injusticebusters logo

Elderly violinist lady takes on policemen

Toronto Police Crest

On a Toronto Police videotape taken from the booking desk area at 52 Division downtown on the night of Nov. 5, 1996, Galina Bugaeva can be heard making noise. But by no stretch of the imagination could the sounds coming from the tiny professional violinist be called musical -- Ms. Bugaeva was howling in agony, and by her left side, her arm hung as limply as a rag doll's.

"How they can get away with this to a citizen?" the Ukraine-born musician can be heard asking amid cries and whimpers.

"They" are the two hefty Toronto constables Ms. Bugaeva alleges broke her arm that evening in the course of improperly arresting her, and whom, along with the Toronto Police Services Board, the force's governing body, she is suing for more than $2-million.

The case of the five-foot, 132-pound woman -- then 66, now 69 -- so outraged Eddie Greenspan it prompted him to take the lead in a civil matter for the first time in 29 years of practice.

"They're thugs", the top Canadian criminal lawyer said flatly yesterday of Consts. Tom Corbett and Maurice Ragogna, the officers named in the lawsuit he has filed on behalf of Ms. Bugaeva.

It was just two days ago that Mr. Greenspan completed his final submissions before Ontario Court Judge Monte Harris in the criminal case against his client, who was charged by the two veteran constables with failing to identify herself, a Highway Traffic Act violation, and assaulting police with intent to resist arrest, a Criminal Code offence which is sometimes used by officers as a sort of punitive add-on charge and which in this case consisted, at worst, of a scraped shin Const. Corbett claims was the result of Ms. Bugaeva kicking him and for which he sought no medical attention.

Mr. Greenspan remains spitting mad, calling the incident "the worst case of police brutality I've seen."

At the time of the incident, Ms. Bugaeva, who came to Canada in 1974 from Moscow, was playing with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and several smaller community groups. Because of the arm injury, only recently has she been able to make music again, the longest time in her life she has gone without playing since she was a child of five.

About 11 o'clock on the night in question, Ms. Bugaeva was heading home to her downtown apartment after rehearsing with the local Italian Symphony Orchestra in the northwest end of the city, where, according to a fellow musician who testified in the criminal trial, she had participated fully.

According to Ms. Bugaeva's testimony, she was driving east down Isabella Avenue, the one-way street where she lives, when she was almost blinded by the lights of a car which was parked half on the sidewalk, facing the wrong direction.

She pulled up beside the car, realized it was a police cruiser -- apparently there to answer an earlier radio call about a mentally ill person causing a disturbance -- and rolled down the window to complain to Const. Corbett that she could hardly see and that they were creating a road hazard. He told her, she says, "Get lost lady!" and she replied, "You're not supposed to talk to me this way."

What happened, by Ms. Bugaeva's account and backed up in some regards by the officers' own testimony, was a rapid escalation of events and tempers in which Ms. Bugaeva was told several times to be on her way, but refused. She was then asked for identification, which she also refused. She was told she was under arrest and ordered out of her car, which she refused to do -- and was abruptly pulled out of the open driver's door by Const. Corbett, who grabbed her by her left arm and placed her partly over the cruiser.

So quickly did the incident unfold that Ms. Bugaeva wasn't able to put her car in park before she was pulled out of it, and as a result, when the officers began cuffing her, the car began moving down the street, prompting Const. Corbett to give chase and stop it.

Ms. Bugaeva's glasses were found beside the car afterwards, and picked up by Const. Ragogna, who, in the videotape viewed by the National Post, spent several minutes at the station putting one of the lenses back in the frame before handing them to her.

At trial, Const. Corbett admitted pulling Ms. Bugaeva out of the car by her arm, but denied having any idea what could have caused such a serious injury, and in cross-examination by Mr. Greenspan, suggested that perhaps she had ripped her coat and broken her arm earlier in the evening -- a notion dismissed by defence medical expert Dr. Charles Godfrey, who testified that a person with such a badly broken arm could never have either played a violin or driven a car.

But Const. Ragogna agreed with Mr. Greenspan that the pulling was done pretty roughly, and testified that he and Const. Corbett -- they are respectively 5 feet, 11 inches and 215 pounds, and 5 feet, 11 inches and 230 pounds -- didn't find Ms. Bugaeva an ominous-looking person when they saw her, but rather a little elderly person.

After her arrest, which Mr. Greenspan says was illegal because she didn't have time or opportunity to comply with any of Const. Corbett's demands and because the courts have held police can't stop someone "to vent their personal animosity," which is what he claims motivated them this night because she dared question their authority, Ms. Bugaeva was taken to 52 Division and paraded before Staff Sgt. Bert Hein.

