The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Name:
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Selinger's new stadium, big enough to hold the ballooning provincial deficit.

There. That didn't take long, did it?

One week after the provincial budget, unelected Premier Greg Selinger has already overspent the projected deficit by $90 million.

The province will borrow the money to lend to to a millionaire so he can achieve his lifelong dream of owning a football team.
Who says this isn't a province of opportunity---for the rich and connected like Winnipeg's First Family of Millionaire Moochers, the Aspers.
baby brother David's big ideas to raise money to buy the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and build a new football stadium have gone nowhere.
So he went running to where all millionaire moochers go, to the government.

Sister Gail's sugar daddy was former premier Gary Doer who funnelled tens of millions of dollars of provincial tax money to her human rights museum. David now has his own sugar daddy in new-but-unelected premier Greg Selinger, the dirtiest politician in Manitoba, the man who propped up the Crocus Fund after it became a Ponzi scheme and who covered up the NDP's 1999 election fraud, after insisting on a letter exonerating himself from blame.

With the dust of the collapse of the Canwest media empire still in his ears, David Asper still fancies himself a captain of industry. Unfortunately, it appears, no bank will lend him a dime despite his collateral, three u-hauls full of Canwest stock.
Enter Selinger to save the day.

Greg Selinger announced this morning he will lend Asper $90 million to build a new stadium for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at the University of Manitoba. Asper is expected to come up with $10 million (Bwahahaha...ed.). Somebody else (the team?) will come up with another $15 million.

But Selinger is a poor loan shark. Asper will have six years to pay back the money (plus interest at going rates, we hope) or else he's lost his chance to own the team. He still plans to raise the money by developing a high end shopping mall at the site of the current football stadium near Polo Park.

If Asper fails (if, he says...ed) the province has a fallback, Selinger claimed. You see, he said, the province will consider the loan as an advance under the new Tax Increment Financing Act. If Asper fails (if, he says...ed) the taxes that will be collected on any development at the old stadium site will be used to cover the cost of the loan.

Uh....not so fast.

You see, the law is actually called The Community Revitalization Tax Increment Financing Act. Here's how then-Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Steve Ashton described the law when it was introduced in 2008:

"Under the new bill, properties or areas would be designated as development or revitalization zones and would then become eligible for TIF. This would mean that incremental property tax increases in the zone would be placed into a separate fund for time-limited period to pay for infrastructure and other economic supports in the zone. Once the zone is redeveloped, and the TIF zone is lifted the expanded tax base returns to the municipality, the province and the school division."

Since when is a football stadium in Fort Garry "in the zone" of Polo Park?
Legally, then, money raised from any development at Polo Park cannot be taken out of that "separate fund" and spent across town, can it?

Selinger is going to have to change the law to let him get away with using TIF money to backstop David Asper, just like he having to change the balanced budget law to let him overspend year after year after year after year.

The TIF Act was intended to "revitalize" neighbourhoods. Is there anyone who believes Polo Park needs "revitalization"? Or is the University of Manitoba so poor and decrepit it qualifies? This is a blatant misuse of the legislation to revitalize the NDP in vote-rich south Winnipeg.

And $90 million is just the start.
Who's going to cover cost overruns? Yeah, that's who.

And who's that in line? Oh yeah, that's who. Hello Gail.

Yep, the rest of the first family of millionaire moochers is lining up to put the touch on the Manitoba taxpayer.

Remember, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has a plan to come up with the $9 million in city taxes they "forgot" to budget for: get the money from the provincial government. Sadly, for Gail, her boyfriend Gary Doer is gone to Washington. But Selinger is playing Santa with the provincial treasury.
Shall we start a pool for the day he announces he's bailing Gail out of her problem? When's that election, again?

And speaking of the museum .... A sharp-eyed reader noticed that the backers of the museum claim they've raised anther $5 million towards their $45 million cost overrun. Ahh, remember the good ol' days when they held news conferences and exchanged grins while holding up huge mock donation cheques? Nowadays the donations seem to be thin envelopes passed in back alleys.

Gail Asper has turned into the 21st Century equivalent of television evangelists, begging for donations in weekly installments. Even worse is the pathetic piggybacking on the causes of others.

The Panache International Model & Talent Search will be held April 17 at Portage Place. Registration fees this year will be donated to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Oww.

And remember the performance by comedienne Joan Rivers at The Live This Life Expo at the Fort Garry Hotel which so disgusted Free Press columnist Lindor Reynolds? How many of you read the small print?
" Tickets to the gala, which includes a "diamond champagne dinner" are $175 each ($1,750 per table) with net proceeds to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights."

Unfortunately, Joan Rivers doesn't come cheap. Comedianbookings.com says her fee ranges from $100,000 and up, so "net proceeds" might have been paltry. How's a millionaire going to fund her pet project at that rate?

Oh yeah... Greg Selinger is the premier and he's writing cheques as fast as his scandal-stained hands can.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Who ya gonna call? The skinny on the Disraeli Bridge misdirection


Five weeks ago, The Black Rod got an e-mail from a resident of Point Douglas.

He was frustrated at getting nowhere with city officials as he tried to get information on the plans for the Disraeli Bridge reconstruction. Actually, "nowhere" would have been one step closer than he got. The stone wall on information was so thick he couldn't even get acknowledgement that anyone had heard his knock.

"Can you help?" he wrote.

"Give us a couple of days," we replied.

We quickly determined this was a story that needed as wide exposure as possible. As many as 14 homes in Elmwood were threatened with expropriation and the elected "representatives" of Point Douglas and Elmwood were ducking all questions from residents of the area.

Our correspondent had taken his story to the mainstream media, particularly the Winnipeg Free Press and CBC, and had been given the brush-off from the "professional journalists." No story here, they said.

We put him in touch with Marty Gold, host of The Great Canadian Talk Show, Kick FM's drive home talk show, who has become the go-to guy on City Hall issues in the city. Suddenly, the residents of the North End had a voice. A LOUD voice.

Our e-mailer carpet-bombed the airwaves with stunning information:

* At least 14 homeowners on the Elmwood side of the Red River would be expropriated, or hope they had been expropriated, because the City was taking over their front yards for the new bridge.

* One resident of Elmwood had spent thousands of dollars last summer remodelling his home to upgrade the neighbourhood, only to discover that now the value of his house and the houses of his neighbours would be equal to the lean-to's thrown up by squatters along the riverbank.

* City officials being paid to "communicate" with the public said they couldn't talk to anyone until contracts were signed with the bridge builders, by when it would be too late to have any input on the design of the bridge.

* The North End has become a black hole in the city as the so-called representatives of the area, Councillors Mike Pagtakhan (Point Douglas) and Harry Lazarenko (Mynarski), and MLA "Invisible" George Hickes (NDP-Point Douglas), refuse to answer phone calls or e-mails, or otherwise answer questions or provide information to their constituents.

