EDITORIALS

Keeping the Conversation Surreal – Spillett, Bennett Distort Reality

WPS Public Information Officer Constable Jason Michalyshyn (Photo JGJ)
WPS Public Information Officer Constable Jason Michalyshyn (Photo JGJ)

It was the first true test of leadership for newly anointed Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth.

On November 29, 2016, the Winnipeg Police Service Public Information Office held a press conference announcing the arrest of an 18-year-old offender believed to be responsible for the 2014 killing of Angela Marie Poorman (29), an Indigenous woman.

Poorman was stabbed to death on December 14, 2014 in the area of Selkirk Ave and Charles Street.

During the press conference a police spokesperson indicated the motive for the killing was related to the sex trade;

“Their encounter on this one particular morning was essentially an agreement for sexual services for cash. This agreement led to an argument specific to money and ultimately the accused in this matter allegedly produced a large knife and proceeded to strike or stab Ms. Poorman multiple times.”

Enter Leslie Spillett – Indigenous Activist and Advocate

Leslie Spillett
Leslie Spillett

Spillett, a former member of the Winnipeg Police Board, appeared before the Board to raise her objections regarding the information released by the Police;

“It framed Angela Poorman as a sex-trade worker, which had nothing to do with her murder,” Spillet said.

She didn’t stop there;

“Indigenous women are always characterized in such a negative way, which adds to their victimization.  Stop blaming Indigenous women for being murdered,” she stressed.

Spillett suggested the police language may further strain relations between police and members of the Indigenous community.

In response, Chief Smyth acknowledged Spillett had a legitimate concern.

“I thought we were perhaps insensitive with the way we released some of the information.  We are trying to take steps to be really careful with our language when we describe these kinds of things.  I offer an apology to the Poorman family and to the Indigenous community.”

The situation requires analysis and critical thinking.

It’s widely acknowledged police have a duty to educate, inform and be proactive in their approach to public safety.

The Manitoba Project Devote team, an integrated RCMP and WPS initiative tasked with investigating unsolved murders of Indigenous and Non-Indigenous women, previously released a detailed list of risk factors that correlate to victimization. Those factors included:

  • High Risk Lifestyle
  • Substance Abuse / Addiction
  • Involvement in Sex Trade
  • Transient Lifestyle
  • Hitchhiking
  • Mental Health Issues

They released this information to raise public awareness, to educate and to inform.

At the time of the release, the RCMP were very much concerned with being accused of victim blaming.

Spillett’s comments validate those concerns.

The question is, are her concerns valid as the new Police Chief suggests?

Angela Poorman - Facebook
Angela Poorman – Facebook

Spillet insists the information released by the police spokesperson, “Framed Angela Poorman as a sex trade worker, which had nothing to do with her murder.”

Her assertion clearly contradicts the information released by police.

So, is the contentious information not accurate?

When I heard the press release it was apparent the suspect charged with Poorman’s murder provided a confession during his interrogation. The information was specific;

  • an agreement for sexual services for cash was made
  • an argument regarding payment ensued
  • the alleged offender brandished a large knife
  • the alleged offender stabbed Poorman multiple times

The police don’t make this sort of stuff up, the kind of detail provided in the news release could only be provided by someone who witnessed or participated in the killing.

If the information came from the accused killer, and it appeared to be a truthful account, it’s difficult to argue Poorman’s involvement in the sex trade had nothing to do with her murder.

The account provided by police relates to motive – an extremely important part of any homicide investigation and an essential piece of the puzzle to be proven if a prosecutor hopes to secure a conviction.

When a woman is brutally murdered in our community, police have an obligation to provide the public with information that may impact safety.

  • Is a serial killer on the loose?
  • Are women in the community at risk?
  • Do women need to take exceptional measures to enhance their safety?

If involvement in the sex trade is identified as a factor it becomes a relevant piece of information the public has a right to know.

Sex trade workers also have a right to know as it may impact their safety.

No need to apologize so far.

Does releasing factual information re-victimize Indigenous women?

It does if we attach a negative stereotype or stigma to women who work in the sex trade, something the police have recently gone to great lengths to avoid.

In contrast, Ms. Spillett’s quest to suppress the truth, blame the police and threaten division seems to add to the stigma and encourages people to avoid having a much needed conversation.

