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, January 31, 2010

Molehunt goes bad. Very bad.

For a brief shining moment the anti-Harper protesters in Winnipeg believed they had found the smoking gun that would bring down the government.

They were giddy. CBC National was calling them for the goods. They had an eyewitness, names, even photos--- or so they believed.

And then, pfft.

It was over. There was a stampede for the exit. The only thing left was a bad smell. It was almost as if they realized they had been suckered by a Liberal plant.

It all began last Saturday when barely 300 protesters turned up for an anti-prorogation rally at the University of Winnipeg. The organizers had expected a thousand or more but they put on a happy face and declared they were pleased by the eventual turnout.

Winnipeg organizer Chris Burnett congratulated the troops for a job well done. John Johnston (" a fan of Michael Ignatieff") posted his photos of the rally after he "personally edited out...the people holding up the "Vote Green" signs. I wanted to keep our memories as those of a non-partisan group."

But there was one photo making the rounds on the Internet that neither Chris or John could edit away, although they dearly wanted to.

Credited to 'Maurice from Winnipeg', it was a snap of two people standing next to one another at the rally and holding handmade posters which would go on to define the protestors in the minds of many.

One sign reads Harper = Hitler and is self-explanatory. The other says Coaition (sic) Government Now, demonstrating a shocking example of bad spelling from a group presumed to be top-heavy with university students.

The protest circle cringed at the mockery coming their way when--- praise the deity of your choice, gender and colour---along came a knight in shining armour to save the day.

Dan wrote on January 23, 2010 at 3:39pm
Hey guys, I attented the rally in Winnipeg today. Very impressive. Great organization. But one thing really got to me.
I was enjoying the speeches today, and I noticed someone I know to be a big Tory supporter and a member of the University of Manitoba Campus Consevatives observing the event, and taking pictures. I figured he was trying to get pictures of radical signs and what not to malign the protestors, but that didn't bother me much. It's his right to be there and observe.
Anyways, I got back to watching the speeches and noticed that this Tory had climbed the fire escape of the University of Winnipeg building to get a better view, and I noticed he motioned at people beyond where I was to come forward or come into view. So I turned around and saw some people wearing masks, coming forward, and one of them was carrying a sign that said, I kid you not, in big letters, "Harper = Hitler."
I thought no, there's no way, this Tory guy would go to these lengths to get these people to come to the rally to make the people there look bad, and radical. I couldn't tell for sure that he had motioned at these specific people. So I went back to watching the speeches and what not. But as the speeches were winding down I turned around again, and what do I see? I see the Tory guy getting together with the masked people. He took the Hitler sign and walked away with the phony radicals!
I was pretty angry to see that garbage. So I chased him down and called him out about it. It is disgusting to see such a horrific historical character as Adolf Hitler used in this surreptitious and disgusting way. I imagine the victims of Hitler's genocidal actions in Poland, Germany, Hungary, Ukraine, and elsewhere would be appalled.
Those of us at the rally oppose Stephen Harper's latest maneuvers but the overwhelming majority of us would never make such an obscene comparison.

I know a lot of Tories. Many of whom are some of the nicest people I know. It's too bad their reputation will be marred by this event.

Aha, then. Blame those dastardly Tories. Chris' crowd was off the hook.

Other protestors added their keen observations.

Guy wrote on January 23, 2010
I also saw this happen as the ones with the Harper = Hitler sign were standing behind us at the start of the rally and slowly moved around to get into tv camera images. May I suggest that you write letters into the editors of both the Wpg Sun and the Free press with this story. I for one and my wife will back you on this because we did see it happen.

Greg wrote on January 23, 2010
Those two girls were right in front of me. I saw the cameras pointing at them and I positioned myself behind the sign (so I wasn't in the picture). I didn't want any association with them. I had no idea they were frauds, but now it makes sense.

Sandy wrote on January 23, 2010
Thanks, Dan, for letting us know that the people who had that sign were aligned with the Tory guy and just trying to make us look bad. I was going to say what Gus has just advised: write letters to the Editor, so people will know these were Tory supporters intentionally trying to discredit the rally.

Erin wrote on January 23, 2010 at 7:44pm
Glad you chased them down and called them out!! I gave them a piece of my mind - how dare they!!!!!! Then I also saw the "protesters" and their accomplice (the guy in the blue parka) who was up the stairs taking the pics leave together - what a show.
Just goes to show what kind of people the Conservatives recruit - I am disgusted with their behavior. Should have known - they covered their faces - cowards.

It didn't take long for the CBC to come snooping around.

Jason wrote on January 25, 2010 at 8:55am
I'm a producer with CBC television in Ottawa.
I'm wondering if anyone has pictures (or better, video) of the people with the hitler signs and the person taking photos of them (I was reading your post Shannon - don't know if your friend found them) and could email them to me.
Sandy Rubinfeld wrote
I got this in my e-mail today:
Joanne sent you a message.
Subject: Anti - Proroguing Rally
I am a journalist at the CBC.
I am looking into the alleged Hitler sign at the anti-proroguing rally in Winnipeg. Do you have any pictures of it?
Please call me at 788-3742.
Sandy Rubinfeld Her full name is Joanne Levasseur. I didn't take any photos. John, do you have any of these? Can I send her to those two far-right fanatic sites, where the original photos are posted?

The protesters were ecstatic.

Peter wrote on January 25, 2010 at 9:18am
Oooh! Looks like this might be getting some traction. Excellent work Jason.

But Chris Burnett may have sensed something amiss.

Chris wrote on January 25, 2010 at 9:44am
As much as I appreciate the effort being put forward by the CBC would you please vet any information with me at before submitting it to the press. This could turn into a very difficult situation.

Chris wrote on January 25, 2010 at 10:55am
My only concern is that we don't make accusations without proof. I'd hate to have to be in court one day on a libel case.

Chris wrote on January 25, 2010 at 1:07pm
Alexei I can assure you I have received several emails that in the wrong hands could easily be considered libel against the individuals and not all of the emails were sent just to me. All I'm asking is we be very careful in what we are saying.
It wasn't long before the sentiment changed.

Dan had disappeared. Despite requests for him to go public with the names of the alleged plotters, he came up with none. Everyone was scouring photos for the plants, but not a single photo was produced.

John wrote
To be completely honest, what we have is very circumstantial evidence based on our conjecture of what took place. Having said that, I still believe the evidence is compelling enough to take some kind of action.
At the very least, we should compile the evidence and hand it over to the University newspaper and let them investigate.
Alexei wrote on January 27, 2010
I agree with you John. The evidence is non-existent, apart from very powerful, unproveable suspicions. But the group achieved something by bringing the issue to someone's attention, even if it was just members of the group and more importantly, the cbc and other media. Media manipulation requires some form of counter media rebuttal and that was accomplished to some degree. At least something better than if the fakers went unnoticed.
I was hoping it would inspire someone to give real evidence to our group, but it seems, this time, it didn't happen. Although your photos are great, John, and I thank you for them--at least we have something about it on record. It may be useful next time they do this--and you bet they will if there's any other protest critical of Harper.
Maybe the best lesson learned here is that any public protest should have someone present recording the activities of suspicious people. Had we had a video or targeted photos, this story had the potential to be a national story. The interest of cbc, which I hadn't expected, proves that.
It would be satisfying to form a group that directly tackles the larger problem here, which is media manipulation by the tories--an underrated issue which goes beyond this particular protest and needs attention.
Unfortunately, I cannot think of how to develop impetus for such a group.

Brody wrote
Okay, I have read every post in this discussion. So far we don't really have any evidence. Are we absolutely sure that this "conservative man" was indeed with these women? If so: where is the proof?
I am a big fan of calling the Conservatives out for the shit they try to pull. But I am not a fan of doing it without proof or probable cause.

