17 October 2012

The Bonita Purtill impaired driving case: unanswered questions and other matters

Updated Nov 8, 2012    See additional information at end of article about the case of Brian Crockett, recently resolved in court, and how that relates to the Bonita Purtill case.

I recall being told, years ago, “Don’t think!”  I was not supposed to question what was said or done, or to have opinions of my own, or try to search out the truth. But, eventually, I did anyway. And now I think that it couldn’t be good if the bond that is formed with another person, or employer or community is on the basis of only one person’s point of view. Besides not being a solid foundation for a relationship, it isn’t beneficial for the community either, to achieve social harmony at the expense of fairness or compassion where it is needed. Not feeling free to express one’s views on a subject, but simply agreeing with the status quo and taking one’s frustrations out on the most vulnerable people out there isn’t the answer.

I grew up in Woodstock. I was married and raised my children here. My parents are buried here. This news item, the Bonita Purtill impaired driving case, struck a chord with me, and not because I have ever been charged with impaired driving.

As I read the articles and watched the videos about the car accident of October, 2008, in Woodstock, Ontario, and the impaired driving trial of Bonita Purtill, I saw mainly one viewpoint being expressed, and it appears to be largely Mary Rodrigues’s which has been picked up by the media and the police department, not to mention MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). As far as I can see, it is the only viewpoint that is granted legitimacy. My aim here is to delve into articles and other sources to try to better understand the situation of the woman, Bonita Purtill, who has been cast in such an unfavourable light by the ‘friendly city.’

The accident – and a comparable case 

I discovered that earlier articles about the Purtill impaired driving case aren’t readily available on the internet, so I am relying mainly on later news pieces, and on videos of Mary Rodrigues, one of the parents of the infant Alex Fleming who died in the accident. The other parent was Michael Fleming, who was also in the car driven by his wife Mary Rodrigues, along with her two other children, when it was struck by the pickup truck driven by Bonita Purtill on October 14, 2008.

The accident was described as a t-bone, but I did not manage to find an image of the event to see how much damage appeared to the human eye, or where the truck impacted the car – was it directly on both doors, or mainly on the front (driver’s side) door?  Most photos are of the infant that died, before the event, with a few of the driver of the pickup, and more, including videos, of the infant’s mother and family spokesperson Mary Rodrigues. But I haven’t seen any photos of the Ford Fusion.

Other details are included in witness testimony, for instance, that Mary Rodrigues had to be extricated from her car using the ‘jaws of life,’ though Michael Fleming was able to get his infant son out of his car seat, from the back seat behind the driver’s  (Witness testifies smelling alcohol, June 21, 2012).  Alex’s fragility, being less than 5 months old, was also a factor, contributing to his vulnerability in the case of an accident. Car accidents are the leading cause of death due to injury in children and infants. (Child passenger safety, Jan 10, 2012).  The need for proper placing of car seats is essential for any responsible parent (Bonita Purtill and MADD: random breath tests and other approaches to impaired driving, Sept 27, 2012).

Questioning why Purtill would have wanted to get out of the truck following the accident seemed to me to be irrelevant. Wouldn’t most people want to get out of the vehicle under such circumstances? What was meant by this line of questioning?

I am left with questions that remain unanswered. Particularly, as I watch the videos and other interview material with Mary Rodrigues, and the comments by others, I question the impartiality of the trial. I see not just a coldness towards the driver Bonita Purtill, but something that goes beyond that, a strength of feeling usually reserved towards those who have committed cold-blooded murder. Why citizens of Woodstock would feel “thrilled” at the verdict and sentencing I don’t know (article - Bonita Purtill guilty on all charges, June 29, 2012). This kind of emotion surely isn’t appropriate in this type of case. Is it right, or good, to feel joy or excitement at seeing another’s life end up in ruins? Or is it considered fair – an eye for an eye?  To me, this kind of community reaction, and comments by Mary Rodrigues, seem to reflect an attitude of revenge more than justice.

Another case of impaired driving that shares points of comparison with the Purtill case is that of Rob Ramage, former NHL hockey player and driver of the car that killed Keith Magnuson, another defenceman, on Dec 15, 2003. Photos of the cars involved are online, as part of news stories. The visual is often more effective at drilling home truths than any amount of words can be, if the aim is to shock readers who are at risk of drinking and driving (Don't send Ramage to jail,' victim's family pleads, Dec 18, 2007; Rob Ramage dazed, confused after fatal crash, Sept 17, 2007).

Dazed Drivers

Both Purtill and Ramage were described as being dazed following their respective accidents. Noted at the time (Rob Ramage barely reacted to deadly crash: paramedic, Sept 18, 2007), and later on at the trial (Rob Ramage dazed, confused after fatal crash, Sept 17, 2007) as being a normal response to the situation, according to Ramage’s lawyer: “Defence attorney Brian Greenspan has suggested Ramage’s confusion about his passenger was consistent with a person briefly losing consciousness in a crash” (Rob Ramage sorry for tragedy: police, Sept 20, 2007).

In the case of Bonnie Purtill, the cross-examination of Dr Ronald Robins, an emergency room Dr, revealed that “disorientation and a lack of focus could be caused by ‘medical shock’ caused by the collision” (Ex denies domestic violence, June 26, 2012). However, in the closing arguments, Assistant Crown attorney Steve Guiler argued that “no evidence was presented that Purtill's lack of coherence on the night of the crash was caused by medical issues” (Final arguments, different stories, June 28, 2012).  The Assistant Crown attorney seemed to be arguing that only medical evidence counts, and not that social factors, such as being in a bad accident, seeing the Jaws of Life at work, and generally feeling stressed about the whole event, including presumably having just been involved in a family argument, could influence quality of speech and comprehension, and steadiness (see defence attorney Peter Kratzmann, in ‘Final arguments, different stories,’ June 28, 2012).

The speed of the car may have contributed to shock caused by a crash in Ramage‘s case as he had been travelling fast, according to Dean Sequeiro and his father, Walter “when it crossed the centre line and clipped their vehicle before smashing into the Pathfinder” (Rob Ramage dazed, confused after fatal crash, Sept 17, 2007).

While Ramage’s car was said to be travelling at a high speed, says one witness to the 2003 accident, the car crossing the median “like a rocket” and smashing into oncoming vehicles (Ramage heads back to court, Feb 28, 2010). The pickup truck Bonita Purtill was driving was travelling at a speed of 52 kilometres per hour, according to Constable David Weber (Purtill napped in cruiser, arresting officer says June 24, 2012).  Furthermore, mechanic Jeff Masters, on inspection of both the Purtill pickup and Rodrigues’s Fusion, testified that both were “in good working condition, including brakes and tires. Both vehicles would have easily passed a safety inspection.”

The survivors 

I have seen next to nothing about Purtill that is unrelated to the claims she made or the trial itself. Any family, except for her daughter, is scarcely mentioned, and the daughter only referred to in passing, to note that she sat behind her mother throughout the trial (Bonita Purtill guilty on all charges, June 29, 2012).

Woodstock Police Chief Rod Freeman and Sgt. Marvin Massacar, the officer in charge of the case, acknowledged the emotional cost of the accident for all involved, Freeman saying “there are no winners in this at all,” and that “many people suffered, including the families of the victim and the family of the accused” (Bonita Purtill guilty on all charges, June 29, 2012).  I’m not so sure, however, that I agree with Freeman’s comment that “Certainly Alexander was the core victim” and “What I found is it just ripples out.”

Alex was the main accident victim, but placing him at the centre of the entire event may not be accurate. Trying to explain others’ emotional turmoil and life change as rippling out from Alex doesn’t even begin to capture the magnitude of the event and the different life changes each survivor will experience in years to come.

I don’t imagine Rob Ramage sees the experience he has been through as a mere ripple. Rather, he is usually placed at the centre, while the victim of his accident – Keith Magnusson - has ended up in the margins. It’s only because Alex was a baby, and our society adores babies, traditionally seeing their lives as most important of all, that he has been raised to this status in Woodstock, everything else being seen as secondary.

The impaired driving case of NHL hockey player Rob Ramage, originating in the 2003 accident, has focused mainly on Ramage and his future, at least in the media. Justice David Doherty remarked about Ramage, “ . . .this is a person who – it's not just that he's been a law-abiding citizen. He's been a remarkable citizen in many ways. And, if you look at sentencing in a human way ... why doesn't that (history) drive it to the low end?” (Judges question Rob Ramage's sentence, Mar 2, 2010).  In response, I would suggest that this kind of logic leads to a two-tiered legal or punitive system based on status in society. It’s unfair if some people can have their sentences minimized, while those lacking family and community support, or career status, have to serve the full sentence. If the laws seem too harsh for some individuals, then they are too harsh for a good many others too. It may be more noticeable when someone who plays hockey for a living is expected to serve time, but the ordinary person who loses his job, and perhaps his home, is also hard done by under similar circumstances.

