About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Enigma of China by Qiu Xiaolong

The Enigma of China by Qiu Xiaolong – Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau has been in line to head the Bureau but long time Party boss for the Bureau, Li, has been reappointed:

As a sort of compensation, Chen was made the first deputy Party secretary of the bureau and a member of the Shanghai Communist Party Committee.

In the Byzantine structure of the Chinese Communist Party he gains some additional status but not power. Unlike most with his rank he rarely uses his stature for personal benefit.

Chen is directed to serve as a consultant to detective Wei on a treacherous investigation. Zhou Keng, was the director of the Shanghai Housing Development Committee. In that position he has made a fortune. A photo circulated on the internet showing him smoking a very expensive brand of cigarettes, 93 Supreme Majesty, prompted a “human flesh” search where dozens of netizens searched for and found evidence of corruption by Zhou. Unable to ignore the evidence the Party has shuangguied Zhou (taken him into official but not legislated custody for investigation into his actions). The usual consequence is a show trial and pre-determined punishment. While in custody at a luxury hotel Zhou has been found dead. The Party would like a finding of suicide.

Three different government teams are investigating the death. For the police Wei is dedicated to conducting a thorough investigation.

To understand what happened Chen consults with Lianping, a lovely young journalist with the Wenhui Daily. Which mystery author but Xiaolong could describe a character as:

Slender, supple, she’s so young, / the tip of a cardamom bud / in the early spring

She explains to him how blogs and forums are being used to provide news the official media is censored from providing to the Chinese people. Too often for the Party corruption is being revealed.

Net police are becoming more aggressive closing down blogs and preventing searches of politically sensitive topics. It is a new underworld to Chen.

With Zhou dead Chen cannot understand why the Party teams, suddenly augmented by another team from Bejing, are continuing to stay active. What could be dangerous if his death was murder not suicide?

Chen knows there are conflicting factions within the Party. In the never ending power struggles there are equally powerful figures who would respectively prefer murder and suicide.

While Chen wants seeks the truth he knows that major criminal investigations are resolved on the principle of what resolution will lead to a “harmonious society” in the eyes of the Party.

Will romance blossom between the poetic Chen and the high spirited Lianping? Chen’s mother longs for him to find a spouse but Lianping is being courted by a wealthy developer, Xiang. Yet how could there not be a spark when Chen and Lianping stand in a beautiful garden before a large rock engraved with the poem:

          The sun is sinking behind the city wall
to the sad notes of a shining bugle.
Here in Shen Garden,
the pond and the pavilion appear
no longer to be the same,
except the heartbreaking ripples
still so green under the bridge,
the ripples that once reflected her arrival
light-footed, in such a beauty
as to shame the wild geese into fleeing.
 Neither fits comfortably into current China as exemplified at a funeral:

The newly materialistic society was shaping many aspects of life according to its own terms – even things like this temple service. The more expense, the more face. That was a type of competition the Yu’s couldn’t afford, which was why Yu, a non-Buddhist, had to bring Chief Inspector Chen – supposedly a high-ranking Party official – into the scene. It was all for the sake of face. Face was an important issue to the Shanghainese.

Back to the investigation the stakes become much higher when Wei is killed. It is clear to Chen the death was not because of a drunken hit and run driver.

As Chen penetrates layers of secrecy the story rushes to a climax that turns out to be a cliffhanger to be resolved in the next book. It has been a long time since I encountered such a conclusion. Fortunately, when I bought Enigma of China I also bought Shanghai Redemption. While barely able to restrain myself I wanted to get this review written before starting Shanghai Redemption. Now with the review completed I am moments away from finding out what happened to Chen. It is a wonderful series.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Steel Kiss by Jeffery Deaver

(12. – 899.) The Steel Kiss by Jeffery Deaver – One of the modern masters of the twist in the plot Deaver starts early in this Lincoln Rhyme mystery. In the opening pages he reveals Rhyme has retired as a forensic officer for the NYPD. I certainly was not anticipating the retirement. Those regular characters still in the Department such as Amelia Sachs and Ron Pulaski are frustrated with Rhyme’s decision. While they miss their interaction with the quadriplegic Rhyme they really miss having his lab available for their investigations.

Sachs is tracking in a mall the suspect in a killing by a ball-peen hammer when she is startled by the screams of a man who has fallen inside an escalator and is being shredded by the powerful gears. The top step of the escalator had flipped up. As we all ride escalators it is a frightening thought that an escalator could just open up in front of you. By the time Sachs can stop the escalator motor the trapped man is dead and the unsub has disappeared.

