A new blog era

Judging by the trickle of comments that still come in and the clicks on various posts I’ve made over the years, it seems there’s still some interest in my work even though I haven’t updated this blog in almost a year.

Looking at the dearth of updates, it’s surely no surprise to anyone that I had trouble finding the time and energy to keep this blog going in the long term. Although I linked to articles I wrote for the Calgary Herald, I started this blog out of my own initiative and as such, I was judicious about not using work time to update it.

It’s time to wind down this blog — but this decision marks a beginning, rather than an end: the Calgary Herald recently launched a crime blog on its website, and I’m hoping you’ll join me there.

I’m excited about the chance to continue blogging in a new venue. What I especially like about the set-up is that it’s a group blog, so I won’t be solely responsible for keeping it up to date. That’s great, because let’s face it: I’m not that prolific or insightful. Self-interest aside, the new format is a chance for you to hear from my talented Herald colleagues, namely fellow crime reporters Sherri Zickefoose and Stephane Massinon.

There’s a lot of material on this blog about a lot of cases that attracted the interest of Calgarians over the years. Considering the amount of visitors it continues to receive, it appears to remain a resource that people continue to find useful. For that reason, I plan to leave this blog online for the foreseeable future. I hope people continue to find it useful, but what I’m really hoping is that you follow me to the Herald’s new blog.

Thanks to all for reading.



1 Comment

Filed under Administrative

We now return to our regularly-scheduled programming

Apologies for the extended hiatus: I dropped my laptop a couple of weeks ago, which knocked me out of a commission for a few days, until I could get to the Apple Store to have it looked at. As I had initially suspected, the hard drive was broken. Luckily, I regularly back up my system onto an external drive, so I didn’t lose any data or files. The hard drive on my MacBook is user-replaceable, so beyond paying for a new one, I figured I wouldn’t have to pay for any labour. But I made out even better than that: Apple gave me a new hard drive for free — knowing full well I dropped my laptop. The technician explained that the model that was originally installed in my MacBook was proving too fragile in the similar circumstances and they were getting a lot of them back. Customer service like that is why Mac users love Apple so much!

This blog also reached a milestone during my little break, despite the lack of new material: there have now been more than 10,000 hits since I started a little more than a year ago. Thanks to everyone who has come by and commented — good or bad — and shown an interest in the topics discussed here.

Speaking of discussions, I’ll be in my usual spot tonight for Alberta Primetime’s weekly crime panel. Consultant and former Edmonton police chief Fred Rayner, and youth justice advocate Mark Cherrington will join me to talk about these topics:

  • A recent law passed in Ontario that bans drivers 21 and under from any alcohol consumption.
  • Child abandonment cases such as a recent one in Kananaskis, when a “father” left his child in a sweltering car for several hours while he gambled inside a casino.

(Alberta Primetime airs live at 7 p.m. MDT on Access TV: Channel 13 in Calgary; Channel 351 on Bell TV; Channel 267 on Shaw Direct. You can visit the show’s segment archive to view past discussions about crime and other topics.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Public appearances

Back on Primetime tonight

I’ll be back in my regular spot on Alberta Primetime’s weekly crime panel, appearing here in Calgary with defence lawyer David Andrews. We’ll be joined by consultant and former Edmonton police chief Fred Rayner in Edmonton to talk about the following topics:

  • The court martial of Canadian army Capt. Robert Semrau, who was acquitted of murdering a wounded Taliban fighter.
  • The death of an Okotoks man who was shot by the RCMP after an extended standoff outside his home.

(Alberta Primetime airs live at 7 p.m. MDT on Access TV: Channel 13 in Calgary; Channel 351 on Bell TV; Channel 267 on Shaw Direct/Star Choice. You can visit the show’s segment archive to view past discussions about crime and other topics.)

1 Comment

Filed under Public appearances

The cost of getting it wrong: answered

A judge issued a ruling today ordering the Crown to repay $86,201.62  in legal costs to a senior citizen whose Calgary condo was wrongly targeted by authorities using Alberta’s civil forfeiture legislation.

Lawyers for Patricia Thomson, 74, were in court last month arguing that the Crown should have to pick up the tab for the money she spent fighting in court to hold on to her property. Alberta Justice obtained a restraining order against Thomson’s $300,000 condo last year, alleging it was used by her son and other suspects implicated in a fraud scheme.

In a ruling last February, Queen’s Bench Justice Alan Macleod quashed the restraining order following a charter challenge from Thomson’s lawyers, saying it amounted to a “fishing expedition” for evidence against the fraud suspects that violated Thomson’s rights.

The Victims Compensation and Restitution Payment Act is intended to target organized crime by giving the Crown the authority to permanently seize property used in the commission of crime, or bought with money earned through criminal activity. That usually means things like houses used as marijuana grow operations, flashy cars bought by drug dealers or legitimate businesses bought by gangsters to launder money.

In Thomson’s case, authorities alleged the condo was used in a fraud scheme involving her son because her address was listed on banking and corporate registry documents. It turns out that was the only way Thomson’s property was involved: as an address listed on a form, without her knowledge — hence Macleod’s “fishing expedition” comment.

