Keeping tabs on the baby-shooters


Christie Blatchford is doing an amazing job of describing the social problems in the four-cornered Indian town of Hobbema, Alberta—such an amazing job, indeed, that one is almost lulled into forgetting she is there because of a crime. It was not alcohol, poor governance, or residential schools that shot a five-year-old child in the head while he was sleeping last week. Some specific person, still at large, had to pull the trigger.

This, perhaps, is the true shame of Ethan Yellowbird’s death. We know there is not much point in rallying the majestic resources of an outraged mass media behind the quest for a killer—as we would surely do if a white child died under these circumstances. The person who shot Ethan is someone whose disregard for human life makes him arguably more dangerous than a mere power-hungry gangster; yet there can be no doubt that dozens of residents of Hobbema know his identity, or, at the very least, where they would start looking for him. They do not seem especially interested. The code of omertà holds; police and media inquiries are still met with chilly hostility. And, after all, Ethan might as well have been carried off by rogue eagles or the plague, for all the good that turning in the intoxicated ne’er-do-well who fired the fatal shot might possibly do.

We can say this with an unusually high degree of confidence, because another child, two-year-old Asia Saddleback, was wounded under exactly the same circumstances in Hobbema in 2008. And, as it happens, the person who shot her did get caught. Consider what, in your own ideal world, you might consider an appropriate penalty for such an action. Then consider what actually happened to Christopher Shane Crane, who shot Asia through a wall of her house after already committing an armed home-invasion robbery the same evening. The judge who sentenced Crane was keenly cognizant of his youth—the shooting was the culmination of an 18th-birthday party that got way, way out of hand—and of his “troubled past”. The troubles in question, needless to say, already included a certain number of assault priors. Who knows? Considering his gang involvement, he may even have grown up with bullets whizzing around him, poor creature.

Crane got six years’ imprisonment for the home invasion and six years for the aggravated assault of Asia Saddleback, to be served consecutively. His year awaiting trial counted double both ways, making the remaining sentence four years plus four years, with an extra year knocked off because the judge applied the “totality principle”. The “totality principle” in sentencing basically boils down to “If you’re adding jail time together from separate offences that somehow overlap in time or in nature, you should probably take your foot off the throttle a little bit.” It is more or less a technical name for the notion that excessiveness in the compounding of criminal penalties is inhumane.

And thus we arrive at a final quantum of punishment for the haphazard wounding of an infant, committed out of boredom; half of seven years. Or, rather, eight, if you are a stubborn literalist who wishes to count Crane’s year in remand as an actual astronomical-type year. (Who knows? Maybe you’re one of those “truth in sentencing” wackoes who just doesn’t grok justice-system math.) Our correctional system being the fount of hope and rehabilitative expertise that it is, Christopher Crane may already be out of prison. Indeed, one hopes that the RCMP has taken care to ascertain his whereabouts on the evening of July 11, if only as a matter of bookkeeping.


Keeping tabs on the baby-shooters

  1. There are many whys and wherefores to be debated in these cases but I honestly believe Natives have slimmest of chances to succeed in life when they are part of apartheid system Canada runs to help Natives. 

    I was typical Canadian before I left Canada after university – knew Natives had societal troubles but did not give it much thought. When I started traveling, and people asked me about Natives, I realized I sounded a lot like a proper Afrikaner when explaining Indian Acts, reserves and blood lines. 

    Why left wing types get bent out of shape about Palestinians, and not Natives, is beyond me because Natives are subject to tyranny and can’t own their property while Palestinians have their own territories and govern themselves.  

    Indian Act 1886

    ” … person means any individual other than an Indian …. ”

    Thomas Jefferson ~ Were we directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we should soon want bread


    Learned helplessness …. means a condition of a human person or an animal in which it has learned to behave helplessly, even when the opportunity is restored for it to help itself by avoiding an unpleasant or harmful circumstance to which it has been subjected. Learned helplessness theory is the view that clinical depression and related mental illnesses may result from a perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation.