Rhyme gets involved with what happened with the escalator when he joins the legal team for the deceased wife looking for defendants to sue for the wrongful death of her husband.

Unable as a civilian investigator to examine the actual escalator, the police will not allow access, Rhyme comes up with a brilliant idea. He leases an escalator of the same type and finds a way to fit into the foyer of his apartment! Having the escalator in the apartment they can investigate it for reasons for the malfunction.

In the meantime, the unsub a tall, very slender man, pursues other victims. He is creepy and clever rivaling other wicked villains in the series. Deaver delves into his personality and life. He refers to the police searching for him and others as “shoppers”.

The next surprise in the plot is the introduction of forensic student, Juliette Archer, who convinces Rhyme to let her intern with him. She is also in a wheelchair, the Storm Arrow, like Rhyme. Just as determined to succeed as Rhyme, despite her limitations, she is keenly intelligent and not shy to share her insights.

As the investigations proceed they determine the unsub has found a way to remotely take over the wi-fi or Bluetooth controls of a host of consumer devices such as microwaves, stoves and baby monitors. While the manufacturer of the controls has sent out safety patches they are often not installed on appliances and other devices already sold.

It is a brilliant disturbing thought that criminals can control devices inside your home or business while located a half block or further away.

As the unsub, calling himself online the People’s Guardian, launches attacks fear, verging on panic, grips Manhattan.

Despite myself I found I was admiring the cleverness of the People’s Guardian. He was outsmarting an immensely talented and resourced team pursuing him. Is it perverse to want to read about brilliant villains? Maybe a post on the topic is in order.

The book had a superb start and excellent themes but it dragged for me. Most Rhyme mysteries have drawn me swiftly through the book but not The Steel Kiss. It could have done with some editing and the elimination of a personal subplot. If the next book in the series weighs in at 572 pages I know I will hesitate to read it.

For now, it will be awhile before I can be comfortable with the thought of how many devices in my house are at risk of remote control. Deaver describes our vulnerability: 

“Hacking. Finding a weakness, and, well, exploiting it. You know the refrigerator hack from a few years ago? This was epic. A product line of smart fridges was running some old software written for PCs. Hackers got inside and turned the controller into a spambot. Refrigerators around the world were writing and sending penis-enhancement emails and vitamin offers to millions of addresses. The homeowners never knew.”

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What Happens When a Convicted Murderer Writes About his Case

Colin Thatcher’s book, Final Appeal – Anatomy of a Frame, the subject of my last two posts brought about a new law in Saskatchewan, The Proceeds of Criminal Notoriety Act. The rather cumbersomely named Act was passed because of a public outcry that Thatcher was seeking to profit from murdering his wife.

The book was written after Thatcher had been released on parole after serving 22 years following conviction for murdering his wife. From the day he was charged to now Thatcher has asserted he is innocent. The subtitle to his book sets out his fervent belief that he was framed.

The book certainly explores the circumstances of his marriage, separation and wife's death. At the same time it is focused on the evidence used to convict him and keep him in jail and the judges who ruled against him in the process.

When he wrote his book there was no law in Saskatchewan that would take away the profits of a book written by someone convicted of a crime. I dislike statutes that apply to events that happened before the law was passed.  

The purpose of the Act is set out in Section 3:

         The purpose of this Act is to prevent persons convicted of,
            or charged with, a designated crime from financially 
         exploiting the notoriety of their crimes and to:

         (a) compensate victims of those crimes or their family 
         members; and
         (b) support victims of crime.

Such Acts originated with the “Son of Sam” legislation in the U.S. to prevent New York serial killer, Sam Berkowitz, from profiting from his murders. 

The issue of their constitutionality has been repeatedly litigated in America as set out in Thatcher's case over his book:

Although the Berkowitz case did not test the constitutional validity of these laws, the Supreme Court of the United States ultimately considered that issue in a suit brought by the publishers, Simon & Schuster, initiated to declare such law unconstitutional as a violation of the free speech guarantee in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. In Simon & Schuster v. NY Crime Victims Board, 502 U.S. 105 (1991), the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the “Son of Sam” law as inconsistent with the First Amendment. Numerous other state laws similar to New York’s law but addressing some of the concerns expressed by the United States Supreme Court have been upheld at various judicial levels – others have not.

The Thatcher case has been the only Canadian case in this area.

Thatcher represented himself on the hearing of the application. Evidence came in the form of affidavits. For a test case there should have been oral evidence and expert evidence.

