Monday, May 28, 2007

Olympics "Civil City Slam" marred by hypocrisy

In Vancouver you will find sailing, hiking, skiing. And fighting. Vancouverites are fighting over preparations for the 2010 Winter Olympics, preparations that involve efforts to curb aggressive panhandling, sleeping, crack smoking, pissing and even shitting on the streets by Vancouver’s underclass.

On the right is Mayor Sam Sullivan. Sullivan introduced “Project Civil City” earlier this year to curb “public disorder” in Vancouver. The Civil City initiative, the Mayor has officially announced, will target homelessness, the open drug market, aggressive panhandling, and will attempt to increase satisfaction with how public nuisance complaints are handled.

On the left is Member of Parliament Libby Davies and others she refers to as “progressive electeds” and activists. The left takes the position that the Mayor’s Civil City erodes civil liberties of the poor and addresses symptoms of poverty rather than underlying causes.

On Tuesday evening, representatives of Vancouver’s left came together in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the poorest neighbourhood in Canada, to criticize the Mayor’s Project Civil City. They called the event, “Civil City Slam”.

The Forum was chaired by Libby Davies, known simply as “Libby” by many on the Downtown Eastside where low income people vote for this federal politician en masse. Davies told the crowd in the church auditorium that Project Civil City will hurt the poor while making Vancouver “squeaky clean” for the Olympics.

In the leaflet widely distributed to advertise the Civil City Slam, a column by left-leaning Allan Garr in the Vancouver Courier newspaper was re-printed. Garr had mentioned this month’s visit by Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin to address the Vancouver Board of Trade about Atlanta’s 1996 Summer Olympics experience. Franklin admitted that Altanta had made a mistake by investing in temporary shelters to get the homeless off the streets, only to discover after the Olympics that when the shelters disappeared, the homeless reappeared. What Franklin had not spoken about though, Garr wrote, was the civil liberties mistakes made in Atlanta during the Olympics:

“What she didn’t mention was this: Before the games, Atlanta passed a half dozen laws that made it illegal to panhandle aggressively, urinate in public, lay on a park bench and - my favorite – walk across a parking lot if you don’t have a car parked there. Homeless activists in Atlanta report the laws were later thrown out. But over the course of the games, thousands of homeless men were arrested.”

Inside the Civil City Slam at First United Church there was a standing room only crowd. To get in though, you had to pass a man on the steps handing out literature accusing Israel of apartheid, and a woman at the door of the auditorium with a table of literature which included Anti-Poverty Committee leaflets accusing Olympic Committee director, Ken Dobell, of being a “capitalist hog”.

David Eby: civil liberties abuses could result from changes ranging from new police powers to charge civilians and a “broad interpretation” of who is sufficiently mentally ill to be institutionalized

One of the first speakers was David Eby, a tall, thin, young lawyer with light brown curly hair who works for Pivot Legal Society. Eby mentioned media reports that City Councilors and Olympic Committee directors are feeling threatened by the Anti-Poverty Committee which recently stated an intent to evict Olympic Committee directors from their comfortable offices and homes, just as poor people are being evicted from their homes during preparations for the Olympics. (The APC had just hours earlier carried out an eviction by trashing the Vancouver office of Olympic Committee director Ken Dobell, within the Canada Place offices of Premier Gordon Campbell.) Eby pointed out that for the Olympic Committee, “the biggest threat to what they have planned is meetings like this.”

Eby said he has already noticed an erosion of civil liberties on the Downtown Eastside as the City prepares for the Olympics. He mentioned the raid on the offices of the Downtown Eastside Residents Association by police searching for the stolen Olympic flag, even though another organization had taken credit for stealing it.

Regular reports by Downtown Eastside residents of getting “jacked up” are another sign in Eby’s view, that civil liberties are being eroded as Vancouver gears up for the Olympics. Eby explained that each pair of police officers working the streets of the Downtown Eastside is expected to meet a daily quota of civilians they have had a conversation with. What that conversation entails, he said, is taking the person’s name and running it through the police computer system for no reason. These quotas work out to 303 people being stopped a day on the Downtown Eastside. That’s “the kind of civil society” the neighborhood is being subjected to. If you do the math, Eby explained, it works out to every resident of the Downtown Eastside being stopped six times a year. Eby got his point across, but the reality is that myself and my friends and acquaintances on the Downtown Eastside not involved in street life are not finding ourselves randomly stopped by police.

Eby says Project Civil City is bringing in a “No sit, no lie” bylaw. Anyone who walks around Vancouver knows who this bylaw is aimed at: the homeless who sleep for hours on benches and sidewalks both day and night. But Eby says that even people who hang around on a park bench can be targeted.

Project Civil City will also tackle aggressive panhandling, the open drug market, and public nuisance complaints, according to Eby, by allowing police to directly lay charges. Previously Vancouver Police had to wait for Crown prosecutors to approve charges. Crown prosecutors, Eby explained, tend to be more cautious than police, throwing out cases for such reasons as evidence being collected through an illegal search. Police are being given these new powers, Eby believes,“because the Crown is just getting in the way.”

Another tool police may finally be given on the Downtown Eastside is close circuit television cameras, according to Eby. Cameras to fight the open drug market and other crime have been proposed over the years by police, only to be opposed by the left wing establishment at Carnegie Centre which publishes the popular Carnegie newsletter.

“New drug treatment programs for chronic offenders”, are a specific Civil City strategy that Eby thought needed more discussion. New approaches to drug treatment will include, if Mayor Sullivan has his way, an expansion of NAOMI, a drug maintenance program on the Downtown Eastside which a couple of years ago began dispensing free heroin to addicts. But City Councilor Raymond Louie, who lent his name to the Civil City Slam brochure as an endorser, says opening a “pharmacy” for the city’s 700 chronic offenders would be irresponsible, without integrating them into the community. Eby’s concern about the focus on chronic offenders, he told spectators at the Slam, is the possibility that, “If you want to get into this innovative drug treatment, first you have to get arrested, and you probably have to plead guilty.”

Institutionalization of the very mentally ill is yet another goal of Civil City, Eby told the crowd. But here’s the problem, he said: “There is no real definition of who the very mentally ill is. I suspect there could be a very broad interpretation of that.”

When it comes to employing a very broad interpretation of mental illness for institutionalizing people, though, some of the “progressive electeds” who endorsed this Civil City Slam in promotional literature – Vancouver School Board trustees Allan Blakely and Allan Wong, for example — are in no position to point fingers.

With Blakely and Wong as trustees, the Vancouver School Board had been accused of political psychiatry, using an interpretation of mental illness broad enough to muzzle a political adversary. The Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog has obtained a police and psychiatric report in one well known case in which a political adversary was targeted by the Vancouver School Board. It was a case in which the Vancouver School Board arranged to have a Downtown Eastside resident targeted for an “assessment for apprehension” immediately after that resident expressed in writing an intent to campaign in the School Board election, then just 3 weeks away. This resident and several others on the Downtown Eastside were were fed up after independently lodging complaints against a verbally and physically abusive teacher, only to receive evasive and at times hostile responses from the VSB.

The Vancouver School Board, dominated by left wingers at the time who knew that they were about to lose their elected majority, hastily arranged to have the notorious police “Car 87” – a police car containing a constable and a psych nurse – visit and assess the prospective campaigner for “apprehension”. A letter in which the individual had stated an intent to campaign in the election, a letter which included a routine freedom of information request, was the sole evidence filed with police and the psych system to support this visit. In the accompanying psych report, nurse Don Getz entered the fact that this DTES resident had made “freedom of information requests” as the official reason for the assessment.

Just hours after the visit, VPD Sergeant Garry Lester admitted in a taped telephone conversation that he had emphasized to the VSB, when they were arranging the visit, that there was “nothing untoward” about this DTES resident’s letter.

In 2005, VSB trustees — including the few left wingers who had managed to keep their seats as trustees, Blakely (pictured left) and Wong — held an in-house review of the case and did not invite or allow input from the targeted individual. The targeted individual claims that political psychiatry instigated by the VSB shortly before the Nov. 2004 election has resulted in ongoing harassment, for which there is supporting evidence in the form of letters and voice mail from police.

Stories of political psychiatry perpetrated by members of the left wing establishment in the Downtown Eastside, which has been dubbed Canada’s “socialist experiment”, are rampant. Carnegie Centre, which sent a representative to sit on the panel of the Civil City Slam has been accused of at time favoring a politically convenient, broad interpretation, of mental illness. During a “Never trust a nurse” poster campaign on the Downtown Eastside in 2005-06 to fight alleged nurse involvement in political psychiatry, an allegation specifically against the Carnegie Street Nurse Program of collusion with political psychiatry surfaced and has yet to be resolved.

Even former mayoral candidate, Peter Haskell, recently alleged that he had become the target of psychiatric tactics at Carnegie. He told Vancouver's Republic newspaper that when he expressed opposition to user fees at Carnegie, a staff person telephoned his mother and recommended that he be put on medication.

Andy Yan: Civil City is based on the “broken windows” theory in the U.S.