The videotape -- it is standard procedure that prisoners being booked are videotaped, both for their protection and the officers' -- shows Staff Sgt. Hein asking the officers to remove her handcuffs, and as they did so, and Ms. Bugaeva's left arm flopped down, she screamed in pain, her cries audible even on the muffled soundtrack.

"They broke my arm," she said, appearing a little dazed. A little later, she told Staff Sgt. Hein, "I'm a violinist. I'm a professional violinist." She complained that her violin was still in her car, which had been towed away. "They broke my arm," she can be heard saying again.

At one point, when she tried to sit down, she cried anew, and Staff Sgt. Hein is heard saying, "She has trouble walking right now." He told her an ambulance was on the way, and that the officers would have to accompany her to Mount Sinai Hospital because "You're still under arrest." When a two-member paramedic crew arrived, another round of crying can be heard as they helped her on to a stretcher; one of the paramedics at trial testified the arm was visibly deformed and broken.

Const. Ragogna accompanied Ms. Bugaeva to hospital, where, as defence expert Dr. Godfrey testified later after looking at the X-rays, her arm was found to have been fractured in four separate places. He described the damage as a high-velocity rotation type injury, caused by forceful twisting, and consistent with Ms. Bugaeva's description of what happened to her.

She was released from hospital early the next morning by another officer from 52 Division, who freed her on what's called "a promise to appear" and gave her a brochure on how to launch a complaint against the police. She returned later for surgery, and her complaint to the province's Special Investigations Unit was deemed by then-boss Andre Marin as unworthy of further investigation.

Const. Corbett is apparently on vacation and couldn't be reached for comment yesterday. Const. Ragogna was said to be on duty at 52 Division yesterday, but couldn't be contacted by the Post. A statement of defence filed by Toronto city lawyers on Nov. 7, 1997, in response to Mr. Greenspan's civil suit, rebuts the allegation of excessive force, and claims whatever force the officers used was reasonable and a result of Ms. Bugaeva's own struggles.

Several times, as she was being booked that night at the police station, Ms. Bugaeva can be heard on the tape saying, "You're going to pay for everything!" and "You're in big trouble, officers, you're in big trouble."

That much, at least, doesn't appear to be in dispute.

Robinson disciplined for 'no-God' petition

OTTAWA - A New Democratic Party MP has been disciplined by his own party for tabling a petition in Parliament that called for removing references to "God" from the constitution.

On Tuesday, Svend Robinson introduced the petition, containing 1,000 signatures, on behalf of the Humanist Association of Canada.

He said at the time that he did not necessarily agree with the wording of the petition and wouldn't sign it himself.

On Wednesday NDP leader Alexa McDonagh reprimanded Robinson and removed him from the party's front-bench.

She says Robinson didn't give his caucus colleagues any warning that he would table the petition. And McDonagh says the party's position is to keep the references to God in the constitution.

'Massage parlours' rubbed out

Police yesterday shut down two massage parlours in the heart of the trendy Annex district that were suspected of being brothels.

The raids wrap up a three-month probe that's closed many of the city's illegal massage parlours.

Police arrested five women in simultaneous raids on the Bloor St. parlours and carted away massage tables, body rub oils and bed linens.

Both locations were offering clients a full range of sexual services, said Det. Al Mcdonald.

One site near Bloor St. and Bathurst St. was billed as a health spa; the other, located in an office building near Bloor St. and Spadina Ave., was advertising as an Oriental massage centre.

"These places offered what the prostitution industry calls full body massages," Mcdonald said.

The raids capped a series of blitzes that have closed 15 bawdy houses operating as massage or body rub parlours since April.

In all, 58 have been arrested and charged.

Another 18 are facing charges, including the landlords of five premises who refused to intervene when police informed them about their tenants' activities, Mcdonald said.

Officials from the immigration department, Revenue Canada and city bylaw enforcement officers have been called in to assist police.

"It's strictly a cash business," said Mcdonald, of 14 Division's Asian Crime Unit. "These people are literally making tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars."

He said the proceeds from the suspected brothels often funded "larger organized criminal enterprises."

Of the 15 sites shut down in the recent raids, nearly half had been closed before, only to reopen, Mcdonald said. Police seized all work-related items, including massage tables, towels, powders and oils in a bid to slow the trade down, he said.

