Tracy's blog

I’m Tracy Au and I have graduated from the Professional Writing program from university. I am an aspiring screenwriter, so this blog is used to promote my writing and attract people who will hire me to write for your TV show or movie. I write a lot about writing, TV, movies, jokes, and my daily life and opinions. I have another blog promoting my TV project at

Sunday, January 31, 2016

"How to give customers a nudge"/ "I was laid off is it too late to claim long term disability"

Nov. 23, 2015  "How to give customers a nudge": I cut out this article by Harvey Schachter in the Globe and Mail on Sept. 21, 2015.  This is like a psychology article:

A lawyer, an economist, a marketer, and a behavioural scientist walk into a bar.
This isn’t a joke but a way that University of Toronto professor Dilip Soman helps illuminate important changes in recent years in marketing.

The bartender, he continues, shares a serious problem: “If I want to get people to move from Option A to Option B, how can I do that?” The shift might be anything from an attempt to dissuade individuals from drinking large-sized soda drinks or to get them to order a more profitable beer at the bar.

The lawyer has a quick answer: Make it illegal to choose Option A. Assuming no other alternatives, Option B will be picked. That’s valid, Prof. Soman notes, even for companies selling products: They could make Option A unavailable, assuming they control it.

The economist doesn’t believe we need to ban anything. Incentives can do the trick, with some kind of economic tax on choosing A or economic benefit for choosing B. Companies, for example, could offer a discount or some loyalty points for buying B.

The marketer instinctively is inclined to suggest another approach: Advertising. People probably aren’t choosing Option B as they don’t know about it or understand why it’s superior. The advertising industry is framed around the premise that if you provide the public with the right information and a compelling reason to buy Option B, it will succeed.

Finally, it is the behavioural scientist’s turn. His recommendation is simply to make it easy for people to choose Option B. Create a world in which it’s harder to choose Option A than B. Give people a nudge.

The story elaborates on an incident a few years ago, when Prof. Soman, who teaches a behavioural science course to his marketing students, was in a bar with an economist, discussing choice.

He uses it in his new book, The Last Mile, because it illuminates the struggles that corporations, governments and social agencies face when persuading people to pick the preferred option.

In the past, economics and marketing ruled (with governments, of course, resorting to bans at times). Universities taught that “rational economic man” would make sound choices based on information and price. But now we know that simply isn’t true. First, the number of choices before us can sometimes be bewildering. When Prof. Soman was a kid, he had two choices of bread at the grocery store; now he faces about 60 alternatives. As well, human beings are irrational. We can be nudged, as many behavioural studies show.

If you’re selling an eight-ounce cup of coffee and a 12-ounce cup, for example, and want to increase sales of the latter, just add a third choice, 16-ounce. When three choices are offered, studies show people prefer the middle one. Context matters.

Prof. Soman says that we need to be alert to behavioural research and figure out how to use it effectively. He calls it the last mile problem. The first mile for organizations are their many activities to get a product to the marketplace, such as R&D and organizational processes. The last mile is when consumers make contact with the product or service – how it is presented in stores or online to them. “We have spent way too much time thinking about the first mile and not enough on the last mile,” he said in an interview.

He believes there are three pillars of human decision-making. One is how context influences our decision-making, whether the three sizes of coffee cups, putting healthy foods at eye level, or using smaller plates to encourage less food consumption. The second is explained by Isaac Newton’s laws of motion: A body at rest will continue to be at rest unless it is given an external push, and a body that is moving continues until some external force slows it down. People will continue with their default behaviour – what they prefer – unless pushed to do something differently.

The third pillar for understanding behaviour is intertemporal choice – how choice at one period of time influences choice at another time. For Prof. Soman, it is tied to a comment in one of his favourite books, Magical Thinking, by Augusten Burroughs: “I myself am made entirely of flaws stitched together with good intentions.” Or as Prof. Soman puts it in his own book: “Everyone intends to be good, everybody intends to eat healthy food, everybody intends to save more for the future. It is just that life gets in the way and they don’t act on their good intentions.”

If you intend to follow the advice of the behavioural scientist in the bar, Prof. Soman urges you to run tests in order to understand what is influencing your clients. “In the last mile, everything in the context matters – the displays in the store, the sequence in which the choices are seen – everything. It’s critically important to test, and keep testing,” he said in the interview. Keep in mind that much of the success of a new product or policy comes in that last mile, the land of behavioural choice.

"I was laid off is it too late to claim long term disability": I cut out this article in the Globe and Mail on Sept. 21, 2015:

Inline image

I am a 54-year-old woman. I worked for Company A from 1996 to 2006, then moved to Company B and while there, collected long-term disability payments from 2007 to 2009. I returned to the original company in 2012 and was let go in February of 2015. My contract guaranteed severance, and after some back and forth, they paid me that amount. But my pre-existing health issues have since returned. I can’t find other work and my doctor says that I should be on long-term disability, but the company says that benefit is no longer available. What are my options?