Andy Yan, a chubby Chinese-Canadian man in his late twenties or early thirties, works for the Carnegie Centre Action Project which has an office on the Downtown Eastside. Yan told the crowd at the Slam that Civil City is based on the “broken windows” theory in the U.S. which Carnegie sees as the wrong approach to addressing street disorder. What has actually been proven to work in both the U.S. and Canada, Yen said, is “permanent homes as opposed to shelter beds.” He also wants welfare rates increased by 50% from current levels (the basic welfare rate has recently been raised by $100), and an elimination of barriers to getting welfare such as the 3 week waiting period. The position of the Carnegie Action Project, Yan said, is that we can “eliminate the symptom of homelessness by eliminating the causes.”

It came as no surprise to Downtown Eastside residents that Yan focused on housing for the homeless, not civil liberties for the homeless. Carnegie Action Project staff work out of the Carnegie Centre – Libby Davies’ organizing base – which has gained a reputation for trampling the civil liberties of the homeless. In January, homeless man Bill Simpson was barred from the Carnegie Learning Centre, accused of blogging about political issues at Carnegie. He was found guilty of blogging by Board members and staff during a ’star chambers’ hearing to which he was not invited.

Although Simpson’s case was the most publicized, there have been other cases of disrespect for the civil liberties of low income people at Carnegie. Staff in the Carnegie Action Project office at Carnegie called security guards on a Carnegie volunteer, Frank, and had him escorted from the premises, after he stopped by to tell Carnegie Board member Bob Sarti that it was wrong to bar Simpson for freedom of expression.

During the hunt for bloggers at Carnegie, a volunteer at Carnegie revealed that he had been questioned by Carnegie Director Ethel Whitty and Learning Centre Co-ordinator Lucy Alderson about a low income person under suspicion of blogging about Carnegie politics.

Even the Vancouver Network of Drug Users, which had a representative sit on the same panel as Carnegie at the “Civil City Slam”, had once had a lawyer threaten to take legal action against Carnegie for violating the civil liberties of marginalized people.

Sara Kendall: “racialized youth”, “neo-liberal agenda”, and other buzz words

Sara Kendall, tall, slim, with super short brown hair, a youth worker with the Vancouver Network of Drug Users – one of the groups that pushed for North America’s first Supervised Injection Site just two blocks west of First United church – also spoke on the panel at the “Slam”. But it was difficult to hear her message through her buzz words and phrases — “racialized youth”, “neo-Liberal agenda” “queer youth”, “culture of violence”. She even spoke of people “reaching out to another person from their place of need” — in plain English, that’s panhandling.

Kendall did manage to explain a form of street clearing that youth are being subjected to by police: “relocation”. That’s when police pick up a young person on the streets and drive them to another neighborhood and dump them.

Kendall identified government “cuts to public services” as part of the problem. She had worked for the City until the last election when the left wing Council lost power and the newly elected Mayor Sullivan axed her job.

Michael Vonn: “Olympics are a downhill event”

Michael Vonn – that’s a woman – Policy Director at the B.C. Civil Liberties Association also sat on the panel and told the crowd that from a civil liberties perspective, the “Olympics are a down hill event.” Vonn, in her late 30’s, slim, with shoulder length curly brown hair, announced that a stated goal of Project Civil City during Olympic preparations is to address “quality of life crimes.” “Oh please!”, she added. What the Mayor’s Civil City initiative really comes down to is “street sweeping the poor”, Vonn said.

A stated goal of Civil City is to “reduce aggressive panhandling by 50%” but, Vonn says, “we have no idea what the current base rate of aggressive panhandling is.” The same goes for homelessness and drug peddling which the goal of Civil City is to reduce by 50%. “The evidence doesn’t matter,” she told the crowd.

It’s people’s “perception of being at risk” that matters, Vonn explained. Police could potentially “charge someone for being the object of someone else’s fears.”

Apparently eager to assure the crowd that she was one of them, Vonn quipped, “Blue is not a good color on me.”

Dag Walker: “There are no consequences.”

Blue is a good color on Dag Walker who, like other members of the Vancouver Chapter of the Blue Revolution, wears a blue scarf to his meetings. Every Thursday evening Walker, in his early fifties, walks downtown to the Vancouver Public Library where their meetings are held and sees the public disorder on the streets.

Walker does agree with some issues raised at the “Civil City Slam”, like the fact that giving police power to directly lay charges is a “slippery slope”. But he also believes that leftists in Vancouver tend to downplay how serious the problem of public disorder is. “It’s out of control,” he says. People are fed up with the panhandlers who hound them day after day in coffee shops and on the streets, panhandlers whose “place of need” is, in his view, more often than not a crack addiction.

“When I was at London Drugs a few weeks ago”, he says, “somebody had shit on the sidewalk.” He actually saw it happen; a woman whom he suspects was on drugs defecated in broad daylight as pedestrians walked around her. And he points out that some streets smell like urine, “People piss everywhere.” He doesn’t share the left’s view that social conditions cause this public disorder. He attributes it to the fact that, “There are no consequences.”

Former Attorney General appointed to new position of Civil City Commissioner to tackle public disorder
It may not be a coincidence that the left held their Civil City Slam just a week after former B.C. Attorney General, Geoff Plant, was appointed to the newly created position of Civil City Commissioner in Vancouver. Plant’s appointment was seen as a coup for Mayor Sullivan but a set back for Vancouverites on the left arguing that more money for the social safety net is a solution to street disorder, not “criminalizing poverty”.

Plant’s appointment, lawyer David Eby told the crowd at the Slam, signals that Project Civil City will emphasize a “law and order” approach. But at the press conference announcing his appointment a week earlier, Plant hinted at a multi-pronged approach, “I am committed to tackling the underlying root causes of Vancouver’s challenges, while also dealing with some of the more straightforward, public disorder issues that we are experiencing.”

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Garrett: the mechanic who tried to save Chris Poeung

Remember Garrett, the mechanic who went over to help 13 yr. old Chris Poeung after he got stabbed? Garrett Gustafson used his bare hands to apply pressure to the wound near Chris’ heart and kept the pressure on for at least ten minutes, until the paramedics arrived. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to save Chris.

I saw Garrett, a short, young looking 43 yr. old with green-brown eyes and light brown hair, this evening when I dropped into McDonalds at Terminal and Main for a coffee. Garrett was having a snack and a coffee before he did some mechanical work on a van in the parking lot that belongs to Tom, another guy who drops in regularly for coffee.

Garrett is a third generation mechanic. Both his father and his maternal grandfather were mechanics. He learned the trade in high school in Winnipeg.

Garrett told me that reporters from The Province newspaper had tracked him down today. I knew they were looking for him because a reporter had e-mailed me trying to locate him. She said she had seen Garrett's name on my blog posting about the Chris Poeung stabbing in the parking lot next door to McDonalds. I had revealed on the blog that Garrett worked at a local car repair shop, but I didn't mention the name. I didn't know the name. Province reporters went to garage after garage in the neighbourhood until they found him at "Nic's" over near Cambie. (Nic's stands for "Non-intimidating Car Service".) Garrett agreed to meet with a Province reporter at McDonald’s after work.

The Province reporter had asked Garrett if he would meet in the parking lot where flowers now lie on the spot where Chris lay bleeding. Garrett looked at me, shaking his head and grimacing, indicating that he had not wanted to go over there.

"Did The Province take a photograph of you?", I asked Garrett. "About a hundred", he responded. When the photos were being taken, he said, "I held my McDonald’s coffee cup in front of me the whole time". Maybe McDonalds will return the favor by giving me free coffee, he said, grinning.

I told Garrett that the Province reporter had called him “heroic” in her e-mail to me. He didn't respond much to that. But Ric, a crusty 75 year old who regularly drops into McDonalds for coffee and has a teenager son of his own, had earlier weighed in on this: “The kid died; Garrett would have been a hero if the kid had lived”. But then again Ric was still peeved with Garrett for being too tired last night to help him fix his car.

Don, who has had coffee with Garrett at McDonalds and sold him a mountain bike he no longer used, believes that what Garrett did was indeed heroic: "He helped save that kid long enough for the doctors to get to him. I bet we'll see him up for some kind of medal."

I had not run into Garrett since last Saturday when I saw him applying pressure to stem the flow of blood from Chris Poeung's chest in the parking lot. Garrett told me when I chatted with him this evening, that he had said a prayer for Chris as he pressed on his wound, but not out loud. He had said the prayer for Chris after seeing "a woman saying a prayer over him", out loud in Spanish. “Is that what that woman was doing?,” I asked. I had mentioned that woman on my blog; I had reported seeing her kneeling by Chris' head, one hand on each side of his head, talking to him "softly, continuously". She had dark hair. I didn’t realize at the time that she was saying a prayer. I didn’t even realize that she was speaking Spanish as I didn’t listen too closely.

Garrett has no children. But he says he would definitely like to have some.

Garrett, who grew up on Ukranian food in a family of six children in Winnipeg, was asked by The Province if he had a message for Chris Poeung’s parents. The only thing I could say, he told me, his face and voice turning sad, was “God Bless, I’m sorry for your loss.” And knowing Garrett, he meant it. "I was traumatized when my father died when I was eight," he told me. His father died of a brain tumor six months after a machine that he was using to drill through ice flew up and hit him on the head. As an adult, when Garrett got a call from his mother in Winnipeg saying she wasn't feeling well, he said, “I’m coming to see you." He got on a bus. She died a week and a half later. "I just loved her so much," he says.