The effect of Rob Ramage’s conviction for impaired driving on his life and his family as well as on the accident victim’s family has been mentioned time and time again. Ramage was placed at the centre of the unfortunate event, due to his fame as a Canadian hockey player. Not only did his passenger, Keith Magnuson, die in the accident but Michelle Pacheco, the driver of another vehicle, also received serious injuries in the crash. Despite this, Ramage received much support and empathy, his lawyer, Brian Greenspan, adding that Magnuson's widow had called Ramage to give him her support” (Ramage found guilty in Magnuson's death, Oct 10, 2007). The family of the victim who died has forgiven Ramage, the fact he was a friend travelling in the same car making a difference, and not a complete stranger, as Bonita Purtill was to Mary Rodrigues and family (Rob Ramage appeals conviction, sentence in crash that killed Keith Magnuson, Feb 28, 2010). And as Morris Dalla Costa writes, “When he got behind the wheel, he changed the lives of many people forever” (Ramage can't escape agony of his actions, Aug 30, 2011).

Purtill, and the effect of the accident on her life, have been pushed to the sidelines, while Baby Alex takes centre stage in the aftermath of the tragedy. In a video filmed by reporters following the sentencing of Bonita Purtill, in Woodstock, Mary Rodrigues is interviewed about her thoughts on her family and Purtill’s apology (Bonita Purtill's Sentencing – video, Sept 19, 2012). While Rodigues continues to interpret Purtill’s thoughts and intentions (on apologising and apparent lack of remorse), and focuses on her own family, Purtill and her family are left seeing their own life tragedies as somehow hardly meaningful at all, except to be used as an example to others by MADD (MADD stood by Baby Alex’s family, July 5, 2012), and by the police (CTV News London Tonight at 6, Sentencing of Bonita Purtill, Sept 19, 2012).

Trial delays 

Four years may seem like a long time from the time of the accident to the end of the trial, but it was that long with the Rob Ramage case too (2003-3007) and not just the Bonita Purtill case (2008-2012). According to Steve Simmons, writing on the Ramage case (Justice system stalled in Ramage case, Sept 12, 2006), Ramage’s lawyer Brian Greenspan may have been working on another case during this time, but other than that, there seemed to be no explanation. The reason given for the delays in the Purtill case were that she changed lawyers – more than once – and thus was unprepared (Woodstock Family must wait for justice, Dec 6, 2010; Woodstock trial delayed again, Oct 18, 2011).

The judge, Superior Court Justice Thomas Heeney, questioned Purtill, saying, “Why is it you waited until the 11th hour to fire your lawyer?”, to which Purtill responded, “It took this long for it to become clear to me; I needed other representation for the trial” (Another delay dismays victims, Sept 9, 2011). Whether this was seen as a legitimate response or not – or even a proper line of questioning – is hard to judge, and it would be impossible for readers to know the circumstances surrounding the firing of the lawyers. Rob Ramage, whose case also took four years to come to a verdict stage, had two high profile lawyers - Brian Greenspan and Seth Weinstein - looking after his concerns.

Later, the reason for further delay of the Purtill trial was a pressing murder trial that was being held – the Robinson murder of Clifford Fair (Trial set for woman charged in death of Baby Alex, Nov 7, 2011). Tara Bowie elaborated on problems that year, saying, “Although many cases came to an end, it was year of appearances, delays and legal wrangling for three of the highest profile cases in Oxford County history (The verdict on 2011, Dec 29, 2011). Circumstances – and chance – led to Bonita Purtill and the family of the baby, Alex, being caught up in the middle of all this.

Meanwhile, the mother of Alex, the baby who died, expressed her frustration: “It’s been three years . . . I can’t imagine why it’s taking so long, Everything is based on her. Where is Alex in all of this?” (Another delay dismays victims, Sept 9, 2011).

Separating the legal from the emotional

Having to rely on news reports of what happened doesn’t provide a thorough account of events, and the Purtill case, as reported to the public, is lacking in details necessary for understanding. What’s more, from appearances, there may have been a lack in the information provided to the judge.  See as follows:

“In sentencing Purtill to six years and eight months in prison, Justice Kelly Gorman noted the author of a pre-sentence report wrote Purtill insisted on minimizing and justifying her actions and failed to take full responsibility for the offence, which she found very troubling”  (Six years, eight months for Purtill, Sept 19, 2012; Purtill sentenced to six years, eight months, Sept 19, 2012).

Since Justice Kelly used the pre-sentence report in determining the sentence, I believe it would be useful and fairer to know who wrote it, and what exactly was meant by these statements.  Are the authors of pre-sentence reports required to sign their names to their work? Is it their job to interpret the intentions of the defendant? Purtill isn’t the first person to plead not guilty and offer an explanation, while still feeling remorseful for harm caused.

Rob Ramage also fought his conviction, and the means by which he was found to be impaired (Rob Ramage appeals conviction, sentence in crash that killed Keith Magnuson, Feb 28, 2010), while also declaring much remorse for his actions, and yes, even taking full responsibility for what happened (Killer drunk driver Rob Ramage granted parole from prison, May 8, 2011).  The behaviours – or claims –  were not seen by all as being contradictory in his case; instead, they were seen as normal under the circumstances, or perhaps attributed to him at different points in the complicated process. It is possible for a person to be sorry for having caused another’s death, and offer to take responsibility for it, yet still want to spend as little time in prison as necessary for having done so (Ramage can't escape agony of his actions, Aug 30, 2011).

Not everyone agrees with this way of looking at it, however. Brian Thiel examines this in more detail, asking “Why does the “forgiveness factor” weigh so heavily in these proceedings? It's astounding that the families found the strength to forgive those who broke the law  . . .  But the point remains: These people broke the law. Why shouldn't they have to serve some kind of sentence?” (Rummaging Through Rob Ramage's Suit, Jan 18, 2008).

It’s mainly in the Bonita Purtill case that the complexities raised due to the demands of the law and one’s personal feelings become problematic, as signs that she was not truly remorseful. The victim’s mother, Mary Rodrigues, said she tried to help Purtill understand “all the pain, anger and grief we have been going through . . . then maybe she would get a better understanding of what life has been like since. But I feel like it wouldn’t matter one bit to her at all.” If it seems that way it may be because Purtill‘s own life is in such turmoil that she is unable to give Rodrigues the attention she seeks (Six years, eight months for Purtill, Sept 19, 2012).  Moreover, due to legal aspects of the case, apparently Purtill was not permitted to make contact with the Rodrigues-Fleming family (Six years, eight months for Purtill, Sept 19, 2012).

Police Chief Rod Freeman, viewing Purtill’s sentence as being at “the high end of the spectrum” is reported as saying, “I think it’s very appropriate due to the depth of the tragedy. I do believe it’s a significant sentence,” adding, “How do you achieve satisfaction for the loss of a four-month-old? The deepest part of the tragedy is that a baby’s life was lost” (Six years, eight months for Purtill, Sept 19, 2012).  It was tragic that a baby’s life was lost, but does this mean that if it had been an adult that had been killed in the accident that it wouldn’t have mattered quite as much?


In Sept, 2012, the trial behind him, Woodstock Police Chief Rod Freeman, co-chair of Safe Communities Woodstock, talked about the previous four years for Woodstock, saying how challenging they had been, and mentioning the three major crimes – “the drunk driving death of Baby Alex Fleming, the murder and dismemberment of Clifford Fair, and the abduction and murder of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford” (Putting tragedy behind Woodstock, and safety in front, Sept 24, 2012). I’m sure, from previous comments, that nothing was meant by this except that they were all serious crimes, but from the perspective of Bonita Purtill, it might seem that she is being placed in the same category as murderers.

Perpetuating the analogy are the remarks of Mary Rodrigues, who has a new friend in the mother of Tori Stafford. “Tara and I have found great support with each other,” she says, adding, “You don't ever want to meet someone whose child was killed because it is not something you would even want to wish upon your worst enemy. But that is what happened to both of us and it's nice to have that extra support” (Woodstock Family must wait for justice, Dec 6, 2010). But rather than identify completely with someone whose child was murdered, it would also be more accurate to acknowledge that it was an accident that killed the infant Alex, not that he was intentionally killed as Tori Stafford was.

