Crime & Punishment

Crime and justice comment and analysis

Archive for March 2009

Reality at odds with picture painted by media in police shooting

with 8 comments

In the middle of the media feeding frenzy pillorying the RCMP members involved responding to the disturbance caused by Polish traveler Robert Dziekanski who died after being Tasered, Vancouver Police officers shot and killed Michael Vann Hubbard in a busy area of downtown Vancouver. 

The initial reports were that he was a homeless man being checked as a possible suspect in a theft from a vehicle and in the process pulled a knife and was shot.  The two officers involved were both female and the usual nonsense was inevitable from the media, the hand-wringers and the cop haters.  Some of whom, I might add, are indistinguishable from the others.

But what was really amusing was the comments from some of the same folks blue with rage in their criticism of the RCMP for using a Taser on Dziekanski asking why the VPD officers involved in the shooting weren’t armed with Tasers so they didn’t have to shoot Vann Hubbard. 

The mind boggles at the sheer hypocrisy.

But even though the shooting is under investigation the cop critics were in full voice.  And they were happy to pile on the heels of the Braidwood inquiry into the death of Dziekanski.  Police were being referred to as thugs and murderers. 

On Friday members of the Vann Hubbard family filed a lawsuit claiming wrongful death on behalf of the VPD.  Well, whatever.  They have described their father as gentle and law abiding.  Perhaps he was when they knew him, but when he was in Vancouver, he was homeless and violent as evidenced by his own behaviour. 

He was being checked by two police officers while he was carrying a black backpack similar in description to one just stolen from a vehicle.  According to a memo circulated by the Chief Constable of the VPD, Jim Chu, they engaged him in conversation for at least a minute that was “uneventful.” 

Suddenly, Vann Hubbard pulled a utility knife, a boxcutter if you will, that was razor sharp and fully extended.  He approached the police officers with it and they pulled their service weapons and retreated trying to keep a safe distance while containing the armed man.  All the while they endeavoured to keep busy downtown pedestrian traffic out of harm’s way.

When at length, this “gentle man” charged at one of the officers after one minute and forty seconds of the standoff, he was shot. Once, to the centre of mass, just like the officer was trained to do.  Vann Hubbard died as a result. 

Those who were trying to nail the police to the wall, and I include the complicit media in this statement, tried to obfuscate the sequence of events to paint the police as killers and all manner of evil things.  The reality is that they were doing their jobs in investigating a just occurred theft from auto and wound up being themselves placed in harm’s way.  Those two members, and females both I might add, accepted their responsibility in spite of the danger, and while trying to focus on the danger they faced also did everything they could to keep the public out of harm’s way as the drama unfolded. 

Never mind the nonsense from the family, from the so-called witness who said the police deleted a video from his phone while saying the police fired several shots, never mind all the nonsense.  There are three independent videos of the shooting all of which corroborate the police version of events in the shooting. 

Those two police officers did their jobs on that day and for that they deserve to be supported not chastised by the chattering class. 

And for the family, I am sorry for your loss.  But really, why was your loved one homeless in Vancouver?  Why did he pull a utility knife one minute after being engaged by the police?  And finally, in the face of warnings to drop the knife, why did he charge at one officer?  Waste your time, money and energy in a lawsuit if you want, but the two members of the VPD did their job on that fateful day.  And they carry a distinct sadness as a result. 

Chief Constable Jim Chu did a service to the police officers of VPD with his memo. Hopefully the public airing of that memo will shut up those drowning in their ignorance when they are so quick to criticize those who protect the rest of us.

Leo Knight

Written by Leo Knight

March 30, 2009 at 5:25 am

Posted in Crime & Punishment

Truth no defence for targetted police force

with 13 comments

Many years ago when I joined the RCMP, it was a proud organization, albeit one rife with tradition and more than a little out of step with the times.  In those days, I referred to the Mounties as “100 years of tradition unhampered by progress.”  To a degree that remains the same.  And, at the same time, the RCMP has struggled to reinvent itself to be more relevant in a changing world.

In my early days in the RCMP training academy in Regina I began to learn about that tradition and proud history.  I became part of a family that I will never quite be separated from no matter how much water passes under the bridge.  Indeed, I had dinner last summer with Terry David Mulligan, the ageless DJ who has made a career for himself in rock ‘n roll presenting and promotion.  Mulligan, as a young man was also a Mountie and during dinner we didn’t so much talk of music, past, current and future, but of our like experiences in the Mounted Police.

And it is that bond, born of running all over Hell’s half-acre until you earned your marching orders and swimming with bricks and drill hall abuse that allows two people with disparate backgrounds to share a laugh and story about a challenge accepted and passed that will never go away.

But part of that is the angst felt watching the media devour the RCMP over the Taser incident at Vancouver International Airport that resulted in the death of Polish traveler Robert Dziekanski and feeling that it is all grossly unfair.

