injusticebusters logo

Kevin Tokarchuk

Chief Ewatski ordered to disclose secret files
Documents used in discipline of officers

Kevin Tokarchuk

WINNIPEG Police Chief Jack Ewatski must turn over to the police union a list of documents he used to put six officers on leave in the wake of last year's killing of Kevin Tokarchuk, an arbitrator ruled yesterday.

Gavin Wood said Ewatski must supply the material, which has never been made public, so the Winnipeg Police Association has a fair chance of arguing its case that the job action against the six officers was discriminatory and amounted to an act of discipline.

Keith Labossiere, lawyer for the WPA, said the union welcomed Wood's decision as it's been fighting for almost a year for disclosure.

"If the chief of police, or any employer, can make a decision that impacts on an employee, but is not willing to share with the employee why that decision was made, how can that employee or an association challenge it?" Labossiere said.

However, Labossiere said the decision may prove to be a hollow victory.

Since the beginning of the six officers' grievance, filed last Dec. 30, Ewatski has maintained he could not disclose the material because it may identify a confidential source.

For that reason, Labossiere said, it's possible that all the documents in the chief's hands may stay under wraps despite Wood's decision.

The documents include updates on the internal investigation into an allegation that officers in the police service were told by an informant of a plot to kill Tokarchuk, but took no action to warn him or his family.

The allegation was made public 12 days after Tokarchuk was gunned down in the garage of his family's Churchill Drive home on May 12, 2003. It's believed he was shot to death in retaliation for the death of Zig Zag Crew gang member Trevor Savoie a year to the day earlier.

At that time, the Zig Zag Crew were aligned to the Hells Angels.

Tokarchuk's brother, Daniel, was charged with murder in connection with Savoie's death.

The material in Ewatski's possession also includes a confidential report by Alberta Crown attorney Larry Stein submitted a year ago that said the officers should not be charged with a criminal offence in connection with Tokarchuk's death.

It also includes a report submitted last June by the Ontario Provincial Police that reviewed how the Winnipeg police professional standards unit conducted the internal probe into the Tokarchuk matter. That report has also remained secret.

City lawyer Marvin Samphir, who's acting for Ewatski, said he had to discuss Wood's decision with the chief and could not comment.

However, he said it's unlikely the police service would appeal Wood's ruling in Court of Queen's Bench.

"It doesn't appear the arbitrator acted outside his jurisdiction," he said.

The hearing is scheduled to continue Jan. 17 with testimony from Ewatski on why he placed the officers on paid leave. A deputy chief and inspector were also put on leave. Three of the eight have since retired.

Not as punishment

Ewatski said at the time that the officers were removed from the workplace not as a punishment, but so that the internal probe remained transparent.

The six officers claimed they were wrongly placed on paid leave and that their careers and personal lives have suffered. They want a public apology from Ewatski and payment of lost overtime and shift premiums -- about $10,000 to $20,000 each.

Wood also said it's possible for police to edit out any information in the documents that could identify the informant, although he admitted such a feat could be complicated.

The issue of protecting the informant's identity was the main reason the police service asked that the entire arbitration be held in-camera, meaning the media would be barred from covering it.

But the Winnipeg Free Press fought successfully in court to keep the hearing open to the public.

Court of Queen's Bench judge John Scurfield said in that ruling there was no evidence presented to him that the informant's identity was an issue, or by law even admissible, at the arbitration hearing.


Ewatski refusal may cripple hearing: lawyer
Order to release file on officers requested

An arbitration hearing involving six city police officers who were removed from active duty after the May 2003 killing of Kevin Tokarchuk could be delayed indefinitely, a police union lawyer said yesterday. Keith Labossiere, acting for the Winnipeg Police Association, said the hearing was scheduled to continue in mid-January, but could be delayed even further if the union doesn't get an explanation from police Chief Jack Ewatski about why he put the officers on paid leave. Labossiere told arbitrator Gavin Wood that despite repeated attempts, the union has been given no detailed information from Ewatski.

"It puts us in an untenable position," Labossiere said. "We have been provided nothing. We're not going to have a fair hearing."

Labossiere asked Wood to order Ewatski to disclose that information, specifically any evidence that supported his removal of the six officers from the workplace.

Those officers, five of whom were at yesterday's procedural hearing, were placed on administrative leave about two weeks after Tokarchuk was gunned down in the garage of his family's Churchill Drive home May 12 last year.

Allegation

Ewatski placed them on leave, along with an inspector and deputy chief, after an allegation was made that officers were aware of a tip that Tokarchuk had been targeted in a gang revenge plot but took no action to warn him or his family.

The officers all returned to work before last Christmas, but to date the police service has not publicly said whether any internal infraction occurred.