When Chris was taken away in the ambulance, Garrett says, "I thought he had a 60-40 chance." "A 40% chance to live?", I asked. "A 60% chance", Garrett responded. I was surprised that he had been that optimistic. Earlier, when I had mentioned that in the parking lot I was afraid that Chris had died when, for a few moments, his entire body went absolutely still -- something I don't think I will ever forgot -- Garrett raised his eyebrows slightly and nodded, saying softly, "I saw that too." I felt relieved to hear him say that. I don't know why, but I needed to know that I wasn't the only one who had witnessed those few moments.

The thing that haunts me about seeing Chris Poeung lying in that parking lot is whether anything more could have done more to help him survive. There were so many people around Chris – several of us being adults -- but none of us, other than Garrett, seemed to know first aid. Don told me the other night that the first aid course Garrett, whose paternal grandfather was a general practitioner, had taken was probably one of those short ones that last a day, minus lunch and smoke breaks.

That’s exactly what Garrett had taken. He told me he had taken his first aid course at the Newton Advocacy Group Society. “It was an 8 hr. course, very extensive”, he said, “Class 3”. The Newton Advocacy Group, Garrett explained, is a government funded organization that gives free first aid courses and helps women find employment. "And they help homeless people get back on their feet", Garrett said. "And that's me." Garrett became homeless when the boat squatters in False Creek got evicted. But he has an apartment in Surrey now and comes in to work on the Sky Train, his bike in tow.

I mentioned to Don the other night that I had been puzzled by the fact that Chris had a gaping cut, about ¾” long and fairly deep, on the base of his chin – it could have been a stab wound -- but it wasn’t bleeding. The absence of bleeding could have been a sign, Don thought, that not enough blood was flowing upwards to his head. He would have elevated Chris’ feet, he said, to get blood flowing away from his feet and legs and towards the more vital areas of his body like his head. I could have put my pack sack under his feet, I thought.

Don also told me that it’s important to keep an injured person warm when they’re going into shock, and it sounded to him like Chris had been going into shock, as they can start getting hypothermia. When I told Garrett about Don’s suggestion, he responded, “It was warm out that day.” Garrett was right; it had been a sunny day. But Chris was lying on the pavement in the parking lot and I wish now that I had put my thick sweater over him, at least over the side of his chest that Garrett wasn't applying pressure to. “He was lying on that cold pavement for at least 10 minutes,” I reminded Garrett.

Mentioning the length of time Chris had been lying in the parking lot, prompted me to add that the paramedics seemed to take longer than usual to get there. “Yeah,” Garrett said solemnly. “It seemed like it took them at least 10 minutes to get there, maybe 12 minutes”, I said. Garrett shook his head in agreement. First the Fire Department paramedics had arrived and, about five minutes later, the ambulance. “I’ve seen ambulances called for junkies on the street that seem to arrive much faster”, I said. Garrett, who lived for some time in this neighbourhood, again shook his head in agreement. We didn’t criticize the paramedics though; we don’t know exactly what they were up against, except that they were traveling in a Saturday rush hour on a holiday long weekend. But anybody who has lived for years on the Downtown Eastside gets accustomed to seeing ambulances called and gets a sense of the usual response time.

Barry Miller, a pensioner who had been walking next to me on the sidewalk when the stabbing occurred, says he saw the ambulance initially stop at the opposite side of the parking lot where other, less seriously injured, teenagers were standing. “That ambulance went to the far corner of the parking lot first," he said. "I saw it stop where some of the other kids were; there were four kids stabbed, you know.”

After talking to The Province, Garrett was second guessing himself about one thing he had said. When the reporter asked him what he thought the boy accused of stabbing Chris should be charged with, Garrett responded, “Murder.” “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that”, he told me. He thought about it for a short time, though, and added, “But I was being honest”.

I told Garrett that Don also believes that second degree murder is the right charge. When I mentioned to Don that Chris had a deep open wound on his chin that looked like it had come from a knife, he had responded with surprise, “That kid was stabbed more than once? If you stab somebody more than once, it means you’re trying to kill them. And if you stab them in the chin, it means you were probably going for their throat.” On the other hand, people who know the accused boy say he was trying to defend himself in a situation in which he felt outnumbered and did not set out to kill anyone.

“So, do you think you’ll buy a Province paper tomorrow?", Garrett asked me. I'll probably just grab one of the free ones lying around in McDonalds when I drop in for coffee, I told him. I'll show it to Don if I see him.

I agree with Don's conclusion about what Garrett achieved with his first aid intervention on Chris Poeung: "He kept that kid alive long enough for his family to see him before he died."

[Update: The interview with Garrett wasn't in Friday's Province, although the reporter had told him that it would run Friday. "I guess they missed the deadline," Garrett said. Don, who worked as a journalist years back, believes The Province will still run that story: "They went to alot of expense to find Garrett. Those were well paid reporters they had out there looking for him."]

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Another Story in the Naked City

A woman walked down the winding stairs at Carnegie Community Centre, from the third floor to the lobby and out the front door. She was naked.

There were scores of witnesses at Carnegie on this busy Saturday evening at around 9 p.m. It was cold that night, just as it was for much of this 3-day holiday weekend as Vancouverites celebrated the Queen's birthday.

A regular Carnegie volunteer who didn’t want his name published, told me that he was in the lobby when he saw the woman come down the stairs. “She had a nice tan,” he said “except for her bum; her bum was white.” She walked west on the 100 block Hastings Street. “You could see this white bum walking down Hastings”, he said, chuckling. “She was walking calmly, not hurrying at all.”

About 1 ½ minutes later, Dean, a musician who drops into the Carnegie Music Program, came down the winding staircase to the Carnegie lobby with the woman’s clothes in his arms. “Where did that woman go?”, the witness recalled Dean saying. “Here’s her clothes.” Then Dean’s girlfriend showed up. The Queen was not amused.

Dean was just trying to help the naked woman, the witness said. He left her clothes at the reception desk in the lobby and took off down the street with her coat, looking for her.

"People in cars going by were honking their horns. Guys were whistling. Girls were going, ‘Ahhh, look at that.’”

The police came back to Carnegie to get the woman’s clothes. The witness said that, according to Dean, “She ended up at St. Paul’s [hospital].”

Because the witness didn’t want his name used, I asked Bill Simpson, who goes to Carnegie daily, if he knew of this incident. “Dean saw the whole thing”, Simpson said. The woman reportedly had a "break down" and took her clothes off by a window on the 3rd floor," Simpson told me. “She’s in St. Paul’s.”

There are a million stories in the naked city. You have just read one.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Boy, 14, to be charged with 2nd degree homicide in death of 13 yr. old

The Vancouver teen accused of fatally stabbing Chris Poeung will be charged with second degree homicide, VPD Constable Tim Fanning told reporters today, not manslaughter as originally anticipated.

"The new charge means the prosecution will allege the youngster used a weapon that he should have known could cause death", the Globe and Mail reported.

The accused 14 year old will remain in jail until his appearance in provincial youth court on Tuesday.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Teenagers Visit Parking Lot Memorial for Chris Poeung

A large mound of about 20 bouquets of flowers appeared today on the pavement in the parking lot across from the Main St. Skytrain Station. The flowers appeared at the exact spot where Chris Poeung, 13, lay after being fatally stabbed late yesterday afternoon, allegedly by a 14 year old boy.

All afternoon, teenagers came and went. They stood around the bouquets of flowers in the almost empty parking lot, talking, in the Vancouver drizzle. There were neatly printed messages on some of the bouquets at their feet:

"R.I.P. baby bro,
I love you lots and I miss you."

"You were like a brother to me."
Annie Tran

" will never be forgotten."
Deanna Tran

At about 6:15 p.m., when I last went by, there were 10 young people standing by the bouquets.

A tree at the edge of the parking lot, a few meters south of the mound of flowers on the pavement, had a new, white, spray-painted message on it: a heart and below it the large letters, "R.I.P. C.P." A piece of yellow police tape lay twisted on the grass below. Nearby on the grass, somebody had placed a round container of bright pink flowers.

Local residents dropping into McDonalds next door for coffee were talking about the fact that Chris Poeung had died. Barry, a pensioner who has lived on Downtown Eastside for 30 years said that after leaving McDonalds yesterday, one of the Asian teenagers was in such a hurry to get out of that parking lot that, "He almost knocked me over." But Barry is street smart. He believes there is a history between some of these teenagers that we don't know about: "Somebody doesn't just start stabbing people for no reason."

CTV has since spoken to Chris Poeung's girlfriend, Cathy Le, who said the fight that resulted in Poeung's death was over a girl. But Poeung was not even directly involved, she said.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Stabbing Near McDonalds Leaves Boy, 13, Dead

Stabbing victim, Chris Poeung, died late last night in hospital. He was born Mar. 3, 1994 and was 13 years old.

Witnesses saw the suspect leave the scene of the stabbing and hop on the #19 bus. Police reportedly took him off the bus as it headed up Kingsway. There are reports that a second person was also taken into custody but released.

There were a total of four teenagers stabbed. Three had injuries that were not life threatening.