Bill Howatt
Chief research and development officer, workforce productivity, Morneau Shepell, Toronto

At this point, you are doing the right thing: Exploring your options by asking good questions. This is one of the best approaches when one is stuck. By asking others for their point of view, you may be able to shed light on issues you have not thought of before. There’s a normal grieving process when one’s health slips, but what one thinks and chooses to do ultimately defines one’s quality of life.

As you obtain options, it is advisable to write out the problem you want to solve and why. This will position you to determine what a minimal, viable solution looks like, and as you get your facts, you will be able to make an informed decision about where and how you want to spend your energy.

It appears that your work situation has ended as well as it can. However, if you still feel you have further entitlements, one option is to investigate this with an employment lawyer.

If you are convinced you can no longer work, the focus now appears to be on your health. What financial and emotional support can you get to stabilize or improve your short-and long-term quality of life? You may decide your priority is to put in place an action place that meets your minimal financial needs, and to focus your energy and efforts on what you can to do stabilize your health, improve it, or at least prevent any decline in your condition.


Daniel LublinEmployment lawyer, Whitten & Lublin, Toronto

Following a termination, employers have several obligations to continue health benefits, including long-term disability benefits, for a certain period of time but not forever. Once that obligation ends, if an employee is ill or injured, it is too late to make any claims under their former benefits plan or against the ex-employer.

Employers generally have to continue all benefits the employee held while employed for a reasonable period of time following termination. This time frame is determined by various factors, such as an employee’s age, tenure and position, the provincial employment standards legislation, any contractual agreement signed, an agreement made at the time of termination or a time frame set by a court.

In cases where employers have not continued all benefits for a fair or contractually required time period and ex-employees can prove that they would have otherwise received insurance or disability insurance coverage had those benefits been continued, courts have awarded damages against employers to compensate the employee for the lost benefits.

However, if an illness or injury occurs following the time frame when benefits should have been continued, then the employer and insurance company are no longer responsible to pay out any benefits. For any just-dismissed employee, this is one of the most important reasons to ensure that benefits continuation or replacement benefits are put into place.

"Need advice? Pitfalls to avoid"/ "I haven't had a full time job in three years"

Nov. 23, 2015 "Need advice?  Pitfalls to avoid": I cut out this article by Harvey Schachter in the Globe and Mail on Mar. 2, 2015.  I like this article, because it's helpful.  I do ask my friends, family, and co-workers for advice usually regarding if a job is a scam or not:

Seeking advice is commonplace in management – so routine we don’t realize how difficult a skill it actually is. Choosing the wrong adviser, failing to explain the context adequately to them, and not weighing the advice properly are among the ways we can blow this seemingly easy managerial task.

And it usually happens in high-stakes situations, where we have identified a decision as difficult and sought counsel. “Part and parcel of making a good decision is knowing how to get good advice,” Joshua Margolis, a professor at Harvard Business School, said in an interview.

Over the years, Prof. Margolis found that one colleague’s advice seemed to tower over that offered by everyone else he consulted at the business school. So when the chance came to study the art of receiving and giving advice with that colleague, David Garvin, he was delighted, and the result of their collaboration was a recent article in Harvard Business Review offering ample advice.

Here’s where they feel we mess up:

1. Thinking you already have the answers

As people assess whether to seek advice – and how to weigh what comes forth – they are often overconfident about their own abilities. “You don’t even feel you need to reach out for advice, or do it half-heartedly, believing you can make the decision yourself. Or you reach out for affirmation of what you intend to do,” Prof. Margolis said in the interview. This can be common, with advice-seeking merely a pretext to reach out for a figurative pat on the back.

2. Choosing the wrong advisers

Often we seek like-minded advisers, failing to think creatively about the expertise we need. Studies also show we are more receptive to advice from people who are likeable, friendly and unthreatening. In a sense, Prof. Garvin said, their personality traits become proxies in our mind for the quality of the advice being received. “Pick a portfolio of advisers with different expertise who will tell you the unvarnished truth. If all you get is a pat on the back, it’s probably not good advice,” he said. His mentor, the late Harvard Professor Roland Christensen, used to tell him: “When you pick your advisers, you pick your advice.”

3. Defining the problem poorly

If your advisers don’t properly understand the issue, they can’t offer solid counsel. Often, advice seekers are uncomfortable laying out parts of the situation that doesn’t show them in a good light, like the person asking for help with a hostile boss who fails to mention screwing up on the last big project.

Executives take the political situation they are embroiled in for granted, but it needs to be spelled out to advisers. A Goldilocks approach is needed here, not weighing the adviser down with too many details but also not being too sparse with information.

When offering advice, Prof. Garvin always asks: “Is there anything you may have done to contribute to the problem?”

Make sure you give your advisers the real deal.

