Manitoba ex-police chief's perjury trial begins

Testimony is underway in the trial of a former Manitoba police chief accused of perjury and obstruction of justice.

Harold Bakema, former East St. Paul police chief, charged after Crystal Taman inquiry

Testimony is underway in the trial of a former Manitoba municipal police chief accused of obstruction of justice.

Harold Bakema, seen at the Taman inquiry in 2008, was charged with perjury, breach of trust and obstruction of justice after the inquiry took place. His trial begins Monday in Winnipeg. (CBC)

Harry Bakema is also accused of perjury and breach of trust in a botched police investigation into a 2005 car crash that killed a Winnipeg woman.

Bakema, who was chief of the East St. Paul police force at the time of the crash that killed Crystal Taman, pleaded not guilty on Monday to all six charges against him.

The high-profile trial has drawn such a large crowd that the courtroom was changed four times on Monday morning, each time to a progressively larger room.

Bakema was charged in 2010, following a lengthy external investigation into how the East St. Paul police force handled the probe into the death of Taman, a 40-year-old mother of three.

Former Winnipeg police officer Derek Harvey-Zenk was convicted of dangerous driving causing death in the crash that killed Crystal Taman. (Taman Inquiry)

On Feb. 25, 2005, Taman's car was rear-ended by a vehicle being driven by Derek Harvey-Zenk, who at the time was an officer with the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS).

RCMP Cpl. Christopher Blandford, the collision reconstruction officer at the crash site, told court on Monday that he spoke to Bakema shortly after the crash.

Bakema said Harvey-Zenk was impaired at the time of the crash, Blandford testified.

Bakema, who was a former police officer in Winnipeg before becoming chief in East St. Paul , knew Harvey-Zenk when they were both on the WPS.

Bakema was involved in about a quarter of the crash investigation while another officer from the East St. Paul police force did the rest of the work, Blandford told court.

All night party

Harvey-Zenk, also known as Derek Harveymordenzenk, was off-duty at the time of the collision. He was returning home from an all-night party with other officers.

He originally faced several charges, including impaired driving causing death. But all the charges — except for one count of dangerous driving causing death — were eventually stayed as part of a controversial plea bargain.

Crystal Taman in an undated photograph filed as part of a provincial inquiry into her 2005 death. ((Taman inquiry))

Harvey-Zenk received a conditional sentence of two years less a day to be served at home. He has since turned in his police badge.

The plea bargain and sentence sparked public outrage and prompted the Manitoba government to call an inquiry into Taman's death.

The Taman inquiry heard testimony from 50 witnesses in the summer of 2008 and issued 14 recommendations that fall.

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

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

Bakema, who has since retired from police work, is the only person to face criminal charges following the inquiry.