The officers grieved their temporary removal, leading to the ongoing arbitration hearing to settle the matter. Labossiere said Ewatski should not have placed the officers on leave, but transferred them to other duties.

The officers have not been sanctioned by the police service for any wrongdoing, and Alberta Crown attorney Larry Stein said a year ago there was no evidence to charge any of them with a criminal offence.

In testimony yesterday, Winnipeg Police Association president Loren Schinkel said he asked Ewatski several times to explain why the officers were put on leave, a serious move when they could have been assigned to desk duty.

Schinkel said he was given an internal police document on the matter last month, but Ewatski swore him to secrecy -- he couldn't even tell Labossiere or the six officers.

Police lawyer Marvin Samphir said some documents are privileged and cannot be released to the union.

Wood said he wanted to reserve making his decision until Thursday.


Free Press wins challenge; can report on police arbitration case

The Winnipeg Free Press won its court challenge yesterday to report on a police arbitration case that concerns what police knew before the 2003 gang-related killing of Kevin Tokarchuk.

That hearing is to start this morning with testimony from Winnipeg Police Chief Jack Ewatski on why he placed six officers on paid leave just days after Tokarchuk was killed.

But insiders say the hearing may be delayed -- and could be cancelled outright -- as the police service attempts to negotiate financial settlements with the six officers.

"I can tell you it will take a lot of money to make me go away," one of the officers said yesterday.

The anticipated push for an 11th-hour settlement came after Court of Queen's Bench Judge John Scurfield ruled the Free Press could cover the hearing.

"We welcome the decision," Free Press Editor Nicholas Hirst said. "We believe in the openness of the courts and tribunals. They should be open to the public in the interests of the public."

Scurfield overruled an arbitrator's earlier decision that banned the paper from the hearing on the possibility the name of a police informant could slip out during the proceedings.

That informant reportedly told police that Tokarchuk would be killed in revenge for the May 12, 2002, shooting death of Zig Zag Crew gang member Trevor Savoie. Tokarchuk's brother, Daniel, was charged with killing Savoie.

Members of the Zig Zag Crew are considered foot soldiers for the Manitoba chapter of the Hells Angels.

Tokarchuk, 24, was shot to death May 12 last year at his family's Churchill Drive home.

No one has been arrested in Kevin Tokarchuk's death, but sources have said the trigger-man was a gang associate who committed suicide earlier this year.

Days after the killing, it was alleged that police knew of the threat against Tokarchuk, but took no action to warn him or his family. Police sources have said some officers were aware of the threat, but not its timing.

Ewatski launched an internal review into the matter and subsequently placed eight officers -- the six officers plus a deputy chief and an inspector -- on forced leave. The deputy chief retired last February and one of the junior officers retired a year ago. A third officer retired this month.

Ewatski said at the time the officers were removed from the workplace not as a punishment, but so that the internal probe remained transparent. The officers returned to work last December, but in different positions. No criminal charges have been laid nor internal disciplinary sanctions taken.

The six officers claimed they were wrongly placed on paid leave by Ewatski and that their careers and personal lives have suffered. They want a public apology from Ewatski and payment of lost overtime and shift premiums -- about $10,000 to $20,000 each.

They also say because they were put on paid leave, they've been the subject of suggestions that they acted inappropriately and have had their integrity questioned in court when called to testify.

Both sides agreed to arbitration to settle the matter.

But both sides also asked provincially appointed arbitrator Gavin Wood to bar the media.

Wood, a family lawyer, agreed the hearing should be held in camera to protect the informant's identity.

However, Scurfield said there was no evidence the informant's identity was an issue, or by law even admissible, at the hearing.

He also said the province wants arbitration hearings to be public.

"In simple terms, the legislated objective is to make them into public hearings," he said in a written decision. "A reasonable interpretation of the section leads to the conclusion that arbitrators should only go in camera when it is absolutely necessary to do so.

"(I) reluctantly find that arbitrator Wood's decision does not constitute a reasonable interpretation of the legislation."


Surprise derails police hearing

The public may never get to know whether the Winnipeg Police Service was warned of a gang plot to kill Kevin Tokarchuk, or why six police officers were forced onto administrative leave after the 2003 slaying.

A police arbitration hearing in connection with Tokarchuk's death was indefinitely postponed yesterday after Police Chief Jack Ewatski -- in a meeting behind closed doors -- revealed for the first time confidential information explaining why he removed the officers from active duty.

The surprise development stopped the hearing before it began -- Ewatski was supposed to be the first witness -- and has now cast doubt on whether it will continue at all, according to sources.

Sources say Ewatski's revelation may have derailed the officers' will to continue their grievance, something that would end the arbitration hearing and the necessity for Ewatski to testify. Both parties are to talk about the possibility of setting a new date tomorrow morning at the urging of arbitrator Gavin Wood.