4. Discounting advice

After receiving advice, too often we undervalue or dismiss it. We succumb to an “egocentric bias,” putting more stock in our own brilliance than the views of others. Research has, in fact, put a number to this discounting: When individuals are given estimation tasks and then told the assessments of experts, they will only change their initial evaluation by 30 per cent in direction of the advice. So we discount by something in the order of 70 per cent.

Adding to this tendency is that we know our own reasoning for such decisions but often the advice from others comes without specific reasoning – so ask about that pattern of thinking, to help you weigh the ideas. “People feel they are truly reaching out for advice. They don’t realize that this is happening – they are discounting the advice they get,” Prof. Margolis said.

5. Misjudging the quality of the advice

Research shows that we value advice more if it comes from a confident source, even though that’s no sign of accuracy. When advice breaks from the norm, we’re skeptical. In essence, we’re judging the advisers or the situation more than the advice. We also don’t properly account for conflicts of interest; when a counsellor mentions a conflict, we assume that shows they are unbiased, when we need to beware the advice isn’t tainted.

Giving advice is also fraught with dangers. Prof. Garvin highlights the failing of offering self-centred advice – ideas that assume the other person is you, rather than tailoring ideas to them and their situation. Prof. Margolis warns against assuming the problem brought to you is similar or identical to a situation you experienced previously. That can lead you to rush in with anecdotes and war stories, obscuring the complicated texture of the actual problem.

Over all, they urge you to be deliberate and systematic in seeking advice. Set up a diverse group of advisers and pick the appropriate ones for the situation. Also, remember that things are not always what they appear to be. Confident advisers are not necessarily better. You may not have explained the problem sufficiently. You may not understand the reasoning for advice that seems off-kilter.
“Dig deeper,” Prof. Garvin concludes.

"I haven't had a full time job in three years": I cut out this article in the Globe and Mail on Mar. 2, 2015:

I am a 51-year-old woman who has worked as a secretary for 33 years.
I was badly bullied at a job almost three years ago and I was fired. It took me seven months to find another job, which I stayed at for three months. I then was offered a job working for an organization to end homelessness. It was, I thought, my dream job. I was also bullied out of that job.

As a result, I have not been able to get another full-time job for almost three years. I work in Alberta and the drop in the price of oil has hit the province hard.
I have been barely hanging on, working very low-paying temp jobs. How do I move back into a job with reasonable pay that fits my experience?


Julie Labrie
President of BlueSky Personnel Solutions, Toronto

You can’t change a bully’s behaviour, and you cannot change what has already happened. You can, however, change your perspective on your position today. To move past your current obstacle, you must stop thinking of yourself as a bullying victim, and start thinking of yourself as a survivor.

Employers look for job candidates who have a winning attitude and confidence. If you come to an interview in a negative frame of mind, they will pick up on it immediately and interpret it as a “blaming” attitude. They will read it in your body language, tone of voice, vocabulary, and even small facial expressions – elements that come naturally to us and are difficult to control. Employers do not want to hire negative employees.

To get that full-time job, concentrate on the positive side of your current situation. You are working hard to put food on the table, but beyond that, tell prospective employers that you have taken on some temporary opportunities to gain experience in different areas, as you look for the right fit. Remember, too, that temporary roles often turn into permanent jobs.

In regard to your work history, turn the termination into a positive – that is, it was better for both parties since things weren’t working out. Avoid the word “bullying” and shine the spotlight on all of the great work experience you have amassed over 33 years.

When you focus positively on your accomplishments, employers will follow your lead, and that’s what will make you most attractive to hiring managers.


Zuleika Sgro
Human resources partner and talent manager,, Toronto

Workplace bullying is a growing concern. Certainly the biggest opportunity to move forward is to focus on your growth from the experience.

I strongly encourage you, if you are faced with bullying in the future to ensure you document the occurrences and seek support to deal with the situation from the company’s human resources department or your manager. There are mandated procedures in place to investigate such claims and provide you support.

To move forward, I recommend that you update your skills through continuing education programs to ensure your qualifications continue to meet market needs. Also reflect on transferable skills perhaps gained even outside of work. Many times we believe that since we have been in a certain role for many years, this is the only job we can do. This is often not the case.

Challenge yourself to gain new skills relative to where the jobs are, and don’t lose hope. You may find new motivation and fulfilment from learning new skills, and in turn be more marketable where you live.

I would also encourage you to apply to positions outside Alberta, to expand your options.

"The ballad of Daniel Wolfe"

Dec. 20, 2015 "The ballad of Daniel Wolfe": I cut out this long profile by Joe Friesen in the Globe and Mail on Jun. 18, 2011.  It's a very well- written article about a criminal.  However, he did have a kind heart when he died trying to help someone when he was in jail.

