Wednesday, 1 March 2017

How I destroyed the career of a chief of police                                                      

The man I am writing about is Thomas Sinkovitch. He was in his mid-fifties when I first met him in 1978. If he is still alive, he would be in his mid- nineties. On the other hand, he may be deceased by now. It has been said that we should not speak ill of the dead. There are many people who are deceased in which that adage wouldn’t apply and Thomas Sinkovitch is unquestionably one of those undesirable persons to whom that adage isn’t applicable. 

In 1978, I was licenced as a private investigator, I was also working part time collecting money from debtors on behalf of a company. Their office was at 185 Dundas Street West in Mississauga, Ontario which is a large community just west of Toronto.  Further, I was also a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist for the Toronto Sun one of three major newspapers in Toronto. I wrote daily and weekly columns on law.

One day in April, 1978  while I was at work and looking out of my office window on the 10th floor while facing south west, I saw a huge plume of black smoke rising in the air in the area of Oakville—a fairly large  town south west of me. I turned on the radio and moments later, I heard the announcer say that a huge warehouse in Oakville that was close to the major highway (QEW) was on fire. The announcer also said that the warehouse contained hundreds of 45-gallon drums of oil that were exploding and for that reason; the highway was closed to all traffic.

I figured that it would be unlikely that the Toronto Sun photographers would be able to reach the fire before it was put out. I was wrong in the assumption because I learned later that a helicopter took them to the scene ahead of me.

I arrived at the scene of the fire half an hour later by taking another route. I was able to get on the service road a block from the burning warehouse. After parking my car on that road, I walked closer to the burning warehouse. It was surrounded by hundreds of people watching the fire. Burning drums of oil were exploding in the air. Further, large tins of paint cans were also flying in the air. One of them landed at the local college a mile away.

I climbed up a derrick a short distance south of the fire to get better pictures and even then I could feel the heat from the fire. Later I returned to the northern part of the fire and to the service road where my car was parked and it was then that I first met police officer, Thomas Sinkovitch who was with the Halton Regional Police Service which had its office in Oakville. With a gruff and obnoxious voice, he ordered me to get out of the area. I have to presume that he saw me earlier when I was closer to the fire. 

He then asked me if I had any ID. Technically, he had no authority to demand that I show him my ID since I had not broken any laws. Nevertheless, I showed him my private investigator’s licence that had been given to me by the Ontario Provincial Police. I then told him that I was a newspaper columnist with the Toronto Sun. He asked me to show him proof. Earlier in the morning, I had picked up five letters addressed to me by my readers and I showed them to him. The envelopes were addressed to me c/o the Toronto Sun.  He wasn’t impressed.  He told me to get out of the area. I subsequently went into one of the small buildings on Service Road and they let me use one of their phones. I called the Oakville police headquarters and the sergeant on duty gave me permission to remain at the scene of the fire. I then went back to where the fire was and took some more pictures.

That evening, I prepared a complaint against Sinkovitch and the next day, I mailed it to the Oakville Chief of Police.

Three days later, while I was in bed, I received a phone call from Robert Hopkins, a friend of mine who was a lawyer. (he died several years ago)  He said, “Why didn’t you call me if you had a problem with a police officer?”

I asked him how he knew about that incident in Oakville. He replied, “My father (a retired school principal living in Oakville) told me that he read a small article in the Oakville Beaver that you have been charged by a cop whose name is Sinkovitch, He charged you with obstructing him. (Section 129 of the Canadian Criminal Code).

I immediately phoned the Oakville Police Department and spoke to the duty sergeant and asked him if I had been charged with obstruct police by Officer Sinkovitch. He confirmed that I had been charged with that offence. Strangely enough, no one came to my door and handed me anything from the police department. I did however get a notice of a trial.

Meanwhile, I knew the private investigator living in Oakville who had been retained by the insurance company that had insured the large warehouse and its contents to investigate how the fire began. The private investigator hired me to assist him in conducting the investigation. We met the insurance company’s investigator in a small office in Oakville and that is when we learned that the damages totaled $11 million dollars.