Media spin and obfuscation of the facts are old hat and to be expected when looking at any story where the “heavy-handed” police are involved.  Or, rather as a friend refers to the police as the “jack-booted enforcers.”

The media coverage of the Braidwood Inquiry into the actions of the RCMP on that fateful night is little more of that confirmation of their bias and attempt to pillory what was once a great Canadian institution.

Dziekanski was a ne’er do well at best.  He was a drunk and a chain smoker who had done without both for more than 20 hours on his travels from Poland to YVR.  After that many hours in the air without a drink or a smoke, I can imagine he was a little on edge.  But while on the ground at YVR, he didn’t seem to possess the mental acumen to get himself some help in the form of directions for hours on end.  Equally the Customs and Immigration folks and the YVR security folks seemed to have ignored him in a high security area for those same hours, yet it is the RCMP that are the bad guys in this movie.

So, when he started tossing around desks and computers it is only natural that the police were called.  And in strolled four members of our once-proud national police force just trying to do their job.  Their reward has been to be metaphorically hung, drawn and quartered by a media convinced they are covering up murder.

Those four members of the RCMP were just trying to do their job in the manner they were trained.  Nothing more and nothing less.

Yet it is the little details that have lawyers turning summersaults.  Quibble about the details all you want, but the bottom line is that four police officers were dispatched to a call of a violent, possibly drunk male who was on a rampage.  They attended, approached the suspect carefully and in the face of apparent dismissal and potential violence they responded in the manner they were trained.  And the reality is that every nickel – or perhaps I should say every millions of dollars of taxpayer money – spent on the Braidwood inquiry is an absolute waste of money.

There’s no mystery here.  If you don’t like the way the Mounties handled their response, lobby to change the policy, don’t shoot the messenger.  Well, actually, that is already too late.  The professional bureaucrat named by the Prime Minister to take control of the once proud Force, William Elliot, has already altered Force policy on the use of Tasers without knowing thing one about reality on the mean streets.

But piling on the RCMP has almost become de rigeur for the mainstream media.  Today, for example, I did an interview with a CBC reporter about a situation involving a municipal police force and she kept referring to the RCMP so conditioned is she.

But that is what it is.  The RCMP is a big, scarlet clad target and that is fair enough.  But, I would much prefer a debate surrounded with facts not ideologically driven bovine scatology.  But, unfortunately, that is all the mainstream media seems to be capable of producing when the RCMP is under the microscope in this country.

The Mounties have many foibles and in my opinion need to be reconstituted as our National Police Force not municipal cops.  But that is my opinion and perhaps the subject of another discussion.  But they also do not deserve to be pilloried for trying to do their job. 

And Robert Dziekanski was waste of a man even if the police haters are trying to elevate him to sainthood.  He had not amounted to anything in his life and he wasn’t smart enough to recognize that responding police officers were trying to intervene with his dilemma. 

Too bad, so sad.  But his death was not the fault of those four police officers.

Leo Knight

Written by Leo Knight

March 21, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Posted in Crime & Punishment

Parents’ comments minimize Mayerthorpe reality

with 4 comments

Three years ago I was sitting in a lounge in the Calgary airport when my Blackberry first started buzzing with information about a multiple shooting of RCMP officers in Mayerthorpe, Alberta.  The original information was sketchy but all too soon the horrors perpetrated by James Roszko were all too clear.

Four young police officers, good Canadian boys, were dead.  Ambushed and cut down in the prime of their young lives by a man not fit to shine their boots.

Roszko, in true cowardly fashion, took his own life when another member attending from Edmonton returned Roszko’s fire and wounded him.  Roszko crawled back into that Quonset hut which housed his marijuana grow op and chop shop and took his pathetic life.

The nation was shocked at the news and watched with heavy hearts as the Mounties gathered in record numbers in Edmonton to pay tribute to their fallen comrades.

But once the tears were shed and four young men laid to rest, investigators had to piece together what happened.  How was Roszko able to get back onto his property and ambush the police officers? 

Their investigation led to the arrest of two other young men who ultimately were the answer to that question.  They not only provided Roszko with a weapon, but they drove him to his property knowing full well he was going to do what he did.  And they did nothing to stop him. 

Dennis Cheeseman and Shawn Hennessey were charged with being parties to the offence of first degree murder times four which, by law, is the applicable charge when the victim is a police officer.

Then began the predictable nonsense from friends and family of the two men. They were good boys don’t you know?  They were pillars of the community and all that crap that seems ubiquitous in the mainstream media whenever someone does something horrid.  Reporters dutifully trot out and talk to family, friends and neighbours  who then utter banalities about what a nice man he was and I would have never imagined he could do something so awful . . .blah, blah, blah.  It’s all so predictable.. 

The two accused last month pled guilty to reduced charges of manslaughter and were sentenced to 13 and 15 years respectively.  Which frankly, given the callous and deliberate manner that they enabled Roszko to do what he did, was not enough.  As far as I am concerned they should die in prison if there was justice in this country.

