Whenever I hear one of those crazy judges-gone-wild stories, like the one about Justice Susanne Goodman, who apparently can’t be bothered to provide the reasons for her rulings, one of the first questions I ask is how on earth did this person get appointed to the bench?
Invariably the answer is that there was some kind of political or personal connection. In the case of Robin Camp, who came to be known as the “knees together judge” and was recently forced to retire, his patrons had ties to the Alberta Conservative party. Camp was managing partner at the Calgary law firm where then-premier Alison Redford’s ex-husband, Robert Hawkes, who led her transition team, was a senior partner.
In Goodman’s case, her father was …
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On Tuesday May 23rd, the trial begins for Matthew Odlum, a 30-year-old Toronto man accused of trafficking the gun used to kill Dellen Millard’s father, Wayne. Very little is publicly known about Wayne Millard’s death beyond information contained in newspaper reports that he was shot through the eye with an illegal handgun.
Odlum and two other men — Matthew Wawrykiewycz and Matthew Ward Jackson — were arrested in April 2014, shortly before it was announced that Dellen Millard had been charged with the murder of his father, and that he and his friend Mark Smich had also been charged with the murder of Laura Babcock, a 23-year-old Toronto woman.
In the three years that have elapsed since then, Millard and Smich have been convicted of the murder of Tim Bosma and there have been a number of developments in what has come to be known, among those familiar with it, as “The Three Matthews” gun trafficking case.
Why only one Matthew is on trial
Unlike his co-accused, Odlum faced just one set of criminal charges, which has made his journey through the legal system somewhat quicker (relatively speaking) and simpler. Thanks partly to this, Odlum’s case was “severed,” as the lawyers say, from those of his co-accused after a preliminary hearing.
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Back last fall I tried a crowdfunding experiment to see if I had enough interested readers willing to pay to read a series about a sexual assault trial. Sexual assault is a huge topic these days and I had done a previous but very different series in 2015, which was well received. Given that I have a decent mailing list and a small but devoted social media following interested in true crime, I thought I’d give crowdfunding a try to see if it might work for journalism.
Unfortunately, things did not go at all as I had planned. I wanted to find 500 readers willing to pay $10 each but instead, my very generous friends started chipping in $100 here and $50 there. This was vaguely embarrassing as I didn’t want my friends supporting me. I wanted readers to pay a fair amount for a product they valued.
I had also hoped that a legacy publisher might chip in, but the idea of crowdfunding an article wasn’t something accounting departments could wrap their heads around. In the end, the Walrus magazine made a generous offer to buy the new series in the conventional way and I put a halt to the crowdfunding campaign.
Because it was an “all or nothing” campaign — which means no one gets charged unless and until the funding goal is met — my friends didn’t end up paying a cent.
I have now embarked on a new crowdfunding campaign, but with some modifications to avoid past mistakes. I’m out to reach people willing to pay a minimum of $10 to read in-depth coverage of a trial that interests them. So far, I haven’t told any of my friends so unless they read my blog or newsletter they don’t know about this.
This time around, I’m not doing an “all or nothing” campaign because I’m hopeful that once the trial gets going and people see how interesting it is, they will want to pay for coverage. I’m trying to keep my options open.
The goal for this pre-trial period is to build momentum so that the first two days are funded before the trial begins and I can guarantee at least two days of coverage.
If this model works, I will be thrilled as it will be a win/win situation both for me and interested readers.
Please check out the campaign if you want to read about this trial. If I didn’t think it were going to be very interesting, I wouldn’t be so keen to attend.
The Casefile podcast has just done a two-hour-plus episode on the Jennifer Pan case. I listened to it as I usually listen to podcasts — while making dinner or walking the dog — and it was pretty good.
Although I knew the case fairly well — from the Toronto Life article linked above and the book, A Daughter’s Deadly Deception by Jeremy Grimaldi — it was fascinating to hear the audio from her police interviews. Afterwards, a little bit of googling led to the discovery that all 10 hours of the interrogation played at trial is available on Youtube. Here’s part one:
What else can I tell you? Casefile’s a pretty decent podcast with very few bells and whistles. The narrator, an anonymous Aussie, tells the story of various murder investigations. Whoever writes the scripts does a really good job though not at all the type of writing that calls attention to itself. They make telling complicated crime stories look really easy.
The Pan episode was a bit of an exception because there’s often no additional audio at all — just the narrator telling you about various murders, some of them among the world’s most notorious and others far less well known with an emphasis on Australian cases. One of the best episodes was about the Sherri Rasmussen murder, a Los Angeles cold case that I first read about in Vanity Fair a few years back.
There are some mistakes that are resignation worthy. And Andrew Potter’s malevolent and unfounded essay about Quebec, published earlier this week in Maclean’s, is one of them. The director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada simply can’t write a hit piece like that and go on to do his job effectively. His credibility was shot. He had to go.
Yet because his target was Quebec, in the rest of Canada, opinion is almost unanimous that Potter, who remains on the faculty at McGill as an associate professor, is the one who has been wronged and that Quebecers are just a bunch on thin-skinned crybabies. McGill is being called cowardly and craven, first, for issuing first a statement saying that Potter’s opinion was not shared by the university, and, then, for accepting Potter’s resignation as institute director.
In the space of a day, the Twitter critics went from criticizing the university for dissociating itself from Potter’s article instead of remaining silent to demanding McGill actively defend Potter’s academic freedom and right to remain the head of the Canada Institute. Rumours were floated that powerful politicians had demanded Potter’s head although they were as unsubstantiated as much of Potter’s article.
