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, February 28, 2010

Your Sunday Funnies: You say you want a revolution ... well, you know...

The sound of the Children's Revolution falling flat on its face.

Ever since the boisterous rally at the University of Winnipeg in January against the prorogation of Parliament, the protest-boys and -girls have been spinning their wheels trying to find a way to, you know, matter.

First, Winnipeg organizer Chris Burnett quit. You would, too, if you found you had been played for a sucker.

After the posting of a photo of one of the protestors holding a Harper = Hitler sign, a mystery man named Dan stepped forward to say the sign holders were agents provacateurs and he saw and knew the evil Conservative controlling them. The rally goers were giddy at the thought they had the proof to bring down the Conservatives.

Except for the part where Dan disappeared without giving up a name or a photo or anything but the stench of a Liberal plant.

Undaunted, the protestors talked about using Louis Riel Day for an "action." maybe a skate to the Legislature in support of democracy.

Yes, nothing says democracy better than the memory of the insane meglomaniac who took power in an armed revolt during which he murdered his opposition.

Anyway, the plan fizzled because nobody knew how to skate. They discussed adopting a colour; you know like the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. The best suggestion was pink. The idea was dropped.

At their next meeting at Revolution Central (aka Cousins deli) they agreed that on-line petitions, letters to the editor, letters to individual MPs wouldn't have much impact as a group, so scrap that. There were, however, "some wonderful" ideas for t-shirts and coffee mugs which deserved consideration. What's real political dialogue without a t-shirt?

Finally, an unknown poet in Ontario, who brags on his website that he's not a Canadian patriot, built a cheap replica of the Parliamentary Mace and the prorogation protestors seized it as a prop. It was sent across the country to rally the troops against the Conservatives.

It was here on Thursday. Did you know? Did you rally?

Someone took pictures, like the Troll-on-a-holiday thing, and sent them to a website in Ottawa.

Phew, this revolution thing is hard, dude.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Deja Vu: The Manitoba Hydro movie starring Greg Selinger as himself

Manitoba Hydro is running scared.

This past week they have shown they will go to any extent---from breaching court orders to openly violating the Whistleblower Act---to silence a former consultant who has seen from the inside how they work.

Think back.
You've seen this movie before---starring Shermie Kreiner and Bernie Bellan in leading roles.
It was called Crocus, the Scandal.

- The principals of the Crocus Investment Fund strutted across this province like Medieval princes. Throwing around millions in an investment-starved desert, they too had plans to remodel Manitoba--- into a socialist paradise. And they would brook no opposition. They used their financial power to crush anyone who dared to challenge their exalted position.

- Crocus intimidated whistleblower Bernie Bellan into silence through threats of lawsuits and humiliated politician John Loewen by forcing him to eat crow in public and stop asking questions about Crocus business.

- They bitchslapped Opposition leader Stu Murray into ending all criticism of the fund and when Industry Minister Maryann Mihychuk tried to rein them in, they patted her on the head, told her to go back to her knitting, and informed her office they had approval for their actions from a "higher authority."

They were, they thought, above the law.

- Then they made a big mistake---they hired an honest man. Taking one look at the books, he blanched, then ran to the Manitoba Securities Commission.

- Within months, the Ponzi-scheme that Crocus had become turned into a pile of rubble.

In the remake, Manitoba Hydro hires an honest woman. But the "higher authority" reprises his role: none other than Greg Selinger, the dirtiest politician in the province.

In Crocus, the Scandal, he was the Finance Minister with a secret backchannel used by Crocus CEO Sherman Kreiner to address problems that were holding Crocus back, problems like the law.

In Hydro, the Scandal, he's the unelected Premier of the province, giving Hydro CEO Bob Brennan a very public nod and wink to assure him that Hydro's problems will be, ahem, taken care of to Bob's satisfaction. You are, he hinted to Brennan, above the law.