The insurance investigator told me and my fellow private investigator that a Canadian National Railways trainman wearing a orange toque (woolen cap with no brim) ran into the warehouse to warn everyone that sparks from his engine had started a grass fire right next to the building and the flames got into the rear openings at the bottom of the building. The openings were made so that air would circulate throughout the building. Stored in the building were hundreds of 45-gallon barrels of oil and hundreds of paint cans. There was spilled oil on the floor of the building so the fire raced through the building quite quickly.  Everyone escaped safely and soon after, the warehouse and everything in it was destroyed. I remember when I was nearby during the fire, I saw exploding barrels shooting into the sky.

The trouble facing the insurance company was that no one could prove that the man with the orange toque who came into the building was actually employed by the Canadian National Railway (CNR).

Our job was to find evidence that the man who warned the employees in the storage building was in fact employed by the CNR. All we had to go on was that he wore an orange toque on his head and that he was seen talking with the fire chief on the scene. The fire chief denied that such a man was talking to him. Further, the CNR denied that their engine caused the fire.

At first, we began wandering around the CNR train yards and terminals  looking for a man wearing an orange toque. We even spent hours on the top level of a fire escape of a tall building overlooking the railway yards in Toronto looking for the man through my 20x60 binoculars. We were unsuccessful in finding the man. We presumed that he had been sent out of that part of Ontario so that he couldn’t be located and forced to testify at the civil trial that was to follow. 

 It took me a week to solve the problem of proving that that man with the orange toque was an employee of the CNR and a member of the engine crew.  I went to hundreds of homes around the immediate area of the fire   and spoke with everyone who was on the scene watching the fire. I looked at their photos of the fires and even developed their films for some of them. Then at the end of the week, I found a slide taken by a spectator which showed a man wearing a CNR uniform standing next to the fire chief. He was also wearing an orange toque on his head. The case was solved  The investigator I was working for used some of my photos in his report along with the one with the man with the orange toque talking to the fire chief at the scene of the fire. Subsequently, the CNR paid eleven million dollars in damages plus the interest and court costs as a settlement. Nowadays, the settlement would be the equivalent to $42 million dollars.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I was charged with obstructing an obnoxious police officer who was also at the scene of the fire.  Obviously he had read my complaint against him and that is why he charged me with obstructing him.  He was getting even with me. That turned out to be his greatest mistake he ever made in his career as a police officer. I will explain how later in my following article.

My trial lasted one day a month for four months. Bob Hopkins took my case pro bono (for free). The issue before the court was whether or not the cop had the right to order a newspaperman to leave the scene of a disaster.

At first, my trial was being held at the courthouse in Oakville. The presiding judge was named Sharpe. (He was not Robert Sharpe of the Ontario Court of Appeal.) Normally my case would be heard by the regular judge sitting in Oakville but that judge and I were previously in the same criminology and law classes at the University of Toronto so he couldn’t hear my case as there would be a conflict of interest if he did.

On the first day of my trial, Bob unrolled a huge map of Oakville. It was so large; he actually had to step out of the courtroom via a side door while I was inside the courtroom holding the other end of the map in my hands. Then his voice could be heard when he said, “Officer Sinkovitch. Will you please tell the court where you and Mister Batchelor were standing on Service Road when you first spoke to him?”


Bob had a weird sense of humor just as I also have one so he decided to walk ever so slowly back into the courtroom while he rolled up his end of the map. Trying not to laugh at that moment was not unlike trying not to pee when your bladder is about to burst.

Within an hour, that initial portion of the trial was over. While Bob and I were sitting together in the empty courtroom discussing the testimony of Sinkovitch, Bob discovered that the judge had left all his notes behind. We both looked at them and Bob copied the judge’s notes onto his own note pad. 

And then a very funny thing happened to us. It turned out that when we tried to leave the courthouse, all the doors were locked and no one was in the building at all. Bob used a nearby phone and called the police department which was in the building next to us. An officer came and let us out. 

A month later, we were told that my trial would be held in the city of Burlington which is a short distance from Hamilton. The courthouse was in a very small building. It had a small courtroom and four small offices and two washrooms.  

It may seem strange to you but the day I had my first of two days in that courtroom was the most amusing day of my life. Let me explain.