The following article was posted yesterday, shortly after I left the scene of the stabbing.

A teenage girl called her mother today and told her to come to the parking lot at Terminal & Main. Her brother, Chris Poeung, had just been stabbed.

It was about 5:15 or 5:20 p.m. I had just left McDonalds next door with a take-out coffee in my hand. I saw a swarm of Asian teenagers, both male and female, crossing the parking lot at Main & Terminal -- the parking lot kitty corner from the Pacific Central Station -- headed towards McDonalds. Some of the boys in the huge group were fighting. But it seemed to be over quickly.

Then I saw about three boys looking back as they rushed from the parking lot, at least one of them holding a cell phone. I got the impression that for them this fight wasn't over. But I really didn't pay much attention and kept walking.

Then I heard some girls in the parking lot screaming as they stood over an individual lying on the pavement. I went over to see if I could help. There was a pool of blood around a young Asian man in a white track suit. The white top of his track suit was soaked in blood. It was obvious that he had been stabbed near the heart. He had also been stabbed on the chin.

I told the victim to hang on, that an ambulance was on the way. I kept repeating that. I had read about an accident victim who said that having a person beside them reassuring them that the ambulance was on the way was helpful. The victim seemed to have almost lost consciousness, and by the time help arrived would be completely unconscious. One of the teenage girls standing near the victim's feet began crying, a scared sounding crying.

Later another woman passerby crouched down and put her hands on the sides of the victim's head and talked softly to him, continuously. Yet another woman passing by was on her cell phone to police saying, "I didn't realize that I had witnessed a stabbing."

A young woman with long dark hair who looked like a teenager came over. She said she was the victim's sister. She had apparently not witnessed the stabbing but may have been with the large group of teenagers as it took her just a couple of minutes to get to the scene. She screamed for a second when she saw the massive amount of blood that her brother was lying in. A couple of minutes later, she got on her cell phone and called her mother. She was crouched beside me as she made the call asking her mother to come to the parking lot across from the Main St. Skytrain station, saying, "Somebody's been stabbed." She must have been pressed to provide more information over the phone as she then stated in a calm voice that it was Chris who had been stabbed.

"The suspect", I would later hear a female police officer say into her phone, "goes to Tupper School." I believe the officer also identified him as "Thai."

Just a few seconds after I had arrived in the parking lot to see if I could help, I noticed a local mechanic, Garrett, on his knees by the victim. Garrett, a very young looking 43 year old originally from Winnipeg, works at a car repair shop nearby and drops into McDonald's almost daily to have coffee with local residents.

Garrett was using his bare hands to apply pressure over the wound by the victim's heart. He kept his hands there until the fire department paramedics arrived about 10 minutes later.

Later as he washed the blood off his hands with a cleansing gel police had given him, I asked Garrett, who I know from the McDonalds koffee klatch, "How did you know to do that?" He said he had taken a first aid course as "a form of self-improvement" two months ago out in Surrey where he has just moved. (He used to live on a boat behind McDonalds in False Creek, until all the boat squatters got evicted.) "That was good timing," I said.

It had seemed to take a long time for the paramedics to arrive: I would say 10-12 minutes, but I wasn't wearing a watch. And because everybody standing around was desperately waiting for the ambulance, time may have seemed to go slowly. The Vancouver Police were first to arrive, then the Fire Department paramedics, then the first of two ambulances. When the first police car arrived, I said to the female officer, "Where's the ambulance? We've been waiting ten minutes." She ignored me and looked at the victim.

The female police officer made the same call that a number of others had already made on cell phones, a request for an ambulance. She said into her phone, as she squatted by the victim's head, he was "not doing well." The officer then took over the job of talking to the victim. At one point, I thought the victim had died; he went completely still but then seemed to get a second wind and took a couple of deep breaths. I said to his sister, "You talk to him, he knows your voice." She leaned in toward him and started to speak but the police officer told her to move back and give him more space. The officer continued talking to him.

When the first paramedics from the Fire Department did get to the victim, three of them worked swiftly and calmly, putting a clear plastic mask over his mouth and cutting off his blood-drenched shirt. About five minutes later, the ambulance showed up. Then a woman showed up, who I believe may have been the mother of the victim. She stood outside the yellow police tape surrounding the scene and spoke to the sister.

A second victim, a young male with a bloody wound to his arm, sat on a curb in the parking lot near where the first had been laying. He was tended to by paramedics and may have been put in a second ambulance that arrived.

A young male police officer politely gave the order that nobody was to leave the scene. Police corralled everybody at the side of the parking lot, on the grass. They spoke to the sister and several witnesses, many of whom were teenagers. After about 10 minutes, police let me go as I had really not paid attention to the faces of any of those involved in the fight.

Garrett was still trying to get the blood off his hands. He pointed to the bottle of cleansing gel on the grass and asked, "Could you squirt more of that on my hands?"

A stocky, middle-aged firemen walked over to us and asked Garrett for his name, after the ambulance had left. The fireman commented that the victim had lost a lot of blood. He made a point of commending Garrett: "That kid has a chance because of you."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

TD Bank Reimburses Robbed Customer

When Downtown Eastside resident C. Laird used the bank machine at the TD-Canada Trust on Main St. in Chinatown recently, somebody was standing behind him watching him punch in his pin number. The man then grabbed Laird's card. Before Laird had a chance to cancel the card, the man had raced to another bank and drained Laird's account.

Laird, a former ambulance attendant now on Disability because he has severe diabetes and other health problems, asked the TD-Canada Trust bank if they could reimburse him. "No", was the response.

Laird is not without connections though. He is a regular at the Carnegie Centre at Main & Hastings and has been a Board member there. Ethel Whitty, Director of the Carnegie Centre -- who has herself been accused of highway robbery for the $104,000 salary she drains from the public purse annually, a salary approaching what the Mayor earns -- wrote a letter to TD-Canada Trust requesting that they return the stolen money. Others at Carnegie wrote letters to the TD as well: Marlene George, Carnegie Seniors Programs Coordinator; Alphie and Sindi, Volunteer Co-ordinators; and Jean Swanson, an organizer with the Carnegie Action Project and author of the book, "Poor Bashing: The Politics of Exclusion". Sources believe a letter may also have been written by Paul Taylor, a member of the editorial committee of the Carnegie Newsletter, a left wing publication with a record of criticizing corporations.

The TD-Canada Trust reversed their decision.

TD-Canada Trust reimbursed Laird the money he was robbed of via their bank machine and sent him a letter a few days ago apologizing for the inconvenience.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Black Mom gets White Justice

Dennis “Rocka” Knibbs was a black defendant facing a white jury – ten jurors were white and two were of Asian ancestry – in his murder trial in Vancouver. When this fact was mentioned early in the trial on the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog, it drew a response from Lanre Aba Habib, mother of 21 yr. old Trumaine “Ekoh” Habib whom Knibbs, now 31, was accused of shooting multiple times in the New Wings Hotel. Habib wrote: “And as my son was half white, all I ask the court is that they would give his white side some form of JUSTICE”.

She got justice.

But questions linger about whether justice was stretched a little thin in places during the trial which saw Knibbs, the Montreal born son of Jamaican immigrants, convicted of second degree murder and sentenced last Thursday to 25 years in prison, with a mandatory ten years before being eligible for parole. Defense lawyer, Glen Orris, had argued in the hours before the verdict that Knibbs was being denied his right to fully defend himself.

Orris had felt ambushed when the jury was told at the last minute that they could consider whether the victim, Habib, had acted in self-defense when firing the first shot. Orris said he would have defended his client from this angle had he learned of it before the jury was heading off to deliberations.

“Who goes into a hotel they were just banned from toting a SHOTGUN?!!…he intended to what? Use it as a coat hanger?”

Even laypersons discussing this murder case instinctively gravitate toward the issue of whether Habib was defending himself or provoking Knibbs when he fired that first shot. Early in the case, Habib’s mother wrote to the Enquirer,

“…all I want to say is that my son was defendeding (sic) himself from two thugs that had nothing but bad blood towards him and he defended himself as he knew how to…”
After the verdict, a Knibbs supporter who wished to remain anonymous, argued that Habib’s conduct was more provocation than self defense:

“Who goes into a hotel they were just banned from toting a SHOTGUN?!! … Its obvious why this guy went back with a deadly weapon.. to use deadly force. I'm sure if he took it, he intended to what? use it as a coat hanger?”

The fact that the victim, Habib, had brought a shot gun to the New Wings Hotel in the hours before the shooting is a fact that was agreed upon by both the prosecution and the defense in this trial. Leroy Charlie, a 19 yr. old New Wings resident, had allowed Habib to stay in his room and later testified that Habib had walked in, pulled a shotgun out of his pants, and showed it to him.

Other facts too were agreed upon by both sides: Later in the day on which Habib had brought the shotgun into the hotel, Liscombe and Knibbs had been looking for Habib; Liscombe pushed on the door of Charlie’s room and as the door opened partially and then slammed shut again, Knibbs joined Liscombe in pushing on it – that’s when Habib fired the first shot from his shotgun. That first and only shot fired by Habib hit Liscombe in the gut, a wound from which he would die a few hours later in St. Paul’s hospital. A few days before Habib brought the shotgun into the hotel, he and Liscombe had gotten into a fist fight in the hallway of the hotel and Habib, the smaller of the two, had grabbed a baseball bat and whacked Liscombe across the head, leaving a cut that required a hospital visit and stitches. After that fight, Habib had been barred from the hotel by the manager but had returned to Charlie’s room with a concealed shotgun and an intent, he told Charlie, to “lay low” for awhile.