Let us pretend Indigenous women aren’t involved in the sex trade and let us pretend involvement in the sex trade isn’t a risk factor or life style choice that results in increased victimization.

Let us pretend.

Is releasing factual information regarding high risk lifestyle choices equivalent to victim blaming?

No, it’s not.

It’s called the truth.

Ironicallly, the mission statement posted on the website for the MMIW Inquiry identifies three goals;

  • Finding the truth
  • Honouring the truth
  • Giving life to the truth as a path to healing

No need to apologize.

Someone at the Police Board meeting might have wanted to inform Ms. Spillett that with the resolution of the Poorman case the WPS Homicide Unit achieved a 100% solvency rate for 2014, a feat that had not been accomplished for almost 12 years.

The WPS Homicide Unit previously achieved 100% solvency rates in 1999, 2000, 2004.

(A significant number of Indigenous men and women were victims of homicide during the noted years, yet police are still accused of being indifferent to the murders of Indigenous people.)

The resolution of the Angela Poorman murder case should have been a good news story, but it wasn’t.

Police Set Up to be the Fall Guys

Carolyn Bennett - Minister of Indigenous & Northern Affairs
Carolyn Bennett – Gov of Canada

The next few years are sure to be difficult for Law Enforcement Officers across the Country.

The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegrade made that clear this summer at a conference in Winnipeg when he suggested “fingers will be pointed” at police during the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Inquiry.

That message has been consistently driven home by The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

In a recent CBC interview Bennett was asked a question regarding the launch of the Inquiry, specifically – the lack of communication and frustration being expressed by First Nations people who already feel excluded by the process.   In her response, Bennett remarkably found a way to put police in the crosshairs;

“This is uh, this is uh, I think going to be a very important commission, but I think we, like the National Chief did today, we also have to remind the families that the family liaison units will be stood up, but mainly we’ve got to get to work on the shelters and the housing and education, racism and sexism in policing and to me the most important thing, the overhaul of the child welfare system.”

Her comments left me astounded.

Bennett’s Top Priorities

  1. Overhaul Child Welfare System
  2. Shelter & Housing
  3. Education
  4. Racism & Sexism in Policing

Hang on a second.

Of all the social issues and factors that contribute to the murder and victimization of Indigenous women, racism and sexism in policing hits #4 on the priority list.

Let’s think about that for a minute.

Consider the things the Minister didn’t say.

Bennett didn’t say anything about;

  • Domestic Violence – the number one factor identified in the killing of Indigenous women and girls
  • Sexual Violence & Abuse
  • Criminal Justice – trials, perpetrators, sentencing
  • Racialized Poverty
  • Street Gang Participation
  • Youth Crime
  • Over Representation in Federal and Provincial Jails
  • High Risk Lifestyles – involvement in Crime, Sex Trade, Hitchhiking, Transient Lifestyle
  • Lack of Mental Health Services
  • Suicide Rates
  • Drug Addiction
  • Alcohol Addiction
  • Substance Abuse – solvents, non-potable
  • Impacts of Residential Schools
  • The Destruction of the Family Unit
  • Teen Pregnancy

(The list is by no means exhaustive.)

When you compare the priority lists, it’s important to remember police are supposed to be the agency of last resort.

Police respond to the fallout created by the failings of the social safety net.

Police didn’t create residential schools, poverty or any of the conditions that contribute to over-representation or victimization of Indigenous women, girls or men.

The government did.

I hope someone remembers that when the finger-pointing starts.

The Social Media Response – What They Said;

Thomas Anderson - FB
Thomas Anderson – Sgt WPS Homicide Unit – Retired – FB

 

 

 

 

 

fullsizerender-12
Scott Wholy Would – FB
fullsizerender-11
Jennifer Urquhart Dubois – FB

 

 

 

 

fullsizerender-10
Cris Basualdo-Moses – FB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evan Juventas - Twitter
Evan Juventas – Twitter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

26 Comments

  1. Contrast the police public statement in this case to that made upon the arrest of Dawn Marie MacFayden in the murder of her boyfriend where the victim’s crack-fueled demand for sex at a friend’s residence was characterized thus:

    “Const. Rob Carver says the three people were “socializing” in the apartment when the victim got into a fight with another man, resulting in the 42-year-old man being injured. ”
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/woman-charged-in-weekend-slaying-in-winnipeg-1.2430637

  2. James-
    On the risks of carrying weapons- the risk isn’t just that it might fall into the wrong hands. What if you use it and are responsible for the result? If the perpetrator here hadn’t been carrying the weapon- he might very well not be facing a murder charge. Responsible for his own criminalization.