Last week, on the anniversary of the killings, I read a news story where the families of these young men are planning to appeal their convictions even though they pled guilty.  They are still maintaining their precious little children are really angels and did what they did because they were afraid of Roszko and … boo-hoo-hoo. 

Well, in the first instance I don’t buy the “afraid” nonsense.  Had they alerted the police, Roszko would have not ambushed the murdered officers and the chance of him being able to exact any revenge on them would have been remote, at best.  Secondly, one of the pair was partnered with Roszko in his illicit activities in the Quonset.  He had much more to gain from Roszko’s successful ambush of the Mounties than not. 

And that one fact alone should not be overlooked when we listen the families’ whine about their good boys.  Perhaps, had the whining parents done a better job of educating their whelps in the concept of consequences for bad actions, then four young RCMP members might still be alive today. 

And their prattle about appeals in this matter show they still haven’t grasped the concept.

Leo Knight

Written by Leo Knight

March 10, 2009 at 4:00 am

Posted in Crime & Punishment

Court ruling defies democracy

with 2 comments

In August of 1982, Ronald Smith, a drifter from Alberta, murdered two men in cold blood for the thrill of it.  That event took place, in Glacier National Park in Montana, not in Canada.

Smith, in a plea arrangement asked for the death penalty, which I might add, was deservedly granted.  He also reiterated that request in March of 1983.  In the intervening years Smith has been on death row in a State that is relatively slow to carry out capital case executions.

For years the Liberal governments of Jean Chretien and Paul Martin had their diplomats play the game with Montana authorities seeking, at least on the surface, some form of clemency for Smith, from the hangman’s noose.  Metaphorically speaking of course.  I am not sure how Montana gets rid of its Death Row inmates.  Although what is ironic in all of this is that the State of Montana seems poised to get rid of the death penalty.  Their House of Representatives is to hold a vote later this spring on the matter.

Smith also seems to have had a change of heart in that he has availed himself of every legal avenue to try and delay or commute his richly deserved death sentence. 

With the election of a Conservative government, a different view was taken on the Canadian tradition of diplomatic intervention in death penalty cases.  The Tories said, and rightly so in my view, that they would not intervene with democratic countries with the death penalty in cases of multiple murders.  Had they removed the word ‘multiple’ I would have wholeheartedly agreed with the position.

Smith’s lawyers, funded not by Smith, made application to the Federal Court of Canada to get that decision overturned.  And so, it was overturned by Federal Court Judge R. L. Barnes, who has made an order that the Government of Canada reconstitute its diplomatic efforts to gain clemency for Smith.

Now I don’t know Judge Barnes from Adam other than what it says in his official bio.  But I note he was appointed during the waning days of the Liberal administration of Paul Martin.  But I am stunned that any court in this land has the power to overturn policy decisions made by the elected representatives of the people of Canada.

I am not referring to a piece of legislation deemed unconstitutional by the ermine clad wonders of the Supreme Court of Canada.  That is quite another discussion.

The Federal Court of Canada is a Trudeaupian concept that, as far as I can tell, serves no useful function.  It is the court directly responsible for the absolute joke that has rendered our refugee system dysfunctional and created an industry for a generation of lawyers that didn’t exist 20 years ago.

And let’s bear in mind that the State of Montana is not Saudi Arabia or Iran holding public stonings.  Smith has had the benefit of every possible avenue of appeal spanning 25 years through the American justice system.   There is no question he is guilty of two thrill kills.  By his own admission, he killed two people because he wanted to see what it was like.  Oh, really?

The irrepressible “useful idiot” Jack Layton waded in on this case saying: “You can’t be against the death penalty in Canada but be in favour of it for a Canadian citizen outside of Canada.”

Has anyone ever heard the Harper government say they were “against” the death penalty?  I certainly haven’t and considering the last vote on the matter in the House of Commons was in the mid 70s, I sincerely doubt than any sitting MP has actually registered their position by vote on the subject.

In point of fact, poll after poll has shown that a majority of Canadians support the death penalty in certain cases.  I would rank in that number and I suspect, so too would the Prime Minister.

The bottom line is that Smith committed a disgusting, incredibly offensive crime, which he has admitted to doing.  And he did it in a jurisdiction with the death penalty.  Well, in my view he is the author of his own misfortune, come what may.  He needs to be accountable for his actions and in Montana, as it stands, that means he should pay forfeit with his life.  I don’t have a problem with that and neither does our federal government.  The Federal Court of Canada should not be involved. 

And therein lies the problem.  That any body of unelected judges can dictate policy to our elected representatives is offensive in our democracy and their power needs to be curtailed.  

Frankly, I cannot see any reason for their existence in the first instance. 

Leo Knight

Written by Leo Knight

March 6, 2009 at 4:36 am

Posted in Crime & Punishment