Keep in mind that Sinkovitch charged me for only one reason. I had filed a complaint against him and he read it even though he denied reading my complaint before he charged me.  Incidentally, many other persons during his career in Oakville as a police officer had also filed complaints against him. I guess that when he read my complaint, he was really pissed off at me. It was then that he began to get even with me. As I said earlier, that was his biggest mistake of his career as a police officer. I intended to permanently destroyed his career as a police officer. I will explain that to you in my next article as to how I did it.  

Bob Hopkins made mincemeat of Sinkovitch when he was cross examining him in the witness box. First of all, he asked him if he read my complaint before he decided to charge me with obstructing him by disobeying his order for me to leave the area of the fire.

Sinkovitch denied having read my complaint prior to charging me. Right then and there, he was caught in a lie. When he spoke to me at the scene of the fire, he didn’t ask me where I lived. Further, he didn’t contact the Toronto Sun so he never got that information from that newspaper. That being as it was, he wouldn’t have been able to charge me with anything if he didn’t know where I lived. And yet, he knew where I lived. That was because it was written by me in my complaint—the one he read before he charged me.

Further, he didn’t know what my age was. That was because he didn’t ask me what my age was. When pressed as to how he got my age, he said that it was on my private investigator’s licence.  It isn’t on the licence. Bob handed Sinkovitch my licence and he stared at it for approximately a minute. Bob then asked him, “Constable Sinkovitch. Are you having difficulty finding the year of his birth on his licence?  The cop handed Bob the licence and said, “I don’t think it is there.” Bob smiled at Sinkovitch and asked, “You think?”

Bob continued. “In the Information you filed with the Justice of the Peace in order to lay the charge against my client, you wrote that his employment was at 185 Dundas Street West in Mississauga. Is that the address of his employment?” He replied, Yes it is.’ Bob asked sarcastically, “How do you know that is the address of his employment?” He replied, because he told me.”  He didn’t ask me and I didn’t tell him on my own volition that I worked at 185 Dundas Street in Mississauga.  

Bob then asked him if he went to that address to serve me with the summons since it was much closer to him than my home was.  Sinkovitch opened his police note book and slowly flipped the pages. He was stalling for time trying to figure how he would answer that question. As the minutes slipped by, I purposely began snoring as if I was asleep or alternatively, bored with the long wait.  This made Sinkovitch even more nervous. 

Bob said in a smooth voice to Sinkovitch. “Take as much time as you want, Constable Sinkovitch, We will still be here when you finally find what you are looking for.” 

Sinkovitch made a terrible blunder when he pulled out his notebook. The law in Canada is; if a police officer pulls out his notebook during a trial, the defence has the right to look at his notebook right then and there.

Bob looked at the part of the book where his entries for the day of the fire would be written. He then said, “Constable Sinkovitch. There is nothing in your notebook about you meeting with Mister Batchelor. Why is that?”

Sinkovitch replied, “It is at the last page of my notebook.”   “UHH?” Why would any police officer make an entry in the last page of his note book when there are empty pages ahead of the previous entry?  Let me tell you what he really did.

My complaint wouldn’t have arrived at the Police headquarters for at least two days after I mailed it. Then the chief of police would look at it and then have it sent to the detachment that Sinkovitch would be working out of. Meanwhile Sinkovitch would have been making several entries in his notebook during those two days. It would seem rather strange if his notes about me were placed in his notebook at least two days after he placed other entries during the two days prior to him reading my complaint. He knew the dilemma he was in. I could see it on his face which was by then a deep red.

The judge knew that the prosecutor was going to have a difficult time trying to convict me. He said to the prosecutor. “The officer said that he was keeping people away from the propane tank that was about fifty feet from the fire. Since the propane is an explosive substance, the officer had the authority to order Mister Batchelor from the immediate area of the tank and if Mr. Batchelor didn’t obey him, then he was obstructing the officer.”

The judge did a very wrong thing when he made that statement. It is not the role of a judge to advise a prosecutor on how he should conduct his case. Sinkovitch was still on the stand and he said to the judge, “That’s why I ordered him out of the area.” That was another lie because he said nothing to me about the propane tank.

