that's going to boost the economy in Winnipeg.

By comparison, Folklorama, which hasn't cost us $300 million in 40 years, boasted 446,000 visits to 44 pavilions last year. And they don't have to bus anyone in at government expense.

Gail Asper told CJOB that their business plan predicted 250,000 visits annually by real people. That would be the secret business plan that can't be shown to anybody, so we can put as much credibility to it as we put in the museum's constantly changing budget numbers.

But the most stomach-turning segment of the interview came when Currier asked what he called the "skunk at the picnic question"----is this just really only your pet project?

Asper called on the ghost of her father to prove alleged public support for the museum. If, she said, the project had been pitched to the levels of government and nobody had bitten, then her father, Izzy Asper, would have walked away, saying "Fine, I've got other things to do."

But "the fact is", said Gail, the federal, provincial and city governments "loved it."

Unfortunately for her, the one thing millionares can't do is rewrite the past, or expunge the record.

On April 17th, 2003, Izzy Asper announced the "potential creation" of a $270 million Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

"The Asper Foundation has proposed a unique partnership for funding the capital cost of the museum, estimated at $200 million for the first phase." he said.

The original proposal, prepared in 2001, called for $100 million from the federal government, $20 million from the province, $20 million from the city of Winnipeg, and $60 million from the private sector.

But Izzy Asper died in October, 2003. And the fact is the CMHR wasn't exactly embraced wildly by politicians or the public.

There had been a lot of meetings. At the time of his death, the City of Winnpeg had provided a letter committing to $20 million "in a combination of cash and value in kind (land)." They were still debating a property tax exemption. The province submitted a letter agreeing to cover 10 percent of capital costs (which included site development, building construction, interior furnishings, and exhibits."

And the federal government was in for $30 million.

The headlines pick up the story...

Human rights museum stalled as Ottawa considers funding
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Politicians at odds on human rights museum funding dispute
Last Updated: Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Nine months after Izzy Asper's death, the museum proponents were fighting the federal government over money. They claimed Izzy Asper had a verbal agreement with former Prime Minister Jean Chretien that the feds would cough up $100 million.

CBC asked Manitoba MP Reg Alcock who was telling the truth.

"Chrétien had promised to donate further money, said Treasury Board Minister Reg Alcock, but it wasn't going to be $100 million, a figure he says the Asper Foundation named on its own.
"There's no evidence of that," Alcock said. "Because they decided they wanted that [and] we had to deliver it is just wrong. It's just not the way we do business."

It wasn't until April, 2007, 3 1/2 years after Izzy Asper's death, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper put life into the CMHR. He formally committed to paying up to $100 million of the $265 million cost of the project, plus covering the annual operating costs of $22 million--- and only after making the Canadian Museum for Human Rights a national museum.

Historical revisionism isn't very becoming.

Oh, and for the record, we weren't the first to call the CMHR an Asper pet project.

That honour belongs to the CBC.

Politicians at odds on human rights museum funding dispute
Last Updated: Tuesday, August 17, 2004 10:24 AM ET
CBC Arts

The Asper Foundation revealed the museum's three design finalists in April.
The $270-million museum, which aims to be the world's largest human rights insitution and learning centre, was a pet project of Izzy Asper, the late media magnate.

Human rights museum stalled as Ottawa considers funding
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 7, 2004 1:28 PM ET
CBC News

Plans for the proposed Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg could be in jeopardy because of a dispute with the federal government over its funding.
Supporters of the $270-million museum, a pet project of late CanWest Global chairman Israel Asper, were counting on a $100-million commitment from Ottawa to create the world's largest human rights institution and centre for education.

Tomorrow: Pig, meet Poke. Do you know exactly what we're spending $310 million on? You won't believe it.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Somebody's talking

The arrest of five Indian Posse members in one day, mostly for a string of shootings dating back two years, means only one thing---somebody's talking.

That could be a major breakthrough in the fight to break up Winnipeg street gangs which have become more brazen and reckless by the day.

Among the trio of Indian Posse gang members charged Tuesday with a two-year-old murder is Travis Arnold Personius, who is currently in prison in Saskatchewan. The name was unfamiliar, so we went digging for more information, and found it in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.

Personius was sentenced only one month ago to five years for jamming a gun into a stranger's chest and telling him "One shot to the heart and you're dead."

The 23-year-old from the Opaskwayak Indian Reserve near The Pas, pleaded guilty to using a firearm in an attempted robbery; he had demanded the man's tie. The April 20, 2008, incident was defused, court was told, when a friend walked over and Personius said he was "just fooling around."

Before sentencing, the judge asked Personius if he had anything to say. Boy, did he ever. Maybe he was just showing off for the high school class in the courtroom at the time, but Personius laid out his life as a stand-up member of the thug life. Some of what he said might have relevance to the murder charge facing him in Winnipeg.

"He'd been in a gang for 12 years and in the previous two years his friends had "started killing each other off." He felt his own life was in jeopardy, so he left his long-term girlfriend and their two small sons and came to Saskatchewan.

Although he had stayed away from alcohol for four years since his last conviction, he became depressed, had nightmares and drank heavily.

He'd been drinking for days at the time of the offence and doesn't remember anything after eating a handful of magic mushrooms, he said.

"I'm extremely sorry for what happened to that man, 'cause I don't bother civilians. Any time I bring harm on somebody it's against another gang member.

"I hope the victim starts to work through it so he won't be traumatized for the rest of his life and finds peace in himself." ('Fooling around' leads to jail, By Betty Ann Adam, The StarPhoenix, July 15, 2009)

Petronius was arrested in a car with a loaded .22 calibre handgun hidden under his seat. At the time he was banned by court order from possessing firearms because of previous convictions for assault with a weapon and aggravated assault.

Because of double time awarded him by the judge for pretrial custody, Petronius had only two years and nine months left on his five-year sentence, meaning he could have been out on day parole in time for Christmas. The new charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder throws those plans all to hell.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Shame. Gail Asper sexed up the tourist benefit of the CMHR

Gail Asper will be lucky if she's not sued by Burger King for copyright infringement given the number of whoppers in her Wednesday op-ed defending the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Regular readers of The Black Rod could immediately spot her newly-spun pair of nose-stretchers, and it only took us five minutes to expose her biggest mugging of the truth. The desperation in her article to stop the bleeding of her credibility tells how rapidly her house of cards is collapsing.

"Weigh the museum's costs, and benefits" read the ironic headline in the Winnipeg Free Press, because, really, the absolute last thing Gail Asper wants is for anyone to actually make that comparison.

"The Canadian Museum for Human Rights will "provide significant economic benefits for the citizens of Winnipeg and Manitoba which, but for the creation for the museum, would not exist in our province," wrote Asper.

What delusional arrogance. Spending $300 million on any construction project in the province would create the same economic benefits as her pet project.

"The previous budget of $265 million for the museum was an estimated budget that was developed a few years ago."

This historical revisionism may fool reporters in the mainstream media, but readers of The Black Rod know this claim for what it is: a blatant lie.

On March 3, 2008, the museum backers appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights to pitch the idea that the heretofore private museum should become a national, and nationally funded, museum. If Winnipeg's daily newspapers truly want to publish an op-ed that informs the public and illuminates an issue, they should publish the transcript of that hearing.

The Senators heard from witnesses who included Lyn Elliot Sherwood, Executive Director, Heritage Group, Canadian Heritage; and Patrick O'Reilly, Director, Implementation Strategy, Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Senator James Cowan asked the question on everyone's mind: "Who will pick up the tab if the costs exceed $265 million?"

The following exchange exposes Gail Asper's lie.

Ms. Sherwood: It is the responsibility of the board to develop an approach to the building plan that includes a generous contingency provision designed to stay within the budget. A number of steps can be taken in planning for a construction project with detailed design, development and costing prior to the letting of construction contracts that enable a board to accurately assess whether the project can come in on budget.
Senator Cowan: Does the $265 million include a contingency provision?
Ms. Sherwood: Yes, it does.
Senator Cowan: This is not one of those projects where the federal government is left to pick up anything over and above the $165 million that is contributed by other parties, is it?
Ms. Sherwood: The total budget is $265 million.

The total budget is $265 million. How much clearer can you say it? Patrick O'Reilly sat beside Lyn Sherwood. He didn't chime in, "oh, actually, that's an estimate and the final cost will likely be much higher." He heard what she said and agreed.

Sherwood warned the Senators that construction costs were increasing at a rate of "between $800,000 and $1.5 million per month." But, she said, "(t)hat has been factored into planning."

In final reassurance, she said:

Ms. Sherwood: The board of trustees will be accountable for bringing this project in on budget and making decisions with respect to the building design and the contingency fund set aside that allow it to bring the project in on budget.

Patrick O'Reilly, representing the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, heard every word spoken and approved every commitment Sherwood made to the Senators.

Want more?

Western Economic Diversification Canada was under no illusion what the museum project was to cost, publishing this on its website:

Foundations (Conditional Grants)
Name of recipient: Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights Inc. (Friends)
Start date: February 25, 2004
End date: N/A
Total funding: $27,000,000
Description: Establishment of a museum for human rights in Winnipeg.
Strategic outcome(s): Community Economic Development
Summary of annual plans of recipient: On April 20, 2007, the federal, provincial and municipal governments, Friends and the Forks North Portage Partnership signed a Statement of Intentions to create this Museum as a federal institution by April 1, 2008. Federal funding for the $265 million project is capped at $100 million, including this $27 million grant and an earlier $3.0 million contribution from WD.

The idea that the $265 million figure was just an estimate was first floated in the CMHR's corporate plan submitted to Parliament earlier this year, when the board already knew they were drowning in red ink and would eventually have to come clean.