Thatcher challenged the legislation arguing that it breached the right to freedom of expression in The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The trial judge found that Thatcher was not prohibited from expressing his thoughts and opinions on his criminal case but his right to expression did not extend to the right to profit from his expression.

The judge referred to the principle that a criminal should not profit from their crime.

The issue of how freedom of expression is affected when profit is prevented was not a part of the judgment.

As well, the judgment does not have a discussion on the right of expression for a convicted person who is protesting they are wrongfully convicted.

What surprised many, though not writers, was the limited amount of money recovered. Thatcher’s publisher paid to the Government of Saskatchewan $13,844.40 for a book that reached No. 6 on the Toronto Globe & Mail bestseller list.

The publisher, spoke about the realities of publishing in Canada to the Regina Leader-Post:

“Everybody thought that this was going to be a gusher of money,” said publisher Jack David of Toronto-based ECW Press. I remember speaking to the guy in charge, and he was dumbfounded there wasn’t a whole lot of money there ….. I said, it’s book publishing in Canada. What do you expect?” Initially 5,000 books were printed, then another 2,000 – and that was it. David said sales, not the law, impacted the decision not to print more books.
It was a case that deserved substantially more evidence and legal argument. When the publisher had two “civil rights” lawyers decline to handle an appeal of the decision Thatcher did not pursue the case further.

The final twist in the story is the disposition of the money. As set out above the proceeds of the book can be paid to the victims or their family members. In the alternative, the money can go to a victims’ fund.

Thatcher and his murdered wife had three children. They would have qualified as family members. None of the children received any of the money. The funds went to a pair of victims’ funds.

All of the children have resolutely supported their father and testified in his defence at trial. I do not know if these actions impacted the government. Certainly they are uncomfortable facts for considering who is a victim.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Listening (or not) to Your Lawyer

In my previous post I discussed Colin Thatcher facing the most crucial choice in his trial for murdering his wife, JoAnn Thatcher.  Would he testify or not in his defence.

The decision was not made before the trial. It was not until just before the close of the Crown case that he decided:

“It’s my duty to tell you that, as matters currently stand, I believe you will be acquitted, and it’s not necessary for you to testify,” he (Gerry Allbright) said.

“That’s probably true for anyone else but not for me,” I answered.

We debated the pros and cons at length, Gerry appreciated and partially agreed with my reasoning. There was no question the jury wanted to hear me say, “I didn’t do it,” although he strongly believed they would acquit were they deliberating right then. That was probably an accurate assessment, but my declining to face a cross-examination would add another dimension to the crown case. I truly believed negative inferences would be drawn. I would certainly wonder if I were on that jury. There was no doubt in my mind they assumed I would testify and account for the conversation with the sleazy Anderson and emphatically deny any involvement.

In the end, Gerry agreed I should testify. It was a fateful decision and one I look back on with misgivings, mostly because I testified so poorly.”

Thatcher’s account indicates the wariness of Allbright to Thatcher going on the witness stand.

There was good reason to hesitate. While Thatcher had a high opinion of himself there were many in the province who held a low opinion of him. I had always suspected Allbright would not have favoured Thatcher testifying at the trial.

Thatcher was very confident of his ability to explain his actions. Ultimately the question was how would Thatcher react on the witness stand when cross-examined? The prosecutor, Serge Kujawa, was a courtroom warrior who would seek to challenge and provoke Thatcher.

Every trial lawyer has had cases where the trial was lost when their client convicted himself or herself because they testified poorly.

I doubt Thatcher was ever going to stay out of the witness box. To stay out of the fray was not his way. He had to be in charge.

In the midst of his cross-examination Kujawa suggested Thatcher’s children were lying about him being with them for supper when the murder occurred. Thatcher challenged Kujawa to step outside the courtroom and repeat those statements. He sets out the comment was an extension of the invitations extended in legislative debates to repeat potentially defamatory comments outside the legislature where there is no immunity from an action for defamation. Thatcher asserts he made the comment as an invitation for Kujawa to also repeat a comment outside the courtroom where he equally lose his immunity against a defamation action. I think it was too subtle a distinction for a jury in the midst of a trial.

Correctly or not Thatcher was perceived as losing control on the witness stand and no matter how he worded the challenge he was thought to be issuing a physical challenge to Kujawa. Appearing angry and out of control as the defendant is not an impression you want to leave with a jury.

Thatcher downplays negative reaction to his evidence but it was a crucial part of the trial.