Shannon wrote
I have no report that indicates there are any pictures that identify or connect this individual to the poster carrying young women at the Rally this past Saurday.
I don't agree with what was done but I do feel that we give more credence to the stupidity if we continue to acknowledge it. I suggest we apply the "distancing rule" .This is a concluded issue for me.

In less than a week, it was over.

The anti-Harper protesters didn't need any proof. They "knew" the Tories were guilty of media manipulation. They just "knew" it was true.

Except....what if the real manipulation came from the Blue side of the street.

Chris and his pals are so biased they never considered the obvious alternative --- Dan was the plant

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Free Press junk journalism touts poll as boost for anybody-but-Katz crowd

If there's a way to cheapen journalism any further, the Winnipeg Free Press will find it.

Case in point: Friday's story by "reporter" Mia Rabson titled 'Polling data suggest Katz is vulnerable.'

Everyone knows that reporting on polls is the lowest, laziest form of journalism. But this was beneath even that pathetic standard.

Mia Rabson went into full shill mode. Her "story" (with files from Bartley Kives) is about the opinion of unidentified sources about the alleged results of an unreleased poll conducted by an unknown person, group or party.

"None of the sources would release the poll results, but all said they showed (Mayor Sam) Katz' re-election is far from a sure thing" wrote Rabson as if this was a legitimate story.

The polling was done by Viewpoints Research, which is co-owned by Gary Doer's wife, Ginny Devine. So you can pretty much guess it was done for someone affiliated with the NDP.

"The Winnipeg Free Press has learned," wrote Rabson coyly, that Viewpoints tested Katz against three possible contenders for mayor.

Why play coy? The FP could have learned about the poll the same way we did, by reading about it on the Internet.

On the "2010 civic election wpg" thread on a commenter named DowntownWpg had details of the poll early Wednesday morning.

"I've heard that Viewpoints Research (primarily owned by Gary Doer's wife) is currently conducting a survey on behalf of the left-leaning/NDP potential candidates. They are seeking attitudes of the general public, who would be either somewhat or very likely to vote in the next civic election, on how likely they would be to vote for the following:

- Dan Vandel (sic)
- Judy Wasylycia-leis
- Russ Wyatt
- Lillian Thomas
- Sam Katz
- David Angus (probably just threw that name in there within the survey to provide at least one other centre-right name so the survey doesn't seem as slanted).

DowntownWpg went on to give examples of the questions asked in this alleged survey, except that the process has all the makings of a push poll, an underhanded campaigning technique in which respondents are tricked into believing they are participating in a legitimate poll when the objective is actually to influence the views of the respondents and not measure them.

"Respondents are then asked a battery of about 15 questions on their level of agreement with a bunch of statements... almost all apparently regarding Sam Katz. Specifically, this is to determine the best talking points to use in a campaign against Sammy. ... some of the statements are (do you agree/disagree somewhat/strongly that):
- "Sam is more interested in helping his business friends than he is for the average citizen of Winnipeg."
- "I am concerned about conflict-of-interests Sam has with his position as Mayor and his private businesses."
- "While Sam often talks about being 'tough on crime,' yet he has not done enough to make our city safer."
- "Sam is either freezing or cutting taxes for sheer political interests, when our city's infrastructure is falling apart."
- "Sam lacks a vision for Winnipeg's future."
- "I am concerned about the response time of our emergency first responders."
- and some other typical stuff about potholes/roads, garbage & recycling collection, etc."

We guess they're saving "Should Sam Katz stop beating his dog?" for later.

Reporting on a push poll as a true measure of opinion is garbage journalism. It's also something we've come to expect from the Free Press which has apparently forgotten how to do real reporting.

Take the Judy Wasylycia-Leis-as-mayor trial balloon as an example. Nowhere have you read that Judy Alphabet (as she's known in media circles) HAS NEVER HAD A REAL JOB IN HER LIFE.

That's right, the person the NDP is touting as a legitimate alternative to Sam Katz is a lifelong party apparatchik who has never worked for a living.

After getting a masters degree in political science she "worked" as a policy planning consultant for the NDP and as executive assistant to party leader Ed Broadbent. She moved to Manitoba and worked in the same capacity for Premier Howard Pawley. Then in 1986 she was elected as an MLA where she held the cabinet post of Minister of Culture (whoopdedoo) with responsibility for the Status of Women, losing that responsibility about 18 months later. She sat as an MLA until 1993 when she ran as federal NDP candidate in Winnipeg North---and lost. So she, ahem, "worked" for Cho!ces, a self-described "coalition of leftist independent community activists." In 1997 she ran for Parliament again and won this time.

While sitting as an NDP MP, she took great pride, as did her party colleagues, at keeping deterrence and denunciation out of the Youth Justice Act. NDP Justice critic Joe Comartin bragged about it at the time and still holds the same position, speaking for his party, which includes Judy Wasylyscia-Leis.

When Manitoba Justice Minister Gord MacIntosh made his annual trips to Ottawa begging for changes to the laws to make it easier to prosecute juvenile criminals, Judy was silent.

When Manitoba Premier Gary Doer took his tougher-on-crime roadshow to Ottawa in 2007, with Opposition leader Hugh McFadyen and Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz as his handmaidens, Judy was silent.

Whenever Winnipeg and Manitoba politicians begged MP's to toughen the laws on car theft and juvenile criminality, Judy toed the federal NDP line and dismissed the pleas. Now she wants to pretend she cares about Winnipeg issues?

Mia Rabson wrote that one of her sources on the phony poll said "in a head-to-head race with Katz, Wasylycia-Leis was "competitive"."

We're betting Katz hasn't lost a second's sleep over Judy Alphabet's shadow candidacy.

Hey Judy---GET A JOB.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Who will apologize to Marty Minuk?


Do you hear it?

There it is again.

It's unmistakeable. The sound of dead silence.

No screams of outrage. No chanting mob. No sneering headlines. No contemptuous lectures. Dead silence.

If there's nothing to hear, there's lots to see. See, for instance, the difference between a real court of law and the mock courts the NDP uses for its show trials, notably the persecution of Derek Harvey-Zenk.

"A speeding motorist who had alcohol in his system when he struck and killed a 12-year-old boy walking down a darkened Manitoba highway will not go to jail for his crime. Pernell Guimond was give a two-year conditions sentence…" wrote Mike McIntyre in a story published Jan. 13 in the Winnipeg Free Press.

Oh? we said. That's on all-fours with the case of Crystal Taman who was killed when a car driven by off-duty East St. Paul policeman Derek Harvey-Zenk smashed into her car as it sat at at red light. He had been drinking with colleagues after his shift the day before and likely still had alcohol in his system. Like Guimond, he refused a breathalyzer. Zenk was also convicted of dangerous driving causing death and also sentenced to house arrest.

So we waited. We waited for the reaction of the mainstream reporters, columnists, and broadcasters who had turned into a salivating lynch mob in the Zenk case. Surely they would be howling for the head of the prosecutor, the RCMP who made the arrest, or the judge who sentenced Guimond. Surely.

Last Saturday, McIntryre returned to the Guimond case. As in his first story, there was no mention of Taman or Zenk. Instead, he suggested the case was botched by the prosecutor who failed to call evidence from the senior RCMP officer she had been dating at the time Guimond was arrested and who would have testified to Guimond's refusal of a breath test. The romance had ended by the time of the trial.

The case actually fell apart at a preliminary hearing when Judge Mary Curtis disallowed evidence of a roadside breath test that Guimond failed. (Quick legal analysis from The Black Rod: Without the roadside test results, the Crown couldn't show a legal reason for demanding a breathalyzer, which is why the boyfriend's evidence couldn't be introduced to support a charge of refusing a breathalyzer. A Crown attorney might be boning up on libel law.)