Pagtakhan owes his allegiance to the Filipino voters in the west end of his riding and Lazarenko is elected by voters in West Kildonan, meaning both of them can ignore the North End.

Hickes, who lives in south St. Vital but "represents" Point Douglas, has been the Speaker of the Legislature for a decade, during which he's refused to go to bat for his constituency by claiming he can't be involved in partisan disputes.

But we had managed to turn up the heat and it was burning the city flacks.

Suddenly our correspondent was being invited to "information" meetings on the Disraeli Bridge. Except that little information was being passed along.

Then-- surprise, surprise--this past Friday, the city's Disraeli Bridge website exploded with news.

Yes, there might be expropriations, they said belatedly. Maybe a couple.

And the new bridge would affect 7 other "residential properties" and 10 "business properties." The exact locations was confidential. There would be meetings soon to inform residents of the city's plans.

Guess what? The same professional journalists who told our e-mailer they weren't interested in his story suddenly became very interested.

The Winnipeg Free Press carried a story about the expropriations on Saturday. CBC and CTV did their bits on Monday. And Tuesday morning CBC Radio had their own interviews.

The coverage was abysmal, although we did learn the city plans to take chunks out of the front yards of homes on Riverton Avenue after paying the homeowners a whopping $1000 for their land.

CTV's Susan Tymofichuk insisted on using city hall jargon.

Hey Sue, you know those "residential properties" you keep talking about? They're somebodies' HOMES.

One of those homeowners had a map of the affected houses in her neighbourhood; CTV didn't bother showing it. Why confuse viewers with the facts?

Nobody with the MSM seems to understand the story at all.

Nobody mentioned that city councillors shed their responsibility for the Disraeli Bridge in a vote to make unelected Glen Laubenstein, the city's top bureaucrat, the Bridge Czar. He has complete authority to rebuild the Disraeli with no city input. AND, he has no accountability to anyone.

The Disraeli Bridge debacle has been a charade from the beginning.

The mayor and council had one goal and one goal only---to avoid a repeat of the famous picture by Winnipeg Tribune photographer Frank Chalmers showing a devastated old woman leaning her babushkaed head against the door to her expropriated home as the tears ran down her face.

First they pretended to have public "consultations" on a structure to replace the existing Disraeli Bridge. Three options were offered and the public was asked which they preferred --- as if they actually had any say in the matter, which they didn't.

One option was announced with great fanfare, except that the city was holding secret talks with a bicycle lobby group that wanted something different. So, lo and behold, the city made Disraeli announcement #2 revealing plans to build two, count 'em, two bridges---one for cars and one for bicycles. And no, the public would not get to discuss the plans.

Then, months of silence. Months during which the NDP used the pending closure of the Disraeli Bridge as an election ploy in a federal byelection and a provincial byelection. Suddenly came still another announcement---a new plan for still another bridge, or was it two? There was going to be a new Disraeli Bridge, and a bicycle bridge attached to the plan.

And no, the public would have no say in it despite the added $50 million cost, a cost explicitly rejected in the first set of public meetings.

But now we see the real game.

1) First, make the area residents think they have a say.

2) Co-opt the one group that could cause some embarassment by having secret talks that make them think they actually have the final say.

3) But above all, never ever say a word about expropriations until it's too late for the people to do anything about it. They can't get their political reps to raise a stink because they have no reps.

4) And stress the good news, the bridge will stay open during construction, saving commuters ... 10 minutes a trip.

'sall good.

The story might have had a different outcome if the mainstream media had done their job when it mattered, instead of playing catch-up to The Black Rod and The Great Canadian Talk Show.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Selinger's vision: Spend Spend Spend, Tax Tax Tax

It had all the perverse fascination of a two-headed calf.

Finance Minister Rosann Wowchuk, who can barely speak English at the best of times, was mumbling and bumbling her way through her first budget. Her shellshocked NDP colleagues sat in stunned silence. They could barely rouse themselves to slap their hands together once or twice at the obligatory applause lines. You hear more enthusiasm at a funeral.

The government of unelected Premier Greg Selinger was laying out its vision for Manitoba for the next five years: SPEND. SPEND. SPEND.

Yup, the NDP is going to spend its way out of the recession.

Gone is the pragmatic social democrat Gary Doer. In his place is doctrinaire socialist Greg Selinger. Deficits are good, balanced budgets are bad, said Wowchuk, his handpicked finance minister.

In the good times past, the NDP spent every cent they could get their hands on. And in the current hard times, they're going to spend billions of dollars (they don't have) more.

Let's see...what do you call borrowing your face off when interest rates are at their highest so you can maximize your debt?

New Democononics.

Wowchuk said that Manitoba will be $602 million in the hole in the year that ends this Thursday, March 31.
Next year, she predicts, we'll only spend $545 million more than we have.
And in the four years after that, according to Wowchuk's budget, almost another billion dollars of red ink will swamp the government books.

She's going to start raiding the cookie jar, the rainy day fund set up by the Conservatives in the Nineties, to pay off this year's debt by $47 million, so that the cooked books will show the NDP ran a deficit of $555 million.

After that, the sky's the limit.

The recession officially ended in Canada last year, but the NDP plans to spend every cent in the "rainy day" fund over the next five years, about $600 million worth.

They say that will still leave $200 million, but that's another, er, whopper by unelected premier Greg Selinger, the dirtiest politician in Manitoba.

The only reason the NDP won't be able to touch that rest of the money for its pet projects is because it is dedicated by law for health care, federal law which the NDP can't change.

Here's the punch line of the budget: Selinger says his government will limit spending over the next five years to an average of 1.8 percent a year, while annual revenue will grow to 3.2 percent.

Bwahahahahah. Good one, Greg.

Let's see...according to the record:
In 2007-2008, the NDP overspent their budget by $264 million.
In 2008-2009, the NDP overspent their budget by $321 million.
In 2009-2010, the NDP overspent their budget by $421 million.

In three years, the NDP overspent their budgets by a billion dollars.

If they had simply kept to their budgets, we wouldn't need to borrow money.

If anyone's betting they'll stay within budget this year, next year or the year after that, we're in.

Not to mention, how can a government spend a billion dollars without the approval of the Legislature? That's a question for Opposition Leader Hugh McFadyen.

It's a question he had better start asking fast.

If the NDP manages to get past the next election, scheduled for 2011, they'll start singing the second chorus of Selinger's song for socialists: TAX TAX TAX.

That provincial sales tax seems awfully small at 7 percent next to Ontario's 13 percent HST, doesn't it?