In reading how Thatcher pushed to testify when his counsel was reluctant reminded me of the case of Lucky Luciano during the 1930’s when his skilled defence counsel, George Morton Levy vainly sought to convince Luciano from testifying at his trial. Luciano would not and could not accept Levy's advice. The trial was covered at length in Tom & Lucky and George and Cokey Flo by C. Joseph Greaves both in the fictional portion of the book and the non-fictional portion at the end. Levy rightly feared how Luciano would fare as a witness. Luciano was crucified in cross-examination by Thomas Dewey.

For the rich, powerful and famous to accept they should stay silent as accused is almost impossible. They cannot let the decision be made without their participation. There was a famous exception a decade after the Thatcher trial. In the O.J. Simpson murder trial, based on Simpson’s performance as a witness in the subsequent civil trial, the decision not to have him testify in his criminal trial was the best defence decision of the trial.

Relying on the advice of your lawyer is not always successful as illustrated in a further Thatcher court application.

When Thatcher had a “faint hope” hearing before a jury 15 years after conviction on whether he would be allowed to apply for a parole Thatcher accepted the advice of his new counsel, Hugh Harradence, not to testify. The jury turned down his application.

Two years later he applied again and, at this hearing, he was determined to testify and was supported by his third counsel, Darin Chow, and did testify and his application was successful.

As we do not know the evidence and arguments that swayed three juries it is hard to know what convinced them to reach a verdict.

From afar I think Thatcher would have been better not to testify at trial and to have testified at his first faint hope hearing. At trial Allbright had effectively challenged the Crown case. At a faint hope hearing I think jurors want to hear directly from the convicted applicant on how they have changed in prison for they start from the applicant having already been found guilty of murder.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Final Appeal: Anatomy of a Frame by Colin Thatcher

Final Appeal: Anatomy of a Frame by Colin Thatcher – In Saskatchewan’s criminal trial of the 20th Century Colin Thatcher was accused and convicted of murdering his wife. In Final Appeal he presents evidence and arguments in support of his position that he was framed.

Thatcher, son of a Premier of Saskatchewan, was a successful rancher / farmer and a prominent politician (a provincial Cabinet Minister). He married Joanne Geiger from Iowa and they had three children. Their marriage faltered and the breakup was brutal. There was a massive custody fight won by Joanne. After the court case she was shot in the arm by someone, never determined, firing a rifle from outside her home. Almost two years later, on the evening of January 21, 1983, she was murdered in the garage of her home on Regina’s busiest street, Albert Street, near the Legislative Buildings. From the moment of her death Thatcher was the prime suspect.

It was a case that transcended Saskatchewan’s borders drawing massive media attention across Canada and extending into international news coverage.
I had been practising law in Saskatchewan for 9 years when the trial took place in 1984. I was as absorbed in the trial as everyone else in the province. (I have no personal knowledge trial of events. I did not attend. I have not spoken to any of the participants case. I do know the lawyers and the judge from my legal practice.)

I read the book primarily to see what Thatcher said about his legal strategy and the decision to have him testify in the trial.

Arrogant or self-confident Thatcher was a man accustomed to getting what he wanted. His strong minded personality had grated on many people over his lifetime. He has forceful opinions and has not hesitated to state them bluntly. I wondered how he would respond to legal advice.

His defence started badly when Thatcher, rejecting the advice of Tony Merchant who had been his divorce lawyer, insisted on Merchant proceeding with a bail hearing the day after he was arrested. There was no chance of adequate preparation and the application was denied. Thatcher would have to work on his defence while incarcerated.

He hired Gerry Allbright to be his defence counsel. Allbright is now a Queen’s Bench Justice in Saskatchewan.

Thatcher discussed with Allbright the question of whether he should testify at trial. The question of whether the accused should testify, especially in a jury trial, is often the biggest decision to made by the defence. Thatcher states:

As the trial date neared, Gerry and I earnestly discussed the question of whether or not I would testify. I felt I had no choice; Gerry did not necessarily agree. Because of my legislative experience, I believed any jury would demand they hear me say, “I didn’t do it.” Choosing not to testify was a luxury I did not believe I had. Gerry thought our strong alibi defence might make my testimony unnecessary, especially if the court accepted the Beaton affidavit into evidence. I was skeptical, but we left the decision open.

His personality is encapsulated in his belief “the jury would demand” to hear him testify at the trial. It speaks of a man with an extraordinarily high opinion of himself and his status in the province. I believe any jury chosen to try him would have been interested in what he had to say but I equally believe they would not expect, let alone demand, he testify. Thatcher had no confidence in a jury heeding the standard jury instructions that they are not to draw any inference from the accused choosing not to testify at trial.