    • I have to admit your comment is oddly insightful, which I didn’t expect. Good for you. Cheers.

    •  “there are the whys and the wherefores to be debated in these cases..”  and with that statement you disregard the fact that Hobbema is in the clutches of a gang so nasty that the children that live there (who are also First Nations) can’t be in the school playground after 4pm.  This story is about complete lawlessness in a community.  It is about children being shot in their sleep through the walls of their homes.  It is not the time to philosophize about the treatment of First Nations people in Canada because it is not happening on other reservations.  When the RCMP pick up the gang members, they taunt them and say “you can’t do anything to me.  I run this place.”  Due to Canada’s lax judicial system, where a person serves 4 years for shooting a child in the head, they are right.

      • “This story is about complete lawlessness in a community.”

        I grew up Bathurst/Lawrence in Toronto mid 80s. At time it was lower middle class neighbourhood that was close to underclass sections of Toronto. We used to go to area called ‘The Jungle’ – low income housing area – when we were bored and looking for thrills. If we were really bored and looking for some dodgy ‘entertainment’, we would go visit a mate in Jane/Finch area. 

        I know all about lawlessness in community and have been experiencing it since mid 1980s.

        Liberals claim crime is falling, when it really isn’t, and reduce expenditures on police so we can mollycoddle criminals and employ middle class to ‘rehabilitate’ criminals instead of using jail.

        It has been official Canadian policy for at least 40 years to keep people out of jail because of the cost even tho humans have no known reliable way to rehabilitate criminals. 

        I personally believe in capital punishment so I would be quite happy to see gang member who shot young child be horsewhipped in public square and then hung drawn and quartered. 

        However, I also know perfectly well that there are plenty of other young males who will readily replace murderer. 

        Poverty by Postal Code:


        Maclean’s – On Flogging, Chain Gangs … :

        Q: That’s what I liked best about your book, the explanation that even when Americans recognize how dysfunctional their penal system is, they don’t really care because punishing criminals takes priority.

        A: Yes, and although I consider myself pretty liberal, I’m not against punishment. There’s nothing wrong with punishing someone who has done something wrong. Or with public safety. Lock up a pedophile and there are fewer raped children, [but] locking up a drug dealer just creates a job opening.


        • Tony, I have to tell you as others have, that it is really difficult reading your comments when philosophize with so many references.  I am sorry to say that you cannot compare Hobbema, which is a community in the middle of the prairies, isolated, with a population of 12,0000 (the largest reservation in North America), a unemployment rate of 70%, a population whose people are 80% under the age of 25 years old to a rough area in inner city Toronto.  You don’t think Calgary and Edmonton have gang activity?  They, like all large cities have tough neighborhoods.  Now, you find me another small town with big gang problems and we can talk.

          • I am as frustrated by crime as you but I am not sure why you think small towns are somehow protected from violence we see daily across Canada. I agree that murderer should be caught and put in jail but it will do little to fix Hobbema.

            I also agree the justice system is a travesty – Globe article on weekend got my blood boiling. Our elite don’t care about natives at all, or children for that matter, and nothing will change regardless of what happens in Ethan Yellowbird case. 

            Crime is out of control – if it was gang member who murdered Ethan and that person goes to jail, there will be other teenage boys willing to take murderer’s place in gang. 

            Missing Native Women In Canada:

            Helen Betty Osborne was abducted and brutally murdered near The Pas, Manitoba, early in the morning of November 13, 1971. The high school student,with dreams of becoming a teacher, originally from the Norway House Indian Reserve, was 19 years old when she was killed.http://www.missingnativewomen.org/

            “Canada incarcerates more convicted youth than almost any similarly industrialized country …. Years after enacting laws that have been successful in reducing youth incarceration rates, Canada still sends five times more of its convicted teens into custody than England and Wales …. ”


            “However, youth violent crime is higher now than a decade earlier. Both the volume and severity of youth violent crime were about 10% higher in 2009 than in 1999 … Police-reported crime was most serious in the territories and the western provinces, which has been the case for the past decade.”http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/100720/dq100720a-eng.htm