I'm sure there are a lot of conflict.  Some of you are saying he's a gang member and some may say he was growing up in a poor childhood:

The guards at Regina Correctional Centre had just finished the evening cell check when Daniel Wolfe tapped his younger half-brother on the shoulder and told him to get ready. The escape was on.

Small and wiry, with long hair and glasses, Daniel had been anticipating this moment for four months. He'd realized there was a two-metre blind spot at the end of the long corridor that housed the prison unit – a place not covered by the security camera. So that was where he'd decided to dig.

Using nail clippers, he'd unscrewed the cover of a heating vent directly beneath the camera. Then he and his half-brother, Preston Buffalocalf, had started prying and scraping at the wall behind it with a kind of mini-crowbar they'd made by breaking off a piece of a metal table.

They would dig for an hour each night after dinner, while other inmates did calisthenics to distract the guards. It had taken a month and a half just to get through the steel plate at the back of the heater. Then it was weeks of chipping away at the cinder block with a homemade chisel. They stuck a piece of fabric from a winter coat behind the grill to hide their progress. And they flushed the dust and debris down the toilet.

“I thought that we'd get caught in the act. All the banging, all the noise, the dust all over us,” Mr. Buffalocalf says.

Accused murderers almost never break out of jail. But Daniel, awaiting trial and facing the certainty of life in prison, had thought about little else since his arrest in January, 2008.

Daniel was a leader – and not only in the prison block. Although he had barely a Grade 6 education, he was sharp, often charming, and ruthless. When he was just 12, he and his older brother had founded a gang that became the largest in Canada, with a manifesto that called for reclaiming native pride by force. While still in their teens, they were burning through hundreds of thousands of dollars from an expanding criminal empire.

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.

1976: Born under a bad sign

Susan Creeley was drinking the night Daniel Wolfe was born. She says she drank almost every night in those days, the summer of 1976. Just 18, she finished an entire bottle of Five Star whisky before giving birth at a Regina hospital. Daniel was small and weak, three months premature. He was her second son. Her first was Richard, a year older. They were each named for their father, Richard Daniel Wolfe.

Ms. Creeley is now 53, and sober since 1999. She has a job and has immersed herself in native spirituality. But at age 5, like thousands of other native kids, she was taken away to residential school, where she suffered sexual and physical abuse.

“It has made my life a miserable life,” she says. “I started drinking heavily when I was 12, 13 years old. That was killing the pain.” At that age, she escaped the school and ran to the city. She survived on welfare, living with her sister, until she met her future husband: “He was old enough to drink and I wanted to go drinking. That's what I wanted to do, any place, any time.”

A few years after Daniel's birth, they moved to Winnipeg. Ms. Creeley and her husband, also a residential-school survivor, struggled with poverty and addiction. Their home was loving but often violent.

From time to time, Daniel and Richard were taken to foster homes. They always ran away – sometimes back home, more often to the streets.

Richard, who was released from the penitentiary last fall after serving 15 years, says he and his younger brother were inseparable as kids. Daniel was the risk-taker with the infectious sense of humour. Richard was ambitious and thoughtful.

They would stay out late, completely unsupervised. When they were 8 or 9, the boys and a few friends were at a department store downtown at closing time. They hid under a pile of coats until the store emptied and had the run of the toy department until they were discovered by a guard.

A year or two later, they stole a van and drove from Winnipeg to Regina. While Richard took the wheel, he remembers, Daniel crouched on the floor to operate the gas pedal. They had been gone a week when the police caught up to them.

Richard says he was arrested 20 times before he was 12 years old.

“I remember when the cops used to bring them home, I'd say, ‘Okay,'” Ms. Creeley says. “I more or less let them live their own lives. Whenever a problem came at me, I picked up the bottle.”

One moment that left an indelible mark was the day the Wolfe brothers saw the
ir mother in hospital, beaten black and blue by their father. “We were pissed off,” Richard says. “We both wanted to hurt him. I think he took off to Saskatchewan after that. … Every time I tried to find out where he was, people said he's on the street or he's drinking.”

1988: The advent of the Indian Posse

The gang that would brutalize so many Canadian native communities was born in the Wolfe family home on a summer's day in Winnipeg in 1988. There were seven founding members, all of them native and from similarly poor families. They lived in the neighbourhood just south of the rail yards that divide Winnipeg. Daniel, 12, was the youngest.

They hit on the name “Posse” while flipping through the pages of a hip-hop magazine. They chose Indian, rather than native, much the way black rap groups often defiantly labelled themselves with the N-word. “It was about us Indians sticking together at the time. Because we were looked down on,” Richard says. “We were living under the same roofs, had the same struggles: No food in the fridge. Empty beer bottles in the house. People coming over for hours at a time at night and you don't even know who the hell they are.”

Richard was 13 when he bought his first handgun. He took it to school tucked in to the back of his pants. Soon he was keeping an AK-47 hidden in a heating vent at home. “Even back then, I was skipping classes and doing scores. Every time I had to report back to the youth [correctional] centre, I always had money and dope on me. Sometimes, if I had to drive there, I stole a car,” Richard says.