If you haven't already, read the story that forced their hand---The Black Rod, May 21, 2009, CMHR to Politicians: We Lied. So, Whatcha Gonna Do?

Back to Gail Asper's op-ed, we read:
"we have raised $37 million from the private sector in the last two years alone..."

Did she really think the public has forgotten the millions "donated" by Manitoba Hydro, the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission, the Manitoba Lotteries Corporation, and the Manitoba Public Insurance corporation? How did these public utilities become "the private sector"? By fiat from her #1 benefactor Gary Doer?

Did she think we forgot that $1 million came from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, representing the poorest people in the province? And that the firefighters forsook their own charity, the children's burn fund, to divert money to Gail Asper? We wouldn't be so quick to trumpet those "private donations."

And where is the mention of the costs to the public purse of the CMHR? The museum site ate up 400 parking places at the Forks, which is why The Forks North Portage Partnership is building a new parkade at public expense. Should we deduct that expense from Gail Asper's inflated benefits column? What about the money given by Western Economic Diversification Canada to Hostelling International - Canada (Manitoba Region) to work with the CMHR on hostel accomodations, because, goodness knows, there's nothing like penny-pinching backpackers to make the hospitality industry such strong and enthusiastic supporters of the museum.

Which brings us to Gail Asper's biggest whopper.

"Benefits accruing to Manitoba as a result of the increase of tourism are conservatively estimated by the province to be $25.7 million per year."

To begin with, the federal government has promised to pay $21.7 million annually for operating costs. Payment in lieu of city taxes will be on top of that, at $5 to $9 million a year, if the Friends of the museum get their way.

So we'll be spending $26.7 million to $30.7 million a year to collect $25.7 million in tourism? Who does their accounting? A graduate of the Asper School of Business? No wonder Canwest Global is in the toilet.

But, you ask, where, exactly, did that figure of $25.7 million per year come from?

We almost fell out of our chairs when we found out.

The answer came from the mouth of above-mentioned Patrick O'Reilly, now the CEO of the human rights museum.

On April 2, O'Reilly addressed the Francophone Chamber of Commerce in St. Boniface. We found a copy of his speech. Here's the relevant section in its entirety:

"Our conservative estimates indicate the Museum will attract approximately 250,000 visitors annually.

To breakdown this number of visitors a little, according to a recent study conducted by the Manitoba Bureau of Statistics, visitors traveling in family groups are assumed to stay in Manitoba an average of 1.83 days and spend an average of $154 per day per person.
Therefore, annually the 50,000 visitors traveling in family groups have estimated expenditures of $14.1 million.

Also, 25,000 visitors travelling in tour groups are assumed to stay in Winnipeg an average of 1.62 days and spend an average of $183 per day per person, bringing total annual estimated expenditures to $7.4 million.

When you add visitor expenditures of $4.18 million for students, $14.1 million for family groups, and $7.4 million for tour groups,
it results in Total Annual Visitor expenditures of $25.7 million.

As these statistics demonstrate, the Museum will help grow Manitoba’s economy."

In short, Manitoba tourism stats show that 50,000 people come here in family groups and 25,000 come in tour groups. NOWHERE does it say those 75,000 people are coming here to see the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. But that's exactly what Gail Asper and Patrick O'Rielly want you to believe.

And the students? The museum's own budget plan calls for spending $6 million to bring students to Winnipeg, where they will spend $4 million.

Let's say it again, who does their accounting?

The claim that the museum, alone, will attract 25.7 million in tourist dollars is a pure falsehood. What it proves beyond a doubt is that we cannot believe a word that these people say about the alleged benefits and ballooning costs of the CMHR.

But Gail Asper did do us one favour, even if she doesn't know it.

She set the drop-dead number.

The museum backers, she said, now have "a new budget of $310 million, which is now an extremely accurate picture of the museum's capital cost."

It's fair, then, to set that as the final number, to insist that nobody from the Friends will come forward in the future and ask for more money.

If total costs are projected at any point from here on in to exceed $310 million, then the project must be cancelled or suspended at that point. And if the Friends cannot raise the $45 million in overruns they already admit to, then the project must be stopped.

Nobody (except maybe Gary Doer) has written Gail Asper a blank cheque.

There has to be a limit. And she, herself, has set that limit at $310 million.

The museum proponents have to be held accountable for any failure to keep the project within budget, either through inability to raise the $45 million in overruns or any future cost inflation. At year's end, they have to show substantial progress on raising the $45 million and present a written guarantee of no further cost increases, or they must all resign and be replaced.

After all, Gail Asper has said raising the $45 million is a sure thing.

In that case, she and her Friends can borrow the money privately from the financial institutions that back the museum and repay it as donations come in.

If the business plan is so good, let the professional risk managers see it and decide whether they want to loan $45 million to Gail Asper and Arni Thorsteinson as individuals putting up their own homes and businesses as collateral.

We end with a bit of advice for Gail Asper---stay away from dogs.

They can smell fear.

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