Corporate Power Brokers

Corporate Power Brokers – The Legal Perspective (Part V)

Keith Labossiere (TDS LAW)

I’m one of the lucky ones.

Lawyers don’t often find themselves in situations where they can truly feel proud of the work they do. That’s not to say lawyers should feel ashamed of the work they do. In fact, the opposite is true. Practicing law is a noble profession. However, rare are the opportunities that a lawyer feels nothing but pride and the passion that comes with that pride on a file.

James Jewell’s file was one of those files.

I’ve represented the men and women of the Winnipeg Police Association with pride for more than 20 years. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. However, over those 20 plus years, there are a handful of highlights and this case is one which I will never forget.

It’s trite to say police officers literally put their lives on the line every day. They do so under a scrutiny and glare that is unforgiving and unflinchingly critical. Decisions that are made under extreme duress with little information and in danger, most of us will never thankfully have to endure, are analyzed, criticized and crucified in the cool, calm light of the morning.

The nature of the job is that an officer sees the worst of society, day in and day out. This, in and of itself, takes an unimaginable toll. Despite this, officers make decisions and take actions every shift that transform lives for the better. The word hero is overused, except when it comes to the men and women who carry a badge. Unfortunately, this daily heroism goes largely unnoticed. Instead, most officers deal with the unwarranted and unfair criticisms from the media and are misunderstood by friends and neighbors which often leads to isolation. The name of an officer is usually only mentioned when a mistake is made, and not each time they save a life, protect a child or provide justice to a family.

Notwithstanding these challenges, the single biggest challenge an officer faces is from within. Politics. Ambition. Abuse of Power.

Notwithstanding these challenges, the single biggest challenge an officer faces is from within. Politics. Ambition. Abuse of Power.

Officers can deal with the slings and arrows that come from those they have sworn to serve and protect. Perversely, most see that as part of the job. What is most difficult to deal with is the treachery from those within. Unfortunately, this is an all too common occurrence. The impact is the greatest when an officer has devoted his life to the job. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

When I received the call from then President, Mike Sutherland and was told of James Jewell’s transfer, I was shocked, but it was obvious what had occurred. So obvious that I thought there was little chance this matter was going to proceed to a hearing. After all, most files resolve as both sides recognize there is risk and it is better to choose a result, and not have one imposed. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I knew James as a well-respected leader, who distinguished himself in the WPS’ Homicide Unit. The Homicide Unit is usually reserved for the best of the best. An assignment to the Unit is normally the pinnacle of an officer’s career. James was leading an elite unit to near perfect solvency rates. Given the mandate of the unit, experience and continuity was necessary. As a result, leaders and investigators in the unit were always given lengthy tenure.

This was so, despite a relatively newly minted transfer policy, which contemplated transfers after merely a year. What was written on paper, however, was not the practice. The policy was nothing more than a transparent attempt by Management to give itself a tool to use when it had no meritorious reason to do so.

When the policy was issued the WPA sought my advice as to whether it could grieve its implementation. In our discussions, it became clear we wouldn’t have to. A union doesn’t usually grieve a policy, but challenges the application of that policy. A policy is only effective if it is applied consistently and fairly. Neither could be said for the policy. This was not surprising. Why would the WPS ever want to move people out of a position after a year? This was particularly so in positions where the learning curve was steep and experience was a requirement.

For sound reasons, the WPS never did use this new policy. The “old” rules of tenure continued and the WPS operated as if no new policy was implemented. That is, until James Jewell was transferred.

If I’ve learned one thing over the last 20+ years, it is that those at the top of the WPS food chain cannot tolerate a challenge to their authority. Actually, that’s not accurate. Not all leaders at the top of the food chain are of this view. The problem appears to be that those who do think this way, seem to get promoted more often than those who don’t. As it turned out, the expectation that those of lesser rank would not challenge authority, would be the key to our success.

Mike Sutherland explained that he had just been told that James Jewell had been unceremoniously transferred from the Homicide Unit on the heels of having the audacity to not accept a directive from above that he knew was wrong. Following a meeting with the Chief of Police, he was told he was out. Of course, the party line was that the his transfer had nothing to do with the meeting. Riiiight. So, why was he transferred?