As Thatcher is a man who believes fervently in "conservative" principles I have wondered, without knowing, if he was projecting on the jury about to judge him how he, were he a juror, would have expected the accused to go on the witness stand and deny guilt.

On whether to call the accused to testify, Emily Couric, addressed the issue in her book, The Trial Lawyers. Written in the late 1980’s it is a fascinating book on how ten prominent American trial lawyers conducted cases. In The Trial Lawyers criminal defence counsel took contrary positions on whether to call the accused in criminal jury trials. From my review of the book:

1.) James F. Neal (Tennessee) – It is very difficult to win without putting the defendant on the stand. You need the defendant to articulate a rational defence;

2.) Richard “Racehorse” Haynes (Texas) –He avoids the defendant testifying as he worries the jury will misjudge the defendant; and,

          3.) Edward Bennett Williams (Washington, D.C.) – Call the defendant.

I generally believe that if there is going to a jury trial the accused should testify. I think juries want to see what the accused has to say about the evidence.

(In my next post I continue the discussion of Final Appeal and the decision on whether or not an accused should testify at a jury trial.)

Monday, March 13, 2017

Miners Tombstone in Bienfait

In my previous post I reviewed Black Thursday by Scott Gregory Miller, the second book in the Myles Sterling series. The murder of centenarian Dr. George Sterling in 1994 is connected to the strike in the early 1930’s by miners that climaxed in a violent confrontation between striking miners and the RCMP in Estevan. 

Prior to the Great Depression coal mining had begun in the Estevan area. The mines were about 100 feet under ground and followed the seams of lignite coal. In recent decades there has been strip mining of the coal with giant draglines. A huge dragline is featured in that part of the book set in 1994. 

With the onset of the Great Depression issues and tensions grew steadily between mine owners and miners. 

Black Thursday is distinctly sympathetic to the miners. Already low wages were cut and miner families lived in shacks ill-suited to cruel Saskatchewan winters. Research shows Saskatchewan miners were being paid less than half of what miners in Alberta and British Columbia were being paid. 

In the summer of 1931 union organizers from the Mine Workers Union of Canada travelled to the area at the request of the miners. Despite the threats and intimidation of mine owners many were ready to join the union. 

In the book and real life there were avowed Communists in unions. A couple of years later the Canadian Commonwealth Federation (the CCF) political party was formed in Saskatchewan. It was socialist rather than Communist though many considered its principles Communist. In 1944 the CCF became the first socialist part to win provincial elections and govern Saskatchewan. 

Back in 1931 a strike was declared and the mines shut down. 

The violent climax of the strike occurred on a hot September afternoon in Estevan. Miners had formed a procession of vehicles, many horse drawn, to travel from their residences in and around Bienfait to Estevan where they planned a protest parade. 

That morning Estevan Town Council passed an ordinance forbidding such demonstrations. 

When the procession came into town they came up against a group of Estevan police officers. The Police Chief grabbed a striker and trouble erupted. The situation escalated when miners took over a fire engine trying to hose them down. The city police were bolstered by RCMP officers. Rocks (miners) and bullets (Police) began to fly. Initially the police were firing into the ground but inevitably bullets went higher. 

When the violence ceased 3 miners (Peter Markunas, Nick Nargan and Julian Gryshko) were dead. They were buried in the cemetery in Bienfait with a headstone that is a powerful political statement as shown on the photo. The inscription reads: 

            Murdered in Estevan Sept. 20, 1931 by RCMP 

The headstone has been a continuing Saskatchewan story. Soon after its placement it was defaced by having the words “RCMP” cut out. At least one source said the Bienfait Town Council instructed the offending word be removed. Over the years “RCMP” has been periodically removed and then replaced. You can see on the photo of the monument that “RCMP” has had to be inserted again. 

Almost 90 years later the passions concerning the Strike developed in the book have not disappeared.
Miller, Scott Gregory – (2008) – Silence Invites the Dead; (2017) - Black Thursday; Hardcover or Paperback

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Black Thursday by Scott Gregory Miller

Black Thursday by Scott Gregory Miller – What an opening! Dr. George Sterling, 100 years old, is enjoying a massage before the birthday celebration of becoming a centenarian at his care home  when new hands are around his neck and he is strangled to death. The killer leaves a message. A large lump of coal has been stuffed into his mouth and the words “murderer” in Ukrainain written on his forehead.