In closing statements, prosecutor Michael Luchencko told the jury that it was likely that Habib had brought the shotgun into the hotel simply because of the nature of the business he was in – Habib, Knibbs, and Liscombe were drug trafficking in the New Wings -- and not specifically to harm Liscombe or Knibbs.

Judge Silverman instructs the jury: first he says they could, then he says they couldn’t, then he says they could

After the verdict, a supporter of Knibbs commenting on the Downtown Eastside Enquirer blog, accused the jury of letting race influence their decision.

"Let me ask the jury this , 'How could you say that Ecko acted on self defense if he was barred from the New Wings . Means he isnt allowed in . How do you know defendent (sic) wasn't tryin to escort him out of there'. . . . You have it out for black people and I really think that it's a nasty attitude."

But if the jury's decision was colored by anything, it may have been Justice Silverman's instructions about whether they could consider if Habib had acted in self-defense when firing the first shot. First he said they could, then he said they couldn’t, then he said they could.

Trouble started when Justice Silverman, before sending the jury out to deliberate, instructed them that they could consider the issue of whether Habib had been acting in self-defense. The minute the jury left the room, Orris stood up and objected, telling the judge that it was unfair to put this issue to jurors for the first time as they were heading out to deliberate. Orris argued that the prosecution had not raised this issue during the trial, denying Knibbs an opportunity to defend himself in relation to it.

Orris -- who had told the jury the day before in closing statements that this case “screams out” for an acquittal based on the fact that Knibbs had been the one acting in self defense – now gave the judge an idea of how he would have defended his client if he had known that the jury would be asked to consider whether Habib had been acting in self-defense. Orris said he would have gotten the jury to distinguish between whether it was Knibbs or Liscombe that Habib may have felt the need to defend against.

Orris won over the judge. Justice Silverman recalled the jury and gave them strict instructions not to consider whether Habib had been acting in self-defense: “Take that off your radar.”

The jury didn’t take it off their radar. The next day, after deliberating until almost dinner time, the jury sent the judge questions. They asked: “When Liscombe and Nabib forced entry, did Nabib have the right to fire the shotgun? Was that an unlawful act?” And they asked for a brush-up on the “provocation” defense, specifically the part that states that some “unlawful act” must have suddenly been committed to provoke a person into committing murder. Even Orris’ receptionist smelled trouble here; she had dropped into the courtroom with an armful of papers and said in worried tone, “They’re talking about provocation.” Orris, a 30 year veteran of court rooms, responded, "Who knows why." He did not sound happy.

Even a layperson sitting in the gallery could see that the jury’s questions hinted at trouble for Knibbs. The jury appearing to be reviewing the defense of “provocation”, a place where the judge told them to go only if they had already found Knibbs guilty of murder. The provocation defense would allow the jury to drop a murder conviction down to the lesser conviction manslaughter. The provocation defense works like this: If Habib’s firing of the shotgun into Liscombe’s belly could be viewed as an unlawful act that had “provoked” Knibbs into a violent response, then Knibbs could be convicted on the lesser crime of manslaughter and be out on parole in 4 years. But if Habib had a right to fire that shotgun – i.e. if he had been exercising his right to self-defense -- he was not committing an unlawful act and the jury’s option of dropping a murder conviction to manslaughter was dead.

Orris put up a fight. It was getting late, about 8:30 p.m.; the lights were out in the halls of the cavernous court building, the sheriffs were on overtime, and the Canucks were in overtime a few blocks away, playing what would be their final playoff game.

Orris argued to the judge that prosecutors had “never taken the position in opening or closing statements that Habib was acting in self-defense in acquiring the gun.” And there had been “no suggestion” by the prosecution during the trial that Habib had acted in self-defense. Orris further pointed out that raising this issue was unfairly “putting the onus on Mr. Knibbs to prove that Mr. Habib was not acting in self-defense”. It was too late for Knibbs to mount a defense now, Orris said.

“I didn’t get a chance to say to this jury,” Orris argued, “‘Nobody saw guns in the hands of either of these men’”, either Knibbs or Liscombe, as they entered the room where Habib was staying. And Knibbs took out a baton only after Habib fired the first shot. And Knibbs had intervened in a fight a few days earlier between Liscombe and Habib, punching Habib once, just enough to put an end to the fight. “So what are the chances he wanted to blow this guy away from 30 centimeters with a shotgun?,” Orris told the judge. “I didn’t get a chance to argue that. Don’t go there.”

The judge went there. Justice Silverman told Orris that he intended to rule against him. He intended, he said, to instruct the jury to use a “common sense” standard for whether Habib had been acting in self-defense. Orris protested: You’re going to say to the jury that the criteria for self-defense that you instructed them to apply to Mr. Knibbs, don’t apply to Mr. Habib, and that for Habib the standard to be applied is “common sense which is much wider”.

“Give me ten minutes”, the judge said, as he ducked out to prepare the tricky wording of his instructions to the jury. Orris turned to a sheriff: How are the Canucks doing?

Justice Silverman recalled the jury and instructed them to decide whether Habib had a “perceived need to defend himself” – that’s the key phrase to remember, he told them -- when he fired that first shot. In a general sense, the judge explained, “a person has a legal right to defend himself from danger or threat of danger.” You will have to be satisfied that Habib did have that “need”, before you can decide that he had the “right” to fire the first shot. “There are clearly some common sense limitations that you’re going to have to consider”, he further explained. You will have to determine that:

  1. Mr. Habib “honestly and reasonably perceived serious danger and threat to himself”,
  2. Mr. Habib fired the shotgun “in response” to the perceived danger,
  3. Mr. Habib’s “reaction in firing the shotgun was not excessive” in those circumstances.

The judge emphasized, "Apply common sense."

Common sense was exactly the standard that Habib’s mother wanted applied in this case. In a comment left at the Downtown Eastside Enquirer near the start of the trial, the Surrey mother referred to the judge’s opening comments, “COMMON SENCE (sic) IS WHAT THE JUDGE KEPT SAYING TO THE JURY I TRULY HOPE THAT HE USES SOME."

Anyone with an ounce of common sense can see that this case isn’t over yet. As Knibbs sat in the prisoner’s box for the first time after the verdict was read, his tie now missing, a tall, young, Mulatto guy who had arrived with his Asian girlfriend, spoke with him through the glass. He encouraged Knibbs to hold out hope for his appeal. “Now three judges get to deal with it,” his pal reminded him. "And when they see what’s up, they’ll see what’s up.”

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Will Heather be your pick?

I thought the Wilderness Committee was about saving trees, not cutting down Israel.

But it was on the Wilderness Committee website that I saw an announcement* for Saturday’s launching of a boycott of Chapters-Indigo books. On the Wilderness Committee website, space was turned over to boycott organizers to remind readers that Israel-supporters Heather Reisman and her husband Gerry Schwartz are the primary owners of this bookstore chain. And to warn customers that this couple is up to no good.

“A bookstore that kills?”, was the message scrawled on a piece of beige cardboard held by a twenty-something woman standing by the front door of Chapters in downtown Vancouver yesterday. She was one of 10 people standing in front of the Robson St. store, the one in the new building designed to look like it’s toppling over, the one where you can buy a book or a Starbucks coffee. The protesters stood holding placards or handing out leaflets or asking customers to think twice before buying a book that would put money into the pocket of Heather Reisman. At the bottom of the placard was the web address: www. newsocialist

A man in his early twenties with short brown hair stepped toward me and said politely, “Would you like a flyer?” “Boycott Chapters-Indigo?” he continued as he handed me a white and black flyer. He had a spiel and he said it all in one big mouthful: “We’re boycotting Chapters for their support of Israeli apartheid and Israeli war crimes against Palestinians and their support of the Israeli defense force. So we’re boycotting Chapters because of their funding and their support for that.”

Heather Reisman, being not a new socialist but a smart capitalist, saw these people coming. She tried to sell a book to customers whose attention they were turning to Middle Eastern issues. She put “Heather’s Picks” on prominent display just inside the door of the store. Heather’s Pick: “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, “a great book personally chosen and loved by Indigo CEO Heather Reisman – 20% off, members save 10% more." Heather 's Pick: "In the name of Honor", by Mukhtar Mai. Both Ali and Mai speak out about the pernicious abuse of women by Islamists, the Islamists with whom the leftists on the sidewalk out front had aligned themselves. Heather was making a buck and making a point.

Heather is facing a boycott that is well organized though. There was a long, professionally printed, dark blue and white banner about 10 feet long, with protesters taking turns standing at each end holding it up.

Chapters - Indigo - Israeli Military: Partners in Apartheid

In Victoria “bi-weekly actions” are being held at Chapters on Saturdays. And there is a Canada-wide “day of action” planned for June.