The hearing -- forced into the open by a court challenge from the Winnipeg Free Press -- was being held to deal with a grievance filed last December by the six officers that they were unfairly treated by being placed on leave and that their careers and personal lives have suffered. The officers have never been disciplined by the service for violating any police procedures or policy.

The Tokarchuk family was disappointed by the delay, but expressed hope the hearing would continue.

Diane Tokarchuk, mother of Kevin Tokarchuk, declined to comment, but her lawyer, Barry Gorlick, said she and her family have been "tortured" since the day her son was killed.

"They have been trying to answer a question torturing this family since Kevin was killed," he said. "And that is why did it happen?"

Both sat through yesterday's two sessions of the hearing, one in the 22nd floor downtown boardroom of law office Thompson, Dorfman, Sweatman and the other in a hotel basement in Fort Garry.

A silent Ewatski, who was set to testify as to why he placed the six officers on administrative leave days after Tokarchuk was shot to death May 12 last year, appeared only briefly before Wood before leaving a crowded hearing room.

The six officers, Mark Mirwaldt, Doug Lofto, Dave Lysyk, Jeff Bellingham, David Oakes and Lyle Loehmer, also appeared at the morning session of the hearing, but all left without comment after the adjournment.

Winnipeg Police Association lawyer Keith LaBossiere said WPA president Loren Schinkel refused to comment on the nature of the new information, but added the group has been asking Ewatski for it since the six officers complained in a grievance about their treatment last Dec. 30.

LaBossiere also said no settlement with the officers had been negotiated. "We'd love to resolve the matter, but it has not been resolved," he said.

It's believed the new information concerns a verbal explanation from Ewatski that justified his placing the officers on leave.

According to sources, in the past months Ewatski repeatedly justified his actions by advising the union that, "if they knew what he knew," they would understand why he placed the officers on administrative leave. Until yesterday, Ewatski had refused to say what that information was.

It's not known if Ewatski gave the union any documentation to back up his position.

Other reports have also remained under wraps. The first is a year-old document from Alberta assistant Crown prosecutor Larry Stein that recommended no criminal charges be pursued against the officers. The second is a report from the Ontario Provincial Police that reviewed the Winnipeg police internal report into the Tokarchuk affair.

Ewatski has said he placed the officers on paid leave to ensure the internal probe was transparent. He also placed deputy Chief Jim Thompson and Insp. Blair McCorrister on administrative leave.

All officers returned to work around Christmas last year. Thompson, Bellingham and Oakes have retired.

The six officers also claim they've been the subject of suggestions they acted inappropriately and have had their integrity questioned when called to testify in criminal court cases. They want a public apology from Ewatski and payment of lost overtime and shift premiums -- about $10,000 to $20,000 each.

They also claim their families have suffered both psychological and emotional harm as a result of the case.

Both sides agreed to arbitration to settle the matter, but in the early stages attempted to move it behind closed doors because of the possibility the informant might be identified and that publicly identifying the officers could reveal personal or intimate details about the impact on their lives of being put on forced leave.

Wood disagreed on the second issue, but still ruled to move the case in-camera out of concern the informant's identity was at stake if the hearing was open to the public.

The Free Press challenged Wood's decision, and in a Court of Queen's Bench ruling Monday won its case to open up the hearing to the public.

"An important public right is at issue," Judge John Scurfield said. "Closure of such hearings should be a rare exception."

It's believed Tokarchuk, 24, was killed in revenge for the May 12, 2002 shooting death of Zig Zag Crew gang member Trevor Savoie. Tokarchuk's brother, Daniel, was charged with killing Savoie. His jury trial is expected to start Nov. 1.

The Zig Zag Crew are considered foot soldiers for the Manitoba chapter of the Hells Angels.

No one has been arrested in Kevin Tokarchuk's death, but sources have said the gunman was a gang associate who committed suicide earlier this year.

Days after the killing, it was alleged that police knew of a threat against Tokarchuk, but didn't do anything. Police sources have said some officers were aware of the threat, but not its timing.

Ewatski placed the officers on administrative leave in stages as the internal probe into the allegation widened.


EDITORIAL - Cloaked in secrecy

On May 12 last year Kevin Tokarchuk was shot dead by an unknown assailant. No one has been charged in his murder. His brother, Daniel Tokarchuk is charged and will soon be tried for the murder of Trevor Savoie. Police believe that Trevor Savoie was a member of the Zig Zag Crew who act as "foot soldiers" for the Manitoba Chapter of the Hell's Angels. The Free Press has reported that police received a tip that Kevin Tokarchuk was to be murdered as revenge for the murder of Mr. Savoie.