Miller is at his best in opening scenes. I echo in this review the opening sentence of my review of Silence Invites the Dead, the first book in the Myles Sterling series.

Three generations of the Sterling family loom large in the book. They are a Saskatchewan dynasty. Dr. Sterling was a prominent doctor and businessman arriving in Estevan in 1931. His son, Hubert Sterling, has been a long term judge. Grandson, Myles Sterling, is a journalist who gained national fame for reporting from the conflicts in Bosnia and Rwanda.
Who would want to kill a man 100 years old? There is clearly a fierce bitterness in the killer.
While the murder occurs in 1994 in Prince Albert the messages makes clear that the motivation for the killing reaches back 60 years to the tumultuous events surrounding the Miners’ Strike at Bienfait and Estevan in the Great Depression.

Miller divides the story between the early 1930’s and the investigation by Myles in 1994.

Narrating the story in the 1930’s is another Sterling journalist. Darcy, a long deceased cousin of Myles, who left his memoirs with the father of Myles. The memoirs have always had a conspicuous gap from the early 1930's. Myles surreptitiously obtains the missing pages at the family home. They recount what happened around the Strike.

Darcy was infiltrated into the ranks of the Slavic miners who worked the coal seams near Estevan for the Souris Mining Company. Dr. George, as much businessman as doctor, wanted spies among the miners.

Coal prices have dropped during the Depression but the mine operators, determined to have profits, arbitrarily decrease wages and summarily fire miners. It is a constant struggle for the miners to survive.

In 1994 Myles goes from P.A., where he is working for the daily paper, to Estevan to seek out the bitterness that led to the murder of his grandfather six decades after the Strike. He finds tensions still exist between management and workers. The company wants to eliminate the oiler position in the operation of a giant new dragline, the Prairie King.

With the memoirs to aid him Myles looks for information on who was connected to the Strike that would want to kill his grandfather. He finds almost everyone. His grandfather was openly racist and derogatory of the Slavic immigrant miners. As a scion of the Anglo Canadian establishment he was committed to keeping the Bohunks in their place economically and socially.

When union representatives arrive to organize the miners it is inevitable there will be a violent confrontation.

Myles finds himself intrigued by a lovely clever librarian in Estevan who has an encyclopedic knowledge of local events and history.

I was intrigued by cousin Darcy. Seeing himself as a decent man he puts himself into an impossible situation. Wanting to do right by his cousin by informing on the miners while becoming friends with and living among the miners.

Myles finds learning about family history can be disturbing.

The book, as occurred in real life, comes to a climax on the Thursday when the miners, seeking to have a protest parade in Estevan, are confronted by the RCMP. The events of that hot summer afternoon are vividly recounted in the book.

Black Thursday is a good story. It is better than Silence Invites the Dead. The plotting is more assured, though I dislike the form of ending, and the characters are interesting and well developed. I hope there will be more Myles Sterling adventures.
 Miller, Scott Gregory – (2008) – Silence Invites the Dead;

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Letter from the Governor General

The personal Coat of Arms of
David Johnston as Governor General
Over the past week I have posted, as a review of The Idea of Canada – Letters to a Nation by David Johnston, a trio of posts which originally were a letter to David who is Canada’s Governor General. I asked him some questions in my letter and advised I would post a reply if he consented. The Governor General graciously replied in a handwritten letter which was accompanied by a transcription “for ease of reading” done by his secretary. David’s writing is legible but not easy reading. The letter is:

February 24, 2017 

Dear Bill, 

Thank you for your thoughtful – and thought – provoking letter of Feb. 7th – and for taking the time to write. Let me respond to your questions in turn. 

1.      The letters in The Idea of Canada are a mixture: some spontaneous (though edited) some structure; some to actual persons; some posthumously; some (a majority) largely taken from earlier speeches or submissions, etc. 

2.      Your Ethelton Library had the same impact on you as the Carnegie Public Library did on me in my hometown, SS Marie. As a 12 yr. old, I learned to operate the movie projector there and had a part-time job showing films. 

3.      We will be at Vimy in early April in 5 weeks’ time for the 100th anniversary of that remarkable victory. I often refer to the “Canadian” lessons from Vimy as inspiring features of our history including the roles of Byng and Currie who were GG in Canada and Principal – McGill University, positions which I have had the great privilege to hold. When I was there 5 years ago, I was accompanied by 5000 Canadian high school students who had raised the money themselves to support the voyage and each did a historical essay on one of the Canadian fallen soldiers at Vimy. 

