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John Melenchuk

Threats against police lead to probation

John Melenchuk

A volatile Saskatoon justice activist was given a conditional discharge Monday in provincial court after pleading guilty to uttering threats against the police and an innocent stranger.

John Melenchuk, who may be best known for picketing the Saskatoon police station last winter wearing an orange balaclava and a T-shirt with the words, "Who's policing the police?" was given a year's probation and ordered to have no contact with the police or Wallace Ochitwa for six months. Melenchuk must also continue counselling with a psychologist.

Judge Sheila Whelan said Melenchuk's "potential for emotional outbursts" had led to his threatening a civilian who didn't know him and making repeated, persistent threats to police, which had escalated over time.

Police tolerated phone messages that were "alarming in their intensity and description," until they became genuinely concerned that he might carry out his threats, Whelan said.

However, she noted that Melenchuk has expressed respect for some police and demonstrates a "fierce commitment" to helping vulnerable people in the community.

Melenchuk has taken counselling and recognizes the need to continue with it, Whelan said.

Melenchuk deserves compassion, she said. While his method of expressing himself is unacceptable, his fear of an individual who stabbed him several years ago and frustration because the person has not been charged must be acknowledged, she said.

Despite the order not to have contact with Saskatoon police, Whelan permitted Melenchuk to attend monthly, public police commission meetings and to speak there if he is on the agenda. The no contact order extends to the meetings, however, where he is not to address the police directly.

Melenchuk pleaded guilty Oct. 26 to uttering threats to Ochitwa, 50, last Jan. 10 at a downtown coffee shop.

Ochitwa had complained to police that Melenchuk became agitated after he refused to sign a petition Melenchuk presented to him, according to Crown prosecutor Perry Polishchuk. Melenchuk later approached Ochitwa outside, where he demanded an explanation for Ochitwa's refusal to sign.

Melenchuk opened the door of the restaurant and called in that he had "a cop-lover here," and that people inside should get a good look at the man's face because Melenchuk intended to kick it in. He then showed Ochitwa a knife scar on his stomach and said, "Do you want some of these?"

As Ochitwa walked away, Melenchuk shouted after him that he knew who he was.

Police also charged Melenchuk in connection with a series of 30 to 40 increasingly threatening phone calls he made to the Saskatoon police station and to Sgt. Arthur Olson, in particular.

Melenchuk was frustrated with the police because they hadn't laid charges against the person who stabbed him in an Oct. 31, 1998, altercation that landed him in hospital for 11 days.

Saskatoon Police Service spokesperson Insp. Jeff Bent said police received a complaint Nov. 3, 1998. Police do not have enough evidence to support a charge and secure a conviction, Bent said.

The file remains open and police are planning to run a Crime Stoppers re-enactment on television, Bent said.

In the phone calls, Melenchuk directed his frustration at Olson, the lead investigator in the assault case. Melenchuk blamed Olson for the difficulties in his life since the stabbing.

Among the transcripts of numerous recorded messages the Crown presented to the court were several where Melenchuk expressed a desire to see Olson on the street without his sidearm so he could spit in his face.

"I'm thinking about you all the time," Melenchuk said.

Other messages included statements such as, "I will never forgive you," "Make sure you're wearing a bullet proof vest," "People in the 'hood know who you are," "Everybody thinks I'm crazy. . . . I'll take a cop with me. If I have to go down, I hope it will be you."

Olson kept the recorded messages but didn't act on them until Sgt. Neil Wylie received a call just after midnight on Jan. 27. Wylie stated in a report that Melenchuk's state of mind seemed to have worsened compared with previous interactions with him.

In that call, Melenchuk seemed unusually calm and rational. He stated that Saskatoon police had made him a deadbeat dad and that the only way he would get satisfaction was by taking out a cop, that someone would pay "the ultimate price" for his undoing and that he had nothing to lose by taking one of them out.

Wylie was concerned that Melenchuk was "degressing to a state that will result in a violent confrontation."

In court Monday, Melenchuk said: "I just want people to know I got stabbed and I got screwed, that's all."