We would have expected the media mob to be up in arms, again. After all, here was another example of a case botched by the RCMP. And here was clear evidence of drinking from Guimond's drinking partner who said they polished off most of a two-four of beer before Guimond decided to race another car.

Instead, silence.


Because the Guimond case is a direct repudiation of Roger Salhany, the commissioner at the Zenk show trial (disguised as a public inquiry).

Years ago, then-judge Salhany invented some new law for Ontario on drunk driving. Laws requiring proof that a motorist was impaired were antiquated, he said. All you needed to send a motorist to jail was evidence that he or she had been drinking, and had alcohol in their system. The level of alcohol was irrevelent. Forget .08.

And, he said, in the case of dangerous driving, the court needn't look for evidence of erratic driving prior to an accident; if you could show the driver had been drinking before he got behind the wheel, the judge can throw the book at him.

Using his own rulings as precedents, he smeared the reputation of special prosecutor Marty Minuk. Minuk accepted a plea deal for Zenk that included a joint recommendation with defence counsel of no jail time. That decision brought the administration of justice into disrepute, thundered Salhany.

The Guimond case vindicates Minuk, who argued he relied on Manitoba Court of Appeal precedents in sentencing. That wasn't good enough for the media mob which lumped him into an imaginary police cover-up to let one of their own escape justice.

Justice Joan McKelvey of Court of Queen's Bench, presiding over a real court, rejected Salahany's bizarre, self-amendments to the law, despite his near-canonization by the press pack, when she sentenced Guimond on the same principles Minuk relied upon.

And the media mob has said nothing.

Why? Because it's politically incorrect to demand the jailing of an aboriginal man? Or because Guimond is not a policeman and their contempt is reserved only for police?

Silence --- the sound of hypocrisy.

Watch them discover their voices when Salhany presides over his next show trial, the "review" into the murder trials prosecuted by former Crown attorney George Dangerfield.


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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Who will protest Manitoba's democracy deficit?

The heavily-hyped prorogation protest in Winnipeg drew barely 300 people (by the Winnipeg Free Press count) or 438 people (by one participant's count posted on the rally's official website).

Organizer Chris Burnett said he was pleased. On Thursday he told the Winnipeg Free Press, "If there are less than 500 I will be disappointed."

If only re-setting the bar was an Olympic sport, 36-year-old Chris would have a future.

To prove they weren't partisan, the organizers started the rally at the University of Winnipeg, the base of hyper-partisan Liberal Lloyd Axworthy.

To demonstrate their political acumen, they marched to the provincial Legislature, which has no connection to Stephen Harper, Parliament or prorogation.

To illustrate they knew what they were doing, they walked in a circle and ended up right back at the U of W where they had hot chocolate.

The protestors said they were standing up for democracy, not showboating for the Liberals or NDP.

If that was the case, they should have stayed at the Legislature because that's where the NDP government was doing its dictatorial best this week to stifle the democratic process in Manitoba.

The occasion was a mandatory meeting of the Standing Committee on Legislative Affairs. Usually these meetings are as boring as the name. This one was electric.

The meeting was called because of the impending departure of Chief Electoral Officer Richard Balasko, who is leaving under a deep, dark cloud because of his too-cozy relationship with the NDP.

Balasko's official spin is that he always intended to retire when he reached 55. The reality is that his job ended months ago when the leaders of the Opposition Conservatives and the Liberal Party revoked their confidence in him. It had been revealed that Balasko actively helped the NDP cover-up an election expenses scandal dating back to 1999.

* A forensic auditor discovered that the NDP was filing false expense claims to get reimbursed from the public purse.

It wasn't an inadvertent mistake or an attempt to push the rules; it was an orchestrated scheme to defraud Elections Manitoba and it had been going on for years. The NDP could then use the rebates as a secret slush fund in the next election to bypass spending limits because there would be no record of where the money came from.

* When caught, the NDP insisted the auditor be fired. Balasko took care of it.

The NDP didn't want to be charged with breaking the Elections Act. Balasko let them pay the 1999 rebate back quietly and let them keep what they got in prior elections, no questions asked.

* The NDP wanted it kept quiet.

Balasko revealed the repayment in a brief note in an obscure government publication two days before Christmas. Conservative Party candidates accused of election infractions weren't offered deals before Balasko pressed charges and notified the news media.

With Balasko hitting the bricks in April, Manitoba needs a new Chief Electoral Officer pronto. There's an election scheduled for 2011, and the NDP might be planning an earlier election call in advance of at least two other brewing scandals -- an inquest into the death of Brian Sinclair in a hospital waiting room (called a year ago, postponed in January, no date set) and a whistleblower's complaint of costly mismanagement at Manitoba Hydro (received 14 months ago, no investigation done, no completion date even remotely hinted at).

The government wanted the Legislative Affairs committee to rubber-stamp the start of the process to replace Balasko.

Instead, the Opposition, with the support of the Liberal Party, said the price of their cooperation was a public inquiry into the 1999 NDP rebate fraud.

The NDP, using its majority on the committee, voted down the Opposition motion. The Opposition walked out of the committee.

It was at that point we learned how the authoritarian NDP government views democracy in Manitoba.

Committee chairman Tom Nevakshonoff (NDP-Interlake) declared that participation by the Opposition on committees of the Legislature is only a courtesy. The government can ignore the presence or absence of Opposition members at will and, in this case, they did, voting unanimously to create a subcommittee to find a new Chief Electoral Officer.

As for letting the public learn whether the NDP engaged in fraud during the 1999 election? Fuggedaboutit, said Bill Blaikie, speaking for unelected Premier Greg Selinger. It's like cheating on your income tax, he said. You get caught, you pay it back.

"Not everybody who files a return and then has to file another return is charged with evasion or fraud or whatever. This goes on all the time in all kinds of these kinds of processes, and this is what went on then. That's our view of the matter…" he said.

- The NDP cheated in the 1999 election.
- They got caught two years later.
- They managed to cover it up for another 5 years with the help of the Chief Electoral Officer.

- Now they plan to appoint a new elections officer who will not have the confidence of the House because he will be seen as a lapdog hired to do the bidding of the government.

Where are the pro-democracy protestors? Why are they not picketing the NDP with their clever signs and tortured rhymes?

The NDP have managed to destroy the integrity of every independent officer of the Manitoba Legislature.

Apart from Elections Manitoba, the office of the Auditor General was irreparably tainted when new Hydro Minister Rosann Wowchuk declared she had no concerns with Carol Bellringer's blatant conflict of interest while she "investigated" the whistleblower's complaint about Hydro.

Bellringer sat on Hydro's board of directors with the very people she would be "investigating." She would take as long as she wanted to complete her investigation, she told the CBC. Her report on Hydro might be finished in 18 months, she said. Or, dare we say, maybe even after the next election to the relief of the NDP.

Bellringer was eventually shamed into handing the whistleblower complaint back to the Ombudsman. Wowchuk was sad.

The Ombudsman, in turn, has been revealed as a toothless watchdog indeed. Tasked by law to handle whistleblower complaints "expeditiously", Irene Hamilton has bumbled the Hydro complaint, doing nothing with it for 14 months and now announcing she will likely wait for a Public Utilities Board study of Hydro to be finished sometime in the future before taking it up again. Maybe she, too, can delay it past the next election.

The NDP can only hope.

The Opposition, meanwhile, will have another opportunity to fight for a public inquiry into the 1999 NDP election scandal. The cards are beginning to favour them.

The subcommittee set up by the NDP to find a new elections chief is to be made up of four NDP, two Conservatives and one Liberal. If the minority members refuse to sit, the subcommittee cannot function. Trying to operate as a fully partisan committee would signal any legitimate applicant for the job: RUN, DON'T WALK.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

In Defence of Brock Lesnar

Pass the hammer. We've got to knock some noses back into joint.

UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar wasn't trashing Manitoba when he talked about receiving third-world health care in a Brandon hospital. He was holding up a mirror.

Don't like what you see? Stomping your feet and making chauvinist squeals won't change the picture.

Lesnar is a professional athlete; he knows pain. He's a professional mixed martial arts fighter; he knows extreme pain. So when he doubled over with pain while hunting with his brother in southwestern Manitoba last November, he knew it was something unusual and very serious.

He was admitted to Brandon General Hospital on or about Nov. 7 only to find the CT scanner was out of commission and had been for four days. A CT scan is the most common test for a potentially life-threatening abdominal disorder like diverticulitis, which was what Lesnar had.

So what's the problem, asks Carmel Olson, CEO of the Brandon regional health authority.

"The attending physician was very qualified and very respected," she told the Globe and Mail. "He's been in the business for more than 30 years. And he has the skills to diagnose a condition such as diverticulitis without a CT scan."

Hmmmm.... Imagine you're in Mexico and a wall fell on you. You go to the hospital because you suspect you have broken ribs. The doctor tells you the X-ray machine is in the shop for repairs, but Dr. Juan Valdez is very experienced in broken bones and he'll poke around your chest to make his diagnosis. And please stop whimpering, you're disturbing the other patients.

You would be in the taxi, lickety-split, heading for the next plane back to Canada.

Americans---all Americans, regardless of income---expect a hospital to have a working CT scanner as basic equipment, just as all Canadians expect to see an X-ray machine in a hospital. Depending on a doctor's "experience" is fine and dandy--- in the Third World maybe.

CEO Olson told the Globe,"We have state-of-art equipment here. We are hardly a one-horse operation."

Lady, when it comes to 21st century diagnostic imaging, you are a one-trick pony operation and that day your pony was on the fritz.

Another eBrandon commenter, "snickers", came to the defence of Brandon hospital with this personal account:
"just read in paper today about the pain Brock was in due to him suffering from diverticulitus..... I have the same condition and infact a couple years ago was rushed to emerg because if it... Immediatly I was admitted to hopsital, spent 3 days in a emerg bed with IV and then admitted to the General cause my condition was so serious. I was told by a very compatent surgeon that I had a micro perforation and I would require surgery ... soon..I was allowed no food period.... there was signs all around my area NPO (nothing per oral)I was released only to be scheduled for surgery 4 days later.. no miracles here.. ended up havin surgery, they removed 1.5 feet of sigmoid colon... if left a micro perforation could rupture and then this serious condition would be an emergency.. I recieved very good care here, right from get go in emerg.. Kudos to all the staff in emerg and Bdn General.. not sure how Brock was mistreated.. in my experience with very similar issue I recieved the help and care and follow up care I needed.".

Lesnar's sister-in-law Jennifer - a Manitoban no less - provided details that literally define 'mistreatment' for that condition:

"The CT machine was down for over 4 days so they didn't know he had a rupture and were feeding him, I think wrong antibiotics, etc...I think they did the best with what they had, but he was REALLY sick and I think he made the right choice leaving for a US hospital...He's not blaming the hospital, but it's not ok for ANYBODY needing a scan to have to wait 5 or more days. We've had nothing but great experiences in that same hospital, so it's just unfortuate that everything kinda went wrong when he was there. "

As Canadians we accept 4 hours waits in emergency rooms as normal, four week average waits for CT scans as an improvement, and deaths in Manitoba hospital waiting rooms as not unusual. At one time not too long ago, having emergency wards manned by lone doctors was considered a crisis; now it's standard.

Is it any wonder that Lesnar's wife put him in a car and drove pell-mell to the nearest American hospital with a CT scanner? In her eyes her husband is dying from the pain and they're stuck in 1950's Mayberry.

Lesnar eventually left Bismark, N.D., after being diagnosed for treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Brenda, a Brandonite posting on the Brock Lesnar thread on, offered a comparison between treatment in a Manitoba hospital and treatment in the Mayo Clinic (which must be what health care in heaven is like):

"two systems

I know you can wait forever in Manitoba for tests. You can go to the lab or the x-ray dept. and sit forever. A friend of mine went to the mayo clinic. Saw a dr. who sent her for x-rays, by the time she got on the elevator and to the x-ray dept. someone was there to meet her at the elevator door and take her in right away. By the time she was done and back to the doctors, she had the results. Run like a well oiled machine. Unfortunately, our system is not that quick. But I don't mind waiting a little while, knowing I don't have to pay."

Spoken like a true Canadian.

Lesnar is a self-described Republican who is against radical changes to U.S. health care.

"The reason I'm saying that is because there's millions of people that don't want health care reform and I'm one of them," he said at a news conference Wednesday. "I'm not a believer in socialism and I don't want that going on."

"I believe in health care for everybody," sniffed Manitoba's socialist Health Minister Theresa Oswald, in typical NDP knee-jerk, anti-American superiority. "Canada has lots to be proud of in terms of providing health care for everyone."

Canada has universal health care but you take what the government gives you.

In America, you can spend your own money to enhance the health care you want for yourself and your family. If you can't afford it, you get Canadian-style health care---take a number and wait.

As a well-paid athlete, Brock Lesnar has lots of insurance and, in his profession, he needs it. He wasn't waiting in pain for an essential diagnostic machine to become available.

In Canada, the government takes $100 million of your money and spends it on a Manitoba millionaire's pet project museum and says there's no money for health care.

In Manitoba, the government takes your money, spends it on a power line built to impress U.S. eco-lobbyists when the same line on another route could be built for half a billion dollars less, and then says you're bad if you want to keep your own money and buy better health service at a clinic.

When Theresa Oswald eventually moves to the U.S. to live with her husband in Wisconsin will she be buying health insurance for her children? Or will she choose to rely on the state-provided health care?

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Is the Disraeli Bridge debacle the start of a revolution at city hall?

We fell for it hook, line and sinker.

The Disraeli Bridge Deception is a textbook example of everything that's wrong with city hall in Winnipeg.

But this is an election year, and Mayor Sam Katz may find it one doublecross too many for people to stomach.

It was April, 2008, when city hall announced that the aging Disraeli Bridge needed to be replaced expeditiously. The bridge had reached the end of its lifespan, we were told, and it was literally beginning to fall apart. But, in keeping with the modern mode of democracy, the public would be consulted about its preferences in a new bridge.

So a series of public meetings were held where taxpayers could give their opinions on three bridge proposals which were variations of a four-lane refurbished Disraeli bridge with a new bicycle lane and a pedestrian walkway or two.

The best-received, carrying a cost of $140 million, was duly announced.

Twenty months later, City Hall is signing contracts for two bridges instead of one, at a cost of $195 million and counting, requiring rerouting of streets to link to a new, and not refurbished, structure.

It turns out city administrators held secret meetings with a special interest group after the pubic consultation meetings were over and decided to toss out the public's choice and replace it with something the group wanted.

We'll return to these secret meetings in a minute.

From Day 1, the biggest concern was the length of time the Disraeli would be closed for construction---estimated at 16 months, at least. City officials said it was unavoidable, that all options had been considered and none was a viable alternative to diverting traffic.

Not so, said an assortment of politicians and private citizens. The solution was, in fact, already part of their plans for infrastructure renewal.

Replace the Louise bridge first, they said, then divert traffic over the Louise while rebuilding the Disraeli.

Impossible, declared city administrators. You little people don't know what you're talking about. You're well meaning but simple folk who shouldn't try to armchair quarerback experts like us. This isn't Sim City. There just isn't time to replace the Louise first. Trust us.

And we did.
Stupidly, we did.

When concerned citizens like Phil Walding and Regan Wolfram spent days coming up with carefully thought-out plans showing how the Louise bridge alternative could work, we stayed silent. We bought the spiel that time was of the essence, that work on the Disraeli had to start as soon as possible.

