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The acquital of Harry Bakema is an indictment of journalism in Winnipeg


This is what passes for professional journalism in Winnipeg?

Of eveything written about the political persecution of former East St. Paul police chief Harry Bakema, the Saturday, Nov. 2, column by Winnipeg Free Press scribe Dan Lett stands as the most contemptible.

Lett professes to be a "professional" journalist. He even gives lectures to budding journalists on how he does it. God help the profession. He hurls insults at bloggers who dare tell him how to do his job and where he fails miserably, because, of course, HE is the professional.

Lett, you'll remember, was at the head of the media lynch mob in 2008 that howled for the head of every police officer and lawyer connected with the prosecution of Const. Derek Harvey-Zenk, who caused the death of Crystal Taman when he rear-ended her car which was stopped at a red light. 

The occasion was a government-sponsored show trial, disguised as a public inquiry, into the fatal accident. The rabid pack of  reporters and commentators abandoned any pretense of legitimate reporting, choosing instead  to mock and attack anyone who dared to say anything that contradicted their agreed-upon version of the facts---that there had been a massive cover-up by police to hide the fact that Harvey-Zenk was drunk when the accident happened.

Only The Black Rod stood up for truth.  We faced down the mob. One against all. It still stands as our finest hour.  And we do it again today.

A special prosecutor, appointed by the province, examined the case against Harvey-Zenk, the precedents in law, the decisions by the Manitoba Court of Appeal, and he decided to accept a plea bargain. Zenk pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death and other charges that referenced impairment as a result of drinking were dropped.  He was instantly villified for being in on the cover-up.

The province ordered a public inquiry, which professed to show that as many as 40 others were involved in the cover-up, mainly police officers from Winnipeg.  Lett uses this as the centrepoint of his lament over the aquital of Harry Bakema on all charges, including perjury and obstruction of justice.

Lett actually declares that a show trial has more validity than a free court of law!  Because the Taman "public inquiry" was just that---a Stalineque show trial. 

The verdict was decided in advance; the witnesses were coached; no cross examination was allowed;  the odd time when a witness failed to say what was expected, the Inquiry council either called a rebuttal witness against his own witness or held a, ahem, private interview with the witness to, ahem, refresh her memory before testifying properly a second time.

But when the same case was heard in a real court,  when witnesses knew they could be charged with perjury, when a real judge heard those same witnesses cross-examined under the rules of law by real lawyers....well, the result was radically different.

Roger Salhany, the alleged judge who conducted the public inquiry, is Lett's hero. But Salhany was nothing more than a hand-picked prop reading a script, nothing more than Ontario Superior Justice Harriet Sachs was going to be at a "live theatre performance" featuring a mock trial of global warming proponent David Suzuki.  When her starring role was exposed by Ezra Levant on Sun News, she got cold feet (joke intended) and surrendered her role to her understudy.

In fact, the Manitoba Court of Appeal repudiated Salhany's version of the law in a subsequent ruling:

None of this affected Lett's biased and unprincipled "journalism."

"The husband of Crystal Taman... has been called upon repeatedly to make sense out of the madness that surrounds his wife's death and the ensuing police investigation."  Right, there's an unbiased source.  Oh, and he's going to comment on the "madness" of the police investigation into this wife's death.  Don't tip your hand, Dan.

"What's clear to the general public is foggy to the people who make the decisions," said the husband.  That's right. Why bother with a trial. Let's just go straight to the hanging.

Lett described Bakema as "a man whose actions were laid bare in a 2008 judicial inquiry. It is that inquiry that informed the public about the steps Bakema took to shield Harvey-Zenk from prosecution."

There you have it. The "professional" journalist declares the cover-up as fact, evidence be damned.

"Inquiry commissioner Roger Salhany demonstrated no ambivalence about Bakema's actions..." 

Because it was a show trial, Dan.  Truth wasn't part of the script.

" Salhany could not assign criminal responsibility for any of the transgressions he uncovered."

Because it wasn't real.  The "inquiry" was a performance.  The only test of the evidence is when it was heard in a real court, before a real judge and under real rules of trial.  It was - and no "criminal responsibility" was determined.  Doesn't that make you wonder about Salhany?

The refusal to report that fact is the real crime. 
 "...there are aspects of the decision that certainly seem to be generous to the accused."

That such a sentence could appear in the daily newspaper is astonishing. 

It's called the presumption of innocence, Dan.  It's the core value of the Canadian justice system.  The Crown has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.  Any doubt must be given to the accused. It's not "being generous" to accord someone his human right to a fair trial.

"Bakema repeatedly demonstrated his knowledge of how to manage a crime scene like that with each decision he made to stop others from documenting Harvey-Zenk's intoxication." That's a blatant lie. If the judge had determined Bakema stopped others from documenting the intoxication of someone who caused a fatal car accident he would have been convicted.

But the judge found Bakema NOT GUILTY because the allegation was NOT proved. Repeating the allegation does not make it true. It makes you GUILTY of wilfully reporting a falsehood.

"... we have to deduce Moar did not find Bakema acted wilfully to obstruct the investigation." 

Duh.  You don't have to deduce anything Dan. 

The judge found Bakema NOT GUILTY.  That's saying it clearly and succinctly.  Bakema was NOT GUILTY of obstructing justice. 
 
And yet this "professional" journalist won't admit the obvious. 

"The public will not understand the vagaries that allowed Bakema to escape justice on these charges....And that even the most obvious evidence of wilful illegality can always, given the right accused, be explained away as unintentional errors."

The fact that a "professional" journalist can get away with blatant propagandizing like this is evidence of how far the profession has fallen. 

The real question is how and why reporters have failed to follow the real stories that flow from the Bakema aquital.
 
* The RCMP investigated allegations of obstruction of justice against Bakema  BEFORE the public inquiry and determined there was no credible evidence to support a prosecution. Who authorized a second investigation and subsequent prosecution which ended in exactly the verdict the RCMP predicted?
* the NDP government abused the justice system to force Bakema and others to testify at the inquiry, then used this testimony against him at a trial.  This abuse of government power should be investigated and the people responsible, right up to the Justice Minister, prosecuted
* Following public inquiries, the NDP has given millions of dollars to men who were convicted by juries of murder.  Will the government pay Harry Bakema for at least five years of persecution, the cost and stress of a phony public inquiry and an unwarranted criminal trial?
 
 *********

The judge who sentenced Zenk made a statement in the courtroom regarding justice. The words he spoke have never been more appropriate and we give the final say to Judge Ray Wyant:

"They want their pound of flesh. They want to hear the clanking of the cell door.
 
But let me make it absolutely clear, Mr. Zenk, those factors are not something this court or any court can entertain in deciding a fit and appropriate sentence. To do so would corrupt the very foundations of our justice system and plunge our system into chaos. So it does not matter what we think happened, what we must do is only sentence or decide cases on the evidence before us.
 
If we were to substitute our opinions or the opinions of others for proof and evidence, we would surely undermine fundamentally our system of justice. For to replace our feelings or opinions for facts would mean that any citizen could be the subject of arbitrary justice, of decisions based, not on evidence and proof, but on innuendo and personal biases.
 
Sentence delivered
October 29, 2007

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