The brothers' academic career ended shortly after that. But their criminal careers were just taking off.

They got their start in car stereos. The going rate was $100 and there was a buyer in Chinatown. From there, they graduated to break-ins and armed robbery, in which they excelled.

“When we first started dealing with [the Indian Posse] they were pretty much just robbery crews. They were doing bingo halls, gas bars, convenience stores, banks,” Winnipeg Police Constable Nick Leone says. “Even back then, they were very violent, as far as street gangs went.”

Gangs are a fact of life in many cities today. But that wasn't always the case. An academic study found almost no mention of gangs in Winnipeg from the demise of the Dew Drop Gang around 1950 until the mid-1980s, just before the dawn of the major native gangs: the Indian Posse, the Manitoba Warriors and the Native Syndicate. As the Posse's origins show, there was an influence from the era's African-American gang images. But mainly it was the situation of urban aboriginal populations, which included people who were overwhelmingly poor, with significant drug, alcohol and domestic violence problems. The children of that generation formed gangs, surrogate families, to fill the void.

In 1991, at 15 and 14, Richard and Daniel started selling drugs. “That's when we had to start making money to pay the rent,” Richard says. “The stereos were good for cash to buy [sneakers] and stuff, but to actually have a house we needed to move up and make some money.” They moved to a rented house away from their mother, who admits now that she was lost in a fog of drugs and alcohol.

The Posse spread quickly to the north and west ends of Winnipeg, where it faced rivals. Like any business, it was either grow or die, Richard says. He remembers IP members taking one independent-minded rival for a ride one night. They drove to some woods out of town, handed him a shovel and told him to dig his own grave. They'd seen bikers do this. “That really works, you know,” Richard says. The man survived, but his gang was theirs.
Daniel had an even more direct approach to conflict, Richard says. Although drive-by shootings were common in those days, Daniel thought they were “soft.” He preferred “walk-bys.”

After expanding across Winnipeg, the gang made its next breakthrough on the reserves. In the remote communities of Canada's North, drugs sold for three to five times their price in the city. With almost universal unemployment and widespread despair, the market was insatiable. And as the Posse's brand grew, kids eagerly joined up.

“You [didn't] even need to make recruiting trips to these reserves,” Richard says.

1994: Where did all the money go?

By the time Richard was 19, he was making $15,000 to $30,000 a week, roughly a million dollars a year. The people under him were expected to “kick up” 35 per cent of what they made selling drugs. He was also running the gang's prostitution business. Richard (who was higher in the gang than Daniel at the time) says he disapproved of prostitution, but the money was too good to pass up. The gang muscled out the existing pimps, improved the women's take from 25 per cent to 40 per cent and made $3,000 to $5,000 a night running 10 girls.

Of course, there were costs associated with all that income. Some was used to rent gang houses and set up a fund to pay defence lawyers. Richard admits he also had a weakness for gambling. But police say one of the puzzling aspects of the IP has been its inability to develop the more sophisticated techniques of traditional organized crime.

“There's no discipline to save cash and accrue assets. No education to rely on for cash management,” says Sergeant Mike MacKinnon of Winnipeg's organized-crime unit. “You might pull them over and they'll have $10,000 or $15,000 on them, but at the end of the day that's money already spent. … We haven't seen anyone moving up into buying large condos or anything like that. They still live in the neighbourhoods they always lived in.”

Richard, who left the gang years ago, is quiet when asked where all the money went. Is there a Swiss bank account? He chuckles.

He says they used to talk about investing in youngsters who could go to university and infiltrate the police force and the Crown's office. As with many organizations, recruiting and promoting the right people was a challenge. Daniel was one of the gang's top recruiters, but he complained in a prison letter to Richard in 2000 that there were “too many f-----up people recruiting f---- up people.” It was causing “a lot of shit,” he said.

IP recruits, Richard says, are often kids with disastrous home lives, out on the street late at night, looking for any place to belong. They might be tough enough to survive the initiation, but they bring their own baggage. It's better to find a smart kid: “The smart guy can be a tough guy when the time comes, but not vice versa,” he says. “The smart guys usually stay out of gangs, though.”

On the whole, street gangs occupy the bottom rung of the organized-crime pecking order. They handle high-risk tasks such as street-level drug dealing and they pay steep prices to buy drugs from higher up the food chain. And even in the underworld, as at every other social level in Canada, natives are discriminated against, according to one study: They're relegated to less lucrative, less enduring criminal opportunities.

1995: All the wrong moves

Richard Wolfe settles into a booth at a Regina pizza place wearing dark glasses, and orders a small Hawaiian pizza. In person, he is a large, imposing presence, though with a quiet demeanour. His extensive tattoos peek out from the sleeves of his black shirt, which is buttoned to the top in the style of a 1990s Los Angeles gangster.