Purtill has been labelled a “convicted killer” by the press (see CTV News London Tonight at 6 - video, Sept 19, 2012), and “impaired killer” (Impaired Killer Sentenced – video, Sept 19, 2012).  The only mention I saw of Rob Ramage that was overtly negative in this manner was on the website Cancrime, where Ramage is referred to in the title as “killer drunk driver,” though not in the article itself (Killer drunk driver Rob Ramage granted parole from prison, May 8, 2011).

While using the term ‘killer’ might be proper according to the dictionary definition, the word does imply intent as well as continuity, in other words, the expectation that the person will kill again. Purtill, or Ramage, could even be serial impaired drivers, but that doesn’t make them murderers.

After the trial of Bonita Purtill ended, Rodrigues spoke of her other children, saying, “As far as they know, a woman killed baby Alex, and now we get to go home and tell them that she’s never going to hurt us anymore” (Baby Alex's Family, Police Relieved at Guilty Verdict, June 29, 2012). For them to hear Bonita Purtill being spoken of as being in the same category as the murderer Michael Rafferty would make them fearful, no doubt, if the same language were used in front of them. It implies that Purtill was lying in wait for the baby Alex. It implies intent, and it implies Purtill might try it again, if she were to be released from prison.  This distorted use of language, if it had an effect on the Rodrigues-Fleming children as well as on the community, could only lead to increased anxiety and fear for those who take it to heart, rather than see Purtill was what she is, a woman who drove drunk, and by accident killed someone – a baby.

Verdict – guilty as charged

Both Bonita Purtill and Rob Ramage were found guilty as charged, Purtill of 6 charges, “impaired driving causing death and bodily harm, criminal negligence causing death and bodily harm, and refusing to provide a breath sample” (Baby Alex's Family, Police Relieved at Guilty Verdict, June 29, 2012). Ramage was found guilty of  5 charges, “impaired driving causing death, impaired driving causing bodily harm, two counts of dangerous driving causing death and having a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit” (Hockey captain found guilty – video, Oct 11, 2007).

In another piece published the same day as the Purtill verdict, Adam J. Nyp reports what was said about the difference between criminal negligence and dangerous driving:

“In dealing with the counts relating to impaired driving causing the death of 4-month-old Alex Fleming and bodily harm suffered by Mary Rodrigues, the jury’s main question is: Was Ms. Purtill’s ability to operate a motor vehicle impaired?
 . . .On the Criminal Negligence counts, it is defined as the reckless disregard for the lives and safety of others. It's more than just carelessness, it’s a “substantial departure from what a reasonable person would do.” And it can be that she was either aware of this recklessness, or, she simply gave no thought of what risk existed.
 . . .Justice Gorman told the jury [it] can find Purtill not guilty of Criminal Negligence, but guilty of a lesser charge of dangerous driving causing death and bodily harm. Or, they could find her not guilty of both.
 . . .The final two counts that deal with refusing to provide a breath sample, one of them deals with the fact that a death or serious injury was caused by the crash. The question here is whether Purtill was aware the crash she caused had harmed or killed someone” (Deliberations Underway in Purtill Trial, June 29, 2012).

I question why Purtill was led away in leg shackles as well as handcuffs when she was found to be guilty of the charges, and then when she was sentenced (see Impaired Killer Sentenced - video, Sept 19, 2012). Was it feared that she might abscond and leave the area or the country – do a ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ to support herself, but without the Clyde? I haven’t read about her background, or her current situation, or where she might have other friends or family besides her daughter. Really, was that the reason she was shackled, because she might have run away?

In another case of impaired driving, in Toronto, Jose Lugo-Alonso, a Cuban cigar executive, was sentenced to two years in prison, after which time he will be deported back to Cuba. He wasn’t wearing handcuffs or leg shackles (and presumably he didn’t disappear on route to prison), but I wonder how a judge determines who needs to be shackled and who can exit the court house at least appearing respectable and dignified (Impaired driver gets 2 years for injuring cyclist, Jan 06, 2012). Lugo-Alonso expressed “genuine remorse for the accident,” and offered a written apology which was accepted by the injured cyclist, who said in the video, “I don't doubt that he feels remorse. He’s a human being. The problem is when we get to the point when people are apologizing and there’s a criminal charge it’s too late in the game”  (Cyclist speaks out following drunk driving crash, Jan 9, 2012).

Apology and forgiveness

Bonita Purtill apologised to the family of the infant, Alex, just before being sentenced by the judge (Six years, eight months for Purtill, Sept 19, 2012). She is reported to have said, “As a mother I cannot fathom the pain you feel, that I’m responsible for. . . I humbly pray that someday I can earn your forgiveness for the selfish choices I made.” Purtill probably says “someday” with the realization that earning Rodrigues’s forgiveness isn’t going to happen all at once, if it is a possibility at all, and probably can’t happen while she is in prison.

Purtill claims she had been unable to state her feelings in public before this, saying she was banned from contacting the family as a condition of her bail. Now, at this time, she tells them, “I desperately wanted to tell you how deeply sorry I am from the depth of my tortured soul” (Six years, eight months for Purtill, Sept 19, 2012).

Despite this attempt to show her remorse, her apology wasn’t accepted by Rodrigues, the mother of the infant who died (see Bonita Purtill's Sentencing – video, Sept 19, 2012). The reasons seem to have to do with an apparent lack of sincerity as perceived by Rodrigues, probably combined with the fact that Purtill pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Rob Ramage also pleaded not guilty to the charges facing him, while at the same time expressing remorse, but that didn’t make a difference to those who saw it as an accident, and unintentional. Those who supported him – his family, Magnuson’s family, friends, community, and other hockey players –  let it be known that they were sympathetic (Don't send Ramage to jail,' victim's family pleads, Dec 18, 2007; Ramage verdict shocks former teammates, Oct 10, 2007).

On the day he was found guilty of the charges of “impaired driving causing death, impaired driving causing bodily harm, two counts of dangerous driving causing death and having a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit” Ramage said, “It is a tragedy for all involved, including my family” (Rob Ramage found guilty of 5 charges, Oct 11, 2007).  As far as I know, Purtill didn’t get to tell how the tragedy has affected her life and her family’s. For the most part, for the community of Woodstock it was a one-sided tragedy only.

A piece by Ian Gillespie delves into the tragedy from the point of view of Mary Rodrigues (Infant's death hurts a year later, Oct 9, 2009), in the same kind of way that writers might examine the life of Rob Ramage from a sympathetic perspective (Ramage can't escape agony of his actions, Aug 30, 2011).  In another piece, Randy Richmond almost achieves a sensitive approach to Bonita Purtill’s situation, but not quite  (Surviving in a dark hole at EMDC, Sept 21, 2012). Too many articles have already influenced the lens through which Purtill is viewed. Richmond writes, “The remorse she finally showed Wednesday did not impress reporters who followed her case from the beginning.” Neither, apparently, did her story of having been in a ‘domestic violence incident’ that day. But it wasn’t the case that reporters were following; they appeared to be following Mary Rodrigues, whose confidence, determination, and charisma have attracted followers from all walks of life.


Mary Rodrigues talks about her feelings after seeing Purtill brought into court, saying, “It's kind of sad to say, but a little bit of satisfaction. You know, that she’s not out there hurting anybody else. I guess that’s the price you pay for what she did” (Purtill Sentencing Pushed Back 10 Days), Sept 7, 2012.

While the Rob Ramage trial was still in progress, Ramage’s lawyers, Greenspan and Weinstein, said that nothing would be accomplished by imprisoning him and suggested that he get to travel around North America, talking to students about the dangers of drinking and driving. The judge, however, felt that jailing him would be a more effective way of bringing home that message to the public. (Ramage heads back to court, Feb 28, 2010).

In May, 2012, Rob Ramage passed a marker in his return to a normal life, being granted full parole (Former Leaf captain granted full parole, May 18, 2012). Meanwhile, MADD has been intent on making changes to laws on parole, after Ramage’s early parole privileges resulted in him serving only 10 months of a four-year sentence (Review sentences: MADD, May 06, 2011).  And more news: Patrick Callahan reports that Ramage will not be returning to his job as assistant coach for the London Knights (Bench boogie, July 3, 2012).  More recently, Ramage spoke at a Mission Services recovery breakfast about the effect on his life (NHL's Rob Ramage gives moving speech at recovery breakfast, Sept 27, 2012).