Of course, the last government that tried to spend its way out of a recession was in Ontario, headed by Bob Rae when he was still a New Democrat. A one-term premier, his legacy was to make the NDP radioactive with less chance of winning an election than the provincial Liberals in Manitoba.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Sam Katz 2, Greg Selinger 0

We knew there was something wrong with the picture.

They came together at a "hastily called" news conference to announce a deal to provide Winnipeg with a police cadet program. Days earlier they had been calling each other liars over claim and counter-claim that the provincial government under Gary Doer had promised to fund the program in full.

So why was Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz grinning from ear to ear? He hadn't won the pissing match; he lost. The city will have to fund half the program, money which wasn't budgeted for.

And why was Manitoba Justice Minister Andrew Swan wearing a frowny-face? He hadn't lost the pissing match; he won. The mayor and police chief did a lot of yapping, but when push came to shove, they caved and agreed to pay half, exactly what the public expected to happen.

Thursday we got our answer.

The Opposition Tories were leading the NDP under unelected premier Greg Selinger by seven points in the latest election poll.

Swan had been taken to the woodshed and soundly spanked. The last thing Selinger needs now is a public fight over a popular public safety measure against a popular mayor AND the police chief.

As the dirtiest politician in the province, Selinger has his own baggage to bring to an election.

As Finance Minister, Selinger propped up the Crocus Investment Fund even after it turned into a Ponzi scheme and swallowed the savings of thousands of Manitobans. While Crocus ran a secret information back-channel directly to Selinger's office keeping him abreast of its sinking fortunes, he knew that if things went bad he could always lay the blame on Industry Minister Maryann Mihaychuk whose department was ostensibly responsible for the fund.

It did and he did.

Selinger covered up, as long as he could, the 1999 NDP election fraud which saw NDP candidates file phony expense claims to justify tens of thousands of dollars in rebates they weren't entitled to. But first he got a letter from the NDP head office exonerating him of any blame, leaving his campaign agent to take the heat in case the fraud was made public.

Do you see a pattern here?

An NDP whistleblower finally revealed the NDP election fraud last year, but by then another whistleblower had enmeshed the government in allegations of enormous waste and mismanagement by Manitoba Hydro, the utility overseen by none other than Greg Selinger as Minister with responsibility for Hydro.

Instead of insisting the matter be investigated promptly, as required by the NDP's own Whistleblower Protection Act, Selinger did nothing while the complaint languished for months. Then he very publicly offered his support to Bob Brennan, Hydro's CEO, who was doing his best to breach the Act by identifying and villifying the whistleblower despite alleged protection in the Act against this very thing.

Selinger is not popular with the ladies, according to the Angus Reid poll.

Setting up one woman to take the blame for a failed investment company and dismissing another woman's work before its even been investigated aren't acts that will warm him to their hearts.

Neither will the sight of an imperious government minister looking down his nose at the Mayor and the Chief of Police and sneering at their efforts to put more police on the streets without raising property taxes.

Katz was smiling because he's come out the winner (in the public's eyes) in two nose-to-nose confrontations with the provincial government---for funding of a police helicopter and, now, partial funding of a police cadet program.

The mayor has fashioned the coming civic election into a fight between him and the NDP. It's the little guy non-politician fighting to stop the ideological NDP machine from taking over city hall.

With the NDP smarting from the poll results, despite their protestations to the contrary, Katz has undercut the value of the party's endorsation of any mayoral candidate. But he's also launched a preemptive strike against anyone running for council under the NDP banner.

With six months to go before the civic election campaign, the score is:
Sam 2 Selinger Zip

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

March Farce: The Free Press defends its Ottawa shill

We had no sooner started our spring cleaning--which consists of clearing our desks of stories we haven't gotten around to---when the first story we picked up almost caused us to spit out our morning coffee.

Winnipeg Free Press Editor Margo Goodhand had written an "open letter" to Manitoba MP Vic Toews defending the FP's Parliament reporter Mia Rabson. She is not a Liberal Party shill, declared Goodhand.

"Mia Rabson's just doing her job."

"She's a good reporter..."

Rabson "accurately depict(s) what's going on, as she has all along," according to Goodhand.

Bwahahahaha.

We needed a good larf.

Right there in our story pile was the proof of how "accurately" Rabson depicts what's going on.

The week before Parliament reconvened, Rabson went to work--- on the Conservatives.

For the Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010, paper, she wrote a story not-so-subtly accusing the Conservatives of hypocrisy for scuttling their own tough-on-crime legislation by proroguing Parliament while blaming the Liberals for stalling the legislation in the Senate.

First quote: Anita Neville, Liberal, Manitoba, who attacked the Conservatives for accusing her party of being soft on crime. When Toews said Mia Rabson has Anita Neville on her speed dial, he wasn't kidding.

Second quote: a Toronto university professor who attacked the Conservatives for using crime to win votes. "It's a populist kind of politics...Proroguing killed all their crime legislation" sniffed Peter Russell. Russell's credentials include accusing Stephen Harper of putting "parliamentary democracy in danger" and silencing opponents through tactics "characteristic of authoritarian governments."

Third quote: a spokesman for an Ontario defence lawyers association who, you guessed it, attacked the Conservatives--- for being too tough on criminals and not addressing "the root causes" of crime. Andras Schrek may have been thinking of his client, Kenneth Wagner, second in command of the Niagara chapter of the Hells Angels, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison as the first person in Ontario to be convicted of directing others to act for a criminal organization.

One, two, three....Rabson went to all the proper left-wing sources.

Somehow she couldn't find a real human being to defend the get-tough-on-crime legislation, so she used polls.

Then she used Stats Canada and her university egghead to contradict the polls and insist crime is down, even violent crime.

Bwahahahaha. Oh, stop....

Rabson spun a story of the Liberals being falsely accused of scuttling crime bills when it's the Conservatives who are really to blame.

"For the last year, any time Liberals in the Senate attempted to make amendments to a crime bill, they were accused of "gutting" the legislation."

Without going into details, she claimed two justice bills were passed before prorogation with a third well on its way. "If Parliament hadn't prorogued, the auto-theft bill could have finished its ride through the Senate and received royal assent in January."

Not so fast... The story changes radically when the truth is re-inserted.

The Conservatives tried to get three major crime bills through Parliament last year. One would eliminate the two-for-one credit for criminals who couldn't get bail before they were convicted. Another would make auto-theft a crime in itself, carrying tough penalties. And a third imposed mandatory minimum jail terms for drug traffickers.

The "dead time" bill passed in a fashion, but only because the Conservatives compromised on how much of a break to give criminals. Instead of insisting that an eventual sentence be reduced no more than one-for-one for the time held without bail pending conviction, the Conservatives accepted one-for-one-and-a-half.