  3. From the perpetrators perspective, framing the victim as a sex trade worker makes her responsible for her presence at the murder scene as well as for any evidence of sex. He’s had almost two years to come up with his explanation- and it’s one that (if accepted) precludes the possibility that she was lured or abducted to the site, as well as the possibility that she was sexually assaulted in conjunction with the murder. So first degree murder charge are avoided.

    I don’t know what evidence there is that his version of events is unassailable, but it was presented as factual.

  4. James-

    Is it possible that a 29 year old mother of 3 did not consent to sexual activity with a 16 year old boy? How would we know?

  5. Another thought- is there any evidence aside from what we suppose is a perpetrator’s confession that any sexual activity both transpired AND was consensual? If the victim engaged in sexual activity AND was engaged in trading sex for money- where’s the money. Did the perpetrator assault an/or rob her as well?

    ANY person can be sexually assaulted or robbed. It takes a perpetrator, just like murder does. Did this one forget his wallet, but remember his “protective” knife?

  6. James-

    Some further thoughts…

    It occurs to me that both of us have some experience of exposing ourselves to risk in the context of earning an income. When a police officer or nurse experiences violence while working, it’s not helpful to have it pointed out that the risk is inherent in the work. “What did you think would happen” responses serve to distract from the purpose of the activities we engaged in and devalued us as human beings.

    Sure we know the risks and manage them as best we can. The fact that there are occupational risks isn’t often viewed as engaging in a “high risk lifestyle”. And our choices put us at increased risk of violence, developing mental health and addictions problems as well as compromising our family and social lives.

    How stupid are we???

  7. James

    My experience is also reality, though a different slice of it than yours in terms of interacting with victims and criminals. I volunteered as a “special friend” through CFS, worked as a nurse on psychiatric inpatient units, and was a Mobile Crisis clinician responding to people in crisis in our diverse communities throughout the city during the night (unarmed). Mental health and addictions were the window I was looking through more often than not…and in that context came to know many victims and perpetrators of crimes…though that was not usually the presenting issue at the time of my interactions.

    What I do know is that there are factors more common to victims/perpetrators than to non-victims/perpetrators- and most of those are not simply a matter of choice. Poverty, CFS involvement, mental health issues (often related to abuse/neglect in childhood), addictions (often related to trauma) come to mind. These are often antecedents to sex work, gang involvement, victimization, and criminal activity. They often disrupt education and work experience/options.

    The particular homicide we’re discussing involved an armed 16 year old youth and an unarmed 29 year old adult, reportedly having come into contact in a relatively unsafe location outdoors for a business transaction relating to sex. I wonder if they had more in common than an agreement to that transaction- particularly in terms of poverty, CFS involvement, mental health issues, and addictions.

    I’d guess that this was not the first violent encounter for either of them, nor their first encounter with criminal activity. I suspect that they had been exposed to similar appalling social conditions that predispose both criminalization and victimization that we need to find ways to address- and that blaming is not a very productive way to start. I’m guessing that the most significant difference at the end of the analysis would be possession of the weapon and the decision to use it.

    It’s a challenge, but I try to approach things non-judgementally with the intention of understanding. I know that’s not how homicide investigations are approached, and I don’t think they should be approached that way.

    Can we agree that there are different perspectives, different windows, different purposes and interpretations, and different meanings of “facts” depending on one’s position in our community? I think that might be what underlies what appears to be a dispute between the policing community and victims’ advocates. Perhaps from there it might be possible to negotiate approaches that serve to improve situations that so often end badly for disadvantaged people.

    I appreciate your willingness to articulate and discuss the nuances here, and I know that both of us would like to see and participate in positive changes. I hope these interchanges bring all of us closer to finding ways for different sectors to work together toward healthier and safer communities that decrease the risks for all of us.

  8. Sharon,

    Interesting question.

    Without a doubt, addiction and substance abuse is a significant factor that contributes to crime and criminality.

    As noted by the analysis conducted by the Project Devote team, the other factors apply more to homicide and violence in terms of the victimization of women.