Up to now, Manitoba Hydro's only bete noire has been the Public Utilities Board, their official overseer. And they knew how to deal with the PUB in the past---through indifference. The PUB would huff and puff and demand documents from Hydro, and Bob Brennan would nod and smile and reply 'yeah, sure' and ignore them.

Then the PUB would issue an order for the rate increase Hydro wanted, followed by begging for the information they already asked for, and the pas de deux would start over again.

Not this time.

Bolstered by the Hydro whistleblower's official complaint to the Manitoba Ombudsman, the PUB has stiffened its spine. Feigned cooperation is over, and compliance is in. Manitoba Hydro has finally coughed up internal risk reports that the PUB asked for in 2008.
And they're expecting a rough ride when the PUB holds hearings in June on the next rate increase Hydro wants.

And no wonder.

Last spring, the PUB outlined its concerns about Manitoba Hydro (MANITOBA Order No. 32/09).

The revelations from the Hydro whistleblower will have to be hair-raising to top the nightmare scenario the PUB has painted of Hydro's plans:

The Manitoba Public Utilities Board says:

*Hydro intends to build power plants, which we won't need ourselves for 15-20 years, to supply electricity to American customers

* Manitoba customers will be subsidizing the power to the U.S. for years after those dams are built because costs will exceed revenue, which, itself, may be seriously overstated.

* Since 2000, Hydro has been selling 115 percent of the hydro power we produce, relying on imports and stored water to make up the difference. Hydro "may be seriously overstating likely export revenues" by assuming sales of 115 percent and "even as high as 120% at times".

* In a drought year we'll have to buy out contracts for non-delivery or import more power but Hydro hasn't budgeted for covering more than a 10 percent shortfall through imports or natural gas generated power.

* The dam building spree will roughly double Manitoba's long-term debt (Hydro's share will rise from $7 billion to $19.4 billion by 2028). And Hydro will be paying more than $1 billion a year in interest. Yes, you read that right. MORE THAN ONE BILLION A YEAR IN INTEREST.

* Hydro says its doable, but the PUB asks how, since Hydro is assuming the Canadian dollar will be trading at 84 cents U.S. (today it's about 10 cents higher) and average export prices for power will have to double in 8 years.

Given that Hydro's last prediction was that global warming taxes would price coal out of the market by 2011, you can understand the PUB's doubt.

But Hydro has an ultimate fallback position, which itself scares the PUB. The Board wrote that "the high-risk components" of Hydro's 20-year plan includes:

*The presumption that domestic rates are available to absorb losses related to droughts, infrastructure failure and/or under-performing export markets.

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Who do you believe? Them or your lying eyes?

The pictures don't lie, wrote Winnipeg Sun editorialist Paul Rutherford.

No, for that we depend on "professional" reporters, Winnipeg Sun columnists and editorial writers.

The mainstream media has been all a-twitter over a surveillance video which shows the arrest of a drunk car thief. The description of what's on the video has grown wilder by the day, culminating in Tom Brodbeck's grotesque declaration that he sees an unrestrained flurry of kicks and punchs on a handcuffed prisoner.

"I've watched the video over and over again…" says Brodbeck. Try it with your eyes open next time.

Watch the video for yourself. The entire surveillance video is available on the Winnipeg Free Press website. The Sun has an abridged version.

Then find someone with dial-up Internet connection. That way the video plays in frame-by-frame slow motion. Watch it again.

Here's what you will see:

The complete video runs 3 minutes 26 seconds. The arrest takes less than 45 seconds. The police use of physical force occurs twice, six seconds the first time and less than four seconds the second time.

The video begins with a shot of an empty compound of a business on Notre Dame. Headlights flash across the lot. At the bottom right, car thief Cody Bousquet appears, on foot. He stops and looks to his right. A police car pulls up at the top right of the frame and the driver's door opens, but you can't see who gets out.