The bill to drop the hammer on drug traffickers was amended by the Liberals in the Senate to remove some of the mandatory minimum provisions. It was awaiting final approval when Parliament prorogued, but even then it does not mean the bill would have passed.

It would have been returned to the House of Commons where MP's could either accept the Liberal amendments or overrule them and ping pong the bill back. Even a minor amendment by the Liberals effectively scuttled the bill.

Note how carefully Rabson tried to suggest the auto-theft bill was a hairsbreadth away from passage. It "could have" received royal assent in January, she said. Could have? Yeah, like you "could" report the truth.

There was no way the auto-theft bill would have survived the Liberal Senate control intact. The Liberals would have amended it to remove some of the mandatory minimum provisions, which they oppose on principle. It then would have joined the drug bill in boomeranging back and forth between the houses of Parliament.

"Mia Rabson's just doing her job." wrote Margo Goodhand.

We know her job.

She's following in the footsteps of former Parliament reporter Paul Samyn whose super-cozy relationship with the Liberals in Ottawa meant that the Free Press got leaked every government report a day before the rest of the press and he could boast an "exclusive."

What did the FP give in exchange, to ensure those exclusives kept coming?

When the Liberals got booted out of office, Samyn's "exclusives" dried up. But you've got to keep priming the pump if you hope the well will fill up some day, don't you?

Mia Rabson's just doing her job.

Too bad the job doesn't include accurately reporting the news.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Brennan admits Hydro financial forecasts rejigged, denies adopting whistleblower recommendation


Manitoba Hydro CEO Bob Brennan dropped a barrage of bombshells on legislators Monday.

At the same jaw-dropping meeting Liberal Party leader Jon Gerrard revealed the first details of the Hydro whistleblower's controversial 2008 report to Brennan, while the Conservative's new Hydro critic Rick Borotsik mocked the consultant and her advice to Hydro prompting Brennan to (reluctantly) come to her defence.

And NDP Hydro Minister Rosann Wowchuk said the government is satisfied knowing that the whistleblower's complaint has languished for 15 months already, with no end in sight, because "the legislation is working."

Given the gush of important Hydro news, we've delayed our planned evisceration of CBC's The Fifth Estate to do what the Mainstream Media failed to do---report the news.
********************

Bob Brennan revealed the following to the Crown Corporations Committee:

* Hydro's revenues from U.S. sales are off this year almost $40 million because of the recession and Hydro expects them to be another $41 million lower next year.
* Hydro's 75:25 debt-to-equity ratio will deteriorate for the next 14 years before stabilizing and slowly improving to (a delusional) 50:50
* Hydro is already contemplating the possibility that prospective American customers won't pay the high prices Hydro has pencilled in for its future power sales and says in that case one or more of the planned new dams won't be built
* Hydro will announce in May which route they've chosen for the Bipole III power line from northern Manitoba, then begin consultations and negotiations to buy rights-of-way
* Hydro has adopted (without admitting it) the whistleblower's major recommendation on how to maximize profit from hydro sales
* Hydro scoffs at Mayor Sam Katz's lawsuit, for $10 million in uncollected city tax on hydro sales since 1999, because the statute of limitations has passed.
* Nevertheless, Hydro has asked the province to pass legislation clarifying Hydro's responsibility to collect the tax

And finally,
* In their rush to hire KPMG to refute the whistleblower's concerns with Hydro management of Manitoba's water resources, they signed an open-ended contract meaning they don't know how much money they're going to pay KPMG.

For the first time, through Liberal leader Gerrard, we've learned that a key point raised by the Hydro whistleblower was for Hydro to keep the water level in Lake Winnipeg, Hydro's reservoir, higher than it has in the past, but within the legislated limit.

A blustering Brennan first denied that Hydro had begun doing just that, but reluctantly conceded that it may, coincidentally, be doing just that.

Mr. Gerrard:
...what was being recommended, before this e-mail apparently, was that the Manitoba Hydro operate at a level of 712.5. And as she points out, in this e-mail, and provides some graphs, that in fact, the level of 712.5 is quite a dangerous level in terms of putting you at rather high risk if there's a drought.
...and that this recommendation for a 713.7‑foot level was a critical recommendation. Now, I mean, the interesting thing is that since this report, you know, I can see that the spring of 2009 and the current year, you're keeping very close to the 713.7 levels in the pre-flood over the pre-spring runoff period. So, clearly, you seem to have adopted the recommendations of the whistle-blower in this September 29th e-mail. Would you concede that?

Mr. Brennan: Definitely not. I don't think there's anywhere we've accepted anything. But I'm not the best one to talk about hydrology and hydraulics, but I–nothing's been brought to my attention that we thought was something we should implement.

Mr. Gerrard: And yet the interesting thing is that you're following exactly her recommendations in how you operate the lake levels in the period since then, and–

Floor Comment: I don't think we're operating to that at all.
Mr. Chairperson: Mr. Brennan.
Mr. Brennan: I think that's the way it worked out, if that, in fact, is the case.

Tory Hydro critic Rick Borotsik, however, thought the whistleblower deserved to be denigrated.

Noting that Hydro is selling slightly more power to the U.S. than last year, but is earning substantially less money, Borotsik demonstrated how little he knew about Manitoba Hydro and the former consultant.

Mr. Borotsik: So selling a lot of volume for very little return does not make for good business, at least, any of the business that I've known. Just because you sell volume doesn't necessarily mean that you're making money or making margins.
Mr. Brennan: Most businesses are subject to market prices and that's–so is Manitoba Hydro.
Mr. Borotsik: Unless they're fixed rates and people pay those fixed rates.

************
Mr. Borotsik: Was that part of the concerns that the consultant had with respect to the–perhaps, lost value to the power sales?
Mr. Brennan: If I remember correctly, the contractor wanted to not have fixed contracts. The contractor thought it'd be in our interest to just–well, just let the price float, and whatever it is it is, and by doing that there was a expectation that we'd have more revenue than we would under a fixed price.
Mr. Borotsik: She must have been very happy with your operation to date because, obviously, with the floating rates, she must have been happy with that.

Although Brennan never had a good word to say about the consultant/whistleblower otherwise, he eventually realized the extent of Borotsik's ignorance and tried to present some context for the discussion about fixed or floating prices.

Mr. Brennan: What we want to do is sell as much as we can on prime time, when the prices are highest, and that's pretty well what we do.

****

Mr. Brennan: ... if we get low flows, it is really, really costly to Manitoba Hydro. If we have high flows, we do better and, of course, we have the market to deal with, as well, at this particular point. So the power we sell on the export market of which this is anything above the median we can't sell at a fixed price.
You know, you can't sell power at a fixed price if you don't have it, and so that's the stuff we sell on the export market in or up to about–or whatever the market price is, and there's a lot of energy there.

