Irony or hypocrisy?

Another troubling aspect of the trials of Lyle Howe

More than nine months ago, on June 16, 2016, a 41-year-old man from Halifax (let’s call him CR) died in the cells of Halifax Regional Police.

The province’s Serious Incident Response Team

Lyle Howe
Lyle Howe

was asked to investigate. But SiRT has a policy of suppressing the identities of people involved in their investigations. And HRP, in the style of Canada’s famously “tight-lipped” RCMP, has itself made CR’s name a secret.

So, nine months after CR died in HRP’s care, no one will say who he was. This is a serious, but not severe, case of  authoritarianism, which can break out in a police force at any time. In Canada, it is usually associated with the RCMP, not HRP.

But why is the secret investigation taking so long? After all, we know from watching TV that witnesses’ memories fade with time and sometimes they move away or even die.

Incredibly, the answer may lie the high-profile troubles of Halifax lawyer Lyle Howe, who is currently being roasted by the bar society for poor conduct.  CBC’s Blair Rhodes wrote about Howe’s latest trials last week. Here’s an excerpt:

“The three-member disciplinary panel has sat for 58 days since it began 15 months ago. The hearing was originally expected to take about a week.

“The panel chair, Ron MacDonald, also heads Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team, the body that looks into complaints against police. He has had to schedule breaks in the hearing process to allow him time to do his main job. Decisions from SiRT have been announced in fits and starts over the last 15 months.

“Similarly, panel member Don Murray, a prominent Halifax-area defence lawyer, has had to reschedule cases in order to continue attending the hearing.”

In other words, cases such as CR’s appear to have been delayed because Ron MacDonald, like Don Murray, has too much on his plate. In a general sense, you could say MacDonald and Murray are “double-booked”. This is reasonably common for lawyers, which is why they can often be seen flying around the halls of courthouses, their robes flapping in their wakes like Harry Potter.

OK, you say, but why is the bar society reviewing Howe in the first place? Here’s Blair Rhodes again:

“The bulk of the allegations against Howe focused on rather mundane aspects of his practice — things like double-booking and missing court dates.”

Let’s give this a few seconds of soak time …

Got it? Yep, two of the lawyers reviewing Howe have found the process so demanding that, on the face of it, they are exhibiting the same failing for which they are slow-cooking Lyle Howe.

Could be ironic, hypocritical, or both.

This brings us to the continuing suppression of CR’s name. It’s a serious matter. Being in custody means you’ve lost control of your life to your jailers. It’s a life-and-death responsibility for the jailers. Unfortunately, they’re human, so we create outfits such as the Serious Incident Response Team to keep an eye on them — to ensure cell-deaths, accidental or otherwise, don’t become a routine event in law enforcement.

This is because in less civilized parts of the world, people are arrested and never seen again. Sometimes they die by accident, sometimes not. Their bodies are dumped at sea, fed to animals — whatever. When their loved ones come looking for them, there’s no record of them ever being in custody. Or if there is a record of arrest, it turns out the prisoner was “released” the next morning and then disappeared. Or he hanged himself and incident is still under secret investigation.

If there truly are bad guys involved, the best case scenario for them is that everyone just gets tired of waiting for the answers and stops asking.

Long ago, I met a freshly-immigrated coroner in Montreal at a New Year’s party. We had both been over-served by the time I asked him about an obvious failure of the justice system in Canada’s Ocean Playground.

“Well,” he said, smiling as he swirled his Scotch. “People do get away with things, you know.”

Can’t happen today, you say? Well, maybe not if we consistently exercise proper oversight, which we’re not doing in this case. At the very least, secrecy and investigatory sloth undermine public confidence in law enforcement.

If you’ve read this far, you might enjoy my novel, Max’s Folly. Click here for more information. — Bill Turpin





Is Trump crazy like a fox?

Media and deep-thinkers have pronounced the failure to launch of  President Donald Trump’s health care bill as a massive defeat, but it may actually be a victory.

During the U.S. election campaign Trump made the surprising promise that he would bring health care to all Americans at a good price. This is anathema to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) and the GOP’s ultra right crowd.

So where do things stand today?

Well, Ryan and alt-right GOPs are wearing the failure, not Trump, because they stopped  “his” bill from getting to the floor. Even the Dems are free of blame because they never got a chance to vote against it, leaving  Trump’s enemies alone and wounded on the battlefield.

If the current system “explodes”, as Trump predicts, Republicans in the House will be blamed for failing to act.

But not Trump. He can still step to save the day with a bipartisan effort to fix it, just as he promised. If he succeeds, he’ll be the conquering hero that so many of his  supporters believe him to be.