    Most habitual criminals I investigated during my career in Law Enforcement struggled with serious addiction issues.

    Predisposition to involvement in street gangs has an entirely different set of contributing factors.

    The bottom line is women can dramatically reduce the possibility of becoming victims if they avoid the high risk life style choices identified by the Project Devote team members.

  9. Sharon,

    My experience is reality.

    The reality is, many people carry edged weapons, and not necessarily because they intend to use it as an offensive weapon. Our streets are dangerous and many people carry edged weapons to defend themselves.

    That, of course, does largely depend on which neighborhood you live in.

    That’s reality.

    I agree with you, in a safe community people shouldn’t have to feel the need to arm themselves.

    The problem is, many of our communities are anything but safe.

    I also agree that people who arm themselves put themselves at greater risk as well. If you brandish a weapon and lose it in a struggle, its likely it will be used against you.

    Would the dispute have turned out different without a weapon you ask…

    No one can say.

    The killer could have beat her or strangled her to death just as easy.

  10. Sharon,

    When it comes to analyzing the “How” vs “Why” it seems to me we’re talking about a distinction with out much of a difference.

    These two principles are very much interconnected.

    We know there is a segment of society who will always engage in victim blaming but we cant let them discourage us from having a real conversation about all of the factors that lead to increased victimization.

    Working in the sex trade is dangerous.

    No one with any sense should dispute that.

    I worked a high prostitution area for many years and can name several women I personally knew who died as a result of their involvement in the sex trade.

    I agree, perpetrators are an important part of the discussion as well.

    Unfortunately, our criminal justice system places little value on human life when the dust settles.

  11. James- I’d like your input on this. How many of the factors you list as correlated to victimization are also correlated to criminalization?

  12. In my experience (which is decidedly different from yours), “average Joe’s” don’t carry edged weapons. They don’t anticipate encounters where they’d need one. I would grant that I’d have serious reservation about meeting a stranger in the early morning hours, more so in the neighbourhood of this crime than in some others, and go to considerable lengths to avoid it. Perhaps the victim did too.

    Anticipating violence is not the same thing as premeditating crime…but I think violence is more likely to occur when it is accepted as something that might reasonably be expected to occur. In a safe community, who needs to be armed? It’s not a conflict resolution (or crime prevention) tool we should accept in our communities. It puts the offender at greater risk as well as the victim (assuming that it was indeed the offender who carried the weapon to the encounter). Thats a far greater risk and concern to me than sex work.

    Would this dispute (regardless of its cause) have had a different outcome without a weapon? Is it possible that it was fatal because of the decision to bring a weapon?

  13. I wouldn’t say anybody’s lying. I think things look different from different perspectives.

    Perhaps the best explanation I can offer is that I see risk factors and vulnerabilities as HOW victimization occurs, not WHY. Perpetrators/predators often go for the easy prey- because they’re easy prey. Some people are more “victimizable” than others, and I think it’s dangerous because the public loves to blame victims- if only to make themselves feel safer.

    When we’re talking about crime, the actor/initiator is the decider whose decisions we need to examine most thoroughly in order to put a stop to violence. Somebody came to that fatal meeting prepared for a violent encounter.

  14. Sharon;

    In my experience all kinds of people carry edged weapons, that includes sex trade workers, their clients and average Joes.

    The fact the killer had an edged weapon certainly doesn’t mean the crime was premeditated.

    I assume from your comments you believe the police have lied about the motive for Poorman’s killing.

    I’m wondering what possible reason they could have to do that?

  15. There’s also the murder weapon. Where did that come from? Not improvised, I’m guessing.

    Doesn’t look to me that this was about sex work. The elements suggest to me that it was about violence from the outset.

  16. James-
    Ms. Poorman was stabbed to death between midnight and 6:30 AM on a Sunday morning near Burrows and Charles. Anything there that sparks any police warning to the public? Anything to warn the public about? It seems to me that there’s some discretion involved in going public with risk factors relating to specific crimes. You know that crime is not evenly distributed by time of day, nor by location in the city. Any night shift worker who is mobile in our community at night knows that. Ask a taxi driver or pizza delivery person…or a police officer. Ask a local area resident…or a suburbanite. The risks associated with sex work are arguable as well known and not in need of re-iterating in the context of having removed an offender from the community.