Bousquet stands listening to the unseen driver of the cruiser car. He's wearing a three-quarter length parka and holding something black in his left hand. He turns his back to the policeman and starts to kneel, still clutching the object in his hand.

The policeman outside the cruiser car rushes over to Bousquet and shoves him to the ground with his left hand; he's holding a gun in his right. Bousquet sprawls on his stomach, then turns his upper body to his left, facing the officer (Officer A). The other policeman in the car (Officer B) rushes over, drops behind Bousque on his knees, and tries to control him.

Two other policeman walk into frame and stand nearby, watching the arrest and taking no part. Suddenly a third policeman (Officer C) runs into frame from the right. He circles around Bousquet's head, crouches momentarily to look at something, then leaps in to grab…what? . You can't see what because Bousquet's is blocked from the camera by Officer A's body.

Officer C, who we now know is Constable Ryan Law, then drops to his knees and struggles with Bousquet who won't give up whatever he's holding. Officer A stands and watches as Officers B and C try to control Bousquet. Ten seconds have passed.

Another policeman arrives, Officer D. He, too, kneels beside Bousquet. A is still at Bousquet's back, D is facing him, and C is to D's left over Bousquet's upper body.

Three other policemen are standing nearby, observing the struggle.

15 seconds in, you can see Bousquet pulling Officer C's coat. Otherwise all you see is the bodies of the three policemen over top of him.

Officer C throws an elbow strike, followed by three punches. Officer D lands three knees to Bousquet's body. Look carefully, as the second knee is launched you can see Officer B pull something from his belt, presumably the Taser.

There's a further pile-on and. A fourth policeman (Officer E) has been watching the scuffling quartet. He circles around to the top of the frame then crouches down, looking closely at Bousquet.

Officer C throws another 3 punches, and Officer B another two knees.

Bousquet is face down and his left knee bends up, perhaps indicating this is when he's shocked by the Taser. Bousquet is wearing a parka, making the use of a Taser problematic but Constable Law, in his written statement about the incident, said the officer with the Taser used it against Bousquet's right buttock, presumably under the parka.

Officer E lunges into the huddle to grab something. Bousquet lies limp, showing the effect of the Taser.

All the policemen except Officer D stand up. Officer D searches him. He tosses what appears to be a cell phone into the snow behind him. Constable Law who was bareheaded, PUTS ON A TOUQUE.

Is that what Bousquet had in his hand or was holding onto so strongly?

Another cruiser car pulls up as Officer D ministers to Bousquet. D lifts Bousquet to his feet. His hands are handcuffed behind his back. He is led to the top cruiser and the police at the scene drift off to their respective police cars.

CBC reported:
"Bousquet is quickly surrounded by police, some kneeing him while he is lying down and being handcuffed. Much of the video shows four officers pinning him down, while some punch and knee him further."

Absolutely false. CBC wants you to believe Bousquet was being pinned down by some police officers while others wantonly punched and kicked him. The video show exactly the opposite. The police struggled with him, used force as they were trained and in a restrained manner, and when they finally had him under control, handcuffed him. Up to eight policemen were around Bousquet in the 45 seconds it took to subdue the drunk and belligerent car thief, but never more than 3 were wrestling with him at any given moment.

Tom Brodbeck of the Winnipeg Sun wrote:

"Still, there appears to be no reason whatsoever for cops to start punching and kicking the suspect even if he was resisting arrest."
"Judging by this video, there appeared to be no reason whatsoever to administer the kind of beating cops did in this case.This was police rage, plain and simple, and it had nothing to do with good policing or law and order."

Absolutely false. What "kind of beating"? The arresting officers didn't launch themselves at Bousquet, punching and kicking at will. The police used a minimum amount of force to get the suspect under control and under arrest. There was no "beating." Had Bousquet stopped struggling with police in the first 15 seconds, there would have been no punches and no knee strikes. It was only after two-count 'em---two Taser jolts that Bousquet stopped resisting police.