          • Tony, I would never suggest small towns are protected from violence but you have to admit that gangs don’t usually set up shop in small towns and multiple shootings of small children in their beds at night is exceptional…hence the editorial!  As for your statistics about Canadian incarceration rates of teenagers…they have a maximum sentence of 3 years as juveniles regardless of the crime.  Furthermore, it is no surprise to me that Canadian youth are becoming increasingly violently criminal, you just have to ask teachers about how they are treated in the classroom.  Unfortunately, the youth of today are increasingly spoiled, disrespectful and irresponsible.

        • “I personally believe in capital punishment so I would be quite happy to
          see gang member who shot young child be horsewhipped in public square
          and then hung drawn and quartered.”

          That’s just messed up. There’s a fine line between justice and bloodlust. I cannot fathom how some are so ready to dispense death and judgment when so many are falsely convicted.

          If you value life so highly –  why be so quick to kill? Especially in such a brutal fashion?


  2. Sometimes I think we can’t seem to do anything right with our justice system.

    On one hand, we should be locking up the dangerous offenders and keeping them segregated from society, but we fail to do this.

    At the same time we should be working hard to reduce recidivism and teach petty criminals how live within the system, but we fail to do this too.

    No wonder nobody on any side of this debate is happy. Our system doesn’t seem to do one damn thing right.

  3. Also, what gets me irritated is that many will treat this as Native issue while it can also be viewed as society issue. It is not like Canada has stellar record towards children either.

    War on children in Canada, Natives are no different than rest of us. 

    “Statistics Canada tables show a recorded total of 2,822,293 abortions between 1969 and 2005. Assuming an annual average of 100,000 abortions for 2006 and 2007 (and recognizing that reported numbers since 2000 reflect about 90 percent of abortions) the total number of abortions is more than three million.”

    ” …. illustrates a point many pedophiles themselves admit: far more than any other city in North America, Montreal is a good place to live if you happen to be attracted to children.”


    “An expanded picture of how many British Columbia children and teenagers are critically injured while under government care may be emerging as a result of new guidelines implemented after a girl with Down syndrome spent a week alone with her mother’s decomposing body.”

    A report released Thursday notes that the number of critical injury reports has tripled since the provincial children’s watchdog blasted the children’s ministry last year for failing to report the girl’s case to her office.”


  4. Good for you Colby.  People need to keep publicizing what is happening at Hobbema.  As for this justice system that hands down ridiculously low sentences for serious crimes, I believe we need some mandatory sentencing rules.  I am from the area in the Peace River Country where the one doctor murdered the other doctor.  The murderer got 8 years in prison and then promised he would “get” everyone who testified against him at his trial.  Now that he is out, those people are living in fear.

    • There ARE mandatory minimums for murder: For first degree, it’s life with no chance of parole for 25 years; for second degree, it’s life with no chance of parole for a minimum of 10 years up to 25 years. Which suggests you have the facts of that case wrong.

      • Actually Dr. Abraham Cooper was found guilty of manslaughter even though he lured Dr. Douglas Snider to his office where he forced him to write a letter, murdered him and then dismembered the body.  He got a gerry can of gas and left the small town and drove to Edmonton.  The police found 6 litres of blood in the wheelwells of is car.  He claimed Dr. Snider faked his own death (hence the blood in the office and the trunk of the car) and did a powder.  It was a trial by judge.  He was given 10 yrs but only served 8.   It is a fascinating case, plug the names into Google.
        At any rate, 8 or 10 years was not an appropriate sentence.

  5. Why so easily disregard all of Christopher Shane Crane’s previous interactions with the justice system and determine that his culminating crime was a result of boredom? Shouldn’t we be looking at what went wrong on those previous occasions? Were alternative justice approaches tried and if so why did they fail?

    Perhaps the probation and parole monitoring system is too “lax” because we don’t have enough probation officers “on the street.”