  17. Michael;

    Race baiting and divisive language never solves anything.

    Thank you for your observations…

  18. Wayne;

    Your thoughts are shared with many people on this issue.

    Appreciate your comments.

    Thank you.

  19. Tom;

    Thanks for the feedback, as always, appreciate when you weigh in…

  20. Mateo;

    Appreciate your comments.

    Thank you for adding to the conversation.

  21. Sharon;

    Appreciate your point.

    You will note I carefully worded the paragraph, “If the information came from the accused killer and it appeared to be a truthful account.”

    I’ve obtained many confessions from accused killers, some were truthful, some not so much.

    The thing of it is, investigators can often measure what a killer says with the evidence found during the investigation.

    There will usually be aspects of the confession we can rely on because it is supported by other irrefutable facts.

    If you read the linked story you will find there are many valid reasons why police release information regarding high risk life style choices that predispose people to victimization.

    We don’t just accept a killers justification as the truth.

    There can be no doubt Angela Poorman was killed largely because she was involved in the sex trade, a well known high risk lifestyle that increases the probability of victimization.

    Thats a fact.

    Like my former colleague, Constable Jason Michalyshyn has previously said;

    “This type of detail is released only when there is absolute certainty. This is not about labeling, it’s about being open and honest and trying to gather credible information for the sake of the victim and their loved ones.”

    Hope that clears things up.

    Thank you for commenting.

  22. I think there’s something missing when we accept a murderer’s justification for his actions as “the truth”…even if he believes it. There are nuances to be explored when we talk about motives, reasons, risks, and truths. Being aboriginal, a woman, a sex worker…none of these things cause murder. The character of the perpetrator is a lot more relevant than the characteristics of the victim.

    Nothing a human victim says or does or is is as significant to the outcome as what a perpetrator makes of it and how he responds. If he’d mentioned the weather or phase of the moon in his explanation, would that be an explanation to share with the public?

  23. Spillett’s assertion that substance abusing prostitutes aren’t lading lifestyles consistent with violent consequences, and Bennett’s preposterous finger pointing at police aren’t surprising. What is surprising and disappointing is Smyth’s apology for presenting factual information.

    Just as Mayor Bowman missed his opportunity to stand up and defend Manitobans from a wildly inaccurate, slanderous and defamatory Maclean’s article, Smyth has done the same by apologizing because the truth is inconvenient. Because the reality of the situation offends some.

    Smyth missed his golden opportunity to demonstrate to the citizens on Winnipeg and the men and women in blue, that he will defend his statement because it is the truth. He missed his opportunity to refute Spillett’s ridiculous claims by quoting the MMIW mission statement. He proved that he is more interested in placating a loudmouth who promotes a false narrative, than informing the public, of which he serves, of the truth and consequences of leading a high risk lifestyle. He has failed the young girls who are engaged in prostitution and substance abuse.

    So long as our “leaders” abandon the truth in favour of a land of make believe to appease certain small segments of the population, we can never move forward in any meaningful way. Our leaders ought to stand up and defend the truth, or at least pledge to always seek it, no matter how difficult or inconvenient it may be for some to accept. Our leaders are supposed to have the courage to stand up to people like Spillett and denounce their twisted version of reality.

    I’m hopeful that Chief Smyth can summon the fortitude to defend the truth in any future confrontations with race-baiting, cop-hating bigots like Spillett.

  24. Great story James. You nailed the issue and so does commenter Melanson! The media does fawn over Leslie Spillet and effectively give her carte blanche to spew her ideological venom unchallenged. What about the police chief though. Must he turn his back on reality, curl his tail between his legs, and roll over on his back with all four limbs in the air?

  25. It is time for Chief Smyth to make a decision, man or mouse. Just because Leslie Spillett doesn’t like the facts of the case is no reason to apologize. The facts are the facts. The fact Ms. Poorman was engaging in the sex trade is one of the main factors in her unfortunate death. Her ethnicity mattered not to her killer.

  26. Spillett is a career activist who has made a living off race-baiting and police bashing. Like other local activists, she has enjoyed the graces of a fawning media that dares not challenge her assumptions. Blaming the police is easier than acknowledging the moose in the room and pays political dividends. Because Spillett is ideologically committed to asserting that systemic racism is pervasive, she needs to denounce police as such.

Share your thoughts - we value your opinion!