Now we know the city officials lied. There was plenty of time.

The construction of the new Disraeli Bridge won't start until 2011, three years after public consultations were announced.

If the Disraeli can be designed in a year, the Louise Bridge could have been designed and built in those 3 years.

This week two city councillors provided vital information to understanding the Disraeli Deception. Interviewed (separately) on The Great Canadian Talk Show, the talk radio drive-home show on 92.9 Kick FM, Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) and Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) made important revelations which, to them as city councillors, were old hat, but to us, the public, were shocking.

Jeff Browaty defended the increased cost of the Disraeli project on Wednesday. We'll get a new bridge, he said, regurgitating the official script. Then he blurted out that the Louise Bridge was never considered an option. It was dismissed out of hand because it is a major project in itself, one that will involve realigning Higgins Avenue and likely moving the bridge east.

Rebuilding the Louise isn't any bigger than the mishmash the city has made of the Disrali bridge replacement. But Browaty did us a favour by highlighting the thinking behind the walls of city hall.

Why look at it replacing the two bridges as one project in two parts when you can divide it into two projects, each with its own, ahem, opportunities.

Remember, the public thought the Disraeli Bridge replacement was on track as soon as the public consultations were over. Instead, city administrators held secret meetings with people who had their own ideas for Disraeli but didn't want the public to know about them.

Hmmmm. Secret meetings. Special interest groups. Millions of dollars to be spent. No accountability.

Do your own word association. What comes to mind?




The public was astonished to learn, four months after the public meetings, that the city was planning to build two bridges to replace the old Disraeli, a refurbished bridge for cars and a brand new bridge for bicycles.

Certainly the pro-bicycle, anti-car lobby group Bike to the Future, which was behind the second bridge, doesn't have the money to entice city officials.

Hmmmm? Who would be interested in having the inside track on the city's plans for multi-million-dollar bridges that had never been discussed in public?

* The city held secret meetings.
* The public was not invited.
* There are no transcripts.
* We don't know when the meetings took place.
* Or where.
* Or who attended.

We don't know what promises were made.

Or what information about possible land expropriation was given.

And if there's money to be made on one big bridge project, imagine the money when you have the skinny on the second project---the Louise bridge.

More secret meetings, ya think?
And what surprises await us there?

Then on Thursday, Jenny Gerbasi dropped a bigger bombshell.

City council had nothing to do with the final design of the Disraeli Bridge. Or the two-bridge design before that, she said.

There was never any vote, or any questions in council because the entire project had been delegated to Glen Laubenstein, Winnipeg's chief administrative officer and the mayor's right hand.

So, holding secret meetings with special interest groups was Laubenstein's responsibility.

And making a mockery of the public consultation process was Laubenstein's idea.

And raising the cost of the Disraeli replacement by $55 million was Laubensteins's decision.

But, but, but....isn't the province giving us the extra money? Wake up. The "province" is Winnipeg.

Don't think for a second that taxpayers in Morden or Thompson are subsidized a bridge in Winnipeg. Whenever the "province" contributes to a city project, its the Winnipeg taxpayer paying twice.

But, but, but...Browaty says we're getting a brand new bridge that will last 75 years, a refurbished bridge would need replacement after 45.

Oh, really? Here's what the City of Winnipeg said in announcing public consultations on a new Disraeli Bridge:

Why are the Bridges being rehabilitated?
The Disraeli Bridges Rehabilitation Project includes
the bridge over the Red River and the overpass
crossing over the CP Rail mainline. A Condition
Assessment found numerous deficiencies that
need rehabilitation or upgrading in order to
achieve a further 75 year service life and to meet
current design standards.

Were they lying to us then, or are they lying to us now?

But, but, but....isn't this a private-public partnership, so that the city isn't on the hook for the cost?

Let's see....the city starts by having to borrow $75 million. After breaking the Norrie-era habit of deficit financing, we're back in hock just as interest rates start rising.

Then, nobody knows what the bridges will cost. Like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, we're writing a blank cheque. Here's how the city's own news releases says it:

"The City's capital budgets have allocated a total of $195 million for the project. This is a preliminary estimate, and the actual amount may change as plans are finalized."

And what will happen if the private partners walk away if their profit margin evaporates? Guess who gets to pick up the entire tab? Oh, wait, maybe the "province" will help.

The bottom line is city administrators lied to us.

- They said the Disraeli bridge had to be rebuilt asap.
- They dismissed the obvious solution to the traffic snarl, replacing the Louise bridge first.
- They then delayed the process to hold secret meetings with a private group.

They tossed out the public's preference in design for a new Disraeli bridge and replaced it with the private group's chosen design.

Then they raised the cost by $55 million to start.

And they spun it as a victory for the public (the bridge will stay open) and a demonstration that city hall listens.

But the public knows a con job when they see it. And for Mayor Katz that could be bad news.

His hand-picked city administrator is responsible for the Disraeli Deception. Above all, he's responsible for the added cost and the coming expropriation controversies.

Until now, Katz has held the high ground over his left-leaning opponents. He's been able to argue his business background provides superior value to taxpayers over the tax-and-spend alternative.

Thanks to Laubenstein, he's lost that argument.

If Laubenstein can raise the cost of the Disraeli bridge by almost 40 percent, a year before construction starts, then where's the alleged benefit of trusting the business-oriented council over the union-backed councillors?

In this case it's Katz's council nemesis Jenny Gerbasi who deserves full credit for fighting for accountability from the city administration, transparency from Laubenstein, and debate and a vote by the elected councillors.

Katz, meanwhile, is forced to defend secret negotiations which lend to the perception of a potential for payoffs and graft.

If new union-supported, NDP-backed councillors can simply stop a repeat of the Disraeli Deception and stop writing blank cheques to millionaires and developers, then they won't need to raise taxes. That just might be worth the risk.

Browaty raised one point that needs to be heard by the provincial NDP government.

He said he cared about the city in general, but that he was elected to represent North Kildonan and that's how he voted on the Disraeli project. Residents of other affected areas, such as North and South Point Douglas, should expect their councillors to represent their interests, he said.

Revolutionary? No.

But blazingly relevant in an election year.

By any measure, Mynarski ward councillor Harry Lazarenko is unresponsive to the concerns of his constituents in north Point Douglas. And (south) Point Douglas ward rep Mike Pagtakhan is fast on his way to becoming Lazarenko's shadow.

If these deadbeats keep getting elected, and keep ignoring their constituents, then vast swaths of Winnipeg have no practical representation in council or with the city administration that obviously now replaces council in many areas.

How will the province which controls the governance of Winnipeg respond to this deficit in democratic responsibilities?

Recall legislation? Mandatory accountability sessions for councillors? What do you suggest?

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ignatieff swims in anti-semitic waters again

A day after the Liberals accused Canadian soldiers of war crimes, and the morning he allied himself with a government-funded organization fighting to retain its anti-Israel bias, Michael Ignatieff arrived in Winnipeg.

He was on his cross-country university tour to bash the Conservatives. But even before he could start his trash-talk, he discovered that nobody cared because the earthquake that devastated Haiti dominated the news.

"The timing is just fortuitous given what's happening, given the engagement of Canadians, particularly young Canadians," gushed Manitoba's only Liberal MP, the unfortunate Anita Neville, the night before.

In short, it took a Stage 7 earthquake to overshadow the walking disaster that is Michael Ignatieff.

While he wanted to whine to students about the progrogation of Parliament, the Prime Minister and his cabinet were coordinating relief efforts to Haiti.

Ignatieff was left talking to people who don't vote about issues that don't matter. It should be his epitaph.

At least Iggy got to dodge the twin controversies bubbling under his feet.