I had previously assumed that Sinkovitch may testify that he ordered all non-firemen out of the area as it was too dangerous to be near the fire so I did an investigation and found a Salvation Army Captain who told me that he and his two young children was permitted  to move in quite close to the fire.  I subpoenaed the captain and he testified on my behalf. He said that Sinkovitch didn’t order him or his two small children from the scene of the fire and they were closer to the fire than I was. When Bob asked Sinkovitch why, he replied, “They were giving sandwiches to the fireman.” Sinkovitch was implying that it was too dangerous for me to be in the area of the fire but not too dangerous for two small kids to be in the immediate area of the fire.

The judge adjourned the trial and said we were to return a month later. The prosecutor asked me and my lawyer to join him in his office to discuss his strategy for the next time we were in court. He directed his next statement to me since he knew by then that it was me who would research the legal issue for my defence then I would give it to Bob. 

I was well versed on law. When Ontario Legal Aid began in Ontario in 1969, it comprised of the director, his secretary and me. I also studied criminal law for two years at the University of Toronto as part of the criminology program I was taking. I was also asked by Humber College to tutor some of their paralegal students 20 days a month on how to research law.

When my lawyer and I told the prosecutor that  I was going to plead guilty. (we were only teasing him) the prosecutor exclaimed. “Please don’t do that.” The prosecutor told us that my case was an interesting case because the issue of the rights of newspaper person attending at a large disaster was an important issue to deal with. He also suggested to me that I research the law about explosives because that was going to be a major part of his argument during the next day of my trial.  

I am also renowned at telling good jokes and while Bob and the prosecutor were laughing at one of my jokes, someone knocked on the door. The prosecutor said, “ENTER.” In walked Sinkovitch. Can you imagine the surprise on his face when he saw the three of us drinking Cokes and had heard all three of us laughing before he came into the office? The prosecutor said to Sinkovitch, “’We’re busy.” Sinkovitch turned without a word and walked out of the building while probably wondering what the hell was going on between the three of us.  Obviously the prosecutor didn’t want to talk with his only witness who was clearly a bald-faced liar.  

The next day, I drove to York University and began my search in the law school’s huge law library.  I found an American case in which a Superior Court judge ruled that just because gasoline can explode; it is not made for that purpose since it is only made to burn in engines. Therefore it is not an explosive substance. 

Section 2(a) The Canadian Criminal Code defines “explosive substance” as being anything that is used or adapted for the purpose of causing an explosion. The section included bombs, grenades etc. Obviously, propane isn’t made for the purpose of causing an explosive; hence it is not an explosive substance.

A month later, my lawyer raised that issue and quoted the decision of the court in the US. Now brace yourself for the decision of Judge Sharp.

He responded to Bob’s argument by saying; “I am not interested in an American decision.” Judges in Canada often refer to American decisions if the decision is given by a higher court than their court. 

He convicted me and gave me a $20o fine. I asked another lawyer to file my appeal but he missed the deadline so I was stuck with paying the fine. Later, I was pardoned by the Federal cabinet on the same day as my birthday. Years after that, the record of my conviction was completely destroyed on orders of the Federal cabinet.

On the night of November 10, 1979, a 106-car Canadian Pacific freight train was derailed in at Mavis Road, north of Dundas Street in Mississauga, Ontario.  As a result of the subsequent explosion, when one of the tank cars carrying propane exploded, and because other tank cars were carrying chlorine, the decision was made to evacuate all of the residents of Mississauga which became one of the largest peace time evacuations in history. Some people didn’t want to leave their homes.

I wrote Roy McMurtry who at that time was the solicitor/Attorney General of Ontario and later the chief justice of Ontario. I asked him if the propane was classed as an explosive substance. He wrote me back and said that it wasn’t classed as an explosive substance.

Sinkovitch spoke to my lawyer and he told him that he wished that he had never met me. Little did he know then that I never, ever forgive someone who has done me wrong and has refused to make amends and apologize to me. As far as I was concerned, I was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode in Sinkovitch’s  face. 

In my next article that follows this one, I will describe how I destroyed this disgusting cop’s police career after he became a chief of police. 

No comments: