Province accepts recommendations from Taman inquiry

The provincial government has accepted all of the recommendations in the much-anticipated report from the inquiry into the investigation of the death of Crystal Taman, released Monday.

RCMP to take over East St. Paul police department

The provincial government has accepted all of the recommendations in the much-anticipated report from the inquiry into the investigation of the death of Crystal Taman, released Monday.

An undated photo of Crystal Taman, which was filed as evidence at the inquiry examining the investigation into her death. (Taman inquiry)
"This report provides us with sound advice that will lead to improvements in the justice system and restore the public's confidence in it," Justice Minister Dave Chomiak said Monday in a release.

Taman, a 40-year-old mother of three, was killed in February 2005 when her car was struck from behind by Derek Harvey-Zenk, an off-duty Winnipeg police officer who had spent the night partying with other officers.

The inquiry was called by the province to look into the way the case was handled by the justice system after Harvey-Zenk received a sentence of two years of house arrest.

The province will implement inquiry commissioner Roger Salhany's 14 recommendations, Chomiak announced, including:

  • Referring the allegations against former East St. Paul police chief Harry Bakema and Const. Kenneth Graham to the RCMP in B.C. for further investigation.
  • Establishing an independent investigations unit to investigate alleged criminal activity by a member of a police service. The new unit will be established in a new Provincial Police Act to be introduced in the spring.
  • Strengthening victims' services by amending the Victims' Bill of Rights to expand the rights of parents and children of victims, and provide 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 the foundation of a guilty plea or plea bargain. 
  • Strengthening the independent prosecutor process by formalizing training for independent prosecutors on the Victims' Bill of Rights, amend the policy on independent prosecutors as recommended and establish a roster of experienced criminal lawyers, independent from Manitoba Justice, to provide advice to independent prosecutors when required.

The province also announced Monday that, effective immediately, the RCMP will take over management of the East St. Paul police department. The RCMP will oversee the transition of the East St. Paul police force into an RCMP detachment by year's end, officials said.

"That was a long and hard decision based on the fact that there had been three reviews in the past, based on the comments in the [commissioner's] report about East St. Paul citizens having second-class police services," Chomiak said. "I did not think it was justifiable to continue that."

Municipal official 'flabbergasted'

East St. Paul Coun. Mike Wasylin said municipal officials were blindsided by the government's move to bring in the RCMP.

"Quite frankly, I'm flabbergasted," he said.

"We were given no advance notice of this and no advance warning. There was no consultation or courtesy call. We've attempted to get a hold of the minister and apparently the minister has more important things to do today than to meet with us on this. So it's extremely discouraging for us."

A survey conducted last year suggests local residents want a local police force, municipal officials said.

Family vindicated

Robert Taman, Crystal's widower, said Monday that he's pleased with the report, and he thanked Chomiak for acting quickly to accept and implement all 14 recommendations. 

Taman said he feels vindicated and pointed out that many of the things he complained about regarding the case — police investigating other police, justice officials ignoring his family's role as victims — were all addressed in the report.

He says the conduct of Winnipeg police officers, whose inquiry testimony largely consisted of "I don't recall," should have come under greater scrutiny. 

But Taman said he has no regrets and hopes the changes the government is now promising to make will mean no other family will have to endure the ordeal his family did.

No longer a police officer

Derek Harvey-Zenk said he recalled little about the crash that killed Crystal Taman during his testimony at the inquiry on Aug. 6. ((CBC))
Harvey-Zenk, also known as Derek Harveymordenzenk, was initially charged with refusing a breathalyzer test, impaired driving causing death, and criminal negligence causing death.

But all alcohol-related charges were dropped when he pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death and received a conditional sentence of house arrest. He subsequently turned in his badge and is no longer a police officer.

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

For eight weeks, lawyers at the inquiry have questioned more than 50 witnesses, including Taman's widower and children, legal experts, members of the Winnipeg and East St. Paul police forces, and the prosecutor and defence lawyers involved in Harvey-Zenk's case.

The $2.6-million inquiry effectively put the justice system and two police forces on trial — the small East St. Paul force that was initially in charge of investigating the crash, and the Winnipeg police force, which was also tasked with some of the investigation, including parts involving its own officers.

Some witnesses testified at the inquiry that they smelled alcohol on Harvey-Zenk's breath after the accident, but that evidence was not recorded or was later mishandled. As a result, the evidence on the alcohol-related charges was weak, the special prosecutor, defence and legal experts testified.

The inquiry also examined the treatment Crystal Taman's family received from the court system and victims' services after the crash and in the months leading up to the plea agreement.