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:

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Searching for Christine Wood. Will Winnipeg Police feel the heat?

The Winnipeg Police force has managed to stay under the radar of the national news organizations for over three weeks now, but once their luck runs out the results will be incendiary.

How Winnipeg police conduct a missing persons investigation into the disappearance of Christine Wood will become the test case for the recently announced Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women Inquiry. 

Winnipeg will be the stand-in for all police departments across Canada in similar investigations. And so far, the example is not good.

Here's where we would normally give the background to the case. The known facts.  Except that the "known facts" in the disappearance of Christine Wood keep changing from week to week. And the police have been no help in keeping the public informed. In fact, they're partly responsible for the confusion.

Nevertheless, here's what we know culled from various news accounts.

* 21-year-old Christine Wood was in Winnipeg with her parents to accompany a relative who had a medical appointment. They were staying at the Comfort Inn, Sargent Avenue and Berry Street. 

* On Friday, Aug. 19, she was getting ready to go out in the evening. Her parents left her at the hotel as they went to a nearby store.  When they came back, about 9:30 p.m., their daughter was gone.  

* The next day, when she hadn't returned, they became concerned, given that they were all supposed to fly home to the Oxford House reserve on Sunday, Aug. 21.

* The Woods called the police for help. They were told that Christine was an adult, she could come and go as she pleased, and what did they expect the poice to do?  The answer is not surprising, given that up to 5000 people are reported missing to Winnipeg police every year.

Still, a week after Christine Wood was last seen by her parents, the police issued a missing person alert --- which could hardly have been skimpier. It had her picture, a brief description of her and what she might be wearing, And the alert said she was last seen in downtown Winnipeg.

Now this was about as useless as you can imagine. Police were asking if anyone could remember seeing  a cute young woman a week earlier. 

Well,  yeah, maybe. Somewhere downtown.  Where?  

The official description of "downtown" extends from the University of Winnipeg east to the Forks and north to Higgins and Main.

That would be bad enough, but a week after that,  the Canadian Centre for Child Protection issued a news release saying Christine Wood was last seen in the Polo Park area. 

That's nowhere near "downtown." So why did the police say she was seen downtown?

Was it a ruse to trick a suspect? If it was, was the family told?  Because if the police issued false information deliberately, they've done immense damage to the trust relationship between the authorities and a grieving family and the police and the greater public. And once destroyed, trust never returns.

So where was Christine Wood last seen?  Is there no hotel security camera footage of her leaving her hotel room, in the hotel lobby, walking into the hotel parking lot?  

How did she get to Polo Park? By bus? By cab?  The mall would have been closed by the time she left the hotel, so where in the "area" was she seen? With anybody? 

These are just natural questions. Has the police department satisfied the family with answers? Will they, as is their habit, release video of her sometime in the future long after it would be of any help jogging anyone's memory?

One news story mentioned that her husband joined her in Winnipeg two days after she and her parents arrived.  There's been no further mention of the husband. 

She obviously wasn't going out with him that Friday night? She didn't tell her parents she was meeting him somewhere. Her parents have been the public voices calling for help in finding her.  Where is he? The spouse is always the prime suspect in a disappearance. Does he have a big police target on his back?

The public alert states "Police are concerned for WOOD’s well-being..." Is that simply because she hasn't been heard from? Or do police have information they're holding back, which seems more likely.  The police department always knows more than it tells. Do they know something sinister about her disappearance?

What do we know about her?  The Canadian Centre for Child Protection has provided more detail than the police department. 

It said Christine is “familiar with Winnipeg, having attended the University of Winnipeg this past year. Christine ... is known to frequent the Osborne Village."  So she's no stranger to the city. But her acquaintances are another matter.

Her mother says she immediately reached out to Christine's friends on social media to find out if they had heard from Christine. But nobody responded to her frantic pleas.  Now that's suspicious.

The M&M Inquiry can't reopen old cases, but it could put the spotlight on an ongoing case, with the Winnipeg Police smack dab in the middle.

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Thursday, September 01, 2016

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights enters death spiral, fueled by debt

Can supporters of The Canadian Museum for Human Rights handle the truth? 

* $80 million in debt with no hope of paying it off
* begging the federal government to raise its $21.7 million annual allowance by at least 50 percent  to buy more time
a report that seems to indicate the museum's fundraising arm can't collect $24 million, or almost one in four of the $151 million dollars the Friends of the CMHR boasts it has raised.

Last week the CMHR announced what should have been good news ---it settled its tax bill with the City of Winnipeg.  The museum owed $2.7 million  for this year's property taxes, much much less than the $5-to-$8 million they expected their taxes to be.

The federal government, which is ultimately on the hook for what's called "payments in lieu of taxes" for federal institutions like museums, paid the $2.7 million plus arrears of $6.7 million. It then put the total - $9.4M - on the CMHR's tab.

The museum is already $70 million in debt for the emergency funding they needed to open in 2014, two years late. The CMHR was flat broke and didn't have enough money to finish building the facility and paying for exhibits. 

The federal government "advanced" $35 million (interest free) with the alleged expectation that the government could get the money back by eventually reducing the annual funding it gives to the museum until they were even. 

Everybody knows that's camouflage and will never happen but everyone is pretending that's a real plan.

The museum also needed a loan of $35 million to meet its costs. The loan, from sources never identified, went to the Friends of the CMHR which doled it out to the museum while managing to keep secret the donors and terms.  But a loan carries interest cost.

Add the $9.4 million plus $70 million plus interest and you're touching $80 million in the red.  And that's not counting $10 million in operating funds  that the federal government let the museum spend on construction instead. It's never been made clear whether that $10 million has to be repaid or if the federal government just boosted their "contribution" to the cost of the museum by that amount.

The CMHR says it has squirreled away a few million dollars to pay part of the city tax tab. As for the rest, well...

The museum wants---needs---the federal government to swallow most of it. The deal is for the CMHR to have its annual funding reduced starting in 2018 to pay off the federal "advance."  But given that the CMHR is spending every nickel of the $21.7 million its receiving each year, that is impossible.  In fact, the museum wants more money, not less each and every year in the future.

Apart from getting the federal government to forgive the $35 million advance in $7 million increments, the museum wants  the city taxes paid, starting at $3 million  (including frontage fee) and rising per year. Oh, and it needs $3 million or so to replace the entire computer system, which has a useful life expectancy of only three years that's up, uh, next year.

Anyone who still thinks the Friends of the CMHR is supposed to cover these expenses by its fundraising is in for a sick surprise.

Charity Intelligence Canada is a charity watchdog. Its latest report on the Friends of the CMHR has some unsettling details.  

The Friends, which is a registered charity, spends 43 percent of its revenues on administrative costs and 18 percent of donations on fundraising costs.  Given that "revenues" is made up of donations plus interest, which last year was negative one thousand dollars, in reality 61 percent of the money donated to Friends goes to overhead.

And then there's this paragraph in the Ci report:
Note: Ci Charity Intelligence has used the restated 2014 financial statements in the charity’s F2015 audited financial statements. Ci has adjusted amortization and allowance for doubtful pledges receivable and gifts to the museum affecting expenses by ($4m) in F2016, by ($18.4m) in F2015, and by ($14.1m) in F2014. 
Given that the paragraph is written in a foreign language, auditorese, its hard to say what it really means.

Does it mean the museum has been counting money on its books that can't be collected?

There's been a $24 million writedown involving "doubtful pledges receivable" but it that just an accounting adjustment or a complete breakdown of fundraising?

Nevertheless, it does suggest why the CMHR's corporate reports for the past three years running have not been made public, and why no 2015-2016 annual report is MIA.

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