4.      I love your emphasis on how lawyers deal with people and the improvements we need there especially to reinforce trust and adherence to the social contract the legal profession has with people. 

5.      Ah! Fighing in hockey. We need a good dinner together to discuss this further. We recently convened a conference on violence in sport and concussions and have been working with Ministers of Health and Sport to create a national protocol. You are correct and astute in urging a more complete use of the instruments of the criminal justice system. 

6.      Bravo on your Melfort Rotary Club initiative. Rotary (Service above Self) is such a force for good. I am honoured to be a Paul Harris Fellow and was a Rotary Scholar to Cambridge, England. My eldest daughter (a lawyer with the Fed Dept. of Justice) was a Rotary scholar to Hong Kong and my eldest nephew a Rotary Scholar to Geneva. 

Post any parts of this letter which seem to make sense to you. We still need a good dinner together to continue the conversation. 

Warmest regards to the great people of Melfort. 



As an aside the following paragraph from the Governor General’s website explains the motto David chose to represent himself:

The Latin phrase CONTEMPLARE MELIORA, meaning “To envisage a better world” (literally “To envisage better things”), alludes to a line from George Bernard Shaw’s play Back to Methuselah (Part I, Act I): “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not? ’”.

Friday, March 3, 2017

I Am Not Ready to Ban Fighting in Hockey

This post is the last part of my letter to Governor General David Johnston on his book, The Idea of Canada - Letters to a Nation. Readers happening to start with this post will find the rest of the letter in my previous two posts.
For 39 years I have written a sports column. For many years it was in each week’s edition of the Melfort Journal. For a number of years I reviewed court cases of assault charges arising from hockey games and occasionally wrote about them in my column.

In 1982 I wrote a column in the form of a letter which I sent to the Attorney General for Manitoba, Roland Penner, analyzing Jimmy Mann of the Winnipeg Jets sucker punching Paul Gardner of the Pittsburgh Pennguins. I thought the circumstances justified an assault charge. Mr. Penner thanked me for the letter. While I doubt my letter had any influence Mann was charged and convicted and received a $500 fine.

In 1984 I made written and oral submissions to the Law Reform Commission of Canada which was looking at the issue of force in sports especially in hockey. I closed my written submission by stating:

I believe it will be necessary for those involved in law enforcement to curtail hockey violence because leagues continue to shirk their responsibility and the public remains passive. I have given two lectures upon the topic of “Violence in Hockey” for the Public Legal Education Association for Saskatchewan and each time less than ten people attended the lecture. In contrast lectures in the same communities on other legal topics have drawn forty to fifty people. While many individuals have advised me that steps should be taken against violence in hockey I do not perceive any groundswell demanding action. Unless law enforcement authorities lead the way I do not think there will be any public outcry demanding true enforcement of our laws until the inevitable occurs and some player is killed by being hit by a stick. When a player is charged with murder because of his actions in a hockey game we will see action.

My focus was on what constituted a criminal assault during a game rather than an assessment of whether fighting should be banned. A few times one of my columns or a letter was responded to by someone involved in professional hockey. Their uniform response was that the courts should have no role in what happens on the ice.

Cross-checking players from behind into the boards was a greater concern to me at that time than fighting.

In more recent years I have written little about violence in hockey. The law is well established on what constitutes an assault in hockey.

Fighting has been part of hockey for over 100 years. My research on violence in the game provided examples back to the opening years of the 20th Century.

I live in a province which has the highest provincial per capita number of NHL players. Each year there are about 50 NHL players from Saskatchewan. Darrell Davis wrote a fine book, Fire on Ice¸ about Saskatchewan hockey players.

I appreciate your position is that fighting should not be a part of hockey even without the danger of injury in fights. You said:

Hockey is the greatest game in the world. And it is so because it is faster than anything else. That speed – combined with the playmaking, the intensity, the intricacies, the virtuosity, along with the consciousness of five good teammates on the ice with you at any one time – make it just a beautiful game.

Your emphasis is on the beauty of the game.

Within Saskatchewan hockey has been a hard game as much or more than a beautiful game. Our players are known as tough players willing to fight. Examples over the generations include Gordie Howe, Tiger Williams and Wendel Clark.

Fighting gives hockey an edginess different from other sports. In football, basketball and baseball the agitators need not worry about backing up their taunts and provocations.

From what I have seen fighting in hockey creates far more excitement than revulsion in the stands and among those watching on television.

Such an attitude is consistent with our society’s acceptance of boxing and mixed martial arts as sports.

If our society would accept Derek could have been a boxer or a mixed martial artist why not being a fighter in hockey.