MADD now has a new poster child for impaired drivers, the infant Alexander who died in the impaired driving accident which involved Bonita Purtill. Alex, referred to as ‘Baby Alex’ can be seen posing with his spokesperson mother in Scene magazine (MADD stood by Baby Alex’s family, July 5, 2012).

After being convicted, Bonita Purtill was led off, handcuffed and shackled, to await sentencing, a reminder to others of what could happen to them. Rodrigues continues to interpret Purtill’s feelings, or more precisely, to claim she has none, saying “The way she’s been acting in court this week, and last week in court - she has no emotion whatsoever. No emotion. It’s like she has no regrets for what she’s done” (Alex was killed by an impaired driver, QMI Video, July 2, 2012).

On the final day in court, September 19, 2012, Purtill was sentenced, to 7 years in prison minus 4 months served time. As she is led away, again with handcuffs and legs shackled, we can hear a voice calling out to her, I love you mom (Bonita Purtill's Sentencing – video, Sept 19, 2012).

Additional information: added Nov 8, 2012

Another case of impaired driving from the same community - Woodstock, Ontario - that of Brian Crockett, Crown attorney, has raised interest in the local newspapers after Crockett was fined for (convicted of?) impaired driving in August, 2012. Sun News published the same article in two different communities, drawing comments from readers about the two Woodstock cases – Brian Crockett’s and Bonita Purtill’s, and the treatment each one received (See Oxford Crown attorney Brian Crockett pleads guilty to impaired driving, London Free Press, Nov 7, 2012; Oxford Crown attorney Brian Crockett pleads guilty to impaired driving, Woodstock Sentinel-Review, Nov 7, 2012).

Note: Comments are welcomed!
If any links are incorrect or not working  - or missing, I would appreciate hearing about it.

Sue McPherson
s.a.mcpherson @ sympatico.ca

List of References

‘Alex was killed by an impaired driver,’ QMI Video, Article By Heather Rivers, Woodstock Sentinel-Review, July 2, 2012

Another delay dismays victims, By Heather Rivers, QMI Agency, London Free Press, Sept 9, 2011

Baby Alex's Family, Police Relieved at Guilty Verdict, 1047 Heart FM News, June 29, 2012

Bench boogie, By Patrick Callan, The London Free Press, July 3, 2012

Bonita Purtill and MADD: random breath tests and other approaches to impaired driving, By Sue McPherson, Sue’s Views on the News, Sept 27, 2012

Bonita Purtill guilty on all charges - article, By Heather Rivers, Woodstock Sentinel Review, June 29, 2012

Bonita Purtill's Sentencing – video, Heart FM News, Sept 19, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPmvigkQz6Y

Child passenger safety, Safe Kids Canada, Jan 10, 2012

CTV News London Tonight at 6 – video, Sentencing of Bonita Purtill, You Tube, Sept 19, 2012
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tuhDU-aqTY&feature=related . Retrieved  Oct 3, 2012

Cyclist speaks out following drunk driving crash, By Ashleigh Smollet, CityNews.ca, Jan 9, 2012
Video - http://www.citytv.com/toronto/citynews/video/179572

Deliberations Underway in Purtill Trial, By Adam J. Nyp, 1047 Heart FM News, June 29, 2012

  Don't send Ramage to jail,' victim's family pleads, Bob Mitchell, Staff Reporter, Toronto Star, Dec 18, 2007

Ex denies domestic violence, QMI Agency, London Free Press, Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Final arguments, different stories, By Heather Rivers, Woodstock Sentinel-Review, Brantford Expositor, June 28, 2012. http://www.brantfordexpositor.ca/2012/06/28/final-arguments-different-stories

Former Leaf captain granted full parole, By Joe Fantauzzi, Yorkregion.com, May 18, 2012

Hockey captain found guilty, By Michael Dick, CBC News, You tube video, Oct 11, 2007

Impaired driver gets 2 years for injuring cyclist, By Peter Small. The Star, Jan 06, 2012

Impaired Killer Sentenced – video, Cristina Howorun, CTV London, Sept 19, 2012
http://www.ctvlondon.ca/tag/bonita-putrill/. Retrieved Oct 12, 2012

Infant's death hurts a year later, By Ian Gillespie, London Free Press, Oct 9, 2009

Judges question Rob Ramage's sentence, By Tracey Tyler, Legal Affairs Reporter, The Star, Mar 2, 2010

Justice system stalled in Ramage case, By Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun, Sept 12, 2006

Killer drunk driver Rob Ramage granted parole from prison, By Rob, CanCrime.com, May 8, 2011

MADD stood by Baby Alex’s family, Scene Magazine p 6, July 5, 2012

NHL's Rob Ramage gives moving speech at recovery breakfast, Mission Services of London, Sept 27, 2012. http://missionservices.ca/news/nhls-rob-ramage-gives-moving-speech-at-recovery-breakfast/

Oxford Crown attorney Brian Crockett pleads guilty to impaired driving

Woodstock Sentinel-Review Staff
London Free Press
Wednesday, Nov 7, 2012
http://samcpherson.homestead.com/files/Miscellaneous/2012_Nov_LFP_OxfordCrown_AttorneyBrianCrockett.doc includes the 46 comments made to the article in the LFP

Oxford Crown attorney Brian Crockett pleads guilty to impaired driving
Woodstock Sentinel-Review Staff
Woodstock S-R
Wednesday, Nov 7, 2012
http://samcpherson.homestead.com/files/Miscellaneous/2012_Nov_SR_OxfordCrownAttorneyBrianCrockett.doc includes the 31 comments made to the article in the SR

Purtill napped in cruiser, arresting officer says, By Tara Bowie, Wooodstock Sentinel Review. June 24, 2012. http://www.woodstocksentinelreview.com/2012/06/22/purtill-napped-in-cruiser

Purtill sentenced to six years, eight months, By Heather Rivers, Woodstock SR, Sept 19, 2012

Purtill Sentencing Pushed Back 10 Days, By Adam J Nyp, 1047 Heart FM, Sept 7, 2012

Putting tragedy behind Woodstock, and safety in front, Woodstock Sentinel-Review, Sept 24, 2012. http://www.woodstocksentinelreview.com/2012/09/24/putting-tragedy-behind-woodstock-and-safety-in-front

Ramage can't escape agony of his actions, By Morris Dalla Costa, QMI Agency, Toronto Sun, Aug 30, 2011. http://www.torontosun.com/2011/08/30/ramage-cant-escape-agony-of-his-actions

Ramage found guilty in Magnuson's death, By Bob Mitchell, The Star, Oct 10, 2007

Ramage heads back to court, By Tracey Tyler, The Star, Feb 28, 2010

Ramage verdict shocks former teammates, By Allan Maki, Globe and Mail, Oct 10, 2007, updated Apr 03, 2009. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/ramage-verdict-shocks-former-teammates/article1084350/

Review sentences: MADD, By Joe Fantauzzi, Yorkregion.com, May 06, 2011

Rob Ramage appeals conviction, sentence in crash that killed Keith Magnuson, By Frank Gunn, Canadian Press, The Hockey News, Feb 28, 2010. http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/31805-Rob-Ramage-appeals-conviction-sentence-in-crash-that-killed-Keith-Magnuson.html

Rob Ramage barely reacted to deadly crash: paramedic, The Canadian Press, CBC Sports, Sept 18, 2007

Rob Ramage dazed, confused after fatal crash, Canadian Press, CBC Sports, Sept 17, 2007

Rob Ramage found guilty of 5 charges, CBC Sports, Oct 11, 2007

Rob Ramage sorry for tragedy: police, The Canadian Press, CBC Sports, Sept 20, 2007

Rummaging Through Rob Ramage's Suit, By Bryan Thiel (Senior Writer), Bleacher Report, Jan 18, 2008

Six years, eight months for Purtill, London Free Press, Sept 19, 2012

Surviving in a dark hole at EMDC, By Randy Richmond, London Free Press, Woodstock Sentinel Review, Sept 21, 2012. http://www.woodstocksentinelreview.com/2012/09/21/surviving-in-a-dark-hole-at-emdc

Trial set for woman charged in death of Baby Alex, By Tara Bowie, Woodstock Sentinel-Review, Nov 7, 2011. http://www.woodstocksentinelreview.com/2011/11/07/trial-set-for-woman-charged-in-death-of-baby-alex

The verdict on 2011, By Tara Bowie, Woodstock Sentinel-Review, Dec 29, 2011

Witness testifies smelling alcohol, Brantford Expositor, June 21, 2012

Woodstock family must wait for justice, By Carla Garrett, Brantford Expositor, Dec 6, 2010

Woodstock trial delayed again, QMI Agency, Oct 18, 2011

27 September 2012

Bonita Purtill and MADD: random breath tests and other approaches to impaired driving

The accident that killed young Alex Fleming, of Woodstock, Ontario, the infant son of Mary Rodrigues and Michael Fleming, was a tragedy for the family and their community. Bonita Purtill, the driver of the pickup that had broadsided their car on October 12, 2008, pleaded not guilty to “impaired driving and criminal negligence in the death of four-month-old Alex Fleming, impaired driving causing bodily harm and criminal negligence to Alex’s mother Mary Rodrigues and refusing to provide a breath sample to police” (Jury selected in Bonita Purtill trial, June 18, 2012).

Purtill received one year for refusing to take the breath test – a criminal offense - to be served consecutively (ie following the sentence for the impaired driving). The shorter sentence was included in the total jail time of 7 years minus time served, leaving 6 years, 8 months (MADD Canada praises Purtill sentence, Sept 20, 2012).

There appeared to be immense relief at Ms Purtill being found guilty, in part because it was an infant that died in the accident, and in part due to attitudes towards the combination of ‘drinking’ and ‘driving’ (Final arguments, different stories, June 28, 2012). Taken separately, each of these activities is legal to engage in, but put them together - as drunk driving - and public tolerance for them changes, possibly largely due to the efforts of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers).

Random breath testing

According to Andrew Murie, Canada’s CEO for MADD, “more than 100,000 charges related to impaired driving are laid across Canada each year. . . That's the people who get caught,” he said. “So there is a whole bunch of people who don’t. You can do it for a long period of time before you get caught” (MADD Canada praises Purtill sentence, Sept 20, 2012). Mr Murie also reminded readers that MADD Canada was advocating for the law to allow police to demand random breath tests in spot checks; I would add, the idea seems to be to do away with having to show good reason for exerting their authority in this manner.

Intended to save lives and prevent injuries, the random compulsory breath tests, carried out at checkpoints, would increase “the chances of stopping, charging and convicting a drunk driver” (MADD mothers push for random breath testing, May 09, 2012). Thus random breath testing is somewhat different from the RIDE program.

In Ontario, RIDE (Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere), is described by lawyer Tushar K Pain as including “a provincial spot-check enforcement campaign started in 1977,” in which all cars crossing the checkpoint would be stopped and questioned (Ontario’s Drinking and Driving Laws Often Misunderstood, Sept 18, 2011). After questioning, those drivers seemingly not under the influence would be let go without having to take a breath test. On the other hand, the proposed “random breath test” spot check, Mr Murie of MADD is reported as saying, “would allow police at roadblocks to conduct about three times as many breathalyzer tests because they would not need to spend time determining whether there is “reasonable” suspicion a driver has been drinking” (Canada Contemplates Random Breath Tests, Oct 7, 2009).

Although there is currently a RIDE program in effect in Ontario that nabs impaired drivers, there seems to be more opposition towards the idea of a random, compulsory breath test program than RIDE. I added the word compulsory to the description as I felt it more accurately described what the reluctance was for members of the public in embracing random breath testing. The problem could be about living in a coercive state environment in which one’s right to freedom is being taken away.

One other aspect of the proposed ‘random breath test,’ as I understand it, is that the randomness of the method involves an approach based on luck, eg one in ten car drivers will be tested, rather than RIDE’s method of questioning everyone who gets stopped at the checkpoint but only breathalizing those who fail to convey the impression of being under the limit or who are believed when they say, Only one, officer.

In practice, however, how likely could it be for a driver to say, I’m a doctor and I’m in a hurry, in the random test situation, and being permitted to drive through without being tested? What controls will be set in place, and what loopholes will remain? Who is likely to be most affected? Which kind of breath testing would be fairer to most citizens, regardless of occupation or social status according to make and year of car? For more views on this topic, see in the list following, ‘Debate: Random sobriety tests for drivers.’

Related legal cases

Another local case of driving while impaired is that of Brian Crockett, Crown Attorney of Oxford county, who was arrested in Woodstock Ontario, on charges of impaired driving, on Saturday, Aug 18, 2012. Like Bonita Purtill, Crockett refused to take a breathalizer test. His case is due in court on October 2, 2012 (Crown named in Crockett court case, Sept 11, 2012).

In yet another case, in which impairment due to drinking was at first suspected, suprisingly the accused was not asked to provide a breath sample. The case was that of Michael Bryant, former Attorney-general of Ontario, who was involved in an altercation with a cyclist/courier, Darcy Sheppard, who tragically died that day, August 31, 2009 (Michael Bryant relives deadly encounter with cyclist in ‘28 Seconds,’ Aug 21, 2012).

The police officer responding to the Bryant-Sheppard incident took one look at the severity of the situation and asked Byant how many drinks he had had, but in the end, Bryant was not required to take a breath test. From Macleans magazine, in Bryant’s own words:

“The constable promptly manhandled me around to a spot in front of his squad car. He started pushing and poking me. He said I was in a lot of trouble. He kept asking how much I’d had to drink. In five different ways, he asked me if I’d imbibed. I told him I didn’t drink alcohol, period. ‘Yeah, okay,’ he scoffed” (The 28 seconds that changed my life, Aug 22, 2012).

Michael Bryant was arrested and charged with dangerous driving causing death and negligence causing death. Several months later, in May, 2010, the charges were withdrawn. In August, 2012, the book Bryant wrote, on the 28 seconds that changed his life, was released (The 28 seconds that changed my life, Aug 22, 2012).

There has been public protest to Bryant’s book and to the way the case was handled (see Michael Bryant book launch sparks protest, Sept 06, 2012). The one who had been drinking in this catastrophe was the cyclist who lost his life, and the one driving was the recovering, though apparently sober alcoholic, making it more difficult to label one side clearly in the wrong and the other side obviously right. Yet that was what was done. Even in death, Sheppard was made to take the blame, while Bryant got off completely, in the legal sense at least.

Drinking and driving – our history and culture

Where there actually is an impaired driver involved in an accident, it is easier to place blame. In other words, it is the alcohol that is being blamed, and the driver for not recognizing its distorting tendencies and impact on the mind before getting behind the steering wheel, although by that time, it’s usually too late. Even the description of a 1976 CBC radio broadcast can remind us how far we have come and yet how nothing really changes (Alcohol: Rethinking the minimum age for drinking, May 2, 1976).

In 2008, there was a move by health officials in London, Ontario, to raise Ontario's legal drinking age to 21, “as part of a series of measures to fight alcohol-related deaths and injuries,” but the suggestion was dismissed by Premier Dalton McGuinty. Ontario had lowered the drinking age from 21 to 18 in 1971, then increased it to age 19 in 1979 following complaints of more high school students getting drunk. McGuinty is quoted as saying, at that time, "If you're going to rely on the law to ensure that your kids aren't drinking underage, then you don't have a good understanding of human nature," he said before a Liberal caucus meeting (Drinking age to stay at 19, Apr 01, 2008).

It is recognized that the highest rates of impaired driving are among young drivers, (Impaired driving and other traffic offences, Nov 7, 2003), who may be testing their own powers as part of becoming adults - finding out what their limits are. Bonita Purtill was the exception rather than the rule – older and female – and managing to get herself into a situation involving the death of a small child.

The emphasis in the Purtill case has been on the law, related to irresponsible drinking and her decision, no matter what prompted her to do so, to get behind the wheel and risk doing harm to others. Purtill did have the opportunity of telling her story, though her credibility, or the facts as she described them, were apparently not accepted by the members of the jury as reasonable (Purtill takes the stand, June 28, 2012).

It is difficult, sometimes, to determine cause/effect relationships. Society changes and we may not always know how the change came about. But one good thing that has occurred since the Purtill accident involving the infant Alex Fleming in the car with his family, has been that child car seat regulations have been updated.

Infant and child car seats

“Injuries related to motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of injury-related death for Canadian children” (Child passenger safety, Jan 10, 2012). See also the Ministry of Transportation piece ‘Safe & Secure: Choosing the right car seat for your child,’ last modified: June 22, 2012). Using the correct car seat, in the appropriate manner, has been important for our society for many years now, a result of the injuries and deaths involving children and babies in car accidents.

On Dec 29, 2011, it was announced that updated child car seat safety regulations would come into force on January 1, 2012. Minister of Health, Leona Aglukkaq, made the announcement, saying, “When these new regulations come into force on January 1, child car seats sold in Canada will meet Canada's highest testing standards and therefore will be as safe as possible” (Updated child car seat safety, Dec. 29, 2011).

Random testing of car seats has been carried out through the RIDE program in Ontario, for the purpose of ensuring that parents know how to follow the laws and are doing so. (Majority of car seats checked not installed properly: police, Nov 05, 2009). Parents needing advice about infant and child car seats can go to special centres set up for this purpose. Car-seat.Org provides discussion forums and access to resources for concerned parents (Car-seat.Org, since 2001). A local internet group in sw Ontario is Londonmoms.ca (see Car seat checks, since 2000).

Still, the emphasis seems to be on ending impaired driving, for MADD at least, no matter how impossible the task may be of fighting for zero tolerance. The Bonita Purtill case informs us just how tragic such accidents can be, changing the lives of both the victim’s family and the impaired driver (Woman guilty of killing four-month-old while driving drunk, June 29, 2012). Opposition to MADD’s efforts continue, as in internet sites concerned about random sobriety tests and what exactly are other countries doing compared with Canada (More MADD Opinion – Random Breath Tests & Ireland, 2010). In the meantime, taking advantage of advances in technology, medical expertise, and community programs, as in ‘Time to Double Check the Car Seats,’ June 21, 2011, might help mothers and fathers lessen the injuries and fatalities, within their families, from those who drive while impaired.

The 28 seconds that changed my life, macleans.ca, Aug 22, 2012

Canada Contemplates Random Breath Tests, By Robert Farago, The Truth about cars, Oct 7, 2009

Car-seat Chat, Car-seat.Org, since 2001
retrieved Sept 27, 2012

Car seat checks, London moms.ca, since 2000

Child passenger safety, Safe Kids Canada
Jan 10, 2012, http://www.safekidscanada.ca/Professionals/Safety-Information/Child-Passenger-Safety/Index.aspx

Crown named in Crockett court case, By Heather Rivers, Woodstock Sentinel-Review, Sept 11, 2012

Debate: Random sobriety tests for drivers, Debatepedia, Accessed Sept 21 2012

Drinking age to stay at 19, McGuinty says, April 1, 2008, By Keith Leslie, The Star

Final arguments, different stories, By Heather Rivers, Woodstock Sentinel-Review, June 28, 2012, Brantford Expositor

Impaired driving and other traffic offences, Stats Canada, 2002, Stats Can Daily, Nov 7, 2003

Jury selected in Bonita Purtill trial, By Heather Rivers, Woodstock Sentinel-Review, June 18, 2012

MADD Canada praises Purtill sentence, By Heather Rivers, Woodstock Sentinel Review, Sept 20, 2012

MADD mothers push for random breath testing, By Marlo Cameron, Ottawa Sun, May 09, 2012

Michael Bryant book launch sparks protest, By Terry Davidson, Toronto Sun, Sept 06, 2012

Majority of car seats checked not installed properly: police, InsideHalton.com, Nov 05, 2009

Michael Bryant relives deadly encounter with cyclist in '28 Seconds', By Vanessa Greco, CTVNews.ca, Aug 21, 2012

More MADD Opinion – Random Breath Tests & Ireland, Life after an impaired charge, 2010
retrieved Sept 2012

Ontario’s Drinking and Driving Laws Often Misunderstood, By Tushar K Pain, About Toronto Criminal Defence, Sept 18, 2011

Purtill takes the stand, By Heather Rivers, Woodstock SR, June 28, 2012

Alcohol: Rethinking the minimum age for drinking, CBC, May 2, 1976

Safe & Secure: Choosing the right car seat for your child, Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Last modified: June 22, 2012

Time to Double Check the Car Seats, Our Big Earth, June 21, 2011

Updated child car seat safety regulations come into force, Ottawa, CNW - Canada Newswire, Dec. 29, 2011

Woman guilty of killing four-month-old while driving drunk, By Heather Rivers, June 29 2012

19 September 2012

Alex Chapman, sex performer; Lori Douglas, sexual wallflower?

Historically, men have been sexually dominant. And their view of women was that they be submissive - not dominant, or independently active.

The subject of Alex Chapman’s sex life has come up again, since first being mentioned in July, 2012, informing us that the man who accused Jack King and wife judge Lori Douglas of sexual harassment was a sex performer who sought paying clients online (Chapman was 'online sex performer,' July 19, 2012; ‘Man at centre of Manitoba naked judge case was a sex performer: lawyer,’ Sept 17, 2012). The reality is that both Chapman and Douglas are ‘sexual performers.’ However, only one of them has been legitimized through historically-approved gender roles. Changes in perceptions of gender roles, not fully accepted across social and workplace boundaries, are at the root of this problem facing the Inquiry panel members, brought together to look into the circumstances of Lori Douglas's application for and acceptance as a Manitoba judge.

If the lawyers for Lori Douglas think that treating Chapman and Douglas the same is a way of avoiding bias, they are sadly mistaken. And if they try to have the inquiry ended for the reason of unfair bias, they are, once again, deluded as to what bias actually means, within the larger context of society, tradition, and sexual gender roles.

In July of this year, 2012, it was thought by two of the Inquiry panel members (Catherine Fraser and Guy Pratte) and by Rocco Galati, Chapman’s lawyer, that introducing Alex Chapman’s sex life into the proceedings would be unfair to him, showing him to have had consensual sexual relations despite disapproving of Lori Douglas’s sexual activities. However, Ms Fraser of the Inquiry panel apparently missed the point of consensual relationships by ignoring the power difference between Chapman, a client of Jack King’s, and the power couple of King and Douglas. It wouldn’t have been mutually consensual, for them to meet for the purpose of sex between Chapman and Douglas, not as long as one had more power than the other. As it turned out, the only power Chapman had, and one that made him fearful, was to take the case of sexual harassment to court.

Lori Douglas’s lawyer, Sheila Block, argued over the same point, saying that including that evidence would lessen the impact of Chapman’s claim that he was "shocked" and "damaged" by King's proposal of sex (Chapman was 'online sex performer,' July 19, 2012).

The problem with this kind of logic, as expressed by Lori Douglas’s lawyer especially, is that judge Lori Douglas and Alex Chapman are being treated as equals by members of the Inquiry panel and the lawyers, with no gender-specific or other differences in their beliefs, sexual conditioning, and social status being acknowledged. Trying to equate the kind of sexual behaviours that Lori Douglas engaged in with the kind that Chapman did doesn’t work. They come steeped in culture, gender-specific traditions, and power differences of various kinds. To start with, the images that distressed Chapman, that Jack King showed him, were of Lori Douglas, “naked in various forms of bondage, in chains, with sex toys and performing oral sex” (Judge sex controversy lawsuit quashed, Nov 16, 2010).

I would argue that Alex Chapman’s background, possibly his Jamaican roots, and his male conditioning, could easily account for his horror at seeing pics of the judge in bondage gear. We might assume that Chapman was a traditional man, raised to treat women in a particular manner, and not used to seeing them as dominant.

Journalist Dean Pritchard reports Chapman’s reaction to Jack King propositioning him to have sex with his wife, Lori Douglas, and to the photos of King’s wife and the website, as follows “It was sadistic stuff. I would never treat a woman like that. They were terrible pictures,” and “I went and checked it out and it was a paid website where there were black men raping white women, at least that's how I interpreted it. . . . I was disgusted by that stuff.” (King ‘messed with my head, July 16, 2012).

Is it conceivable that a man who performs sexually for women online might hold traditional views of sexuality and gender roles? Certainly it is! Is it also a possibility that a man’s country of origin and his race could also affect his view of authority figures and punishment for going against what is expected of him? Of course! So we have one dominant sexual personality coming up against another, but only one of which is a traditional viewpoint. The other is feminist.

In the National Post’s Full Comment, Christie Blatchford writes about Chapman in a tone that suggests she doesn’t understand what it is like to be afraid of those in authority, of not having backup when needed, from one’s employer or even from one’s country. She ridicules and demeans Alex Chapman in a way that suggests she has no real comprehension of how a person might feel about his powerlessness, or how his very real powerlessness affects his life. She writes, quoting Chapman,

“‘Manitoba’s bench is totally corrupted,’ he said at another point. There were very ‘powerful people and they would make my life miserable,’ he said on a different occasion.”

Then she adds,

“The best, and also the worst, moment came when Mr. Chapman said, with a straight face, ‘These are powerful people I was dealing with and they may come and kill me’ (Accuser’s case against Manitoba judge perishing from self-inflicted wounds, Jul 17, 2012).

I can’t imagine that Christie Blatchford has ever felt that way.

As stated by journalist Steve Lambert, the five-member panel overseeing the inquiry has to deal with accusations of bias by both sides, a dispute that threatens to end the inquiry (Man at centre of Manitoba naked judge case was a sex performer: lawyer, Sept 17, 2012). But it isn’t Chapman who is on trial. And if his genuine discomfort with the sexually-dominant female has been misunderstood, it may be because he is surrounded by them, in court and in the media, and it may be these very same women who are reluctant to grant him any empathy for the situation in which he found himself.

On this theme, Christie Blatchford opens her story on the apparent contradiction between Alex Chapman’s pornography collection and his lack of desire for the kind of sexual attention Lori Douglas had on offer (Manitoba judge’s accuser no sexual wallflower, but inquiry astonishingly refused to hear about it, Sept 17, 2012). But there is no contradiction. If all pornography were the same, then it wouldn’t have to be continually created, with different scenarios, different women and men, different props, etc. No one can know why he didn’t take up the offer. Perhaps the reason had something to do with the sexual subject being the wife of the lawyer he had taking care of his divorce, his unwillingness to get involved, and his inability to gracefully exit the situation. The consequences of saying No to someone in power can be devastating, as many women know.

Margaret Wente presents her womanly perspective to this dilemma, arguing that “Of course we should hold judges to a higher standard than other people. But judges live in the real world. They even have sex lives. Lori Douglas's only crime was to choose an unstable spouse, and have sex with him (The persecution of Lori Douglas, July 14, 2011). But Margaret, we all live in the real world, and we all have to pay the consequences of our husband’s actions, their midlife crises or if not them, then those of our employers or colleagues, and so on. There is no end to it. You can’t put all the responsibility for this on Lori Douglas’s husband. As soon as they imposed on someone else’s life, they were involved, and partly responsible for the outcome, at least to the extent that they have to live with it. And as judge, Lori Douglas’s future is at stake, regardless of who was at fault, just as so many other women’s futures depend on the actions taken by those with whom they are in relationships.

Previously it has been stated that all the lawyers in her area knew of the circumstances of Lori Douglas’s photos on the internet, the first time she applied to be a judge (Nude photo controversy was 'well-known' in Manitoba's legal community, husband says, July 25, 2012). These are the people she associates with - her colleagues who accept and understand her, and her sexual habits. But why aren’t they able to understand and accept a man who gives the impression of being traditional, and needing to be dominant sexually? And if they cannot understand and empathize, what kind of lawyers and judges are they, while on the job?

Lori Douglas’s lawyers have asked the Federal Court of Canada to halt the inquiry, before it even gets to the real issue – Lori Douglas’s withholding of the facts of the photos online on the official application to become judge, other possibly misleading situations, and whether or not this will affect her future as judge (She had to know: Chapman, July 17, 2012).

Accuser’s case against Manitoba judge perishing from self-inflicted wounds, By Christie Blatchford, National Post Full Comment, Jul 17, 2012

Chapman was 'online sex performer', inquiry hears, By Dean Pritchard, QMI, Agency, Toronto Sun, July 19, 2012

Judge sex controversy lawsuit quashed, CBC News, Nov 16, 2010

King ‘messed with my head’: Chapman talks at Douglas inquiry, By Dean Pritchard, Winnipeg Sun, July 16, 2012

Man at centre of Manitoba naked judge case was a sex performer: lawyer, By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press, CTV News, Winnipeg, Sept 17, 2012

Manitoba judge’s accuser no sexual wallflower, but inquiry astonishingly refused to hear about it, By Christie Blatchford, National Post Full Comment, Sept 17, 2012

Nude photo controversy was 'well-known' in Manitoba's legal community, husband says, By Steve Lambert
Winnipeg — The Canadian Press, Globe and Mail, July 25, 2012

The persecution of Lori Douglas, By Margaret Wente, The Globe and Mail, July 14 2011, Last updated Sept 10 2012

'She had to know': Chapman, By Mike McIntyre, Winnipeg Free Press, July 17, 2012

5 September 2012

All stand for the judge: Manitoba’s Lori Douglas

Guy Pratte, the lawyer leading the inquiry into a Manitoba judge, has resigned. Difficulties have arisen over the purpose of the inquiry panel, over whether it is to oversee in a fair manner all sides of the issue, or to examine the testimony and evidence against her; or, as Pratte is reported as saying, “the inquiry committee cannot act as both a referee of the proceedings and an active participant” (Lawyer leading inquiry into Manitoba judge’s nude photos quits after disagreement over questions, Aug 27, 2012).

According to Christine Blatchford, Pratte explained that the problem was Mr MacIntosh, who was “withering in his questions, particularly of Mr. King, and sometimes sarcastic” (Lawyer quits nude judge inquiry, Aug 27, 2012). In the actual news piece on this, however, it isn’t the judge’s husband King who is mentioned as the main victim; rather it is the judge herself (Lawyer leading inquiry intoManitoba judge’s nude photos quits after disagreement over questions, Aug 27, 2012).

A commenter online made suggestions, which seem to be quite appropriate, and probably make more sense than taking this to a judicial review as a general issue about the functioning of the inquiry panel. This is what fg wrote:

“It may be time to close the book on the open-ended overly-broad ‘inquiry’ systems and choose administrative law systems in which fundamental justice features prominently. We need transparency on the appointment of judges and a clear discipline system that sets out a complaint or charge, including exactly how it has breached a specific stated standard. At the moment, we have neither.

Once prosecution witnesses exonerate a judge on some aspect of it, shouldn't that be promptly dropped so other aspects and any remaining complaint or charge can go forward in a clear manner? Shouldn't counsel be able to apply to have it dropped?

The public interest is served by clarity, fairness and fundamental justice. Without these, any decisions will merely be endlessly debated and interpreted on vagaries and innuendo and good law will not develop.

Most Canadians fear going to court because they fear being disregarded, treated with contempt and being overwhelmed by an opaque, confusing unclear system in which money too often seems to triumph over fairness. Canadians want and deserve change.

A pared down hearing with a clear direction and a final decision that answers the question both specifically but also broadly, is required, as case-law is needed here.

In the grand scheme of what must be disclosed in an application to be a judge, I hope the panel creates a specific laundry list of what is always required, even if some other aspects are left open.

Given the known practice of hidden tribunal decisions in Canada, it is fervently hoped that hiding decisions and corruption will make the list, along with being involved in untenable legal conflicts of interest with substantial legal consequences.

We need a legal clean-up in Canada, that will take the process to task, create clarity.

The decision must also protect everyone from being victimized by unscrupulous actors bent on attacking careers.” (fg, in Lawyer quits nude judge inquiry, Aug 27, 2012).

I agree with fg, to a certain extent. This whole matter of the judge has become so complex that one can only wonder if it is intentional to make it so that the ordinary person doesn’t have a chance of understanding the decisions made or why. This latest fiasco was simply a problem of one Mr MacIntosh, a member of the panel whose approach to questioning the judge apparently bordered on harassment, it was that antagonistic supposedly. On the other hand, how are we to know if this impartial member is actually against the judge or subversively on her side, seeking a way to have the entire proceedings dropped? Surely it isn’t in his best interests, as a lawyer, to behave this way towards a judge, no matter what he may feel about her actions. And as a member of the inquiry panel, shouldn’t he know better?

So why isn’t it now Mr MacIntosh who is subject to questioning, and removal from the panel, instead of the panel itself under threat of dismissal and a further legal manoeuvre of a judicial review asked for, to handle the situation.

As others have pointed out, it is odd that the ones who have the responsibility of looking into the matter of the judge Lori Douglas are members of the legal community themselves. Anyone who has tried to get a harassment matter resolved within the university environment knows the futility of engaging in an internal inquiry. The organization itself has the power to manipulate the people involved and the way the incident is understood, in whatever way it chooses. Such internal inquiries surely are next to useless.

For the victims, it is like banging your head against a brick wall – or driving into one. In these most recent pieces about the case, the name of the original victim – Chapman, was it? – the black man – has been left out completely. The case has now been removed a step from the original issue – the questionable behaviour of the judge. The ‘victim’ is now judge Lori Douglas, who has been subjected, ‘allegedly,’ to harsh questioning.

