CANADA

Police under the gun

A justice scandal rocks Winnipeg

BRIAN BERGMAN July 29 1991
CANADA

Police under the gun

A justice scandal rocks Winnipeg

BRIAN BERGMAN July 29 1991

Police under the gun

CANADA

A justice scandal rocks Winnipeg

To Harvey Pollock, the events had all the markings of a setup. Pollock, 58, is a Winnipeg defence lawyer with 25 years of experience—and an outspoken critic of the city’s police force. Still, Pollock was taken aback one morning last October when two police officers arrived at his downtown office and arrested him on a charge of sexually assaulting a female client. Dismissing the allegation as “nonsense,” Pollock offered to go voluntarily to the police station. Instead, the officers placed him in custody and led him outside—where Winnipeg Free Press reporter Bruce Owen was waiting with a photographer. The following day, a photograph and an account of Pollock’s arrest ran on the newspaper’s front page. Two months later, Crown prosecutors dropped the sex charge against Pollock after the alleged victim reversed her testimony. But by then, the newspaper had acknowledged that it had decided to cover Pollock’s arrest after a tip from a police department source. Incensed, Pollock claimed that the police had staged the entire affair. Declared Pollock: “The police had a vendetta.” Last week, retired British Columbia judge Edward Hughes completed four weeks of hearings on those allegations. While Hughes is not expected to report until the fall, his inquiry has already raised disturbing questions about the relationship between police and the rest of the Manitoba justice administration. Both senior Winnipeg police officers and top justice officials testified to their deep mutual distrust. Several police officers accused the provincial justice department of favoritism in pursuing—or avoiding—prosecutions. Crown prosecutors, for their part, accused police of letting personality disputes color their professional judgment—even to the point of withholding critical information about criminal investigations.

In another dramatic development, only one day before the close of public testimony Sgt. Ron Kushneryk, one of the two policemen who arrested Pollock, told the inquiry that he was the officer who had tipped off reporter Owen. In earlier testimony, on June 26, Kushneryk had denied being the informant—as did all the other officers who appeared before the inquiry. But with the reporter facing a possible jail term for refusing to name his source, Kushneryk told Hughes that phoning Owen was a “stupid, stupid mistake.” He added: “I’m ashamed, I’m disgraced and I’m sorry.” Kushneryk, who denied that he had acted as part of any police vendetta, was later suspended from duties with pay pending further disciplinary action.

The often stormy relationship between Pollock and the Winnipeg police department dates back to a 1988-1989 provincial inquiry into allegations of racism in Manitoba’s justice sys-

tern. That inquiry, which is expected to issue its final report later this summer, followed the controversial March, 1988, shooting death of native leader J. J. Harper during a scuffle with Winnipeg police Const. Robert Cross. Pollock, who represented Harper’s family before the inquiry, aggressively cross-examined several police officers. They included Cross, who had

received psychiatric treatment after the shooting and who appeared at the inquiry in September, 1989, heavily sedated. Police resentment over the inquiry openly intensified later that month when 43-year-old Insp. Kenneth Dowson, who had supervised the police investigation into Harper’s shooting, committed suicide on the day that he was to testify.

For their part, police spokesmen said that officers arrested Pollock last fall after a woman complained that he had touched her during a discussion about an insurance claim over an auto accident. According to the police, the woman said that Pollock had asked to examine her injuries and, in the course of doing so, rubbed his hand between her buttocks. At Pollock’s trial, however, the woman denied making those statements, saying that Pollock had touched only her lower spine. She also revealed that she had filed her complaint after Cross’s former patrol partner—who had been called to her house over a domestic dispute—told her how to do so. The woman’s testimony, along with the tip-off to the media, led Pollock to allege a police setup. Declared Pollock: “Here were Dowson’s friends getting together and saying, ‘It’s payback time for Harvey Pollock.’ ” Whatever Hughes decides about Pollock’s complaint, his inquiry has already rocked the Winnipeg police force. In one startling turn of events, Insp. Randy Bell acknowledged that police deliberately withheld information from justice officials while building the case against Pollock. Bell, along with two other senior officers involved in the Pollock case, Supt. Dennis Toyne and Insp. Ron Dawson, testified that they did not trust the Crown prosecutor’s office to pursue charges against fellow lawyers. They traced their doubts back to 1988, when, following a major investigation into allegations of traffic-ticket fixing, the Crown stayed charges against 14 of the 18 people arrested, many of them lawyers and judges.

In other evidence, documents introduced at the inquiry contradicted statements by Winnipeg Police Chief | Herbert Stephen, who had told the 2 media that his decision to transfer I Bell, Toyne and Dawson out of the

0 criminal division earlier this year was

1 unconnected to the Pollock case. That ° contradiction, together with other

questions hanging over the police de-

partment, prompted some Winnipeg

councillors to call for Stephen’s resignation. Although Stephen retained his job at week’s end, there was clearly no early end in sight to the continuing controversy over how justice is dispensed in the Manitoba capital.

DON CAMPBELL

BRIAN BERGMAN with DON CAMPBELL in Winnipeg