In the black and white flyer – there was a second flyer too, a coloured one – the boycotters went into more detail about what Heather had done to motivate them to spend a Saturday afternoon working the sidewalk crowd:

Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz – majority owners of Chapters and Indigo bookstores – are the founders of the ‘Heseg Foundation for Lone Soldiers’, which provides scholarships and other financial support to soldiers in the Israeli Military on the basis of need and military ‘achievement’. At its peak, the foundation will distribute up to $3,000,000 annually to former ‘Lone Soldiers….

Former lone soldiers. The brochure was contradicting the message scrawled on the young woman’s killer bookstore placard: “Up to 3 million a year given to Israeli’s oppressive military.” That sounded like current military personnel, not former.

Accuracy, say critics, is not a strong point of those protesting against support for Israel. That’s why there are Chapters customers who will not stop shopping there for books. Their attitude is closer to, ‘Shop ‘til you drop.’

One critic of the protesters in front of Chapters is Dag Walker, a founder of the Vancouver chapter of the Blue Revolution, a movement which is big in France and budding in Canada and other countries. Blue Revolutionaries take the attitude that the world is better off with Israel and the U.S. and that western leftists aligning themselves with Middle Eastern Islamists are misguided. The Blue Revolution in Vancouver is, like the boycotters who showed up at Chapters, a small but committed group. And like the boycotters, they welcome anyone whose thinking is similar to theirs on this issue; in fact, they wear blue scarves at their public meetings so that they can be easily spotted by newcomers. They’ve been meeting every Thursday evening for the past year and a half at the Vancouver Public Library, rain or shine – mostly rain – in front of the Blenz coffee shop in the lobby.

I know Dag Walker but I’m not involved with the Blue Revolutionaries. I did know that they were pro-Israel; it was the black cap with the small Israeli flag on the front that I saw Walker wearing on his way to one of their meetings that first tipped me off. So I asked Walker how the Blue Revolutionaries would view the group who launched the Chapters-Indigo boycott yesterday. “We call these people Death Hippies,” he told me. “If they protest against Chapters supporting Israel, we’ll protest against them supporting terrorism.”

In fact, there is talk amongst the Blue Revolutionaries of changing the location of a future meeting -- to the Starbucks coffee shop inside Chapters, in the building that appears to be toppling over. They want to make a point, a point similar to the one made with Heather’s Picks.

Clearly, there is more than one perspective on the support for Israel by Chapters-Indigo owners Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman. The next time you’re shopping for a book, you can either buy from Heather or boycott her. It’s your pick.

* Since this story was published, the Wilderness Committee has 'disappeared' the announcement for the Chapters boycott from their May calendar -- although they left every other past entry intact on their calendar. The DTES Enquirer had made a copy, though, of the full page of material that the Wilderness Committee ran at their site to encourage people to attend this boycott.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Pedestrian struck near Main & Hastings

I was walking home about 20 minutes ago and there were alot of sirens at Main & Hastings. I asked a guy what had happened and he said a pedestrian had been hit. So we walked up Hastings, to just east of the Empress Hotel -- I can take that route home -- and in the middle of the street there was a pedestrian lying there. There were lots of cops and firemen and an ambulance. There were witnesses standing with the cops too.

As we stood there on the sidewalk, a photographer jumped in between the police cars surrounding the body. As he snapped photo after photo of the paramedics working on the body, he seemed almost gleeful. Why do I think that was blueshoe?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

"Mr. Black" gets ten

Before Dennis Knibbs was sentenced for second degree murder this morning, his lawyer Glen Orris told the judge that he had been involved in such events as Black History Month and had been named "Mr. Black" as an "award in 2004 in Vancouver". Later in the morning, Judge Arne Silverman told the packed courtroom that Knibbs' past involvement "in a positive way with the Black community and Black community activities" was being taken into account in the sentencing.

Knibbs sat in the glass prisoner's box wearing a bright red, long sleeved t-shirt, his head slightly bowed, He did not seem to notice when Orris got his age wrong, telling the judge he was 41 instead of 31 years old. And he did not turn to look when his supporters streamed in a little late, or when one of his male supporters verbally harassed the victim's mother.

Knibbs has family support

Orris told the judge that Dennis Knibbs had been born in Montreal to parents originally from Jamaica. Knibbs' mother and father are separated but his mother remains in Montreal, along with other members of his immediate family, "all gainfully employed". "His mother was here at the start of the trial," Orris added, but she had to return to her job in Montreal. While out on bail awaiting his murder trial, Knibbs worked in a cousin's restaurant on Commercial Drive. Judge Silverman would later mention that Knibbs had "good family support".

Knibbs has two sons from a previous relationship -- one was mentioned as being eight years old -- whom he "sees regularly" and helps support "when he can."

Knibbs, the judge would later add, "left school" after grade 11.

Knibbs' criminal record before murder: the bad and the good

Before sentencing, the judge reviewed Knibbs' criminal record, a record he noted the jury had not been aware of when recommending that he serve the minimum of 10 years before being eligible to apply for parole. Knibbs' record conveyed messages, both good and bad. Knibbs had a "minor" conviction in 1995 for possession of a narcotic and received a $75 fine. Knibbs had three convictions for "trafficking in a narcotic" in 1996 and was "sentenced to 28 months for each of those three to be served at the same time." Knibbs' latest offense of murder had occurred in a drug trafficking context. Bad. Between 1996 and his arrest for murder in 2005, Knibbs had no convictions. He had, the judge said, "been free and clear" for almost a decade. Good.

Harassing the victim's mother

Like Knibbs, Trumaine Abraham "Ekoh" Nabib, also has family. His mother Lanre Aba Nabib, a slim, youthful -- her son was 21 yrs. old when he was shot two years ago -- Black woman, with very short curly hair, showed up for the sentencing. On this sunny but nippy spring day in Vancouver, she wore a soft, wool, beige and black sweater, an off-white skirt, and a long light green blazer. She sat quietly in the front row.

But one of Knibbs's supporters would soon get to her. He was a tall, twenty-something Mulatto man, who had filed in late with a group of young people and sat behind her. He wore a new black t-shirt with a large red heart depicted on the back, a heart with 8 small round holes in it and long drips of what looked like blood coming from it, and a small crack breaking it apart from the top. After sitting down, the man seemed to recognize the victim's mother. From his seat behind and two seats to the left of her, he gazed at her for a prolonged period; it was not a hostile gaze. But he reacted with disdain when the judge turned to a Victim's Impact Statement she had submitted on behalf of herself and her other children.

The young man reacted instantly as the judge noted that in the Statement in front of him, Habib's mother was "speaking in a positive way" about her son, noting that he had entered the world of drugs "only recently". The young man looked her way and began making remarks, making it difficult for people in the vicinity to hear the judge reading the Victim's Impact Statement. The victim's mother turned around and responded to the young man. He shot back, and the two exchanged comments for a few seconds, in low but unfriendly tones. Finally, Lanre Habib said, in a low, terse tone, "Shut up", and turned back around. He did shut up. But by that time the Statement was over. The sheriffs hadn't noticed. Knibbs hadn't noticed.

Neither the victim's mother or Knibbs' supporters are prone to such exchanges in court. Lanre Habib has sat quietly during previous appearances in court. (She introduced herself to me, the blogger, during a court break and was polite, saying that she was pleased to have met me. She has never attempted to influence coverage of the case.) Knibbs' supporters are young and sometimes whisper too much when court is in session, but they haven't come looking for trouble. One of Knibbs' male friends with long corn rows was clearly angry in the minutes after the verdict last Saturday, but waited until he got into the hallway to express his anger about "lies and rumours".

The judge has the power to change just one number
The judge explained to the packed courtroom, which he observed included "well dressed young people from a school", what a second degree murder conviction means. It automatically means "life in prison" with a 25 year sentence, and a requirement that a minimum of 10 years be served in prison before eligibility for parole. The judge added that most of this punishment is out of his control -- except for one number. He can top up the minimum 10 year period Knibbs must serve in prison before he is eligible to apply for parole. Prosecutor, Michael Luchencko, asked him to do that, to jack up the minimum sentence to anywhere from 10-13 years.

Judge Silverman explained to members of the public in the court room that when Knibbs becomes eligible for parole, it "doesn't mean he gets out; it just means he gets to apply."

What worked in Knibbs' favour during sentencing

In deciding whether to top up the 10 year minimum, Judge Silverman listed facts that he was considering in Knibbs' favour:

In the days leading up to the deaths of Habib and Liscombe, the judge said, Knibbs had intervened in an "altercation" between the two. Knibbs had given Habib "one punch" and "ended the altercation".

In the minutes before the murders, Knibbs and his cousin had questioned an associate of Habib's, then escorted him out of the building. He was "not assaulted or anything", the judge noted.

One thing that the judge found to be "most favourable" to the accused was that the victim had fired the first shot. Then events "unfolded quickly", over five to six seconds. The judge noted that this murder was not even close to first degree; it lacked planning or deliberation: "It was reaction."

Another factor that the judge said he considered "significant" was "the fact that the victim brought the shotgun to the scene." "Habib acquired the shot gun on an instantaneous basis", the judge said. He noted that a witness, 19 yr. Leroy Charlie, had testified that Habib entered his room on the afternoon of the shootings and pulled a sawed off shotgun out from under his trench coat. "It is possible that if Mr. Habib had not have brought the shotgun, Mr. Knibbs would not have shot him."