Du Ping, 41, Hong Ding, 36, and Jian Mei Liang, 36, are charged with keeping a common bawdy house. Jian Ping Yu, 26, and Vicky Boisvert, 23, are charged with being inmates of a common bawdy house. All are Toronto residents.

B. C. Ministry knew killer had molested children

VICTORIA -- B.C.'s child protection system failed to act promptly despite being warned that a Vancouver Island man who killed his fiance and her four children two years ago was sexually molesting two other children, according to a report released Tuesday.

Another woman had complained more than once that John Gorton should not be allowed to contact her children, according to the B.C. Children's Commission, but there was confusion between two agencies over the status of the case.

"The result of this confusion is that two little children may have been forced to visit a [man] who was sexually abusing them," John Greschner, the acting children's commissioner, reported.

The children's commission reviews the deaths of all children in B.C., and periodically issues reports that do not identify individuals but look for lessons that can be used to prevent future tragedies.

Many of the details of the Gorton case were already well known, however, because of the court case last year.

But Gorton's fiancee, Heidi Challand, did not know the man she had allowed to move in had a history of jealous rage going back 20 years.

She did not know that when he was 16 he had stabbed a former girlfriend 19 times.

She did not know he had been sentenced to two years in jail for assaulting his former wife with a breadknife.

On the first anniversary of the murder of Challand and her four children, aged two to 12, Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh urged women to check with police before entering a new relationship if they have any suspicions.

But investigators looking into the case for the Children's Commission said they found no clear way the tragedy could have been prevented.

"Everybody that was involved in reviewing this case felt like there should have been a way that this woman could have known about his past, but we just weren't able to come up with anything practical in that regard," Greschner said.

On Monday, Dosanjh announced a registry for violent offenders, but it is not clear that Gorton would have qualified.

There were clear problems with the way the Ministry of Children and Families handled the other case involving Gorton that was going on at the same time, the Children's Commission reported.

"We saw some real gaps," Greschner said.

In another case, a girl with multiple problems who was identified early as being at high risk ended up on the street and was murdered when she was 17.

The girl had been seen by a raft of agencies, but they failed to work together in the child's interest, the report said.

Minister of Children and Families Lois Boone said her ministry has already acted on the recommendations of the commission.

"These were [in] 1997, and since that time we've put in a number of changes to the system -- and I'll never say that they won't happen again -- but so we can try to stop these things from happening."

But Liberal Children and Families Critic Linda Reid said the ministry is still failing to provide enough support for front-line staff, and children are suffering as a result.

"Kids are continuing to die in the care of the ministry after living terrible, terrible lives," Reid said.

Jail alternatives key to justice system overhaul: Axworthy

Saskatchewan Justice Minister Chris Axworthy wants the federal government to kick in some cash to expand programs designed to keep aboriginal offenders out of jail.

Alternative sentencing and diversion programs will be at the top of the agenda when federal and provincial justice officials get together to discuss the Saskatchewan justice system, Axworthy said Thursday, a day after he called upon his federal counterpart Anne McLellan to help restore the faith of First Nations people in police and the justice system.

"The federal government has primary responsibility for First Nations and for a major component of the justice system," Axworthy said over the phone from Pinehouse Lake in northwestern Saskatchewan.

"We can't do anything in these areas other than in partnership with the federal government and First Nations."

Axworthy met with aboriginal leaders to discuss the justice system and the RCMP investigation into the suspicious deaths of four First Nations men, two of whom were found frozen near the Queen Elizabeth power plant.

Two Saskatoon police officers were suspended after another First Nations man claimed he was dropped off by police in the area and told to walk home.

The controversy has prompted the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) and the Metis Nation of Saskatchewan (MNS) to demand Axworthy call a public inquiry into the Saskatchewan justice system.

But Axworthy still believes any public inquiry should wait until the conclusion of the RCMP investigation.

He said Wednesday's meeting was focused mainly on what the three levels of government can do immediately to improve the justice system for aboriginal people.

"Primarily, we were looking at alternatives to custody. We have done a lot. But the fact of the matter is the overwhelming percentage of the population of our jails is aboriginal. Plainly we haven't done enough."

The government has set up committees to encourage departments to work more closely together in delivering programs to at-risk youth. For example, an early intervention program has been established at Saskatoon's Nutana Collegiate. It brings social workers, counsellors and health workers into the school to work with students, many of whom are young parents.

"We know what comes together to increase the incidence of crime. But we can't address that in justice on our own. We can do a lot of preventative work. And part of the commitments regarding police services is about prevention. It's not just about charging people. It's also about working with communities to make them stronger."