Speaking today with one of Thomson’s lawyers, Michael Bates, he said he hopes the Crown will think twice before attempting such a broad interpretation of what the act defines as an “instrument of crime” or “proceeds of crime.”

“I hope it’s going to cause the minister to be far more careful to push the limits of this legislation,” he said.


Filed under Court cases

A primer for tonight’s Primetime panel

Retired Edmonton police officer Jack Kraus will be in Alberta Primetime’s Edmonton studio for tonight’s crime panel discussion, joining defence lawyer David Andrews and I here in Calgary.

I’m a bit humbled by one of this week’s topics, which is the Medicine Hat girl who was 12 years old when she and her ex-boyfriend murdered her parents and little brother in 2006. Two of my friends and colleagues at the Calgary Herald, Sherri Zickefoose and Robert Remington, wrote Runaway Devil, the best-selling book about the case. Sherri’s blog is a great repository of her writings about the case, along with her trenchant observations. Check it out — I can tell you I’ll be consulting her and Bob before the show tonight. Here, then, is the line-up:

  • A judge recently presided over a legally-mandated progress report for “Runaway Devil,” who is being held in secure psychiatric custody as part of the youth court sentence she received for murdering her family. The girl, who is now 16, will be gradually given more freedom and will be completely free by the time she’s 23.
  • A man accused of taking a hostage at the Edmonton Workers’ Compensation Board building has opted to represent himself at trial. Is this a recipe for an inevitable appeal if he’s convicted?

(Alberta Primetime airs live at 7 p.m. MDT on Access TV: Channel 13 in Calgary; Channel 351 on Bell TV; Channel 267 on Shaw Direct/Star Choice. You can visit the show’s segment archive to view past discussions about crime and other topics.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Public appearances

G20 gets the Primetime treatment

As fun as it is to appear on Alberta Primetime’s weekly crime panel, the gig created some white-knuckle moments for me during the Olympics and the NHL playoffs, when we’d be in the studio during some key games. How lucky I am that my latest sporting obsession, the World Cup, is being held in South Africa and the games are airing in the morning, before I go to work.

Still, there will be a little bit of World Cup with me on tonight’s show: I’ll be wearing an orange shirt in support of my team, which plays Friday morning against Brazil — a favourite of Calgary defence lawyer David Andrews, who will be on the panel with me in Calgary. No word whether consultant and former Edmonton police chief Fred Rayner, who will join us from the provincial capital, is a soccer fan. Maybe we’ll ask him in between tonight’s timely topics:

  • Did authorities go too far with the police presence and special powers given to law enforcement during the G20 summit in Toronto?
  • The parliamentary budget officer has estimated that a recently-instituted measure that eliminates two-for-one credits for offenders held in pretrial custody will necessitate the building of 13 new prisons and cost more than $5 billion a year.

(Alberta Primetime airs live at 7 p.m. MDT on Access TV: Channel 13 in Calgary; Channel 351 on Bell TV; Channel 267 on Shaw Direct/Star Choice. You can visit the show’s segment archive to view past discussions about crime and other topics.)


Filed under Public appearances

The cost of getting it wrong

An update on the case of Patricia Thomson, the senior citizen whose Calgary condominium was targeted for seizure under government legislation designed to target properties connected to crime.

A Queen’s Bench justice ruled earlier this year there was no evidence Thomson’s $300,000 condo was used by her son and other suspects implicated in a fraud scheme. The judge quashed the civil restraining order against the condo, and Thomson got to keep it. But at what cost? About $70,000 in legal fees, it turns out.

The province turned to the civil courts when it conceived the Victims Restitution and Compensation Payment Act because the burden of proof is lower than the test in criminal court, where a case must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. But in embracing the civil process, the government turned its back on another cornerstone of the civil process: that a successful litigant can sue the loser for legal costs.

In Thomson’s case, the judge ruled because the government acted outside the authority of the legislation, it didn’t apply, and allowed her to claim costs. The ruling applied only to Thomson’s case, but the government took notice just a month later and announced it would amend the act to allow respondents whose properties are wrongly targeted to recover their costs.

And so, lawyers for both sides were in court this week arguing their case. Part of Thomson’s defence included a Charter challenge on the constitutionality of the law. Although the judge didn’t rule on the constitutional question, Thomson’s lawyers, Karen Molle and Michael Bates, said it was a necessary part of her defence. Although the Crown hasn’t assigned a dollar figure to what’s it’s willing to pay, Alberta Justice lawyer Cynthia Hykaway argued the cost of the mooted Charter challenge shouldn’t be included in any award.

It only got brief mention in the published article, so it’s worth mentioning here that Thomson’s mortgage holder, the Toronto Dominion bank, is also seeking costs from the Crown. The legislation compelled the bank to file affidavits and documents to prove it wasn’t somehow complicit in the alleged criminal activity or risk losing its investment in Thomson’s property. The bank’s legal costs were around $7,400 — a sum Thomson will be bound by the terms of her mortgage to pay, if the court doesn’t award the bank its costs.


Filed under Court cases