Knowing your position on what hockey should be and, without trying to be provocative, I would be interested in knowing whether you would ban boxing and mixed martial arts as sports.

In the end I am not ready to support a ban on fighting in hockey. Yet it is always in the back of my mind whether Derek would be alive today if there was no fighting in hockey.

I chose to read your book in the way you indicate you write letters. I read a few letters each day for three weeks. I found limiting my reading let me think more about the letters I read that day.

I want to thank you for your service to Canada. You are an example, by deed as well as by word, of a life committed to making our nation and world a better place.

I most admire your enthusiasm for making Canada a better place. I have tired as I approach 65. In your 70’s you have a joy and an energy that inspires me to do more.

In the book you encouraged every Canadian to take personal action to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017. I have taken up the challenge with my fellow Rotarians in the Rotary Club here in Melfort. We are going to have a fund raiser in which each Rotarian will contribute a good or a service or personal talent. Club members have asked me not to call it a GST auction.

I will send this letter by regular mail. It felt more appropriate than email. I will be posting this letter on my blog next week. If you are able to reply to my letter please let me know if I could post your reply as a subsequent post.

Best wishes.

Bill Selnes

(David is David Johnston, Canada’s Governor General.)
While the book will resonate most strongly with Canadians it is an excellent book that would be enjoyed by readers anywhere in the world.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Writing to the Governor General about Derek Boogaard and Law Clerks

My last post was the first section of a letter I wrote to Canada's Governor General, David Johnston, about his book, The Idea of Canada - Letters to a Nation. This post is the next part of that letter. I will post the last part of the letter in my next post. 
In your address to the clerks of the Supreme Court you spoke of six relationships for lawyers. They were the relationships between the lawyer and justice, the lawyer and trust, the lawyer and education, the lawyer and social need, the lawyer and the firm and the lawyer and public service. I believe there is an important seventh relationship for lawyers. It is the relationship between the lawyer and people. I have spent over four decades in my office and in court representing people.

Public concerns with the legal profession are rarely over the relationships between lawyers and corporate or government clients. They are with regard to lawyers and people.

From my time as an articling student through the numerous students for whom I have been principal through watching the experiences of my sons in law school I have found law school graduates ill-prepared to deal with people. To aid in a basic element of the relationship between the lawyer and people I suggested at a seminar at the College of Law in Saskatoon a few years ago that law students be taught how to interview people.

I applaud your recommendations for a greater integration between law school and practising lawyers but I fear the focus will be on the needs of corporations and governments.

In your analysis I did not see an emphasis on improving how lawyers deal with people. You spoke of corporate law and big firm practice. I would say your observations are common within law schools, government and “big” law. The concentration is on the legal needs of the corporate world and government world.

As a resident of rural Canada I also see limitations on who speaks with regard to lawyers in Canada. I attended a conference on Power in the Law that dealt primarily with the issues of women in the legal profession. I spoke in a seminar on the law effecting social change. My topic was the role of class actions in this area. I added a couple of comments for the organizers. I said that I was a member of a minority among the presenters. I know most thought I was going to say the minority was men. It was a surprise for those assembled when I said that the minority of which I spoke was that out of 25 presenters I was the only speaker from a community of under 100,000.

If you should write another book of letters I would encourage you to write to law students who will neither be clerking at courts nor becoming law school professors nor going to big firms nor joining government. I hope you would write to the students who will be dealing with the legal needs of the people of Canada.

I have thought most about your letter to your former Harvard hockey coach, Ralph “Cooney” Weiland on banning fighting and headshots in hockey. In support of your position, especially with regard to fighting, you used the example of Derek Boogaard.

I knew Derek as a boy in Melfort. I did not know him well. He was a classmate of my sons. He was always the biggest and strongest boy in his grade by far. His physical presence dominated but academics were a challenge.

Derek’s only route to the NHL was as a fighter. Yet even his skills as a fighter were modest. He took a lot of punishment.

I was actually surprised that he reached the NHL. My experience with enforcers, I find goons too simplistic a term, is that they are among the most thoughtful of players. Their intimidations were calibrated. Fighting had a lesser role than sticks and elbows. Derek was never going to be that analytical.

He reached the NHL at a unique moment. Fighting had become a ritual of combat in the league between designated players on every team. I am grateful that form of battle has faded from the league.

I agree there should be harsh penalties for headshots. On whether fighting should be banned from hockey I remain ambivalent, probably inconsistent.
(My discussion on the issue of violence in hockey is continued in the next post.)