The Death of John Joseph Harper
The Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission
The Inquest TOP
On March 11, 1988, two days after the death of J.J. Harper, an inquest into the death was directed under subsection 9(3)(b) of the Fatality Inquiries Act, R.S.M. 1987, c. F52. (Although the Act was re-enacted in 1987 to comply with French language requirements, the last major changes to the Act prior to that had been enacted in 1975. The Act was amended after the inquest and we discuss the new Act (c. F52, C.C.S.M.) in the next chapter.) Provincial Court Judge John Enns held hearings on April 58, 1115 and 1820. On May 26, 1988, Judge Enns issued his written report, saying in part:
In conclusion, despite certain shortcomings in the area of police investigation, it is my view that the shooting occurred as a result of the deceased pushing down the officer and then attempting to take his revolver. The officers attempt to keep control of his gun is justified and the ensuing shooting I find to be accidental. I therefore exonerate Constable Cross. (Exhibit 3)
Concerns about the conduct and the conclusions of the inquest were voiced by a broad spectrum of the public. Judge Enns has a reputation as a fair-minded and even-handed jurist, and we are certain that he tried to bring a moderating influence to a difficult and potentially volatile situation. Nevertheless, Judge Enns reached conclusions with which we are unable to agree. We have had the benefit of evidence which was not available or provided to Judge Enns. In addition, we believe that he was led inevitably to the conclusions he reached by the limitations of the Act, the inadequacies of the police investigation and the manner in which the evidence was presented to him.
In understanding how we come to a different conclusion from Judge Enns, it is important to note the differences between the inquest and the Inquirys hearings. The Inquirys mandate was broader than that of the inquest. It specifically called for an examination of the police investigation, a determination of whether any racial prejudice was involved, and an assessment of the adequacy of investigation procedures into deaths involving police officers, as well as all matters considered by the inquest. In his inquest report, Judge Enns noted that "a very considerable portion of the inquest evidence had to do with what steps were taken to save Harpers life." Little evidence on this topic was presented at our hearings, as there was no suggestion Judge Enns was in error when he concluded all reasonable and proper steps were taken to save Harpers life after he was shot.
In addition to all the evidence of the inquest, which was entered as an exhibit before us, we heard a total of 41 witnesses during 26 days of hearings. We had the opportunity to compare the testimony of witnesses who testified at both the inquest and our hearings. We also received evidence that either was not available or did not come forward in time for the inquest. In his closing statement, Commission counsel pointed out that we had heard more than a dozen pieces of evidence that either were not considered or not considered in the same depth at the inquest. We put no restriction on the participation of those with standing. As a result, we had much more evidence, which was examined and argued in a more thorough way and for broader purposes, than was available to Judge Enns. TOP
Limiting Cross-Examination TOP
One of the most serious problems concerning the conduct of the inquest was the manner in which Judge Enns limited cross-examination. Section 16 of the Fatality Inquiries Act permitted a judge to "limit examination or cross-examination where it appears that it is ... beyond what is reasonably necessary for the purpose of the inquest."1
At the time of the inquest, the duties set out in the Fatality Inquiries Act for the inquest judge were as follows:2
20(1) After hearing the testimony adduced at an inquest the provincial judge shall
(a) make a written report setting forth when, where and by what means the person deceased came to his death, the cause of his death, his name, if known, and all material circumstances attending the death;
(b) if it appears to him that the death resulted, in whole or in part, from the unlawful act or culpable negligence of any person or persons, state the name or names of such person or persons, if known;
(c) file with the minister the report, together with the notes or transcript of evidence taken at the inquest, but if the depositions are taken in shorthand, it shall not be necessary to file these unless specifically requested by the minister or a Crown attorney;
(d) send a copy of the report to the medical examiner who examined the body of the deceased person; and
(e) make any recommendation to the appropriate department of government or to any person where, in his opinion, the recommendation, if implemented, may prevent deaths by accident or otherwise.
Judge Enns acknowledged that deciding the extent of cross-examination was difficult. Because the Act and the case law provided little guidance, this was an aspect of the Fatality Inquiries Act that he ultimately recommended be reviewed.