****
Mr. Brennan: By the way, you couldn't make that firm. If you made that firm, you'd have to find a way to buy that power or find it in some other source and that would cost you a bundle, but–
Mr. Borotsik: ...I still don't understand. Are the water flows that much lower that you're anticipating, an 88–a drop of about $22 million in net earnings, a drop of about $300 million from 2007-2008. Are the water flows the concern–that why you're having such low net earnings forecast?
Mr. Brennan: No, it's not water flows at all. It's all price, and it's market price for this interruptible power that I was mentioning to you earlier.
Mr. Borotsik: So you're suggesting prices are going to be remaining quite low for 2010-2011, 2011-2012. They're going to be substantially lower than what they've been in 2007-2008.
So you're suggesting it's price that's causing the net incomes to drop, net earnings to drop?
Mr. Brennan: Absolutely.

In answer to persistent questions about the decision to proceed with a westside Bipole III, Hydro Minister Wowchuk said the government's hands were forced by American environmental groups and their local allies, some eastside Indian reserves. They threatened to denounce Hydro power as not "green" enough to be sold to American customers if the power line was built through boreal forest east of Lake Winnipeg.

Rather than delay the line for years while fighting legal and P.R. battles, the government caved and chose to build on the west side even though it will cost a half billion dollars more.

But Wowchuk showed her true partisan colours when pressed on the abysmal job the Ombudsman is doing enforcing the Whistleblower Act. Former Tory Hydro critic Cliff Cullen did the questioning (Q&A edited to remove the time-wasting palaver):

Mr. Cullen: A question for the minister: This whistle-blower allegation has been brought forward to the Ombudsman. It's been probably 15 months at least now since this issue has been brought forward, and I guess it's a real test for the relatively new legislation we have...Does the minister view that 15 months is expeditious?
Ms. Wowchuk:. I'm not sure what length of time it will take to complete this. I don't know.

Mr. Cullen:... I'm just curious in what role the government's going to take into making sure that the public interest is being addressed.
Ms. Wowchuk: ...–the Ombudsman is an independent office and the government cannot interfere with the Ombudsman's office.

Mr. Cullen: Well, that's contrary, Madam Minister, to what you said a few months ago when you asked the Auditor General to undertake this on a very expeditious manner. Can you explain to me the contradiction?
Ms. Wowchuk: It's not a contradiction...

Mr. Cullen: ...now you're saying you're not going to talk to the Ombudsman to have it dealt with in an expeditious manner. There's a real double standard here, Madam Minister, and I'm just–I'm trying to get an understanding of why there is a double standard.
Ms. Wowchuk: I don't believe there's a double standard.

Just how seriously the government is taking its own Whistleblower legislation was demonstrated by Selkirk MLA Greg Dewar. (Heavy sarcasm alert.)

Mr. McFadyen: The member for Selkirk (Mr. Dewar) just mentioned that the Ombudsman's report will come out in November of 2011 right after the election. Is that the position of the government?
Ms. Wowchuk: Mr. Chairman, and you know we often have side conversations at this table and I show respect for my other colleagues by not repeating–

An Honourable Member: –he was yelling it across the table.

Ms. Wowchuk
: Yes, well, the member opposite, the Leader of the Opposition has no respect for members making comments around the table. I would have to say the–[interjection]–when the Ombudsman makes her report we will–it'll be–her report will be tabled...

Mr. Cullen: The intent of the legislation is–whistle-blower protection act–do you feel that the act is actually protecting the whistle-blower in these particular circumstances?
Ms. Wowchuk: I have no reason to feel that it's not protecting the whistle-blower. I think the legislation is working.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Re-opening the Barbara Stoppel murder. Paging Inspector Clouseau

Winnipeg Police Chief Jack Ewatski made his bombshell announcement on June 8, 2000.

He said police were convinced that Thomas Sophonow did not kill Barbara Stoppel in 1981, a crime for which Sophonow had been convicted by two juries.

The public was stunned. Moreso because Ewatski (since retired) offered no reasons for his declaration other than saying a re-investigation of the case cleared Sophonow.

Over the years it became known that at the time the police had another man in their sights as the prime suspect in the Stoppel murder---a man with a lengthy police record, a man named Terry Arnold.

What the public didn't know was that by the day Ewatski publicly exonerated Sophonow, the case against Arnold had collapsed.

Not that that was a surprise.

The surprise, we've discovered, was that THE POLICE NEVER HAD A SHRED OF EVIDENCE AGAINST TERRY ARNOLD.

The case against him was a mishmash of conjecture, fantasy, and rumination, much of it by one of the policemen assigned to reexamine the Stoppel murder, Andrew Mikolajewski.

In June, 1999, a police constable was assigned to take a fresh look at the Stoppel file, to approach the evidence with "new eyes." In October, Mikolajewski joined the team that had begun to actively reopen the case.

Their focus was on Terry Arnold who had become a "person of interest." At first glance, you can see why:

* Arnold lived in the general neighbourhood of the Ideal Donut Shop where 16-year-old Barbara Stoppel worked and died.
* He occasionally had coffee at the Donut Shop and knew Stoppel from there.
* He said he had a crush on her.
* After she was attacked and before she was taken off life support, he tried to visit her in hospital and spoke with her mother, leaving her with his name and address.

*He had a fu-manchu moustache and wore a cowboy hat around the time of the murder, thereby matching elements of the composite drawing of the suspect.

Well, so much for the strongest evidence.

Police had nothing to show that Arnold was in the Ideal Donut Shop at the time of the murder. No fingerprints, no video, no eyewitnesses, no DNA.
They was nothing to link Arnold with the twine used to strangle Barbara Stoppel.

They had confirmation of elements of his alibi for his whereabouts at the time of the attack on Stoppel, namely that he was home, he got a ride downtown from a friend, he took a bus to a Salisbury House restaurant on Portage Ave., and he spent the rest of the evening there with his then-girlfriend who worked there.

One month before Jack Ewatski exonerated Tom Sophonow, the Crown determined that the sum total of the case against Terry Arnold could be summed up with these words: unless he confesses, you've got doodley squat.

So why did the police think Terry Arnold killed Barbara Stoppel?

The entire case against him was outlined in an affidavit for a search warrant submitted by Det. Sgt. Andrew Mikolajewski in March, 2001.

Filtering out the psychobabble by a policeman who watched Silence of the Lambs too many times, you're left with Arnold's criminal past. By the fall of 1999 he was in prison for the rape/murder of a 16-year-old girl. He was suspected in the disappearances of two other young women, both of whom went missing near where Arnold lived at the time. And he had been accused (and once convicted) of raping several friends and acquaintances.