Most young IP recruits start with a small tattoo on one hand, which they receive once they complete their first mission. Richard has four shields tattooed near his neck. Three shields is the sign of a captain, someone with roughly 25 people under him. He won't say what four means.

His personal downfall happened very quickly, he explains. In 1995, the owner of a Winnipeg pizza joint owed him $60,000 and wasn't paying. Word went around in criminal circles that Richard had no credibility. His reputation was at stake.

He called the pizza place and made an order for delivery: Hawaiian. He was expecting the pizza box to contain his $60,000, in cash. But he also decided to send a message: When the delivery car came, he ambushed it and opened fire. The driver survived, and Richard was arrested for attempted murder.

Before the trial, Daniel tried to come to his big brother's rescue. He took a sawed-off shotgun to the homes of two witnesses, threatening to kill them if they testified. They reported him and Daniel was sentenced to two years for attempting to obstruct justice. Richard got 19 years, an exceptionally long sentence for attempted murder. When he was led out of the courtroom, he recalls, a line of police stood and applauded.

The shooting was stupid, he says now. Normally underlings handle debt collection. “I lost my cool. There were lots of people mad at me for that.”

Daniel served his time, then soon wound up back behind bars. In 1999, he went down for armed robbery, sentenced to eight years.

Prison was nothing new for the Wolfe brothers. Daniel had first gone to jail in 1989, aged 13, and averaged nearly a sentence a year until he turned 19. Each time, he met people inside, and the force of his personality drew them to the Indian Posse. It's no wonder recruitment was good: Aboriginal people make up 22 per cent of admissions to sentenced custody (by 2007-08 numbers), despite being only 3 per cent of the population. They also make up 21 per cent of youth-gang members.

By the late 1990s, the Indian Posse had more than 1,000 members, perhaps as many as 3,000. And they weren't alone. The other large aboriginal gangs – the Native Syndicate, primarily in Saskatchewan, and the Warriors in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba – had several hundred each.

Prison officials tried to dilute the gang's influence in Manitoba jails by sending some IP members outside the province, including Richard and Daniel. But that only helped the gang expand nationally, first across the Prairies and then to B.C and Ontario.

Although the first IP members were all native, expansion brought cultural mixing. The first person to break the colour barrier was Ron Taylor, a black kid who knew the Wolfe brothers in Winnipeg. His gang nickname used the N-word – affectionately, Richard claims. (Mr. Taylor was murdered in prison in 2005.) Richard says he had no problem with letting in non-natives. Daniel wasn't so sure. In a 2006 letter, he wrote, “Every other family's numbers are up except ours [so] we had to swallow some of our pride and open the door. So now we got white, black, might as well say all nations … Bro I never thought this would happen.”

2007: A bloody day in Saskatchewan

In the summer of 2007, after Daniel was released from his latest round in prison, he moved to his mother's reserve, Okanese, just north of Fort Qu'Appelle, Sask. Police say he was on a recruiting mission.

On Sept. 20 that year, according to court testimony, Christina Cook, 61, returned to Fort Qu'Appelle from a trip to find her daughter and some friends at her home. A few minutes later, two men kicked open the front door. One wore a red bandana over his face. He held a .22-calibre rifle. Jesse Obey was sitting on a couch directly in front of the door. All he saw was the gun barrel, he later testified. The first bullet went through his cheek and blew out his teeth. The next hit the left side of his torso.

The shooter took a step past him to the bedroom, where Ms. Cook and several others were sitting. Sitting across from her, Michael Itittakoose's white hoodie exploded with red. She scrambled to find the phone.

One of the attackers yelled, “Shoot the old lady, she's calling the cops.” The shooter swivelled toward Ms. Cook, and in a fraction of a second, her husband, Marvin Arnault, dove across the room and threw her to the ground.

He asked if she was hurt. No, Ms. Cook replied, she was okay. “You know I love you,” her husband said. “Look after the boys.”

“Are you hurt, Marvin?” she asked.
He said, “I think so.” Mr. Arnault, 51, died at the scene.
Percy Pascal, a friend of the family, was shot nine times and somehow survived. Cordell Keepness took three bullets, including one through the hand.
The gunman lowered his weapon and stepped toward the door. He had fired more than 20 shots. Two people were dead, three others wounded.
“That'll teach them to mess with IP,” he said.

2007-08: Backed into a corner
RCMP Major Crimes Corporal Rob Zentner arrived at the house about three hours after the shooting. He was shocked by what he found.

“There was blood staining on the floor, on the walls. You could see that it had been hysteria in the house. People obviously ran all different directions,” he says. “You could follow their footprints where they had run, and there was bullet holes in the wall and cartridge casings and bullet fragments on the ground.”
For Cpl. Zentner and the rest of the team assembled to investigate the murders, the first step was figuring out what prompted it.

