Bakema perjury charges surprise ex-official

Perjury charges against the former chief of the East St. Paul police force have surprised the former attorney general of Manitoba.

Harry Bakema was the former chief of the East St. Paul police force. ((CBC))

Perjury charges against the former chief of the now-defunct East St. Paul police force have surprised the former deputy attorney general of Manitoba.

Bruce McFarlane said perjury is very hard to prove but the charge sends a message "that no one is above the law and if it appears that you breach the law you may be, and will be held accountable."

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, announced Wednesday, came after a lengthy investigation by RCMP into how the probe into Taman's death was handled by the East St. Paul police in 2005.

An outside RCMP force in B.C. handled the investigation then forwarded it to the Crown attorney's office in Alberta for review. The Crown then approved the charges against Bakema in September, police said Wednesday.

An undated photo of Crystal Taman, which was filed as evidence at the inquiry examining the investigation into her death. (Taman inquiry)

"I was a bit surprised … [but] obviously it's been reviewed outside of the province by independent Crown attorneys and they feel that there's sufficient evidence," said McFarlane.

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.

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.

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.

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

Usually, evidence in an inquiry can't be used in court but perjury is different, and evidence from the Taman Inquiry could be used in relation to the charge against Bakema, McFarlane said.

Impacts of investigation still felt

The community of East St.Paul still feels the impact of the botched investigation because of the changes prompted by it, said Mayor Lawrence Morris.

Although there are now more police officers in his community, they have less contact with council.

"We had our own police which council dealt with on a day-to-day basis where right now, RCMP, they're on their own. We get a report now and then," he said.

Under the old municipal force, East St. Paul had nine officers. Now, with RCMP, there are 12.

None of the former officers are working in the community now, said Morris.

"They're working for other municipalities, two of them that I know of for sure," he said.