John McCallum, a former Liberal defence minister, was being interviewed Wednesday on CBC Newsworld about his party's anti-prorogation ads when he started slinging mud at Canada's soldiers in Afghanistan.

McCallum: "… But I also think Canadians do care about democracy and about the high-handed, undemocratic attitude and actions of this government, and I think proroguing adds to the total character picture of Mr. Harper, and the fact that they may have been committing war crimes, handing over detainees knowing that they were very likely to be tortured, that is a war crime. And the fact that they're covering it up, I think many Canadians do care about those things as well as caring about economic issues."

The interviewer, acting like a true CBC reporter with a script, glossed over McCallum's clear statement.

Meharchand: "You know, we could digress here and talk about who's handing over, is it the Canadian soldiers who you're accusing of war crimes, is it the government, I don't want to go there in this interview."

McCallum: "It's the government."

No, it's not. The government isn't physically in Afghanistan taking detainees into custody. That's done by the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, and that's who the Liberals are accusing of war crimes.

There can be no doubt what McCallum said and no doubt about the meaning of his words.

Ignatieff, who has been backpedalling for years since accusing Israel of war crimes, knows the danger of making cheap accusations to score political points. He's about to find out whether he'll be the collateral damage for McCallum's attack on the Canadian military.

But Ignatieff has learned nothing from his own flirtation with the anti-Israel Left's rhetoric. Thursday he authorized a Liberal Party news release calling for the government to appoint "an independent administrator" to look at the turmoil devouring Rights & Democracy (also known as the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development), an organization established by Parliament in 1988 to promote human rights and democratic institutions around the world."

"We need to get to the bottom of what's happening at Rights and Democracy," said Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. "Something very serious is happening when the entire staff of a reputable human rights organization is in open revolt against a number of Conservative appointees to their board."

"It is extremely troubling to see Rights and Democracy - an internationally-recognized, non-partisan organization - being discredited after decades of work promoting human and democratic rights around the world," said Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic Bob Rae, commenting from Nepal while attending a conference on constitutional issues.

After the sudden and tragic death of Rights and Democracy President Rémy Beauregard last week, 47 employees of the organization signed a letter calling for the resignation of three Harper-appointed board members who have severely harmed the effectiveness of the organization. Rights and Democracy was created by a unanimous act of Parliament in 1988.

"The Conservative government has tried to undermine the Rights and Democracy organization with partisan appointments and now the organization's credibility and ability to function is in serious doubt," said Mr. Rae. "The government needs to address the internal chaos that they have created within Rights and Democracy."

Remember, Google is your friend.

It took seconds to discover that the turmoil at Rights & Democracy (as it's usually spelled) revolves around the fact that the Conservatives have managed to appoint a majority of the board (7 to 6) and that majority is trying to rebalance the organization's anti-Israel bias, something the old board views as political interference. One of the new appointments is David Matas, legal counsel for B'nai Brith Canada, not that you'll find that information in the FP.

Apparently, last year the board voted "to fund a non-governmental organization that some board members argued was connected to pro-Palestinian terrorist organizations." We haven't been able to identify that NGO.

And Le Devoir, which broke the story, says the Conservative government wants Rights & Democracy to break its connections to the United Nations Council of Human Rights. This is the the successor to the disgraced U.N. Human Rights Commission, whose membership included such paragons of human rights as China, Zimbabwe, Russia, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. In 2004, the Commission unanimously accepted Sudan as a member just when it was under worldwide criticism for alleged genocide in Darfur.

Maintaining tradition, the Human Rights Council has passed more resolutions and decisions condemning Israel than all the admonitions against other UN members combined.

The anti-Israel bias of Rights & Democracy goes back as far as 2002 at least. In March, 2002, Palestinian terrorists killed 30 people in a suicide bombing of the Park Hotel in the coastal city of Netanya, in the midst of the Passover holiday seder . It was the latest outrage in a year of non-ending suicide attacks. Israel launched an offensive into the West Bank to stop the murderous attacks, and Rights & Democracy launched a political offensive to stop Israel.

The president of Rights & Democracy at the time was Warren Allmand, a former Liberal Party cabinet minister. He wrote the Liberal government demanding that Canada support sending United Nations troops to stop Israel.

The Israeli occupation was the “root cause” of the “Palestinian crisis,” wrote Allmand.

Ending the occupation was “an essential condition” for stopping the suicide bombing campaign.

Israel is guilty of war crimes. “…destruction that seems more and more to be a systematic and premeditated policy, and which is in violation of Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

The Liberals have been fuming for weeks over a Conservative Party mailout that accurately recounted how the Liberal government refused to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, failed to walk out of the Durban Conference that turned into the worst anti-semitic rally since Nuremberg, and that Ignatieff declared Israel guilty of war crimes in 2006.

The Liberals explained that they did, eventually, put Hezbollah on the terror list (after being excoriated in public by Liberal MP Irwin Cotler). They claimed without any proof that Israel asked Canada to stay at Durban. And Iggy apologized and apologized and apologized for saying what he believed.

"Mr. Ignatieff is finally finding his feet,"Terry Duguid told the Winnipeg Free Press Wednesday. "We and Mr. Ignatieff are finding our stride again.” Duguid is the Liberal candidate in the next election in Winnipeg South.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kaj to Toronto: Don't Trust Glen

MTC may have the hit play The Drowsy Chaperone, but we have our eyes on a real-life drama that's downright Shakespearean.

A mighty visionary struck down by those he trusted most. His past sins risen as ghosts to haunt him at him on the eve of possibly his greatest success. Unbridled ambition. Bitter betrayal. If only the Bard were alive to chonicle the tale.

Glen Murray, a legend in his own mind, is running as the provincial Liberal Party candidate in an Ontario by-election. His short stint as mayor of Winnipeg, along with his blinding urban visionary powers, are prime elements of his resume for the job.

He sees himself as the unchallengable front runner.

He's gay. The former MPP for the riding was gay.
He's gay. The riding has the largest gay constituency in the country
He's gay. And, as his fellow gay visionary, Richard Florida, has written, the future of cities depends on, well, you know.

Imagine his surprise, then, to find himself blindsided by one of his biggest fans, an emulator who ran for mayor of Winnipeg himself, and is, yes, gay. Enter Kaj (pronounced K'eye) Hasselreis.

Upon hearing that Murray was in line for the nomination to run in Toronto-Centre, Kaj rushed out a warning for Toronto voters about his role model: don't trust him.

Titled "A Queer's eye-view of Glen Murray/From a Winnipegger who knows him well", Kaj's clarion call was printed in ("Canada's source for gay and lesbian news").

Kaj wrote how excited he was when the man he had known as co-founder of the city's pioneering AIDS clinic and as an NDP city councillor became the mayor of Winnipeg.

"In 1998, I moved into a house down the street from Murray, and a few months later, he was elected mayor. When I went to his inauguration with my lesbian roommate, he proudly showed off his big, shiny chain of office and we swooned, "That's our mayor!" To which he responded, "Now I just need earrings to match!"

"Murray succeeded in inspiring Winnipeggers to think of our city as world-class. He was also a positive role model for young queers."

But it wasn't to last, he wrote. Sniffing a better opportunity, Murray dumped the NDP, joined the Liberals, dumped his job as mayor and ran for a seat in Parliament because he had been promised a cabinet post.

That's the kind of guy he is, said Kaj. He's the guy always looking over your shoulder in case there's somebody better to talk to. He's always looking out for #1.

"I have a lot of good things to report about Glen Murray, but I have to end this column with a warning to the voters of Toronto-Centre: Don't believe that he won't dump you, too, if a hotter offer comes along."

And he revealed that Murray already has his eye set on his next vision---for himself.