None of which was evidence in the Stoppel case.

So Mikolajewski spiced up the case against Arnold with some armchair profiling he developed while earning his master's degree in criminal deviance.

He began by tweaking Arnold's appearance to make him a closer match to the composite drawing of the murder suspect drawn from the descriptions of eyewitnesses who saw the killer at point-blank range as he walked out of the donut shop and past them.

Barbara Stoppel's mother "did not particularly think that Arnold looked like the suspect", he acknowledged. But police twice interviewed Arnold within a week and found, in Mikolajewski's words, he was "somewhat similar in appearance".

Except that the description of the "Cowboy Killer" was a definitely tall, definitely slim man, standing 6'1" to 6'3" and weighing anywhere from 145 to 185 pounds. Arnold was definitely average in height at 5'11" and on the hefty side at 196 pounds. Sophonow was 6'5" tall.

And the killer was described as in his Twenties. Arnold was all of 19-years-old. But, said Mikolajewski, he looked older and could pass for 29!

Arnold lived on Cromwell Street, about half a mile southwest of the Dominion Shopping Centre where the Ideal Donut Shop was located. Five minutes away and with a direct view of the front door of the donut shop, is how Mikolajewski described it. Yeah, with a telescope on a clear day.

When police came to interview Arnold on Dec. 31, 1981, he produced a "diary" to show he had already spoken to police two days earlier. "It is the writer's opinion that this "documentation" is consistent with what an offender of this kind would make," stated Mikolajewski in his affidavit.

Arnold admitted shopping at the Dominion Store for milk and bread on the day Stoppel was attacked. Aha, said Mikolajewski. "In essence Arnold places himself near the Murder scene on the day of the offence" he declared in bold print.

Yeah, except that Sophonow said he was at the Consumer's Distributing store in the same mall on the same day---and---was by his account, coincidentally, at the nearby St. Boniface Hospital bringing Christmas candies at about the very moment doctors were trying to resuscitate Stoppel. Hmmm.

After speaking with police, Arnold called to say he knew a man who matched the description of the suspect. "It is this writer's opinion that ARNOLD was attempting to divert attention away from himself by implicating another person," wrote Mikolajewski.

(You want a laugh? When Mikolajewski got Sophonow's files from his lawyer in 2000, they included statements from two "witnesses" (names he withheld) who said they were in the Ideal Donut Shop the afternoon of the attack on Barbara Stoppel and they saw Terry Arnold there bothering her!)

M. writes that Arnold "admitted to once having a crush on Barbara Stoppel, so he went to the hospital to check on her condition."

"It is my opinion that this does not appear to be a genuine concern on ARNOLDS part since:
a) He indicates that he has only known her for a short period of time.
b) His psychological profile presents him as focusing on "I" and "me" and not 'others' least of all what could be labeled a "generalized other."

It may be presented that ARNOLD at this time is not concerned for her well being but rather for his own. If she recovers he may be discovered."

Barbara Stoppel was 16, 5'7" tall, weighed 110 pounds and had a 38-inch bust. It's our opinion it wouldn't take long for a teenaged boy to develop a crush on her. One smile, a short conversation and BOOM. No "I's" or "me's" or "others" necessary.

But not Mikolajewski. He declares that "Background reports and subsequent psychological workbooks suggest that Arnold presented himself as a classic Psychopath who would be drawn to pretty young women."

You have to be a psychopath to be drawn to pretty young women? Say what?

"A friendly glance would be suggestive of a longing relationship while any form of denial would imply rejection. Rejection in turn would give rise to rage."

For this psychobabble they award master's degrees.

Juries, however, rely on evidence, of which there was none.

Mikolajewski was aware of that. He also knew time was running out.

On March 9, 2000, police interviewed Arnold in jail where he was serving his murder sentence and waiting to hear about his appeal. He didn't confess.
They searched his mother's house for "written materials which may hide information concerning his involvement in the murder of Barbara Stoppel."

They didn't find anything incriminating.

They ramped it up a notch. Mikolajewski wanted a search warrant for the home of Ken Biener, the retired lead detective in the Sophonow investigation. Exhibits in the case had been destroyed over the past 18 years and Mikolajewski felt Biener was holding Stoppel's underwear, her shoes and socks and "A Kleenex with mucus believed to be the killers."

Biener agreed to an interview and brought with him what exhibits he still had. Top of the list was Stoppel's belt, a far cry from underwear and/or a used tissue.

On May 11, 2000, Crown attorney Rick Saull cut his losses. He informed Mikolajewski that now "it was a confession case and no charges could be laid against a new suspect."

Mikolajewski went into overdrive. He kept pushing for a Hail Mary interview with Terry Arnold to get him to confess before the Sophonow Inquiry started in October. He kept interviewing potential witnesses. And when he learned that Arnold might win an appeal of his murder conviction, Mikolajewski whipped off an affidavit for a warrant to get a palm print from Arnold to compare with an unidentified print on the crash bar inside the Ideal Donut Shop.

But none of it worked. Arnold didn't confess. There was no DNA match. If they got a palm print, the crash bar print came from someone else.

Mikolajewski went ballistic. He fancied himself a local Serpico. He banged off memos attacking everyone and his dog for hampering his investigation, for interfering with his case, for meddling and conspiring and covering up this and other cases he worked on. Everyone was guilty, including the Chief. Only one man stood as a shining example of an ethical police officer---which would be himself.

Terry Arnold committed suicide in 2005, leaving behind a note denying he ever murdered anyone. He had won his appeal and in 2002 the murder charge against him was stayed.

If he had lived, he might even have had the last laugh. You see, he was convicted through use of the Mr. Big sting, where undercover police entice a suspect to join their gang but first he has to confess to some heinous crime to show he's a stand-up criminal.

He was freed because the Crown in his case withheld from his defence the statements of two women who told police that Arnold was afraid he would be killed if he didn't play along with Mr. Big.

He might have just been the next wrongful conviction poster boy, standing beside Tom Sophonow, swapping tips on how to spend their multi-million dollar payoffs.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Re-opening the Sophonow Inquiry


CBC's The Fifth Estate launched a vile attack on former Crown Attorney George Dangerfield this weekend.

It's biased, single-minded assault on a respected civil servant was so egregious it deserves, and will get, a separate evisceration of its own.

In the meantime, though, we'll use the opportunity to take a close look at The Fifth Estate's chief prosecution witness---Tom Sophonow.

* Thomas Sophonow was the first winner of the Manitoba NDP's Reward-a-Convicted-Killer Prize.

He collected $2.6 million after the Winnipeg police abruptly declared in 2000 that he was innocent of the 1981 murder for which two juries convicted him. The reason provided obliquely to the people who had to watch him saunter off with their money was that police had discovered the real killer.

