Bakema charged in Taman investigation

The former chief of a now-defunct municipal police force has been charged with perjury and other crimes in connection to the investigation into the crash that killed Crystal Taman in 2005.
Harry Bakema was the former chief of the East St. Paul police force. ((CBC))
The former chief of a now-defunct Manitoba municipal police force faces perjury and other criminal allegations in connection to the investigation into a crash that killed a Winnipeg mother.

Harry Bakema, 58, will make a first court appearance Jan. 5 in Winnipeg to face charges of perjury, breach of trust and obstruction of justice for the handling of the probe into the crash that killed Crystal Taman in 2005.

The charges come after a lengthy investigation by RCMP from B.C. into how the probe into Taman's death was handled by the East St. Paul police in 2005. The Crown attorney's office in Alberta reviewed the RCMP file and approved the charges against Bakema in September, police said Wednesday.

Taman was killed when a truck driven by Winnipeg police officer Derek Harvey-Zenk, who was returning home from an all-night party, slammed into the back of her car. Harvey-Zenk originally faced several charges including impaired driving causing death. Harvey-Zenk is also known as Derek Harveymordenzenk.

But all charges except for a count of dangerous driving causing death were eventually stayed in a controversial plea bargain and he was sentenced to two years less a day to be served at home.

Crystal Taman in a photo filed as part of a public inquiry into her death.
Reached by telephone Wednesday, Taman's husband, Robert, said he was pleased at news of the charges but had no other comment.

"We're satisfied with the direction that [the investigation has] taken and anything else would be inappropriate to comment on at this time," he said.

Bakema has retired from policework and now works as a real estate agent. CBC News has left messages with Bakema requesting an interview.

Public outrage in the wake of the plea agreement and sentence prompted the provincial government to launch a public inquiry to examine the justice system's handling of the case.

'Colossal failure'

The inquiry heard minutes after the crash, Bakema was on the scene. An ambulance attendant reported smelling alcohol on Harvey-Zenk's breath, but Bakema did not. He did not ask Harvey-Zenk whether he had been drinking, or conduct a sobriety test.

Bakema later admitted he helped Harvey-Zenk walk back to a police cruiser instead of seeing whether Harvey-Zenk could walk on his own.

A fellow East St. Paul officer told the inquiry Bakema told him not to mention in his notes that the ambulance attendant had noticed the smell of alcohol. Another officer testified Bakema ordered him to change his notes. Bakema denied those accusations when he took the stand. It is his testimony at the inquiry that is at the centre of the perjury allegation.

He and Harvey-Zenk were former colleagues at the Winnipeg Police Service.

The inquiry's findings were released in 2008 and included recommendations for:

  • Establishing an independent unit to investigate alleged criminal activity by a member of a police service.
  • Expanding the rights of parents and children of victims.
  • Providing enhanced services to victims including assistance in writing victim impact statements.
  • Amending prosecution policies to underline the importance of presenting the judge with as much information as possible about a guilty plea or plea bargain.

In the wake of the inquiry's findings, the province disbanded the East St. Paul police and hired the RCMP to police the area, which is just north of Winnipeg.

The lawyer who led the inquiry, David Paciocco, called what happened a "colossal failure of justice."

With file from The Canadian Press