The Winnipeg Free Press quoted Crown attorney Mick Makar on why he went soft on a car thief who tried to ram police in a cruiser car. Makar dropped charges of car theft and assault with a weapon and accepted a plea bargain to charges of assaulting a police officer and dangerous driving to ensure that Bousquet got the lowest sentence possible.

"Crown attorney Mick Makar said Bousquet would have been looking at a penitentiary sentence, were it not for the damning evidence of the security video. Makar appeared to blame the officers' actions on adrenaline.

"The whole incident is only a matter of minutes," Makar said. "So you can imagine everyone's hearts were racing at the time."

If anybody's heart was racing, it was Bousquet's. Here he is, an experienced car thief, having the time of his life trying to maim or kill police by ramming their cars, then driving like a maniac while endangering other drivers and pedestrians until he's finally cornered. What a rush.

Brodbeck decided to use his vast experience of sitting at a computer keyboard to give police advice on how to arrest a resisting criminal.

"Use-of-force experts tell us all the time cops are trained to use their intermediary weapons when necessary to force compliance on suspects. They're not supposed to wrestle dangerous suspects to the ground because that puts officers at undue risk of injury, even death in rare circumstances.

Instead, police are supposed to shout commands at the suspect, in this case ordering him to the ground face-down with hands behind his back.
If he doesn't comply, an intermediary weapon like a Taser should be deployed until he does comply. Once the suspect is safely on the ground with hands behind his back, cops can handcuff him and make the arrest."

He forgot to mention what those same use-of-force experts say about using a Taser on a criminal wearing a parka in Winnipeg. Otherwise, it's obvious the Winnipeg police went by the book in making the arrest.

There are three lessons to be learned from the Bousquet arrest.

One. It demonstrates how dangerous the streets are for police night after night. Car thieves like Bousquet think nothing of trying to maim or kill police by ramming their stolen vehicles into cruiser cars. While making an arrest, police have always to expect that the suspect is armed, at the very least with a screwdriver.

Two. The police can expect to be sold out by the Crown attorneys every time. Makar chose to drop charges that were totally unrelated to the video --- the theft of the truck and the use of the truck to try and hit a police car. There is no reason he can give for failing his duty to the public by refusing to prosecute a car thief to the fullest extent of the law.

Three. Justice is supposed to be blind, not judges. Judge Ray Wyant said he didn't see "any evidence of overt resistance." According to the press, he said there was no excuse for the degree of force seen on the video.
"There are some people who would look at that video and say 'What's the big deal, he got what he deserved?' No amount of excessive force would ever be condoned by this court, no matter what the circumstances."

Wyant has never had to physically arrest anyone in his entire life. He's the kind of lawyer who gets a hernia carrying his lawbooks up the stairs. What does he know about "excessive force"? Have years of watching TV cop shows given him the experience to judge the reality of police life on the streets of Winnipeg? Were two punches acceptable, but four excessive?

The police used as much force as was necessary to get control of Bousquet's hands. Once he stopped struggling, they released him and stepped away. There is no sign at all to anyone but Ray "Mister McGoo" Wyant that they were punching and kicking him indiscriminately.

Wyant said he didn't see "overt resistance." Why the semantics? He obviously saw "resistance." The video is totally consistent with the police account of a suspect who refused to give up his hands to be handcuffed.

Wyant obviously saw that Bousquet had something in his left hand when he went down. The police had every right to suspect that was a weapon of some sort which had to be neutralized quickly.

If Wyant failed to spot the object, he needs to apologize to the police immediately.

Two years ago Wyant sentenced police officer Derek Harvey-Zenk to house arrest on a charge of dangerous driving. At the time he stood up to those who demanded he send Zenk to prison. He told the court:

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

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

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

What happened to that Ray Wyant?

It seems he got the message. If he wants to advance his career, he had better start listening to the mob.

Hold this torch and pass the noose, Ray.

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