To Potter’s credit, he owned up to his article’s mistakes although what prompted the diatribe remains a mystery. For many in the chattering classes, his apology was enough and it was time to move on with Potter keeping his job. But this idea is untenable.
Potter’s article portrayed Quebecers as friendless, ungenerous, duplicitous. It went well beyond criticism deep into attack territory. The reaction it provoked is not about an inability to accept criticism but rather shock at the bigotry being directed at Quebec. And this bigotry was not coming from just anybody, but from the director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.
Imagine if the director of a North America think tank denounced Canadians as a bunch of whiney, boring losers. Would we all rally round to demand that director keep their job? Or would we say WTF, time to find a new director, that kind of behaviour is not acceptable for someone in that position.
The fact that so many of Potter’s defenders see no problem with Potter’s portrayal of Quebec is astonishing as is their ability to ignore the almost unanimous chorus of Quebecers saying they didn’t recognize the place Potter described, that he must be living in a parallel universe.
For an academic and journalist, Potter is surprisingly unskeptical when he quotes a Statistics Canada report showing “the proportion of people who report having zero close friends is highest in Quebec … And (that) while 28 per cent of Quebecers over the age of 75 report having no close friends, the average for the rest of the country is a mere 11 per cent.”
An anomaly like that shouldn’t make much sense to anyone not predisposed to view Quebec as some sinister backwater. There’s simply no logical reason for Quebecers to have fewer close friends. I suspect what we’re dealing with here are possible translation issues and different cultures’ interpretations of what constitutes a friend, close friend or acquaintance. And please note, I say this as someone who — like Potter — has questioned Quebecers cherished vision of themselves as full of joie de vivre compared to uptight Canadians.
Many Quebecers would also likely agree with several of Potter’s points had they been presented in context. Montreal should have long ago put an end to a never-ending police labour protest, where cops wear colourful camouflage pants instead of their uniform trousers. But how? Like Toronto does? By caving in and giving cops everything they want? Montreal may have police in clown pants but Potter never mentions that Toronto has a force where almost everyone who is not on the Sunshine List of Ontario public service employees, who make more than $100,000, is only a few thousand dollars away. Here in Ontario we’ve used our non-social capital to buy off the police, hardly a superior solution.
Perhaps this is something Potter will ponder as the snow melts and he ventures out to one of those many two-bill restaurant he alone seems to know. He can drown his sorrows about a future that is temporarily a little less bright and a career that is slightly less charmed than it was last week. Actions have consequences, but if Potter is truly as smart and affable, as his backers maintain, he will rise again having learned to be even smarter as a result of his very serious mistake.
By now you may have heard the news that Mark Smich, the convicted killer of Tim Bosma (along with his ex-pal, Dellen Millard), wants the charges against him for the murder of Laura Babcock stayed due to undue trial delays.
You may be panicking. Could this really happen? Oh yes it can, you’re saying. Look at this case in Ottawa where an alleged murderer got off and this one, where charges of sexually assaulting a child were stayed because technical issues caused trial delays.
In the latter case, Ontario Court Justice David Paciocco said the accused’s right to a speedy trial had been violated. He cited the Supreme Court’s recent Jordan ruling, which set time limits on the period between charges being laid and the trial getting underway. Those limits are 18 months for most criminal cases and 30 months for the most serious cases, including murder.
Justice Julianne Parfett used the same reasoning when she stayed the Ottawa first degree murder charges mentioned above. In something of an understatement, she wrote in her ruling: “I am well aware that, in deciding to stay these charges, the family of the deceased in this matter will not see justice done as they would want.”
According to the news reports, neither of these judges seemed overly concerned about the possibility their rulings might bring the justice system into public disrepute. Ontario’s attorney general almost immediately asked for a review of Parfett’s ruling. (Ed: I’d like a review of how she became a superior court judge. Can you look into it? And what’s up with this Paciocco guy while you’re at it?)
The news of Smich’s upcoming motion was raised by his lawyer Thomas Dungey in Toronto court today for a routine proceeding.
In another case, whose updates were heard just before Smich’s, there were also concerns raised about possible trial delays. Regarding this other, non-Smich case, Justice John McMahon said, “We’re not going to have a murder case in Toronto stayed because we didn’t do it in the time. It’s not going to happen.”
Smich was charged with the murder of Laura Babcock in April 2014. His trial was supposed to have begun earlier this month but was delayed because his co-accused Dellen Millard said he couldn’t find nor pay a lawyer and he had been denied legal aid. That caused the Babcock trial to be bumped to September of this year. (The court also heard Millard still hasn’t gotten his finances sorted and is appealing the Legal Aid decision.)
Millard’s and Smich’s circumstances are somewhat unusual given that they themselves weren’t available at earlier dates for the Laura Babcock trial. They spent several months of 2015 and the first half of 2016 in court in Hamilton for the murder of Tim Bosma for which they were eventually convicted.
Millard is also charged with the murder of his father, Wayne, a trial which isn’t scheduled to take place until 2018.
Both Smich and Millard are pleading not guilty to all charges against them.
My book, Dark Ambition provides the full story to date.
In 2015, I wrote an eight-part series on a sexual assault trial for the Walrus magazine. It generated so much interest the magazine asked me if I could do another series. I proposed a very different but equally interesting sexual assault case.
The new series, called Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, is now in progress. Here are the links:
Part 5: Post-verdict
Part 6: The appeal
As of Jan. 27, 2017, I am awaiting a court ruling to see what happens next. Sign up for my newsletter to ensure you don’t miss the appeal decision and the epilogue of Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.
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