It turns out the "evidence" for the exoneration was compiled by an amateur, wannabe profiler whose conclusions are so farcical they deserve a separate examination (which we'll provide tomorrow).

* To appease the public, the NDP held a charade they called a 'public inquiry' at which the lies Sophonow told juries under oath were declared to be the truth and truths were declared to be lies.

And through it all, the mainstream media placidly regurgitated the Alice-In-Wonderland proceedings as if they reflected objective fact.

Imagine our surprise, then, when we got a tip that the transcripts of the Sophonow Inquiry had surfaced!

* Unlike the Driskell Inquiry or the Taman Inquiry where transcripts were available freely on the Internet, the record of the Sophonow Inquiry disappeared for years into some backroom closet where it was recently discovered under a dusty pile of Ethics for Auditor Generals pamphlets.

How accurately had the proceedings that turned a twice-convicted murder suspect into a millionaire been reported?

Start with the twine.

* You remember the twine, surely. Ex-Judge Peter Cory, the ringmaster of the Sophonow Charade, made it a centerpiece of his final report.

Cory concluded that the police botched the investigation into the murder of sixteen-year-old Barbara Stoppel when they traced the twine used to strangle her to British Columbia and consequently zeroed in on Vancouver resident Thomas Sophonow as the prime suspect.

But, thundered Cory in his final report, the twine was actually manufactured in Manitoba at a plant in Portage la Prairie.

If only the police had spent $100 for a chemical test they would have known that and spared Sophonow years of agony. And, by not revealing to the defence that they knew the Manitoba plant made twine like that used to kill Stoppel the prosecutors were responsible for a miscarriage of justice.

The only thing wrong with that conclusion is that every word is false.

Cory, sticking to the script, carefully avoided the real reason Sophonow became a suspect.

* The day after the murder of Barbara Stoppel in Winnipeg, Sophonow arrived in Hope, B.C. He had driven non-stop from Manitoba to British Columbia. He testified that in Hope he spotted a poster for a missing girl named something like Berkley. The girl looked a lot like a girl Sophonow knew in Winnipeg, a girl who lived on Mayfair Avenue, where Sophonow had visited (or stayed---his story changed) when he was in Winnipeg on the day of the murder. He phoned RCMP and they interviewed him.

Mayfair, for those who don't know, is a hop and a skip north of the donut shop where Stoppel was killed, just over the Norwood Bridge. Her killer was followed to the bridge where he was confronted by a witness and where he was seen to throw a box off the bridge.

Winnipeg police chased down every lead, every tip they got on Stoppel's murder. And they got a lot, particularly after a composite drawing of the suspect was released that had him wearing a cowboy hat. At one point they swore they interviewed everyone in the city who owned or ever wore a cowboy hat.

But their investigation turned up nothing concrete, so they widened their net, working with what they knew, which at that point included the fact that the twine used in the murder was likely made specifically for B.C. Hydro. They asked other police jurisdictions if they had anything of potential interest that could help jump-start the Stoppel case.

And that's how Sophonow's name came up.

He was in Winnipeg the day of the murder. He drove 23 hours straight to B.C. starting the night Barbara Stoppel was killed. He knew a girl who lived near the Dominion Shopping Centre where the murder happened. Hey, why don't we ask him a few more questions?

But, but, but…didn't they get it wrong? Wasn't the twine really made in Manitoba?

In a word----NO.

* Police canvassed the immediate area of the murder and several square blocks around it for a source of the twine. When nothing turned up, they started questioning local businesses that used or distributed twine. More than one suggested they speak to Berkley & Co. Canada Ltd. in Portage la Prairie, a local twine manufacturer.

They phoned Berkley's general sales manager who had been with the company the longest of almost anyone. "…he advised that at no time does he recall making twine of that colour." But he suggested the company could do a chemical analysis to determine if the twine the police had was from Berkley's plant.

Winnipeg police drove out to Portage la Prairie and showed a sample of their twine to a company rep. He pulled it apart and said "it was not their product because their product had 9 individual fibres in each strand and the sample that we provided apparently had 20."

The police search eventually lead them to British Columbia where B.C. Hydro used a lot of twine just like that recovered by Winnipeg police for pulling wires through conduits in hydro installations.

And, guess what? They were advised by B.C. Hydro to check with Berkley & Co. in Portage la Prairie, one of their suppliers.

So, they did, for the third time. And once again they were told "it's not ours." Police records even contain a Berkley internal memorandum that says "they never made a 1/8 inch rope with that colour confirmation (sic)."

By then, however, police had spoken with Power Twines Ltd. of Washington. The manager there said that "his company were the manufacturers of this twine." A company spokesman confirmed that it was No. 8 B.C. Hydro twine which was "made specifically in those colour combinations for B.C. Hydro."

And millions of feet were discarded each year after use. Further investigation showed that B.C. Hydro had an area office on Boundary Road in Vancouver.

Thomas Sophonow lived on Boundary Road.

* Is that the end of the story? Hell, no. Remember that no chemical test had been performed on the twine that Berkley managers said they never made.

Here's what Cory had to say:

"Mr. Brodsky, Defence Counsel in the second and third trials, assumed that the testing had been done.
In any event, at the second and third trials, Mr. Brodsky agreed to having the evidence with regard to the twine emanating from British Columbia read into the record.
The failure to disclose this information undoubtedly led the Defence to accept and to agree that the origin of the twine was British Columbia. The disclosure would have ensured the testing of the twine. This, in turn, would have resulted in the elimination of this as evidence linking Thomas Sophonow to the crime."

Here's what the evidence said:

Greg Brodsky was Sophonow's defence lawyer at the second trial which started Feb. 21, 1983. The "public inquiry" was told that in February, 1983, spoke with a representative of Berkley & Co. and confirmed they sold rope like the twine in question to B.C. firms. But he was also told "this rope of theirs was marketed in B.C. but that the rope which police officers had definitely did not come from their factory."

It wasn't made by Berkely Twine in Portage la Prairie. They didn't make twine of that colour, of that fibre count, or with that number of picks per foot (cross-threads that hold the twine together). It "definitely" didn't come from their factory and Greg Brodsky knew that before the second trial started.

So, how was he misled, exactly?


Oh, right, because the twine wasn't chemically tested. And a chemical test (or was it an atomic absorption test?) of the twine used in the murder matched the twine made by Berkley, according to the Cory Inquiry:

"The results of that test showed that the twine that was used to strangle Barbara Stoppel contained lithium zirconate in the ratio of 1 to 7.5 that would include an analytical error of a ratio of 1 to 6.6 which was the content of the lithium zirconate tracer in Berkley twine and its further agreed that Berkley &Co. of Portage la Prairie and Berkley in the United States in Iowa were the only companies at the time that used a chemical tracer in their plastics. And finally its agreed that the twine that was manufactured by Powers Twines in Washington did not contain chemical tracer at the relevant time."