They knew the gunman had mentioned the IP, Cpl. Zentner says. Mr. Pascal, who was in hospital recovering from his wounds, had a Native Syndicate tattoo on his face. It seemed clear that it was a gang shooting.
Witnesses told them that Mr. Pascal had exchanged words earlier that night with a man at a hotel bar. The man had a tattoo that said “Red 'til Dead,” an Indian Posse slogan. Fort Qu'Appelle, a mainly Native Syndicate town, was not friendly territory for the IP. There was an escalation of insults. Mr. Pascal asked the man if he knew that the IP and Native Syndicate were at war.

It looked as though there would be a fight, but Mr. Pascal and company left. A bartender told police that he overheard the man say afterward, “They don't know what's coming for them.” Surveillance footage revealed the man was Daniel Wolfe.

The RCMP now knew they were looking at an experienced criminal. Getting a conviction would be difficult.
The investigators say they decided in January, 2008, that they needed an undercover operation to extract a confession from Daniel: They arrested him and, while he sat in one police cruiser, another cruiser pulled up with an undercover officer handcuffed in the back seat. The uniformed officer in front got out, opened the trunk and made a show of displaying a seized Uzi to his colleagues.

Daniel was then brought inside and interviewed. The RCMP detective told him that Gerard Granbois, suspected of driving Daniel to the shooting scene, had already confessed what happened that night. Daniel said very little. The detective left the room.

Daniel, who was being watched on video, immediately whipped around the desk to see what was on the laptop. He opened a file headed “Granbois Re-enactment” and watched several seconds of Mr. Granbois's (genuine) video statement to police, in which he described the route they had taken the night of the murders. Daniel hurried back to his side of the desk when the detective returned.

Later, he was taken to a two-person cell, which was already occupied by the undercover officer.

“You a biker?” Daniel asked. The undercover told him he was a biker associate and that he was carrying some guns when he got pulled over. He asked what Daniel was in for.

Daniel told him that he was screwed. He had seen the evidence against him and he was going down. “They're gonna give me life,” he said. “F---, I'll be 60, man. That's a long f---ing time.”

He explained about the driver who had been interrogated. “Wonder if he rolled?” the undercover said.

“Yeah, he rolled,” said Daniel. He pointed his finger and thumb in the shape of a gun – he should have killed Mr. Granbois and his 15-year-old accomplice when he had the chance, he said. He knew he had screwed up. The police would have had nothing on him: Not a hair found at the scene, no saliva, no murder weapon.

Daniel said his heart had been pounding when he looked at the detective's computer, but he quickly calmed down. Anxiety was pointless. He knew he was finished.
“That's the life of a gangster,” he said.

2008: The great escape
After four months of digging, it was Sunday, Aug. 24, 2008, when Daniel announced the time had come. Mr. Buffalocalf went quickly to gather blankets and sheets from other inmates. They removed the heater cover and smashed through the remaining bricks with a shower rod. The hole was open for the unit's 17 inmates, nine of them accused of murder. Despite a tip from a police informant that Daniel and company were going out “like in the movies,” none of the 76 corrections officers who moved through the unit detected anything.

“It was a good moment. It was one of those Titanic moments,” Mr. Buffalocalf says, smiling.
Daniel went first. He crawled through the hole and emerged on a narrow ledge three metres above the exercise yard. He shuffled over to an adjacent wall and clambered up, draping blankets over the coils of razor wire to protect himself before jumping to the ground below.

Mr. Buffalocalf went next. He remembers the adrenalin surging through him. He could barely breathe. He hauled himself to the top of the wall, then balked at the six-metre drop. Daniel waved at him from the ground.
“He just told me to jump,” Mr. Buffalocalf says. “Luckily, I didn't get hurt.”

There were still two fences to climb and perimeter guards to avoid. They didn't wait for the four inmates who followed them, but just started running. Mr. Buffalocalf had jogged in the exercise yard and done push-ups for a month to get in shape for this. After five minutes, he was wishing he had trained harder.

Daniel was way ahead of him, running across farm fields on the outskirts of Regina. It was dark, but the ground was flat for miles around and they were worried they would be spotted. They alternated walking and running for about eight kilometres, following the railway tracks and ending up in the city's east end. They hung around back alleys, drank water from a garden hose and racked their brains for a place to stay.

They found a ride to Brandon, Man., within a few hours and spent a fretful, paranoid night in a garage. By morning, Daniel had become the RCMP's top priority.

2008: Outlaw on the run
Daniel considered trying to kill the witnesses who could convict him, but decided against it, Mr. Buffalocalf says. Instead, they made their way to Winnipeg. They were so exhausted by the escape that they rested for a week before doing anything. Their first public outing was to a house party.

“The best part? The girls, man, the girls. There were lots. Coming and going,” Mr. Buffalocalf says. Women were enthralled by Daniel's outlaw aura.