    We only ever talk about recidivism as if it is a consequence of release from jail, without considering things like supervised release, foster care, and alterantives to jail. Perhaps jail was the problem the first time, but we’ll never know because media never reports on anything but sensational crimes.

    • Foster care with whom?  80% of the population of Hobbema is under the age of 25 years old.  Are you suggesting that Mr. Crane should have been fostered with a family outside of his own culture?   Sadly, many of today’s First Nations children have been raised by their elderly grandparents so there is a lack of people available to provide fostering.
      As for probation officers and supervised release, what do you suppose the punishments are when the offender breaks the rules….they are returned to incarceration.
      Blamming jail for making people already violent more violent is like blamming your children’s friends for getting them into trouble. Water seeps its own level.  Some of these people are sociopaths – they feel no empathy for other people…  That is why they participate in violent home invasions and shoot guns through houses without any thought for the people on the inside.

      • I’m suggesting that ignoring any examination of entry level interactions with the criminal justice system and focussing instead on the jail sentences once the system has failed completely is contributing to a simplistic and uninformed debate as well as armchair speculation about “sociopaths.”

  6. Christie is doing an excellent job on this topic.

    The biggest problem with sending Native youths to prison is they come out better criminals or as gang members.  The Indian Posse (headquarters Hobbema), Manitoba Warriors, Native Syndicate, etc. all started in prison – they call it “gang university”.

    This isn’t about Natives – it is about gangs fighting over drug money.  Hobbema is one of the wealthiest reserves in Canada.  They get resource royalty revenue and own a big destination casino/resort.  When Hobbema youths turn 18 they recieve their “trust” money, $40-80,000 in a lump sum.  Most blow their money in less than a month on vehicles and partying.  Wetaskiwin car dealerships make a killing from this.

    My niece is a RN at the Wetaskiwin hospital.  She sees 16 year old girls from the reserve coming in to have their third baby.  She helped deliver a baby a few months ago where the mother did not know she was giving birth as she was too high.  (see Christie’s other article).

    Now the Hobbema bands want the Federal government to help cover the cost of a 14 million $ youth centre and more police.  It always ends with the fix is give us more money.


  7. I work in psychiatry – it isn’t armchair speculation about anti-social personality disorders and sociopathic personality disorders being rampant among those involved in violent crimes.  Neither is it speculation that gang members get arrested multiple times only to be released and continue with their activities. …a great example of that would be Jackie Tran, a Vietnamese immigrant who was a gang leader in Calgary and was finally deported after road blocks were put up by bureaucrats in the immigration dept. who suggests police were exaggerating his criminal activities.  If you know of research that has shown that early brushes with the law lead to increased propensity to violent crime and gang membership, I would interested to here about it.  I do know that research has established that children with unstable home lives are more apt to seek out gang affiliation. 

    • This is an excellent article but you have to be a GlobePlus member.

      The ballad of Daniel Wolfe
      Jun 18, 2011 – For two decades, the Indian Posse and gangs like it have wreaked havoc on native communities. To understand how and why, look at two of its key figures, Winnipeg’s Wolfe brothers – their broken childhoods, criminal ascent, bloody mistakes and ultimate reckonings, one of them fatal. In a special investigation, Joe Friesen retraces a Canadian tragedy

      “The Wolfe brothers are the most intriguing figures among a generation of native youth devastated by the impact of gangs. In the past two decades, thousands of young native men in Western Canada, on reserves and in cities, have been affected through personal involvement or family association or as a victim of gang crime. The groups’ promotion of drugs, prostitution, robbery and murder have damaged communities and destroyed lives.It all began with one family, the Wolfes, and the family they created – the Indian Posse. In a lengthy investigation, The Globe and Mail has reconstructed their story through more than two dozen interviews with gang members, relatives, lawyers and police, as well as court transcripts and Daniel’s prison letters. Richard Wolfe, Daniel’s older brother and fellow Indian Posse founder, spoke at length for the first time since his own release from prison.”

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