In investigating whether Kevin Tokarchuk's murder might have been prevented, police Chief Jack Ewatski placed six officers of the Winnipeg Police force on administrative leave. He also placed Deputy Chief Jim Thompson and Insp. Blair Corrister on administrative leave. Mr. Thompson and two of the first six officers have retired, the others have since returned to work. None has been disciplined for violating police policy or procedures.

The six officers, however, believe that removing them from active duty was treating them unfairly. They filed a labour code grievance last December claiming that their careers have suffered. That grievance was placed before arbitrator Gavin Wood. Both sides in the dispute, the Winnipeg Police Service and the officers' union, the Winnipeg Police Association, argued, for different reasons, that the arbitration should be held in private. The Free Press went to court to argue that the arbitration involved matters of important public policy and police action and procedure and should be open to the press so that the public would know what transpired. The Free Press won its case.

On Tuesday, the arbitration resumed, but only very briefly. In a meeting with the police association behind closed doors, Mr. Ewatski revealed information not given previously -- why he had sent the officers home. Both parties then asked for an adjournment of the arbitration. The earliest it may resume is December. It may never do so.

Police forces must necessarily act in secret. If they were to broadcast their methods, their intelligence or their plans, then criminals would gain advantage. It is in the interests of all to allow police to keep much of their trade to themselves. It is, however, also in the interest of the public to make sure that police procedure, tactics and performance live up to the confidence and trust of the public.

An arbitration under labour law is hardly the ideal method to examine police practice. The publicity surrounding the arbitration, however, the claims of the officers and the administration's desire for secrecy have raised numerous questions that the Winnipeg Police Service now needs to answer. If a tip was received that could have prevented a murder, what happened to it? Was there a simple everyday mistake or was the failure to communicate and act on a tip an example of a fundamental and systemic flaw in the way the police in Winnipeg operate?

What is known is that an innocent man, Kevin Tokarchuk is dead. His death may have been preventable. The public needs an accounting of what happened, why it happened and what might be done to prevent it happening again. The duty to do that starts with police chief Jack Ewatski.


Police hearing halted until December
Ewatski promises to give union material about Tokarchuk case

A hearing into why six police officers were placed on leave in connection with the 2003 gang-related killing of Kevin Tokarchuk will not resume until at least December, a police union lawyer said yesterday.

Winnipeg Police Association lawyer Keith LaBossiere said he and other union officials met with Police Jack Ewatski yesterday and were promised material regarding the case would be turned over to the union next week.

LaBossiere, who acts for the six officers, said he will need time to review the confidential documents before hearing dates can be arranged.

The hearing was originally to be held behind closed doors, but was forced into the open by a successful court challenge launched by the Winnipeg Free Press.

The arbitration proceedings were delayed indefinitely Tuesday when Ewatski disclosed information vital to the case in a closed-door meeting moments before he was supposed to testify.

He had been called as the first witness to explain why he placed the six officers on administrative leave days after Tokarchuk was shot to death May 12 last year in a suspected gang-revenge killing.

The six officers, Mark Mirwaldt, Doug Lofto, Dave Lysyk, Jeff Bellingham, David Oakes and Lyle Loehmer, claim they were wrongly placed on paid leave by Ewatski and that their careers and personal lives have suffered because of it.

They want a public apology from Ewatski and payment of lost overtime and shift premiums -- about $10,000 to $20,000 each.

The officers have never been disciplined by the service for violating any police procedures or policy and an independent report last year recommended no criminal charges should be laid.

LaBossiere also said two other matters may delay the arbitration hearing until Christmas.

Arbitrator Gavin Wood, a city family lawyer appointed by the province to adjudicate the dispute, has another court case in the fall to deal with, making him unavailable before December.

And a jury trial involving Tokarchuk's older brother, Daniel, is set to begin Nov. 1. It's expected the arbitration hearing would not be held while the case is before the jury.

Lawyers for both sides are to speak with Wood today about the possibility of setting another date to continue the hearing.

It's believed Kevin Tokarchuk was killed in revenge for the May 12, 2002 shooting death of Zig Zag Crew gang member Trevor Savoie. Daniel Tokarchuk was charged with killing Savoie.

The Zig Zag Crew are considered foot soldiers for the Manitoba chapter of the Hells Angels.

Kevin Tokarchuk, 24, was shot at his family's Churchill Drive home.

No one has been arrested in Kevin Tokarchuk's death, but sources have said the gunman was a gang associate who committed suicide earlier this year.

Days after his killing, it was alleged that police knew of a threat against Tokarchuk, but didn't do anything to warn him or his family. Police sources have said some officers were aware of the threat, but not its timing.

Tuesday's hearing was also delayed because of a fear sympathizers of the Hells Angels would also be attending. However, no gang members, associates or family members were seen.