Judge Enns openly discussed his difficulty in determining what limits to put on counsel during cross-examination at the inquest. From the outset of the hearing he was concerned about counsels trying to question witnesses about matters already covereda tendency he referred to as "duplicitous questioning." He clearly was influenced by the section of the Fatality Inquiries Act giving him discretion to limit questioning.
Section 16 of the old Fatality Inquiries Act read:
16 Any person who, in the opinion of the provincial judge, is substantially and directly interested, may appear in person or by counsel and may examine and cross-examine witnesses; but the provincial judge may limit examination or cross-examination where it appears that it is vexatiously exercised or is beyond what is necessary for the purpose of the inquest.
Judge Enns ruled that the intent of the section was to limit questioning to determining the "when, where, and by what means" Harper came to his death, and he also decided to limit cross-examination to only those matters which had not been covered in direct examination or to matters where counsel had reason to believe cross-examination would change the answer. Judge Enns clearly wanted to ensure that cross-examination did not simply cover the same ground already covered in direct examination.
In trials, reviewing and testing statements made in direct examination are permitted invariably on cross-examination. We have some difficulty understanding the basis for Judge Enns ruling. We would have thought that cross-examination at an inquest would serve the same purpose as at a trial. The intent of section 16 seems to be to require that all questioning of witnesses, whether in direct examination or in cross-examination, be limited to pursuing only that information which would allow an inquest judge to fulfil his or her duties under section 20(1).
Judge Enns recognized that but, in restricting cross-examination further in the manner in which he did, appears to have prevented the asking of some questions that would have assisted him to fulfil his duties better. With the greatest of respect, we disagree with his ruling.
We recognize that Judge Enns task was made more difficult by the fact this Inquiry was established halfway through the inquest. We can see from the transcripts of the inquest that the creation of this Inquiry allowed Judge Enns to take a more limited view of what was to be covered by the inquest. Clearly, matters he could not consider would be considered by us. As one example, Judge Enns refused the request of counsel for the Harper family to have Chief Herb Stephen testify precisely because Stephen could be called to testify before us. As Crown attorney William Morton pointed out, the Harper inquest could not be considered to be a representative example of how inquests are conducted because our Inquiry was announced in the middle of it.
Judge Enns frequently stated during the inquest that he viewed his mandate narrowly. The "when," "where" and "by what means" Harper died were reasonably easy matters; the time and place were not in question, and neither was the fact that death occurred directly as a result of gunshot from Cross gun.
The question as to how the gun came to discharge was (and still is) difficult to answer. The manner in which the cross-examination by counsel for the Harper family was limited, we believe, prevented the inquest from fairly testing the evidence of various police officers and determining the truth.
To our minds, inquests and trials are very similar. There are reasons why judges are designated by the Act to conduct inquests, not the least of which is the training and experience at formal fact-determination which judges can bring to such proceedings. Inquests are not intended to be informal meetings at which anything that anyone wishes to say can go unchallenged. Quite often, and particularly in this case, parties allowed to become involved in the proceedings have legal positions to assess and protect.
If counsel for the Harper family had been permitted fuller and freer cross-examination of police witnesses, it is possible that Judge Enns might have had a different appreciation of their credibility. We are, unfortunately, unable to state with certainty what the outcome of the inquest might have been had Judge Enns proceeded as we have indicated or if he had had the benefit of the additional evidence available to us.
Of this much, however, we are certain. Our review of the available evidence tends to suggest that the manner in which the evidence at the inquest was presented favoured the police version of eventsa version we deem highly questionable and which, at our hearings, did not stand up well to close scrutiny.
We believe that the same rule with respect to the cross-examination of witnesses that applies in civil and criminal cases should be applied with respect to inquests. As long as the questions are relevant, they should be permitted. TOP
The Conduct of Crown Attorney Morton TOP
Several aspects of the manner in which the inquest was conducted by the Crown were called into question at our hearings.