I know, it’s a crazy idea, but Trump is all about crazy.


Criminal charges disappear along with dope


Halifax Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais reported Feb. 27 that none of his officers stole the drugs or $100,000 that disappeared from police evidence lockers in 2015.

But Turpin Laboratories has been rooting around the website of Nova Scotia’s most powerful police oversight organization and found a document that has shaken our faith in that statement.

On Feb. 1 Ronald J. MacDonald, the director of the Serious Incident Response Team, posted a “supplemental summary” of the only criminal case to arise from the affair. In effect, it’s a mandated opportunity for SiRT to get the last word after someone they’ve charged has been prosecuted.

The document is dry and studiously neutral. If MacDonald’s got an ax to grind, there’s no indication of it. It reads like a conscientious civil servant fulfilling his duty to inform the public.

MacDonald says “ … it is SiRT policy, in accordance with the Regulations, to publish a supplemental report in cases where the facts relevant to the charge decision were not originally made public and were not subsequently disclosed during court proceedings.”

Well, THAT’s interesting right off the bat, especially since Halifax police chief Jean-Michel Blais just told the Halifax police commission that the whole thing was a bureaucratic merry mix-up and that none of his officers were blame-worthy.

I have doubts about that now, and also harbour some unease about the Public Prosecution Service. Here are some snippets from MacDonald’s summary that inspired water-cooler talk across the sprawling T-Labs campus.

MacDonald wrote that a related investigation of “Officer 1”, a Halifax cop, concluded there were sufficient grounds to lay charges.

And so SiRT laid charges of theft, breach of trust, and obstruction of justice against Officer 1 (they’re not allowed to say who he is) on January 27, 2016.

SiRT provided its file to the Public Prosecution Service (the Crown) on March 15, 2016.

Just two months later, on May 30, 2016, the Crown entered a “temporary” stay of the proceedings because it needed more time to brief Officer 1’s defence team. (See the Local Xpress, May 31, 2016, for more details.)

On January 27, 2017, — now seven months after they got the file and a year after the charges were filed– the Public Prosecution Service told SiRT that because of “issues related to delays in the prosecution of the charges”, the charges could not proceed.

Four days later Director MacDonald issued his supplementary summary. Here, in block quotes, are more the things MacDonald wrote, emphasis added by Turpin Labs.

On May 21, 2015, the Halifax Regional Police (HRP) contacted SiRT with information regarding a potential theft, breach of trust, and obstruction of justice committed by Officer 1. The allegations of theft and breach of trust related to a substance known as “cut” which went missing from an HRP exhibit locker. “Cut” is used in the illegal drug trade … The allegation of obstruction of justice relates to alleged steps taken to help a third party* avoid detection and arrest by other HRP members.


The “cut” is this case was lidocaine and is used to dilute the product.

The evidence gathered from the investigation showed that the cut went missing in late January, 2015 from an HRP exhibit locker. It was delivered by Officer 1 to another individual shortly after it was taken. Officer 1 did not dispute that he took the cut and made the delivery, but took the position that his Sergeant permitted him to do so. That was disputed by the Sergeant in question, and SiRT had gathered other evidence that questioned certain other details put forward by Officer 1.

So you can see why SiRT was keen to prosecute. They believed the Sergeant and had doubts about Officer 1. I don’t know who to  believe, but this is why we have judges and courts.

So why did the Crown enter a temporary stay so quickly? And what was the Crown doing during the “temporary” stay to the point where the charges could not be re-instated.

Oh, and it was the Crown — that is, the Public Prosecution Service —  that decided re-instating the charges was impossible because of its own delays. It’s odd, I dare say, for an organization whose middle name is prosecution, but it does happen.

On TV, and in real life, the decision to dismiss a charge because of undue delay is generally made by the judge in the case, and at the request of the defence. Typically, the Crown then responds with a stout explanation of how the delay was unavoidable and/or caused by the accused and/or will have no effect on the ability of the accused to defend himself. Frequently, the trial proceeds anyway.

Was SiRT’s investigation not thorough?

During the investigation, SiRT obtained statements from 20 police witnesses and five civilian witnesses. Other investigative steps included certain forensic investigations, as well as a review of documentary evidence.

Not too shabby, I’d say. Most reporters would either be fired or awarded a national award for that kind of diligence.

As noted, MacDonald played it straight in his summary. Nonetheless, his last line seems a little mournful: “As a result, Officer 1 is deemed never to have been charged with any criminal offence.”

(* The Turpin Laboratories Conspiracy Division could barely contain itself at the mention of a “third party” in MacDonald’s summary, but was told by our executive leadership team to “chill” for the time being.)