Sutherland and I knew the answer, but this game lawyers play is played with proof and not speculation. That is so, even when it may seem obvious. As a result, I urged him to seek an official answer from the WPS. They would either refuse to respond, which would confirm the unfairness of its decision or they would give us an answer. I didn’t care what the answer was. I just wanted an answer. Once I had that answer, which I knew would be a lie, we would have them. It turns out, we did.

James has outlined in detail how the lie, which begat another lie and another, was exposed. However, in my view, none of this would have been possible without three key factors: truth, preparation and a conviction of belief.

However, in my view, none of this would have been possible without three key factors: truth, preparation and a conviction of belief.

First, we had truth on our side. Unfortunately, that doesn’t guarantee success in a courtroom or arbitration hearing. However, it sure tilts the odds in your favour.

Secondly and most importantly, is being prepared. All of my personal success can be attributed to preparation. I’d like to think I have some innate talent for the skills required to be a trial lawyer, but the reality is that all I can control is my level of preparation. However, what I can’t control is the level of preparation of my witnesses. In the Jewell case, our team was blessed with witnesses who prepared like their lives were on the line. I understood James’s motivation. His life WAS essentially on the line, but that doesn’t always translate into an understanding of what is required to really prepare. Most think they know their case. After all, it is THEIR case. However, real preparation requires not just a recitation of facts, but anticipation of every question that might be asked, what issue may be raised and the ability to corroborate what you are saying and to discredit what comes from the other side. That takes more than the hour or two witnesses usually spend with the lawyer. James spent countless hours thinking, preparing and collaborating with me. That is rare, but invaluable. Moreover, the other witnesses took their role seriously and were unshakeable. I realized as I watched the hearing unfold that it ought not to have come as a surprise. I had, at my disposal, a series of professional witnesses. I had a steady stream of witnesses who have been trained to prepare for the wars that are murder trials. These witnesses were not only the best and the brightest, but they were battle tested in a courtroom. During our preparations, they wanted to make sure they were ready for everything and anything. This is a lawyer’s dream.

Lastly and most elusive, is the conviction of belief. Conviction in principles such as integrity, strength and doing the right thing. My client or the grievor always comes to the table with conviction. After all, it is their life or career on the line. However, the others usually don’t have anything to gain and everything to lose. In this case, our required witnesses were being asked to stand up and defy the same brass who had attempted to ruin James’ career for doing the same thing. Despite my assurances, they must have thought their fates would be sealed.

Notwithstanding that, the fear they must have felt, was outweighed by a sense of conviction, integrity and a self-imposed obligation to do the right thing. This took enormous courage and is not something I can ever count on. In most cases, self-preservation wins the day. Not this time.

Truth, preparation and conviction of belief were key factors to success, but the single biggest reason we were able to expose the WPS’ deception was the problem facing Police Services across the country and the problem I mentioned at the beginning – many police service leaders expect blind obedience. Rare does a high-ranking officer experience a challenge to their authority.

The problem this poses is that as blind obedience is an expectation, many of these so-called leaders are simply not used to anyone challenging their authority. These types of leaders never have to defend what they direct or say as they are never challenged on what they direct or say. This breeds an artificial sense of power and strength that is easily exposed. When challenged and forced to explain, particularly when the one asking the questions is prepared, they wilt.

This is exactly what happened in the Jewell arbitration. Duplicitous and deceptive explanations were revealed to be what they were. The WPS’ witnesses almost seemed surprised someone would dare challenge them and the stripes on their shoulders.

These types of “leaders” know they can’t earn respect, so they are required to align themselves with others of a similar mold. Politics. Ambition. Abuse of power. 

At the end of the day, not only were they exposed, but the WPS now has the distinction of being on the wrong end of one of Manitoba’s most scathing indictments of an employer in an arbitration decision.

Any threat to their precarious perch is met with aggression. As these “leaders” don’t have the strength themselves to deal with the imaginary threat, they resort to abusing the power they have been given (not earned) and aligning themselves with a cadre of others who operate the same way.

In James’ case, the thought that their unilateral decision would be challenged, probed and exposed was not a thought that ever crossed their minds. After all, they have all managed to get promotion after promotion without having to ever explain their treachery. As a result, they strolled into the hearing thinking there was no chance they could be exposed.

At the end of the day, not only were they exposed, but the WPS now has the distinction of being on the wrong end of one of Manitoba’s most scathing indictments of an employer in an arbitration decision.Words like bad faith, deception, egregious and punitive don’t often end up in written arbitration awards.

As noted above, most parties recognize they have something to lose, so try to resolve the matter before it gets to a hearing. Not this time. The inexperience in having to justify their actions led the WPS to arrogantly proceed and run into what turned out to be a buzz saw.

Having said all of this, there was no magic to the success achieved in James’s case. The WPS’ naive belief it could put forth an explanation that could not be explained, never stood a chance.

James had the truth on his side, he was more prepared and had the conviction of belief to expose the unfairness of what occurred.

If I had that on every file, I would never lose.

Written by Mr Keith LaBossiere LLB

Keith Labossiere (TDS LAW)


  1. My last transfer occurred in 2011. I was transferred from the Arrest Processing Unit to East District. The thing is, I hadn’t reached the maximum tenure in APU, I didn’t put in a transfer request nor was I even told I was being transferred. I got a phone call from my wife who had seen my name on the transfer list. It appears people in those middle management positions didn’t learn. I put in 2 years and retired in 2013 after 31 years.

  2. How sick is that. The “lucky ones” are still subjected to humiliation, lied about, retaliated against, endure a miserable ordeal, and lose the careers they loved. Hard to imagine that eventual vindication makes that worthwhile. In spite of how intensely and personally this impacted you, it fundamentally isn’t about you at all. It’s about principles. The value created from your experience belongs to you, James.

    The co-workers who stood by you are remarkable individuals. We would like to believe that people will “do the right thing” and stand up for a colleague who is being treated unfairly, but in fact it’s very rare. If people understood that being a bystander leaves one frightened,demoralized and with diminished self-esteem, it would not be seen as such a “wise” course of action.

    I see the institutional culture where loyalty is a one way street and abusive precedent becomes the foundation for ambitious workers’ career moves as the element that must change if an organization is to earn the trust of its workforce and the community it serves. I imagine that a choice to operate with integrity will result in a healthier workforce, lower operating costs (how much did the legal battle and personnel changes cost the WPS? how much damage was done to the relationships within the service?) and improve the community relationships the WPS has committed to.

    Your voice as one who has been there and prevailed increases public awareness. It gives me hope that broader recognition will pressure organizations to proactively engage their workers and intentionally replace their dysfunctional hierarchical and authoritarian workplace cultures. Respect should underlie every interaction, and the dignity of every person who interacts with another should be maintained. I am grateful to you, and to those who have supported you both personally and professionally for demonstrating that it can be done.

    I sincerely hope that every individual whose actions were less than honourable has opportunities to redeem themselves and the insight to take advantage of those opportunities. It is so worth it to earn the respect that others so frequently accord each other and to interact as equals in our humanity. I can’t imagine how unpleasant it must feel to not be part of that.

    The WPS appears to be making efforts to live up to the expectations of its employees and the public, and making faster progress than it might have without the catalyst of having the truth revealed and validated. Thank you Keith LaBossiere.

  3. James G Jewell

    So very true.

    I was one of the lucky ones who had the support I needed to confront the abuse of power.

    I realize many people are less fortunate.

    I tremendously appreciate your perspective on this and whole heartedly agree with the conclusions you draw.

    Thank you for commenting.

  4. It strikes me as very sad that most workers who have been subjected to similar abuses of power are unlikely to have access to quality legal representation that offers hope of success against the corporate resources that will be deployed against them. They have lost their income.

    Another significant factor here is the supportive union. Many workers are not unionized, and of those who are (and I speak from experience), not every union is willing to take a case to arbitration- even if the facts are inarguable and the actions of the perpetrators indefensible. The weight of authority- just or unjust- is significant and frequently crushes a target whose credibility has often been intentionally undermined and whose spirit has been deliberately attacked.

    I hope we hear many more success stories like this one and that the scourge of institutionally sanctioned abuses of power is ended. We lose too many good people from our workforce, which compromises targeted workers and their families, demoralizes their co-worker witnesses, erodes institutional credibility, and leads to recruitment and retention problems. It is common, immature, immoral, and touches all of us since these expensive misdeeds are supported with public dollars. We all deserve better, and the way to get it is to respect legitimate authority and challenge unjust authority.

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