After the shooting, the police videotaped a re-enactment of the struggle between Harper and Cross. In the tape Cross demonstrated his actions while another officer portrayed Harper. On March 27, 1988 Staff Sgt. Henry Williams prepared a report about the videotape and submitted it to Crown attorney William Morton before the inquest. In the report, Williams said the re-enactment was used by executive officers and investigators as a visual aid to assist in the investigation. Sergeant Williams told us the re-enactment also was made for training purposes, but this was not in his report and to his knowledge the tape never had been used for that purpose. Morton told us that after viewing the tape he decided he would not inform Judge Enns or counsel for the Harper family of its existence:
I made the decision that Sergeant Harry Williams when he testified would not make reference to it and I did not disclose this to Mr. Pollock. (p. 3178)
Morton said he believed the re-enactment was not admissible and was not fair to J.J. Harper. However, Harvey Pollock made it very clear that he wanted Cross to re-enact the struggle, and Judge Enns initial denial of his request should have caused Morton to raise the matter at that point. His explanation that the video was unfair to Harper seems weak in the face of the failure to discuss the matter with the lawyer whose clients supposedly would have been most affected by the re-enactment. Further, once Judge Enns decided to permit Cross to re-enact the struggle at the hearing, Morton should have made the tape available to the court and let Judge Enns decide what use, if any, to make of it. Mortons decision not to disclose the existence of the videotape was an error in judgment on his part.
It seems clear that no thought was ever given to the possibility of a conflict of interest either arising or appearing to arise in this case. The conflict for the Crown was, in our opinion, quite apparent.
At 3:30 p.m., March 10, 1988only 36 hours after the death of J.J. Harperthe Chief of Police issued a press release exonerating Robert Cross of wrongdoing. The release said the report of the incident had been reviewed by senior Crown attorney Bruce Miller, who found "no evidence of a criminal offence and no charges will be laid." As the Crown already had been consulted by the police and had reached an opinion about the incident before the investigation had been completed, it was impossible thereafter for the Crown to appear to be "independent" of the police department at the inquest.
Further, in preparing for and conducting the inquest for the Crown, Morton appeared to be assisted by senior police investigators, Acting Insp. Kenneth Dowson and Acting Insp. Rex Keatinge. After the inquest, in a letter to the Chief of Police on April 21, 1988, he stated in part:
In conclusion may I also bring to your attention the conduct of A/Inspectors Keatinge and Dowson. Both officers who are known to the writer from previous contact, conducted their work in order to assist the writer in presentation of all of the relevant evidence, both in terms of witness and exhibits in order to ensure that a full inquiry was conducted. The writer appreciates that at many times he made requests upon both officers that were probably beyond the duty of a Police Officer in the normal execution of his responsibilities for a fatality inquiry. I would indicate that as always as its [sic] been in the past with dealing with these Officers, in this particular occasion it was an extreme pleasure. May I also commend both of them for their full co-operation with Sgt. Wes Border of the R.C.M.P., G.I.S. Section, "D" Division, who as you are probably aware, was instructed to provide assistance to the inquiry as a result of a request by the Attorney-General. The co-operation between Officers Keatinge, Dowson and Border, emphasized the high tradition of co-operation between the two police forces. (Exhibit 88) [Our emphasis]
Morton testified before us that Dowson was not involved in the inquest, that he did not ask Dowson to be seconded to him for the inquest and that he did not ask either Dowson or Keatinge to carry out any investigation for him for the purpose of the inquest. Generally, Morton left the impression with us that he had very little communication with either Dowson or Keatinge during the inquest. His letter to the Chief of Police is not consistent with that position.
Further evidence of Dowsons involvement in the inquest is contained in his report to Chief Stephen dated May 2, 1988, in which Dowson said in the first paragraph that he was seconded to the Special Prosecutions Branch of the Attorney Generals department at the request of Morton to assist at the Harper inquest.
If independent counsel, rather than the Crown, had conducted the inquest, the public perception of conflict probably would have been reduced. What is equally important, however, is the fact that the appearance of impartiality on the part of the Crowns office was hampered by the close relationship which existed between the Crown and the police, arising from the Crowns earlier exoneration of Cross and the role of Dowson and Keatinge at the inquest.
Mortons letter to Chief Stephen of April 21, 1988 also stated:
May I take pleasure in advising you that all of the City of Winnipeg Police Officers that testified at the inquiry did so in a thoroughly professional manner and I am satisfied provided evidence that will assist His Honour in reaching his decision into the tragic death of Mr. Harper. Although cross-examined at some length, each officer replied in a courteous, co-operative and responsive manner....
