Manitoba Judges Talk the Talk – Seldom Walk the Walk

Winnipeg Law Courts (Photo JGJ)
Winnipeg Law Courts (Photo JGJ)

Manitoba Judges continue to play a pivotal role in keeping the revolving doors of justice spinning out of control.

As part of my commitment to become an educated and “aware” Police Officer I made it my business to attend sentencing hearings for the hardcore, habitual offenders I arrested.  As I sat in the court rooms I was always amazed at the “tough talk” that came from the bench.  Judges expressing their condemnation towards the vile offenders who appeared before them.  After listening to the tirades I was always certain the offender was about to receive some sort of precedent setting punishment.

Inevitably, I would find myself shaking my head in stunned in silence wondering why the judge wasted his or her breath.  Like a pitiful “B” grade movie the endings were all to predictable, liberally applied pre-trial credit, light sentences, probation or no real sentence at all.

Not much has changed since I retired in the spring of last year.

Enter Tyler Kowal, a twenty-six (26) year old offender who was collared by the WPS Major Crimes Unit on January 2, 2014 and charged with a litany of serious offences including;

  • Attempt Murder x 2
  • Use of Firearm in the Commission of Offence
  • Possession of Weapon for Dangerous Purpose
  • Unauthorized Possession of a Firearm
  • Possession of a Restricted Firearm with Ammunition
  • Assault with a Weapon
  • Break and Enter to Commit Offence of Robbery
  • Possession of Weapon for Dangerous Purpose
  • Fail to Comply with Recognizance x 5
  • Fail to Comply with Probation Order
  • Warrant for arrest x 4
  • Possess Controlled Substance

The recent charges arose after Kowal allegedly became involved in several serious crimes that included a gang related shooting during a drug deal gone bad and an unrelated home invasion during which time the residents were assaulted and robbed of cash and drugs. A hammer and baseball bat were used in the attack.  Police reported the victim’s injuries were non-life-threatening.

Tyler Kowal is no first time offender.

He’s a hardcore, habitual offender with serious drug addiction issues.  He’s a typical example of an offender whose criminal behaviour continues to evolve and escalate.  Prosecutors get it, that’s why they recently opposed his release indicating concerns he was likely to re-offend.

Judge Marva Smith dismissed the Crowns concerns and released Kowal to a supervised bail program through the John Howard society.  Smith, who once gave an offender a bouquet of flowers, did nothing more than provide Kowal with yet another opportunity to continue down the dark path of escalating criminal behaviour.

On March 6, 2013 Kowal found himself in court again, this time receiving a sentence of 90 days time served and three years supervised probation after pleading guilty to a domestic assault and threats to kill.

During his sentencing Judge Mary Kate Harvie sang the familiar tune, “Your behaviour is appalling in every way that it can be appalling,” she said. “If you don’t get your act together now, you are going to be looking at a very long period of custody the next time you come back.  You’ve basically checked the box on every offence that there is.”

Alas the empty threat, Kowal will be sorry, “next time.”

Enter Cary Scott Preston.

Another hard-core, habitual property offender who specializes in sophisticated commercial break and enters.  Preston is a professional safe cracker responsible for the theft of  hundreds of thousands of dollars scored during his impressive crime sprees.  He’s caused equal dollar value amounts in damage to the businesses he’s victimized.

In 2007, I supervised a project into Preston’s criminal exploits that eventually put him on ice.

On June 21, 2010 Preston plead guilty to a number of offences and received a sentence of seven (7) years incarceration.  During the sentencing hearing Justice Albert Clearwater remarked, “Preston is a “professional career criminal” and should expect to receive maximum and consecutive sentences should he ever appear before court again.”

Alas, another empty threat, Preston will be sorry “next time.”

After securing release on Parole in late 2011 Preston went right back to work doing commercial break and enters, attacking safes and stealing cash in excess of $100,000.  Thankfully, dedicated members of the WPS were alert to his modus operandi and initiated a proactive project that put him back on ice.  Preston was subsequently charged with eleven (11) commercial break & enter offences.

The maximum penalty for break & enter to a commercial establishment happens to be ten (10) years in prison.  That means Preston should receive a sentence of 110 years in prison if Justice Clearwater’s empty threat was taken seriously.  That, of course, will never happen and that’s the problem with “empty” threats, they’re “empty.”

Preston remains before the court racking up dead time credit.

Knowing the realities of soft Canadian justice, the Crown Prosecutor handling the case would likely settle for any period of incarceration that approached the ten (10) year mark.  Once the dead time credit is deducted on the front end and the parole board slashes the sentence on the back-end, Cary Preston will be back at it in no time.

Enter Judge Ray Wyant.

Wyant gained notoriety in the Manitoba justice scene when he sentenced a first time impaired driving offender to a custodial sentence of fourteen (14) days in jail.  “I want the public to know that in imposing a jail sentence, I’m sending a message and a warning that the gloves are coming off when it comes to these types of cases,” he said.

But did the gloves come off?

In a recent Mike McIntyre / James Turner collaboration we find the majority of Manitoba Judges rejected Wyant’s approach in favour of soft justice.  Analysis of twenty-nine (29) resolved cases of impaired drivers nabbed during the WPS holiday blitz in 2012 showed that very few first time offenders saw the inside of a jail cell.  In fact, only five (5) of the arrestees saw jail while the remaining twenty-four (24) received fines and driving prohibitions.

The gloves didn’t come off after all, not by a long shot.

That’s sad when you consider the fact that Wyant held a leadership position as Chief Judge of the Provincial Court between 2002 – 2009.  It’s troubling that his leadership on impaired driving has been essentially rejected by his fellow judges.

The evolution of the judiciary in Manitoba is equally troubling.

Rhetoric from the bench has become almost comical.  The empty threats may amuse habitual criminals but it tends to alienate and frustrate Law Enforcement.  Outside of the political arena, is there any other profession on planet earth that allows the participants to distort reality with such impunity?

Is it any wonder the judiciary continues to lose respect and credibility.

If you seek credibility, you must be credible.

If you want to be taken seriously then you must be serious.

You must say what you mean and mean what you say.

A concept that’s become lost in the world of justice.


Winnipeg Free Press – James Turner “Charges Laid in Gang Shooting”

Winnipeg Free Press – McIntyre/Turner “Judges Get Tough Stance on Drunk Driving Not Borne Out in Court”

The Police Insider – “Cary Preston – Anatomy of a Serial Property Offender”


  1. Looks like the Cary Preston file will need an update…for crying out loud

  2. Phil Friesen

    When I come across these types of stories in the news, I put them on facebook. And it is surprising how many folks are shocked at the 2nd,3rd, and 4th chances that are given out.Your story and the bit on CJOB goes along way to educate the public as to how repeat offenders raise the overall crime rate.

  3. James G Jewell


    Fortunately, we do have a number of excellent Judges that make protection of the public a true priority.

    See Police Insider Story “Manitoba Judiciary Scores Hat Trick” for a few great examples……https://thepoliceinsider.com/manitoba-judiciary-scores-hat-trick/

    I appreciate your comments….thanks for reading.

  4. Nice job on reporting this in your retirement. I know the police and prosecutor’s hands are tied and I have a feeling that some kind of govt BS is tying the judges hands as well. They all can’t be softies. It is sad that that kind slap on the wrist mentality starts in the education system where all the criminal begin.

  5. Absolutely! But, we’ve seen this for decades. Judge Ray Wyant is the perfect example of the solution.

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