"...he still considers himself a Winnipegger, and says he'll return one day to run for MP again. At least that's what he told me a few months ago, when I interviewed him at a Winnipeg coffee shop. I have no doubt that Murray sincerely wants to serve the people - he's just always keeping his options open about which people to serve."

His bottom line?

"Take it from a Winnipegger: The man... is a charismatic, commitment-phobic, power-hungry, eager-to-please crybaby who can't be trusted. But he deserves every vote he gets."

Okay, so its not exactly "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him."

Still, we know Glen Murray's obvious retort, and to him will go the final words.

Et tu, Brute?

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

The obvious questions about the Shamattawa arson

It takes a village to lose a child. And to cover it up.

For a week information dribbled out of the Shamattawa Indian reserve regarding a tragic house fire. Yet, today, we know as little about what happened as we knew on Day One.

* We know an 11-year-old boy, Edward Redhead, is missing and presumed dead. And a 16-year-old boy is in jail and accused of killing him.

But we know next to nothing about the mysterious phone call made only minutes before the fire started, possibly from the very house, and which may hold the key to the events.

* We know the caller was not Eddie's mother. CTV reported Friday his mother is dead. But its been reported the call, to a local pastor, was placed by the daughter of Eddie's grandparents, which would make her his aunt.

* She told the pastor he would never hear from her again, and asked him to look after her son. Was she referring to the other boy in the story, the 16-year-old accused?

Many people on the reserve know, and they're not telling, just as crucial information was withheld from the police for days.

The sordid story begins on New Year's Day. Eddie's grandmother and grandfather abandoned their one-story house to stay with one of their children because they had run out of heating oil. The temperature that night was 40 below with the windchill.

Eddie, who was officially in foster care, had been staying with the couple. Over New Year's, for sure, and one news story says over the Christmas period as well. That means he might have been in their care for 8 days or more. His foster mother was out of town.

Eddie's grandmother has been interviewed and she's told a consistent story, sort of. They left their home when the heating oil ran out, locked the door, and nobody was inside, she says. Was Eddie with them? The grandmother doesn't say. In fact, CBC reported Friday that "It was not clear where she thought the boy was."

What does that mean? It sounds as if she's saying he wasn't with her and she thought she knew where he was when she locked the door. Was he with the aunt who made the frantic phone call in the middle of the next night?

Pastor Pharoah Thomas took the call before 4 a.m. He rushed over to the Redhead house, only to find it well ablaze. He said he kicked in the door and tried to search the rooms, but was driven out by fire and smoke. RCMP said Friday the smoke killed Eddie Redhead.

RCMP were dispatched and they found Pastor Thomas at the scene. They tried to rouse the reserve's fire chief, but he, too, was away from home, spending the night at his father's. The RCMP officers could only watch the house burn to the ground.

After sunrise the smouldering house became a magnet for the children on the reserve. Very soon they realized that one of their playmates was missing.

Did they go to find him? They would have known he had lived most recently at the house that was burned down. Did they go to the foster mother's to ask for him. Did they ask his relatives where he was? Did they find his grandparents?

David Harper, grand chief of the organization representing reserves in northern Manitoba, now says that by 9 a.m., only five hours after the fire started, some people on Shamattawa realized Eddie Redhead was missing and they started searching for him.

Where? Did they retrace the steps of the children? Did they question the grandparents? Did they talk to the distraught aunt?

RCMP, meanwhile, were conducting a search of their own. As the Winnipeg Free Press put it, officers "went door-knocking in the community to try and locate three youths known to hang around the home…" In the spring of 2009 an arsonist set fire to an RCMP officer's trailer on Shamattawa. He was saved when his smoke alarm went off at 4:30 in the morning. A search for the hang-arounds would be prudent.

An RCMP spokesman told the FP those three youths were located. And presumably had good alibis.

For some untold reason, the RCMP never spoke with Eddie's grandparents, the owners of the burned down house, that day. Did they have information from Pastor Thomas that the house had been unoccupied? It wasn't until the next day, Sunday, that they "located" the grandparents, as the newspapers put it.

That's when they got the story about the heating oil, the lock and the empty house.

But they were unaware that Eddie was missing and that people had been searching for him for a day already.

It wasn't until still another day had passed that one of Shamattawa's four band councillors told the RCMP of the 11-year-old boy who couldn't be found. It was early in the evening, 7 p.m., when they got the bombshell news.

-- A telling snippet of the story shows us the mindset of the RCMP even two days after the fire. Eddie's foster mother had returned home by Monday but was unaware of the fire. She said the RCMP came to her to ask if she knew where Eddie and a 16-year-old youth might be.

"[The youth] and Edward may be responsible [for the fire], that's what they told me," she told reporters.

So, two days after the fire, the RCMP had their sights set on the teenager eventually charged with murder. At the time they were still suspecting arson. Eddie, a chronic runaway, was thought to be alive and hiding with him.

But everything changed dramatically the next day, Tuesday.

RCMP and officials from the Fire Commissioner's Office were searching the fire rubble when they discovered human remains. It's presumed they discovered the bones and teeth of Eddie Redhead, although no positive identification has been made yet.

But nobody expected the news the RCMP released the next day. A further search had turned up another body, they said. They insisted it was the body of an unknown person even though a medical examiner hadn't yet examined the remains. We can now see that they thought they had discovered the 16-year-old boy.

RCMP dropped another bombshell Thursday. The second set of bones belonged to an animal, likely a caribou.

Oh, and police had arrested the 16-year-old boy in connection with the fire.

-- The story got even murkier on Friday. The teenager was being charged with second-degree murder. Murder. Justice authorities were rejecting the idea that Eddie Redhead died accidentally in the fire. Murder means he was killed intentionally, or on the facts, intentionally left to die.

If it was his mother who phoned the pastor minutes before the fire started, then we can understand why she's been written out of the official narrative.

But what about the people, including possibly his grandparents, who knew Eddie was missing and who apparently did their best not to tell the RCMP?

Were they also trying to shelter the 16-year-old from the law?

For another look at the dysfunctional world on the Shamattawa reserve see this story in the Globe and Mail, "The land of lost children," by Margaret Philp, Dec. 21, 2002.

Eight years later -- and time has stood still in Shamattawa.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Winnipeg TV newscasts surpassing dead-tree offerings

Readers forgive us, for we have sinned.

We have to confess. As born-and-bred, dyed-in-the-wool newspaper consumers we never thought this day would come. But it's here.

We would sooner watch the TV supper-hour news than reach for the daily paper.

It hurt just to write that.

Before television news directors dislocate their shoulders patting themselves on the back, we should add that when we say TV news, we mean that in the plural. You have to watch all three newscasts at the same time for the best effect.

Watching the news has become a guilty pleasure. Year-over-year-wise, the quality of TV news has ratcheted up several notches as the quality of local newspaper coverage has plummeted. Undoubtedly, we have CBC to thank.

They kick-started the process, and, to their credit, the other stations stepped up their game to match the Mother Corps. Competition is a wonderful thing.

CBC, which for years had the desperate air of The Bay's bargain basement, has been reborn with the launch of their new format---news at 5:00, 5:30 and 6:00, live/live/live, breaking/breaking/breaking.

There's an unmatched energy on the show, oftentimes bordering on manic, which pours off the television screen into your lap.

Only true news junkies would watch all 3 'casts, which somedays is unfortunate. Important news on one broadcast is sometimes lost on the others.

The fact that Stu Murray was hired by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights primarily as a fund raiser was reported only on CBC's 5:30 news. Another day CBC had an exclusive story about a pepper spray assault on students leaving an after-school basketball game Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute, but only, again, on their 5:30 show.

If possible, CBC opens every show with 'Breaking News.' The problem is that many days there is no 'breaking news'. That's why we're bombarded with house fires and non-fatal car accidents which are beginning to all look the same.

