Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Fake News Awards - Lloyd Billingsley

by Lloyd Billingsley

Canadian cold case story could be a contender.

Democrat presidential contender Tulsi Gabbard is a Russian asset, Hillary Clinton claims, the same bogus charge that surged against Donald Trump for the past three years. Actor Jussie Smollett claimed two white men in MAGA hats attacked him in Chicago. And so on. The fake news field is highly competitive, but a prime contender could be a story out of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

In May of 1971, an unknown person or persons abducted six-year-old Ljubica Topic. Police found Ljubica’s body, covered in blood, but no clues as to who had sexually assaulted, beaten and murdered the child.

A vast manhunt rendered no leads and across the decades more than 500 “persons of interest” failed to turn up the killer.  Nearly 50 years after one of the worst crimes in Canadian history, a December 14 Windsor Star story by Trevor Wilhelm came headlined  “Windsor police solve five-decade-old murder of six-year-old girl.”

As the story revealed, Topic’s murderer was “never even on investigators’ radar” until a new lead in recent months. Detective Scott Chapman “would not reveal what the lead was” but said a DNA test solved the case.

Chapman said “this man’s DNA matched separate sources of DNA from the crime scene” and “we are certain that he is the person responsible.” As Chapman explained, “we know exactly who it was,” so after all this time, who was this man who killed six-year-old Ljubica Topic?

“While police now know who the killer is,” Wilhelm wrote, “they won’t reveal his identity.” Police are “keeping the killer’s name a secret for privacy reasons, because he’s dead and they can’t charge him.” Further, “in the interest of keeping his identity a secret, police also would not say exactly when he died, except that it was ‘recently.’”

As police explained, the man was 22 years old when he killed the child. The murderer lived in the same neighborhood as Ljubica’s family but was “a stranger to them,” according to Chapman. And the perpetrator “also spent time out west during the 1970s before finally settling there.” Where, exactly, “out west,” was not revealed.

It was as though, across the river, the Detroit Free Press ran a headline, “Jimmy Hoffa’s Killer and Gravesite Found,” with police declining to identify the killer or point out where Hoffa is buried. Fake news like that would launch plenty of pushback, hard to find on the Windsor story.

Trevor Wilhelm reported what the police claimed but did not mention any demand to see the evidence or get the name. Likewise, the Star reporter did not seek review of the evidence from the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) or Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). 

The OPP and RCMP made no demands of their own, and no word from Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey or Premier Doug Ford. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who spoke out on a hijab hoax in Toronto, was silent over the news on Ljubica Topic, victim of an actual crime.

In similar style, the Windsor Star did not file a lawsuit demanding that police reveal the identity of Topic’s killer. The only one to push back was former police officer Michael Arntfeld, a criminology professor at the University of Western Ontario.

“Are you telling me a sexual murderer of a child posthumously has more rights than the public right to know who this is?” Arntfeld told Wilhelm. Windsor police were claiming that the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, a person maintains privacy rights for 30 years after death. For Arntfeld, this is nonsense and there is “no defensible reason” to withhold the identity.

“The law is clear and this is across North America,” the criminologist explained, “in fact, essentially the G7. You cannot libel a dead person and a dead person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.” The refusal to identify the killer “casts a pall over the success in that there is really no public closure or resolution, and now dozens of other unanswered questions.”

In Windsor and across Canada, anybody could be forgiven for believing the police have nobody for Topic’s murder. Windsor police have other difficulties identifying murder suspects and keeping the public informed.

In October, 2017, Anne Wildholm, 75, suffered a vicious attack during a Sunday stroll. “In my 12 years in Windsor, this is the most severe beating I’ve seen,” neurosurgeon Dr. Balraj Jhawar told the Windsor Star. Police arrested “Windsor man” Habibullah Ahmadi, 21, but his booking photo never appeared and no details emerged about him, including his possible motive.

Widholm died from her wounds in December, 2018. The charges were then upgraded to second-degree murder but the trial reported for January, 2019, did not take place. No details or dates emerged for the preliminary hearing and the trial has now been slated for March 16, 2020, and moved to Chatham, in Kent County.

If anybody believed that police have a different standard for people like Habibullah Ahmadi it would be hard to blame them. Double standards and fake news have consequences. For Anne Widholm and Ljubica Topic, justice delayed is justice denied.

Lloyd Billingsley


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