Another troubling aspect of the trials of Lyle Howe
More than nine months ago, on June 16, 2016, a 41-year-old man from Halifax (let’s call him CR) died in the cells of Halifax Regional Police.
The province’s Serious Incident Response Team
was asked to investigate. But SiRT has a policy of suppressing the identities of people involved in their investigations. And HRP, in the style of Canada’s famously “tight-lipped” RCMP, has itself made CR’s name a secret.
So, nine months after CR died in HRP’s care, no one will say who he was. This is a serious, but not severe, case of authoritarianism, which can break out in a police force at any time. In Canada, it is usually associated with the RCMP, not HRP.
But why is the secret investigation taking so long? After all, we know from watching TV that witnesses’ memories fade with time and sometimes they move away or even die.
Incredibly, the answer may lie the high-profile troubles of Halifax lawyer Lyle Howe, who is currently being roasted by the bar society for poor conduct. CBC’s Blair Rhodes wrote about Howe’s latest trials last week. Here’s an excerpt:
“The three-member disciplinary panel has sat for 58 days since it began 15 months ago. The hearing was originally expected to take about a week.
“The panel chair, Ron MacDonald, also heads Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team, the body that looks into complaints against police. He has had to schedule breaks in the hearing process to allow him time to do his main job. Decisions from SiRT have been announced in fits and starts over the last 15 months.
“Similarly, panel member Don Murray, a prominent Halifax-area defence lawyer, has had to reschedule cases in order to continue attending the hearing.”
In other words, cases such as CR’s appear to have been delayed because Ron MacDonald, like Don Murray, has too much on his plate. In a general sense, you could say MacDonald and Murray are “double-booked”. This is reasonably common for lawyers, which is why they can often be seen flying around the halls of courthouses, their robes flapping in their wakes like Harry Potter.
OK, you say, but why is the bar society reviewing Howe in the first place? Here’s Blair Rhodes again:
“The bulk of the allegations against Howe focused on rather mundane aspects of his practice — things like double-booking and missing court dates.”
Let’s give this a few seconds of soak time …
Got it? Yep, two of the lawyers reviewing Howe have found the process so demanding that, on the face of it, they are exhibiting the same failing for which they are slow-cooking Lyle Howe.
Could be ironic, hypocritical, or both.
This brings us to the continuing suppression of CR’s name. It’s a serious matter. Being in custody means you’ve lost control of your life to your jailers. It’s a life-and-death responsibility for the jailers. Unfortunately, they’re human, so we create outfits such as the Serious Incident Response Team to keep an eye on them — to ensure cell-deaths, accidental or otherwise, don’t become a routine event in law enforcement.
This is because in less civilized parts of the world, people are arrested and never seen again. Sometimes they die by accident, sometimes not. Their bodies are dumped at sea, fed to animals — whatever. When their loved ones come looking for them, there’s no record of them ever being in custody. Or if there is a record of arrest, it turns out the prisoner was “released” the next morning and then disappeared. Or he hanged himself and incident is still under secret investigation.
If there truly are bad guys involved, the best case scenario for them is that everyone just gets tired of waiting for the answers and stops asking.
Long ago, I met a freshly-immigrated coroner in Montreal at a New Year’s party. We had both been over-served by the time I asked him about an obvious failure of the justice system in Canada’s Ocean Playground.
“Well,” he said, smiling as he swirled his Scotch. “People do get away with things, you know.”
Can’t happen today, you say? Well, maybe not if we consistently exercise proper oversight, which we’re not doing in this case. At the very least, secrecy and investigatory sloth undermine public confidence in law enforcement.
If you’ve read this far, you might enjoy my novel, Max’s Folly. Click here for more information. — Bill Turpin