One further matter, suggested by fg, is a “cleanup” of the legal system, or as he says, “We need a legal clean-up in Canada, that will take the process to task, create clarity. The decision must also protect everyone from being victimized by unscrupulous actors.”

It may not always be clear who is getting victimized and whose careers suffer, and if that is the problem in the longterm anyway. Complicate that by having to consider the changing norms of society, in the areas of sex and sexuality, for instance, and how these are related to work and careers, and sorting matters out can be a challenge far beyond the knowledge of members of the legal system. Increasing clarity may not always be possible.

For anyone who has forgotten the original issue, read ‘Lori Douglas is not a victim,’ July 26, 2012. There has been much written between July and the end of August, but this latest problem – of what the judge has had to put up with in the inquiry - is not how the matter started. Let it not end on this note.

Lawyer leading inquiry into Manitoba judge’s nude photos quits after disagreement over questions, Canadian Press, National Post, Aug 27, 2012

Lawyer quits nude judge inquiry, By Christie Blatchford, National Post Full Comment, Aug 27, 2012

Lori Douglas is not a victim, By Georgialee Lang, The Star, July 26, 2012

24 August 2012

Brian Crockett: not another Michael Bryant 'justice' story

updated Aug 30, 2012; Nov 8, 2012

Two years ago, former attorney-general Michael Bryant, while driving his car in Toronto, was involved in an incident with the cyclist Darcy Sheppard, resulting in Darcy’s death.

On Saturday, August 18, Brian Crockett, Crown Attorney for Oxford County, was charged with impaired driving and failing to provide a breath sample. The Woodstock Police Department and the Fire Department responded to the call of a pickup truck in the ditch (Impaired Driver, Aug 19, 2012; Oxford County Crown Attorney, Aug 20, 2012).

Coincidentally, Michael Bryant, former Attorney-general of Ontario, has just announced the release of his new book, ‘28 Seconds: A True Story of Addiction, Tragedy and Hope,’ although public reception of it hasn’t been good. In it, he criticizes the Toronto Police for jumping in too fast to lay charges (Police reject Michael Bryant’s criticism, Aug 21, 2012). He was initially charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death (Bryant charged, Sept, 2009) but the charges were dropped.

One news report on Brian Crockett’s unfortunate incident congratulated the police on doing their duty and not simply letting Crockett off – hardly an expression of faith in our legal system (Kudos for cops in Crockett arrest, Aug 23, 2012). But seeing how Michael Bryant managed to escape due process and possible punishment leaves one wondering.

Obviously, the charges facing Brian Crockett are not even close to the severity of those Bryant had initially faced. The whole purpose of laying a charge of impaired driving – and being strict about it, even for first time offenders – is to lessen the chances of future incidents involving needless death due to impairment. Perhaps it is assumed that some people are likely to benefit more from punishment than others, for whom a one-off is really just that – a one-time incident that will never happen again.

One reader commented that she “supported” Brian Crockett, though what she meant by that isn’t clear, whether it meant she would be bringing him home-baked cookies if he ended up behind bars, or was trying to influence opinion. What she did was judge him on his reputation – his career, and his family and community standing. And just as it was with Michael Bryant, the claim was made that stress had something to do with it, as though it is only people with high status careers who feel such stress and whose lives are difficult. If this is the case, with Brian Crockett, perhaps being relieved of his duties might help (and also relieved of the $200,000 salary). Then he could partake of living a stress-free life, and use a bicycle and public transportation to get around on.

I know Brian Crockett has done good deeds, years ago helping those with little or nothing. Whatever happens now, making one mistake shouldn't have to result in a person's reputation or career being destroyed. I’m sure no one wants to see Brian Crockett be punished for lack of good judgment, if that’s what happened, but if one person escapes paying a penalty while another one is punished, for the same deed, then is that justice? Is it the deed that matters, or does social context (work, family, community) – and character - count just as much? See ‘If Michael Bryant should be judged on his merits, shouldn't we all?, May 26, 2010).

Added Aug 30, 2012

In December, 2005, while still living in the UK, where I had been doing a PhD, I started writing a blog, and one of the first pieces I wrote was about an entertainment writer – Nick Douglas - who had committed suicide (Taking action to prevent, or passively doing nothing, Dec 22, 2005). A magazine writer – Barry O’Kane - claimed afterwards that it was the actions of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HPFA) that had driven him to it, by taking away his livelihood (Golden Globes 'forced writer to suicide,' Dec 22, 2005).

In response, the HPFA claimed that it was simply untrue that Mr Douglas had been denied the opportunity to make a living as an entertainment journalist. And yet, taking away Douglas’s access to resources, and undermining his attempts to be reconized and gain access to important activities of the HPFA, in effect, did limit his capacity to make a living. Douglas was able to continue trying to make do, without the support of the members of the association he belonged to. But without their support, his efforts were almost guaranteed to fail.

Sometimes people like to pretend that a person’s ability to succeed at their career depends on merit, when the real truth is that the person’s social network, membership in the right organizations, and family and community status matter more. People in power may pretend they have done the right thing in allowing someone to continue to work, and may not be doing anything that would actively prevent the person from pursuing their career, but their passive approach could be enough to prevent that person from moving forward.

On reading Jennifer Wells’s article on Michael Bryant’s memoir, we learn that he said nothing to Mr Sheppard throughout the 28 seconds. “I didn’t want to provoke him in any way,” he says. “I didn’t say anything to him at all” (Michael Bryant’s memoir 28 Seconds, Aug 18, 2012).

And yet, isn’t it just this sort of passivity that can cause harm – at least misunderstandings – through lack of communication? What if Bryant had tried to talk to Darcy, to apologize for his car lurching forward, unintentionally, he says, as it had stalled. Why didn’t he explain this to the person who needed to hear it – Darcy Sheppard - instead of to readers of his book?

Which one is the victim, when we look at the story in its broadest terms? Who has been hardest done by, and whose life stagnates as the rich and powerful seek out ‘understanding’ and ‘justice,’ on their own behalf?

Additional information: added Nov 8, 2012

The Brian Crockett impaired driving case has ended, with a fine and a 12 month loss of driver’s licence for The Crown attorney (See Oxford Crown attorney Brian Crockett pleads guilty to impaired driving, London Free Press, Nov 7, 2012; Oxford Crown attorney Brian Crockett pleads guilty to impaired driving, Woodstock Sentinel-Review, Nov 7, 2012).

Another noteworthy case is that of Bonita Purtill, also coming out of Woodstock, which ended in Sept, 2012, with a 7 year prison sentence (see ‘The Bonita Purtill impaired driving case: unanswered questions and other matters’ Oct 17, 2012).

The Bonita Purtill impaired driving case: unanswered questions and other matters
By Sue McPherson
Sue’s Views on the News
Oct 17, 2012

Bryant charged with criminal negligence after crash

Sept 1, 2009

Court date set for Crown facing impaired charges
By Heather Rivers and Ron Thomson
Woodstock Sentinel-Review
Aug 22, 2012

For Michael Bryant, an extraordinary kind of justice
By Christie Blatchford
Globe and Mail
May 25, 2010

Golden Globes 'forced writer to suicide' (added Aug 30, 2012)
By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles
Independent online World News - Americas
Dec 22, 2005

If Michael Bryant should be judged on his merits, shouldn't we all?
By Sue McPherson
Sue’s Views on the News
May 26, 2010

Impaired Driver   (link added Aug 26, 2012)
Excerpt from Media Release prepared by: S/Sgt Shelton
Woodstock Police Service
Aug 19, 2012

Kudos for cops in Crockett arrest
By Andrea Demeer
Woodstock Sentinel-Review
Aug 23, 2012

Michael Bryant and Darcy Sheppard: divided by class
By Sue McPherson
Sue’s Views on the News
Sept 10, 2009

Michael Bryant’s memoir 28 Seconds recounts tragic death of bicycle courier (added Aug 30, 2012)
By Jennifer Wells
The Star
Aug 18, 2012

Oxford County Crown Attorney Brian Crockett faces impaired driving charge
By Ron Thomson
Woodstock Sentinel-Review
Aug 20, 2012

Police reject Michael Bryant’s criticism of probe into fatal 2009 incident
The Star
Aug 21, 2012

Taking action to prevent, or passively doing nothing: is there a diffference? (added Aug 30, 2012)
By Sue McPherson
Sue’s Views on the News
Dec 22, 2005