In my opinion, no matter what decision His Honour comes to, Cst. Cross conduct throughout the inquiry exemplified the highest traditions of the City of Winnipeg Police Department. (Exhibit 88)
Morton sent a copy of his letter to counsel for Cross and the City of Winnipeg Police Association, but not to counsel for the Harper family.
Morton also wrote a memo to his file dated June 10, 1988, concerning a meeting he had with the Chief and three deputy chiefs to review the criticisms made by Judge Enns in his inquest report. In his memo Morton expressed his approval of police procedures:
The writer indicated he could find no fault with the identification officers who did attend as they appeared to do their job thoroughly....
I am satisfied that ... the usual excellent procedures were used to speak to all persons in the neighbourhood who may have been in a position to see or hear anything....
The area of alleged eye witnesses to conduct by Police Officers other than Cst. Cross was also discussed. Judge Enns finding that these persons who claimed that Police Officers used derogatory remarks to two native youths and were running around with revolvers was simply correct. There was no evidence to establish otherwise. We all felt that it was unfortunate that these witnesses had made the comments they had as it seemed to support the view of the animosity between the native population and the City of Winnipeg Police Department. (Exhibit 89)
This was the first inquest Morton had conducted that focussed on the conduct of the police department and a specific officer. Morton told us, "I felt it was specifically very important that I remain independent," and he felt that he was able to be independent in this case. In light of the circumstances outlined above, we are of the view that it was impossible for the Crown to appear to be "independent" of the police.
Morton recognized and confirmed that Crown attorneys are supposed to remain independent from police authority. We understand that this independence may not be apparent to some who would perceive that prosecutors actually represent the police. That perception might be mistaken, but it would not be far from the truth. Although the police do not work for the Attorney General and Crown attorneys do, a relationship of interdependence inevitably arises.
In ordinary criminal prosecutions, there may be less reason for concern about the relationship between the Crowns office and the police. However, in the Harper case we are convinced that there was a legitimate cause for concern. It is our opinion that any Crown attorney faced with the task of conducting an inquest at which the conduct of a Winnipeg Police Department member is called into question is at the very least in a position of a perceived conflict of interest, if not a real one, particularly after a senior Crown has "cleared" the officer of wrongdoing.
Crown attorneys are called upon constantly to work closely with police forces in this province. When they must, as part of our adversarial system, actively pursue the truth through vigorous cross-examination of persons with whom they work closely on a day to day basis, with whom they may be close friends or associates, and on whom the office of the Crown depends for assistance in conducting prosecutions, Crown attorneys face a difficult task. That task, it must be recognized, is not of their own making, but it can be made more difficult if there is not both the existence and appearance of impartiality in the manner in which the Crown puts in the case.
We recognize that many view the Crown attorney as being an advocate for truth. Viewed in that way, Crown attorneys supposedly are above the push and shove of the adversarial fight; they are to be fair-minded and even-handed without concern for one side or the other in the fight, concerned only to see that justice is done and is seen to be done.
Those are admirable thoughts indeed, and speak of a long and solid tradition in the courts and law of this country. The difficulty is that in this case they did not match reality. The role of Crown attorney should be seen for what it has become, a job where the adversarial skills to prosecute crime are finely tuned and taught. In order to do his or her job effectively, the Crown attorney needs to have a good professional working relationship with police authorities throughout the province. Without that relationship, both police and Crown are hampered severely in their endeavours.
For that reason, when a Crown attorney is asked to look critically at the conduct of a police department or force (or one of its members) in the context of an inquest, it is difficult for him or her to do so. The task is made all the more difficult when the police department feels, and publicly states, that the criticism levelled at it is unjustified and, therefore, the searching and the probing are unwarranted.
In the final analysis, we believe it was a serious error for the Crowns office to have conducted this particular inquest. We further believe that, in future, similar inquests of police-involved shootings, Crown attorneys should not be involved. Outside counsel should be engaged from the outset by the Attorney General and matters left in the hands of that individual. In the event that an opinion as to criminal charges is requested or such charges are to be proceeded with, we also believe that outside counsel should be engaged and all such matters referred to that person for prosecution. In saying this we have come to the same conclusion as former Chief Justice Dewar who, when reporting on the "Ticketgate" investigation, urged that independent outside counsel be engaged when the Crown is too close to a case.