CBC's new format is heavy on weather and live hits. Weatherman John Sauder introduces the show and is sprinkled throughout all 3 broadcasts. It's straight out of the Tammy Faye Baker school of presentation---if some makeup is good, more is better, and more than more is best of all. Replace makeup with weather and you've got the CBC, 2010.

That might be great for casual viewers, but for us, Sauder's face is the cue to switch channels to catch the news elsewhere.

But its the live hits that have changed the game in Winnipeg. CBC goes live whenever they can, even when there's no reason for it. A reporter once did a live hit in the empty stands at the stadium when discussing an assault on a police officer there the day before. (CKY had video taken on game day. Ouch. That had to hurt.)

Reporting live is no easy task. To their credit, reporters for all 3 stations have stepped up and become pro's at the art of the live broadcast. There are more verbal stumbles by host Janet Stewart back in the studio (which, believe it or not, are part of her charm.)

Gosia Sawicka has become the new Kelly Dehn. He pioneered the police beat on television for CKY; she's the CBC's police reporter, coming live from every crime scene in the city. Young, confident, and best of all, exuding an interest in the stories she tells, she's carving out her own territory on the mean streets.

CBC has also added something new to their newscasts -- men. Male reporters were almost extinct on Winnipeg's television news. CBC has beefed up the testosterone level on their broadcasts with the addition of Wab Kinew and Randell Mauricio.

This may have been bad news for Waubgeshig Rice. Once their lead-off reporter, his stories have recently been pushed down low in the line-ups while the new boys moved up the ladder. Did his Valley Girl uptalk finally sink him?

All that said, CBC continues to proudly cling to one fatal flaw -- political correctness.

It's that practice which, ultimately, reduces the value of news on CBC. For all their innovations, the bottom line is CBC cannot be trusted. Their PC filter is set so high that important details go unreported. It's like a four-legged stool with one leg missing; lean one way and it supports you, lean the other and you fall on your heinie.

They once breathlessly reported a warning to all women in Winnipeg's west end about a man who had sexually assaulted a series of unsuspecting females. They gave his height, but refused to say he was aboriginal in appearance. You had to watch the other television stations to get the correct description of the potential rapist.

CTV news, formerly known as CKY, offers Red River journalism -- not the school, the flowing body of water. It's wide, deep, steady, and strong. And predictable.

Hosts Gord Leclerc and Marilee Caruso are as bland, yet comfortable, as that old sofa in your living room. They don't try to be anything they're not. Which is good; watching them try to hype the Olympic Torch run as the greatest thing since the moon landing was painful.

But if CBC takes a big bite out of CTV's viewership in the next couple of ratings periods, expect to see more bells and whistles around that anchor desk. And hopefully fewer goofy hats.

CTV's crop of reporters is matching CBC story for story. The beauty of the competition among all 3 stations is that any one of them can come up with an exclusive on any given day.

The Winnipeg Free Press and Winnipeg Sun no longer, apparently, aircheck the television newscasts, because many excellent stories appear only for fleeting seconds on TV and are never matched in print. The TV stations, however, do recognize good stories by their competition and will do them themselves the next day.

This week CTV had the scoop of two girls arrested for threatening to kill students at a Selkirk high school. It was played well down in the lineup, but CBC still did a follow (as, in this case, did the Free Press). But the closure of Fanny's Fine Furniture, with the blast by the owner at Sam Katz and Greg Selinger that "Manitoba is NOT open for business" went unreported elsewhere.

The aforementioned Kelly Dehn has grown into the Walter Cronkite of local TV---experienced, stolid, the dependable voice of reason. Mr. Excitement, he's not. He's left the breaking crime stories to the new blood, in this case usually Stacey Ashley, whose enthusiasm captures your attention. Dehn, meanwhile, puts out solid stories that are criminally overlooked. He recently broke a story that deserved a wider audience on how Winnipeg police have stopped looking at store surveillance tapes, which have criminals caught in the act, because there's a staffing shortage.

If there's one complaint with CTV it's that they're not using their location to its best advantage. When they moved downtown from Polo Park they broke a major story on the open drug dealing around Portage Place and Air Canada Park. Since then, they've gone to sleep on downtown stories. Not even after their own female employees were attacked in separate assaults did they focus attention on the lack of safety downtown, especially for women.

Global News….we had such high hopes for you. There's one word which used to describe Global: imagination. Or was that 'fun'? When Global's local newscast was at 5:30 they were unique in the then four-channel news universe. It was must-see TV. They were the spunky upstarts fighting for approval and they did it by taking unexpected angles to stories.

Then they moved to 6:00 and became like a child prodigy dumbing down to fit in with his playmates.

Once they were a sneeze away from overtaking CBC and becoming the #2 station in town behind CTV. Now, despite a valiant effort by its reporters, Global is settling into the basement slot. We recognize that Global's bankruptcy protection status weighs heavily on their staff and yet they've successfully adapted to the live hit universe, to the cut-and-thrust of competiton, turning out their share of exclusive stories. Their reporters are regularly poached away. And the loss of co-anchor Eva Kovacs may also affect viewer loyalty.

We still miss Andrea Slobodian at the weather map. (We did catch her once on her new gig with Channel 9. One word: huminahuminahumina.)

Global still has us turning to them first though. Their local news starts a minute before the others. After that, it's a dogfight.

Ladies and gentlemen, clickers ready...

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Shamattawa fire deaths may be linked to suicide

The second body found in a house destroyed by fire early Saturday morning on the Shamattawa Indian reserve will likely be identified as the mother of the missing 11-year-old boy who has already been named as the other victim.

RCMP and band residents know this but are apparently withholding the information because her death may be a suicide which preceded the fire, according to evidence provided in separate news stories from the community.

Pharoah Thomas, a Pentecostal pastor in Shamattawa, told the CBC on Tuesday that he "received a phone call early Saturday from a woman saying it would be the last time he ever heard from her and asked him to watch over her son. Then she hung up."

Thomas told the Globe and Mail the phone call came from the daughter of the homeowners. The missing 11-year-old boy is the grandson of the homeowners.

Although he is in the custody of Child and Family Services, he was on an authorized visit with his grandparents.

The pastor told the CBC he ran over to the home of the woman who called him and found it ablaze. He said he kicked the door open and crawled around to the various bedrooms, but was driven out by the fire.

He called the RCMP and, according to the RCMP press release, shortly after 4 a.m. officers were dispatched to the housefire. They met with Thomas, "(a) civilian at the scene (who) informed the RCMP members that he had spotted the house on fire, broke down the door and yelled out for anyone inside the residence without any response back. Due to flames and smoke no one could go inside the house."

Though this was well before dawn Saturday, it wasn't until the next day that RCMP located the owners of the house. They speak only Cree, but the RCMP said there was no communication problem. The grandparents said they had left the house to stay with friends when heating oil ran out. Nobody was in the house when they left, they said.

But that explanation fails to answer the most important questions.

Marie Lands, head of the Northern Authority that oversees the Awasis child welfare agency, said it could have been a case of miscommunication between the grandparents and the foster family each of whom may have believed the boy was in the other's care. That scenario fails to explain how the grandparents could have left their house without knowing where their grandson was. He obviously wasn't with them. So where did they think he was? At the foster parents? Well, when did they think he went there? How long was he gone from their care and control before they left their house, supposedly empty?

Did their daughter have a key to the house? How much time passed between the moment the grandparents locked the front door and the phone call to Pastor Thomas?

The fire must have been the talk of the reserve on Saturday, so why didn't the grandparents come forward on Saturday? Where were they? It's not like they could just drive down the road to the next town. There is no next town.

Again, its obvious that CFS had removed the 11-year-old from the mother's care. Why? Did the grandparents return the boy to his mother? Is that why they weren't immediately concerned about his well-being?

Many of the answers apparently lie with Pastor Thomas.

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