What worked against Knibbs during sentencing
Judge Silverman said he is convinced that Knibbs did not plan to go to Habib's room to kill him, but he and his cousin "were certainly going to confront him". After Habib fired the first shot, though, Knibbs had a "quick reaction that came with an intent to kill or to cause bodily harm" severe enough to result in death. "There is no question in my mind", the judge said.

What is very clear from the verdict," Judge Silverman said, "is that Mr. Knibbs was not acting in self defense and he was not provoked in the sense that the law means that word." Silverman continued, "When Mr. Knibbs shot Mr. Habib, Mr. Habib no longer presented a threat of violence to Mr. Knibbs...he had been disarmed or his weapon was no longer working and Mr. Knibbs knew it."

Judge listens to the jury

After Saturday's verdict, the judge told the jury that if they recommended a minimum sentence, he would definitely take it into consideration. He said he would listen to them. And he did. He ruled that Knibbs will be eligible to apply for parole in ten years.

The judge told Knibbs, that he is "barred for life from possession of a firearm." Knibbs must also provide a DNA sample.

The trial: the last business of your child's life

Writer Dominick Dunne, whose young adult daughter was murdered, once said he thought it was important for the parents of a murder victim to make appearances at the trial: "The trial is the last business of your child's life."

I saw Ekoh Habib's mother a few minutes after the sentencing, when I came out of Tim Horton's with a take-out coffee in my hand. She was sauntering along in her green blazer in the spring sun, looking down at the sidewalk.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Guilty! Murder 2

Some tough Canadian justice was served up today to a 31 yr. old Vancouver man, born in Montreal to parents who had come here from Jamaica. The jury gave Dennis Knibbs, on trial for murdering Trumaine "Ekoh" Nabib, 21, in the New Wings Hotel on Apr. 4, 2005, the maximum allowable: second degree murder. They rejected the option of manslaughter, although questions they sent back to the judge and lawyers suggest they grappled with it.

Knibbs will get an automatic 25 year sentence. He will have to serve a minimum of 10 years before he is eligible for parole.

Judge Silverman asked the jury of 8 women and four men, all White, except for two women of Japanese descent, to decide whether they would like to make a sentencing recommendation. They had the right, he explained, to recommend that Knibbs be required to serve more than ten years before being eligible for parole. The judge assured them that he would definitely take their recommendation into consideration. They wanted to go for lunch first. But they returned to the court room in mid-afternoon to recommend that Knibbs be eligible for parole after 10 years.

Knibbs remained stoic as the verdict was read. His lawyer, Glen Orris, who had in the moments before the verdict sat beside him and put his hand on the arm of Knibbs' chair, spoke softly to him now.

Knibbs made a cell phone call and then handed the phone to one of his male friends in the gallery.

A twenty-something Black woman who had accompanied Knibbs to court on the first day and regularly since, sobbed when the verdict was read -- Canadian style though, she didn't make a scene. Outside the courtroom, near the washroom which she had found locked on a Saturday, a young Black woman held her and she sobbed, louder.

Knibbs allowed the sheriffs to take him out to jail, no fuss. As he left, he turned to his male buddies who were sitting quietly, and with hand to forehead gave them a good-bye salute.

Ekoh Habib's family was not present for the verdict, although his mother has made appearances at the trial.

Judge Sentences Garbles

There’s a Shania Twain song, “What made you say that?” It could have been the theme song of Judge Silverman's closing instructions to the jury in the Dennis Knibbs murder trial. Silverman later recalled the jury, telling them that there were several “mistakes or slips of the tongue that I have made and will attempt to correct.”

There was room for mistakes though. There was built-in redundancy in his instructions which lasted four hours (that’s after 2 hrs. worth of lunch and coffee breaks are subtracted). He kept circling back to key points that the jury would have to remember in the jury room.

The defense of “self-defense”: If it fits, you must acquit

Judge Silverman told the jury that in determining whether Knibbs was guilty of murder, they had to consider the defense of “self-defense”. If it fits, you must acquit. That the gist of his message.

In explaining self-defense, the judge told the jury that the law allows Knibbs to defend himself, or someone under his protection, from assault as long as he doesn’t use excessive force. Was Knibbs’ cousin Ian Liscombe under his protection? Knibbs had just watched Liscombe shot in the abdomen by Ekoh Habib who Knibbs is accused of then shooting.

First mistake:

Towards the end of his instructions, Judge Silverman had told the jury that they could consider not only whether Knibbs had been acting in self-defense but whether Ekoh Habib had been acting in self-defense when he fired the first shot. Both the defense and the prosecution agree that Habib fired the first shot after Liscombe was attempting, first alone and then with Knibbs’ help, to push open the door of the room in the New Wings Hotel where he was staying

The judge’s instruction to the jury, Orris argued, “gets into the question of whether Mr. Habib was the one acting in self defense from Mr. Knibbs or Ian [Liscombe] and this was not something that the law required they consider. “I better tell them not to pursue that analysis” said Silverman. And he did tell the jury just that.” “Whether or not Habib was acting is self-defense: take that off your radar.”

Recipe for murder

The judge explained to the jury that there are “five ingredients” in murder. The prosecution has to prove to you that all five ingredients are present, or they haven’t made their case that Knibbs is a murderer. You have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the prosecution has given all five of the following ingredients, or the prosecution hasn’t made their case for murder.

  1. identity of Mr. Knibbs as the offender, the “shooter” of one of the guns.
  2. time and place of the events
  3. Mr. Knibbs committed an unlawful act
  4. An unlawful act caused the death of Mr. Habib. “Certainly the shotgun caused his death”, the judge added.
  5. Knibbs either meant to cause the death of Mr. Habib or meant to cause bodily harm that Mr. Knibbs knew would cause death and was reckless about whether it caused death.

If all five ingredients are present – you mustn’t have doubts about even one – you can consider Knibbs a murderer.

But it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. Even if you conclude that you have all five ingredients that make Mr. Knibbs a murderer, Judge Silverman told the jury, you can knock his conviction down from murder to manslaughter – if you are convinced he was provoked by Mr. Habib.

Two more mistakes:

As the judge repeated his instructions to the jury, he told them that if you have a doubt about whether you have even one of the five ingredients for murder in the case of Knibbs, “you will find him guilty on both counts”, murder and manslaughter. Ooops! He should have said “not-guilty”, he told the jury after Orris brought it to his attention.

Judge Silverman also told the jury that if you find beyond a reasonable doubt that the first four ingredients are present but not the fifth, “go on to manslaughter”. “Not correct,” Silverman admitted, when Orris drew it to his attention. If you have a reasonable doubt on ingredient 1,2,3, or 4, Silverman explained, “the result is not guilty on both counts.”

Defense lawyer couldn’t believe his ears

When Orris first pointed out one of the mistakes to Judge Silverman, he indicated that he didn’t quite believe his own ears. He told the judge that he thought he might have heard it wrong. Orris was listening to Silverman explain to the jury that Crown prosecutors had to have convinced them that they had the five ingredients in this case before they could find Knibbs guilty of murder.

Fourth mistake:

The first of the five ingredients is of course, Judge Silverman told the jury, that you have to know the “identity” of the shooter. “I don’t think you’ll have much trouble finding that”, he noted. Did Orris hear that correctly? The judge checked the transcript and confirmed that he had in fact said, “You’re not going to have any trouble determining the identity of the shooter.” I can’t believe I said that, Silverman said, as Knibbs watched. “I’ll correct that.”

A few minutes later, Silverman told the jury, “This one was a straight slip of the tongue” and a “serious one.” He said emphatically, “If I said that, I’m pulling that back.”

It was the drugs talking

Judge Silverman would no doubt be the first to admit that he’s not perfect. He’s the judge who reminded the jury twice that experts are "not deities" . They can make mistakes, he cautioned.

At least Judge Silverman was non-defensive when his inconsistent statements were brought to his attention -- unlike witness after witness in this case who excused their own inconsistent statements by saying, ‘Don’t blame me; it was the drugs talking’.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Two dead men murdered each other

The two dead guys shot each other. That’s what defense lawyer Glen Orris told the jury yesterday in closing statements at the murder trial of Dennis Knibbs.

But key evidence that could support or refute Orris’ version of events is missing – due to a blunder by the Vancouver Police. The VPD did not have either victim checked for gun powder residue on their hands and arms.

Prosecutor Michael Luchencko agrees with Orris that one of the dead guys murdered the other. But only one. The second dead guy was murdered by a man who walked out of the New Wings Hotel on Apr. 4, 2005. That shooter, Luchencko alleged in his closing statement to the jury, was the defendant Dennis Knibbs.

Prosecutor Michael Luchencko’s last words to the jury:

A few days before they were killed, Aliston “Ian” Liscombe and Trumaine “Ekoh” Habib, two young drug dealers inside the New Wings Hotel, had a fight. Liscombe had felt that Habib was, in the words of Liscombe’s girlfriend Susan Panich, “cutting his grass”, encroaching on his drug profits. Liscombe and the defendant, Dennis “Rocka” Knibbs, in his twenties, were cousins and “had joint interests” in the New Wings drug trade.