Not one MSM reporter asked the obvious question---was the chemical test wrong?

And if it wasn't, how could it say a green twine of a kind not made by the company in Canada was made by the company in Canada which didn't make green twine like that?

Alice-in-Wonderland, indeed.

* There was so much not reported about Thomas Sophonow.

He worked as a bouncer/doorman at the Lougheed Hotel in Vancouver. Three days before leaving for Winnipeg, he broke the little finger on his left hand in a fight.

He came to Winnipeg two days before Christmas to see his daughter, who lived here with her mother. He brought Christmas presents for her. The problem, he didn't know where she was. Oh, and his ex-wife didn't want anything to do with him; she was afraid, afraid he would take his daughter with him.

Sophonow thought the thing to do was to drive two hours to Fisher Branch to the home of his ex-wife's father and drop in unannounced. He started, but decided to phone ahead first. He learned his ex was not there. So he phoned her sister in Winnipeg.

His ex got his message and called him (at a payphone on Main Street). The conversation did not end well. She agreed to let him see his daughter---in a public place (a McDonald's restaurant), but only for 15 minutes. He was furious and refused to limit his visit to those conditions. He drove to his sister-in-law's home and left the presents for his daughter with her, along with a note for his ex-wife which read something along the lines:

"Make sure Kimberly gets this or I will get you, so help me, I will get you."

* Sophonow said he had arranged to stay in Winnipeg with a girl who had been a babysitter for his girlfriend, who he had taken up with following the break-up of his four-month marriage.

Her drove to her apartment on Mayfair after arriving in Winnipeg, but the place was empty. He stayed anyway, catching up on some sleep before starting to drive to Fisher Branch.

At one of his trials, he learned that his then-ex-girlfriend was going to be called as a witness. He was worried she would testify about a certain incident involving this babysitter. He even wrote a note about his concern. (We've excised the names.)

"The phone call that I was wondering about during the trial was one of which I had with (the ex-girlfriend.) C.S. owed me $35.00, and I told her (the ex-girlfriend) if she doesn't pay me back I would kill her. That is what I was worried about."

Cory dismissed the incident as a joke made by Sophonow and understood as such by his ex-girlfriend. But Sophonow didn't treat it as a joke.

As late as the year 2000 Sophonow denied to police (who were preparing his exoneration) that had ever made such a comment. He recanted less than a week before he testified at the inquiry.

But police were aware of the threats to his ex-wife and to C.S. when they interviewed him in Vancouver prior to his being charged with the murder of Barbara Stoppel. They saw a 6'5", 200 pound man who would lash out at females who crossed him, and considered him a good suspect.

* By his own account he spent the day driving all around Winnipeg---St. Boniface, the North End, Polo Park, Fort Garry. "I cruised around Winnipeg. I went to a few people's places that I knew that weren't there…I went to some other people's places that weren't there."

He snacked alone at restaurants, was rebuffed by his ex-wife and her father, and even mechanical objects fought him. He wanted to install fog lights, but didn't have the proper tools. His car broke down; he had to wait in line for a quick repair. And the weather was frightful; a storm, if not a blizzard, blew in. So near to Christmas, when people huddle closer with their families, he was alone, frustrated, tired and angry.

* When the police finally came calling, Sophonow had a stockingful of alibis. He had an alibi for every occasion, a new one every time the evidence changed.

At his first trial he said he was on the phone long-distance to his mother in Vancouver and could never have driven across town through the snowstorm in time to commit the murder.

The murder happened later than the prosecution first thought? No problem. He was delivering Christmas stockings to shut-in children at Winnipeg Hospitals, he said. Why, he remembered clearly meeting a security guard at Victoria Hospital who told them they didn't have a sick children's ward and directed him to other hospitals.

There was no security guard at the Vic? But a nurse remembers a man delivering Christmas stockings? Oh, yeah. Sophonow's memory got sharper and he recalled clearly meeting a nurse at the Victoria Hospital, not a security guard.

But it turned out he didn't need his best alibi of all.

After a long night of dropping off candy-filled Christmas stockings at hospitals all about town, Sophonow pulled out of Winnipeg and headed west. He drove without stopping, in the dead of winter, most of the time in darkness, until he arrived in B.C.

Q. Do you remember anything about the trip back?
A. I remember hearing something on the radio of an assault on a girl at a donut shop. And I got into Saskatchewan. I had a flat tire. I got into B.C. I called my sister and asked her if the police were looking for me."

Q. Why did you make that call?
A. "Because I though that the donut shop that I was at is the donut shop where, you know, the assault happened."
"So, I said something to the effect that if the police were looking for me, because of the two boys that were outside the donut shop, they seen me, and she said no, and I just sort of, like, you know---she asked me why and everything like that. I said, you know, like "Don't worry about it. It's nothing."

So, Sophonow did visit a donut shop the night Barbara Stoppel was killed in a donut shop.

Only, he says, it was a Tim Horton's on Portage Avenue.

And he had witnesses--two boys riding their bicycles in the dead of a Winnipeg winter who might remember him for some reason.

And that worried him enough to ask "are the police looking for me?" ??

He was so worried in fact that he lied about it at his trial. Or, not exactly lied, just, well, did his best to dodge the question.

At trial, Crown attorney George Dangerfield asked Sophonow about a phone call.
The prosecution believed it was a call made by Sophonow to his mother in B.C. The theory was, as the inquiry counsel put it, "that Sophonow was calling back to Vancouver to basically see if the police were looking for him."

Only now we see that their tip was right but their facts were wrong. Sophonow didn't phone Vancouver from Winnipeg; he phoned Winnipeg from B.C. And he didn't call his mother, he called his sister.

But the police were dead on about the purpose of the call---to learn if the police were on his trail.

The Sophonow Inquiry had a handwritten memo from Sophonow to his lawyer Greg Brodsky regarding the incident.

"The phone calls are what Dangerfield says. When I was leaving Winnipeg I heard on the radio that Barbara Stoppel was attacked by a man matching the killer's description…"

Brodsky was asked about that memo, an exchange that never made the mainstream news.

"And in fact, Mr. Dangerfield in cross-examination of Mr. Sophonow asked him that specifically."
"He did."

"Mr. Sophonow denied that specifically."

"Yes."

"And, in fact, then after the fact, revealed to you that Mr. Dangerfield was correct."

"Yes."

"And that he had, in fact, not been truthful on the stand."

"Not been accurate on the stand."

Not truthful or not accurate?
You say po-tay-to, I say po-tah-to.

We'll have much more to say about this in the days ahead.

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