We will have more to say in a general way about the Crown and the need for independence when we review the new Fatality Inquiries Act in the next chapter. TOP
The Findings TOP
To many, the conclusions reached at the inquest were controversial. Chief among Judge Enns findings in his Fatality Inquiry Report were:
Having seen both Pruden and a picture of Harper, and recalling that Cross had not seen Prudens face while chasing him, on the issue of whether or not it was reasonable for Cross to think that Harper may have been that second suspect, I find that it was reasonable. (Exhibit 3, p. 15)
Once the shooting had occurred, by and large proper investigation followed. (p. 21)
In conclusion, despite certain shortcomings in the area of police investigation, it is my view that the shooting occurred as a result of the deceased pushing down the officer and then attempting to take his revolver.... I therefore exonerate Constable Cross. (p. 22)
In his report Judge Enns considered whether police officers had directed racist comments at Allan and at Melvin Pruden, and also considered evidence indicating that police officers had their guns drawn.
The following factors have lead [sic] me to the conclusion that both the allegations of racial slurs and the allegations of drawn revolvers are not credible:
(a) Both Pruden and [Allan] were arrested for the offence of theft.
(b) Considerable problems arose about ensuring Prudens presence at the Inquest.
(c) The manner in which Pruden demonstrated the use of the firearm is more reminiscent of a T.V. police show than reality.
(d) There was no evidence of injury to Prudens face even though he alleged that police banged it down on the hood of the cruiser car several times.
(e) In the absence of any suggestion of an armed suspect, armed robbery or the like, and especially after [Allan], whom Constable Hodgins took to be even younger than 14 or 15 years, it seems very unlikely that police would be chasing young, unarmed boys with drawn revolvers, in direct contravention of the stated guidelines for use of their revolvers.
(f) The witness, Jaworak, [sic] stated that while their female passenger Linda Morrisette [sic] was sober, that he himself and the driver David Randall [sic] had each consumed about 8 bottles of beer during the evening before and could only testify very generally about the times involved.
(g) The manner in which Randall, Jaworak and Morrisette describe the police to be holding the revolver is equally consistent with that of a hand-held walkie-talkie radio.
(h) It was not until later that they heard of the shooting, and it may be that that information effected [sic] their recollection of what they thought they saw.
(i) Despite this knowledge, they did not report these events to either the Winnipeg Police, or the R.C.M.P. in Pine Falls.
(j) All of what these later witnesses saw, was from a car moving at about 60 k/hr. at night and happened, so to speak, unexpectedly.
All of these factors have lead [sic] me to conclude that those allegations are simply not credible. (Exhibit 3, p. 1315)
Counsel for the Harper family summarized the inquest evidence and conclusions this way:
Five native or part-native civilian witnesses testified at the inquest into the shooting death of native leader J.J. Harper. All testified to seeing drawn police revolvers; two testified to being victimized by racial slurs spoken by police. Not one native witness was believed by the presiding judge; instead, favour was found in the testimony of police personnel. It is noteworthy that the inquest judge disallowed counsel argument, argument which now touches upon the frailties and inconsistencies of police testimony which bolsters the correctness of native accounts. Unfortunately, a critical analysis of the evidence continues to manifest warranting examination of Judge Enns reasoning finding native incredibility documented in Exhibit 3, pages 1315, the Inquest Report. (Written submission, p. 6)
We believe that it is unfortunate that Judge Enns did not find the evidence of Aboriginal witnesses to be credible. We make different findings on credibility. For example, we accept as credible the testimony of Allan, Linda Morissette and Melvin Pruden, and we question the credibility of some of the police officers.
Based on the new evidence we heard, our reassessment of existing evidence, and our findings on credibility, we are led to different conclusions from Judge Enns.
We do not accept that Cross had sufficient reason to regard Harper as a suspect. Nor do we accept that the police investigation was proper. We believe that at least two police officers had their guns drawn on the night of the shooting. Harper did not push Cross down, Cross pulled Harper. Finally, we do not believe there was sufficient evidence to exonerate Constable Cross. TOP
|Manitoba Government Home Page||
Back to Table of Contents