During the fight, Liscombe and Nabib were punching one another outside a room in the New Wings Hotel by Leroy Charlie, 19. Habib had entered Charlie’s room to get a baseball bat which he used to whack Liscombe on the head. Knibbs then arrived on the scene and gave a punch to Habib, putting an end to the fight. Liscombe got stitches to the cut on his head. He was “a little pissed off”, Panich testified.

Habib was barred from the New Wings Hotel by the manager after using the baseball bat on Liscombe. But Habib returned. "He no doubt returned to sell drugs." Drugs were found in a tan jacket belonging to Nabib which was found near his body in Leroy Charlie’s room where he sometimes stayed as a guest.

In the hours before the shootings, Nabib arrived at Charlie’s room and pulled a Winchester sawed off shotgun in a zippered bag out of his pants. He showed the weapon to Charlie who then left and went to his brother’s room in the building. It is likely that Nabib brought the shotgun into the building “to protect himself from no one in particular” because of the drug business he was in. When Liscombe saw Charlie in the hall, he asked if he knew where Nabib was and Charlie lied, “No.”

Liscombe didn’t believe Charlie and went over to his room and pushed on the door. Liscombe was quickly joined by Knibbs who stood behind him, pushing on the door as well. Liscombe and Knibbs were “aggressively trying to open the door by force”. They were “pumped”, just having been seen by witnesses expelling another man “with connections to Ekoh [Nabib]” from the hotel. As the door opened, Nabib “tries to defend himself”. He shoots Ian with his shotgun, a shooting which “may or may not have been justifiable”. We don’t know if Liscombe’s apparent attempt to kick the barrel of the shotgun, as described by witness Michael Vandeneele, contributed to it discharging.

Knibbs whipped out a police style baton from a pouch on his chest and entered the room. Habib suffered repeated blows by a baton or a similar instrument to his back, injuries that pathologist Dr. Laurel Grey confirmed “show the weight and roundness of a baton”. Habib also had injuries to his head, Grey reported, which were “likely to have been caused by a baton.” There is a possibility that the strike to Habib’s head by the baton had left him “dazed” or “stunned”.

Nabib “quickly loses control of the shotgun” after Knibbs entered the room. Nabib would have otherwise had time to rack the shotgun and shoot Knibbs who was attacking him with the baton. To fire the shotgun – Luchencko had earlier asked the jury to remember that the shotgun was heavy -- “requires a racking procedure that generally will require two hands.”

As Knibbs beat Habib, there was “nothing to prevent Rocka [Knibbs] from turning around and walking out; nobody was intending to shoot him or harm him.” The damage to Nabib’s head and back coupled with the shattered glass from a ceiling fixture “shows the effort behind the blows reigning down on Ekoh [Nabib]” “Effectively, he was unable to defend himself.” .

At this point Nabib “doesn’t have a gun; he’s been beaten down.” Knibbs then took out a handgun and fired four shots at very close range, at least two of which were fired from a range of less than 30 centimetres, as indicated by the powder residue around Nabib’s wounds and shirt. Two shots entered Nabib from behind: one entered behind his ear and left through his mouth, another entered behind his shoulder. A third shot entered his chest and exited through his back.

Then came the “coup de gras”. Despite Nabib being in a state in which he was not able to defend himself any further, Knibbs picked up the shotgun. He used it to shoot Nabib in the chest, a shot which Dr. Grey said would have killed him immediately.

A couple of machetes have been found by police between the mattresses of the bed, machetes which were “obviously not used by Nabib in any way, shape, or form.” Consider him using them: “he's then going to put them back between the mattresses? Does that make sense?” The machetes “played no part in the scenario.”

“Once the gun had been taken away from Ekoh [Nabib], there was no danger to Rocka [Knibbs] or Ian [Liscombe]”. “Rocka chose to stay there and extract as much vengeance as possible, first with the baton, then with the handgun, then with the shotgun.”

Luchencko then pre-empted the story he anticipated defense lawyer Glen Orris would run by the jury – a version that put Liscombe on the bed doing the shooting, not Knibbs. Liscombe’s “abdomen was blown off”, Luchencko continued. “We submit that his sole intent was to get to the bed to try to keep his entrails in his abdomen.” Liscombe, with his “hands or hands, clutched his belly and was physically incapable of racking the shotgun or using a handgun.”

Keep in mind that the shots were coming from different directions. “Whoever was doing the shooting was moving around.” Keep in mind that the ambulance paramedic, Reed Whiting, had to get a stretcher because Liscombe “wasn’t going to walk.”

Anticipating that the defense would not only present Liscombe as the shooter but the one who brought the handgun into the room, Luchencko turned the jury’s attention to witness Michael Vandeneele. According to Vandeneele’s testimony, Knibbs had a handgun prior to the shootings which was similar to one the firearms expert said was used in the shooting. Vandeneele also testified that he had seen Knibbs attempting to reload the gun outside the room after shots were fired, meaning he must’ve had fresh bullets. “It’s not reasonable to say you’d be walking around with bullets if you don’t have a gun.”

This was not self-defense. It’s self-defense only if he intends to prevent an assault, “if he uses no more force than is necessary to prevent assault.” “If you shoot somebody with a handgun from 30 centimetres , right under the ear at such an angle that it goes out through their mouth, what is your intent?”

Defense lawyer Glen Orris’ last words to the jury:

“Ian and Ekoh are both dead and they probably killed each other.”

There was some animosity between Ian Liscombe and Ekoh Habib, a fact acknowledged by Liscombe’s girlfriend Susan Panich. “Ian was a bit pissed off”, after the altercation in which he needed stitches after being hit on the head with a baseball bat by Habib.

But Knibbs and Liscombe had not gone to Nabib’s room with an intent to kill him. Panich and Liscombe had plans to go out that night to buy a Rolex watch. But Liscombe tells her “to wait”, that they’ll go out later. “He’s heard that Ekoh [Nabib] is in the building and he goes looking for him.”

Liscombe was shot going into the room where Nabib was staying. He was shot by Habib who was holding a shotgun. “That’s the first loud bang” in a series of bangs that witnesses have reported hearing.

As Liscombe enters the room, he pulls out his handgun – Panich said she had seen him with a handgun 3 or 4 months earlier – and “fires at Habib” whose probably coming at him. “So we have a wound to Habib’s chest.” A second shot comes from the bed, misses and hits the floor.

Maybe Knibbs has a baton and is hitting Nabib on the back as he goes for Liscombe. Nabib has his back to Knibbs at the time. The prosecution has said that Nabib was kneeling while Knibbs was hitting him with a baton, but you wouldn’t be breaking the light fixture then, “but if he’s standing up you would be, trying to get him off Liscombe.”

Nabib is fighting. He would not have been “stunned” from a strike to the head from the baton, as the prosecutor claimed. The pathologist, Dr. Laurel Grey, had not come to that conclusion: she said there were “no injuries to the underlying scalp or skull.” Dr. Grey further said that Nabib’s wounds from the handgun would not have been immediately lethal. When a person is shot, they don't always fall quickly. This is not the movies.

Habib attempts to pump shotgun to shoot it a second time. Knibbs reaches around and grabs it, so his fingerprint is on it. But his fingerprint is in a "downward direction" on the barrel, the direction necessary to pump the shotgun to a back position -- a position from which it cannot be fired.

Habib turns away from Liscombe who is still firing the hand gun and, as he turns to the right, Liscombe shoots him under the ear, and as he is turning around, Liscombe shoots him in the back left shoulder from approximately the same range "‘cause he’s very close to the bed when he turns". Rather than the gun moving in relation to Habib, as the prosecutor claimed, Habib was “moving in relation to the gun.”

Perhaps there’s a struggle over the shotgun. It either dropped or ends up on the bed. Habib turns to deal with Liscombe who is out of bullets for his handgun. Liscombe racks the shotgun and gives Nabib a second shot in the chest. It’s a quick death, as Dr. Grey said it would have been, resulting in Nabib falling off the bed with his left leg still on the bed. That was the position that Constable Gillespie, one of the first police officers to arrive, found him in: “Habib’s left leg was on the bed, about half of the left leg is on the bed, slightly bent resting there.” Habib had clearly climbed onto the bed where Liscombe was.

The diagram produced by firearms expert, Rob Taunt, shows one of the bullets having been shot from the direction of the bed, “from just above the edge of the bed to about a foot and a half above the edge of the bed.” When New Wings resident Leroy Charlie went into the room to get his coat, he saw Liscombe “sitting on the bed with his back up against the wall, a location that would marry up perfectly with this diagram.”

Liscombe was not checked for gun powder residue on his hands and arms – gas and powder residue from combustion escapes though openings around the cylinder of a handgun, Rob Taunt said – and neither was Habib. “That should have been done.”

“Two people who were antagonists could very well have shot each other.”

But in coming to a verdict, “You can’t base it on speculation or guesswork." Crown prosecutors have to prove their case to the point that you are “sure” that Mr. Knibbs did the shooting, “sure” that he had an intent to kill or do grievous bodily harm, and you have to be “sure” that he wasn’t acting in self-defense.

In their closing statements, there was one thing that both Orris and Luchencko told the jury: The defendant, Mr. Knibbs, doesn’t have to prove a thing.