But there were few places to hide. Police in several provinces were squeezing anyone associated with the Indian Posse. They never stayed anywhere for more than two nights. Mr. Buffalocalf eventually made up his mind to head for Saskatchewan. He thought he could survive in the bush. But the police caught up to him first, surrounding the apartment building in Winnipeg where he was staying.

It was over. He called Daniel to say goodbye. Daniel was on his cellphone, watching the standoff from a block away.

“I told him I loved him. I told him to hide, to get out of town,” Mr. Buffalocalf remembers. Daniel continued to elude police for a third week. Tales of possible sightings and futile police raids made him something of a folk hero. His lawyer, Estes Fonkalsrud, listened to the media coverage, wondering whether his client would ever be seen again.

“I was curious whether he was smart enough to disappear,” Mr. Fonkalsrud says. “Would he go, get across the border, never pick up the phone, never refer to himself as Daniel Wolfe again? Or would he end up back in Winnipeg? Well, we know what happened.”

Eventually someone betrayed him: An informer's tip led police to the Winnipeg house where Daniel was hiding. They nabbed him in a car in the North End. He went quietly.

A year later, there was a heavy police presence, including snipers on rooftops, when Daniel's murder trial began at the Regina courthouse. The gang's penchant for intimidating witnesses was by now well known. The Saskatoon police chief said it's not uncommon in Saskatchewan courts to see gang members gesturing that they're going to slash the throat of a witness as he or she takes the stand.

In delivering the verdict, the judge said Daniel convicted himself with his own words.

“This case is evidence of Wolfe's callous disregard for human life. There are no mitigating circumstances,” the judge said. “But for some luck, many more people would have been killed. It ranks as one of the worst of its type in the history of this province.”
Daniel received five life sentences.

2010: The last stand of Daniel Wolfe

In January of 2010, Daniel's mother was driving along a snow-swept prairie road when she saw a white owl perched near the shoulder. “In our spirituality, owls give messages,” Ms. Creeley says. “As I passed, he just turned his head and followed the car. I thought, ‘This is not good.' ”

She was worried about Daniel. He had called to say things were crazy in jail. She pulled over to the side of the road and made an offering of tobacco.

At 12:40 p.m. that day in the federal penitentiary at Prince Albert, Sask., a group of six prisoners launched a choreographed attack on two inmates. In the surveillance video, Daniel can be seen at the back of the room, apparently unaware of what was happening. Senior Crown Attorney John Morrall, who later prosecuted the case, says Daniel was obviously not the target.

But when he noticed the attack, Daniel moved to help one of the victims. He was physically blocked by another inmate. He approached a second time and one of the attackers lashed out at him. A single stab – Mr. Morrall calls it a “get the hell out of here” stab – pierced his chest. Less than a minute later, prison guards fired tear gas to break up the melee. The attackers retreated. As the gas cleared, the two targets lay on the floor bleeding from more than 20 wounds.

Daniel appeared calm on the surveillance video. He sat down at a table near the wounded men and sipped a cup of coffee. He put his slippers back on. After a few minutes, he slumped over and fell to the floor. The wound had sliced a coronary artery. He was dead at 33.

2011: Wrestling with Daniel's ghost

Daniel's death weighs heavily on his older brother. Richard questions the decisions he and his brother made more than two decades ago when they founded the gang.

“I keep going back, thinking, ‘If we didn't make this, would he still be alive?'” he says. “Sometimes I look back and it overwhelms me.”

But he also can't conceal his lingering regard for what they built. “We did feel pride, me and Danny. He always used to tell me, ‘Be proud of who you are.' And I knew what he was talking about, right away. No matter what, when we pass away, 50 years down the road, when they bring up the Indian Posse, they're going to remember our names.”

Pride, in the end, led Daniel to commit the murders that precipitated his downfall. He couldn't allow a rival gang member to disrespect him in public. His life revolved around reputation and ego, and using violence to get what he wanted.

In an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press in 1994, Richard offered a kind of manifesto of the Indian Posse, in which he compared the gang to native warrior societies and talked about spilling the blood of racists.

In the context of the late 1980s and early 1990s – with the armed standoffs at Oka in Quebec and Ipperwash provincial park in Ontario and the death of native leader J.J. Harper at the hands of Winnipeg police – you can see how the rise of the Indian Posse and other native gangs fit an impression of indigenous youth in revolt.

In his letters from prison, Daniel would sometimes sign off with lines such as “F--- Canada, this land is our people,” or he would draw a Canadian flag upside down.

But the vague political ideas of the gang's early years, Richard admits, took a back seat to basic survival. And, he adds, those ideas have no role in the gang today.

Sgt. MacKinnon of the Winnipeg police dismisses the political rhetoric as a convenient way of dressing up brutal crimes committed for personal gain. “If you look at the victims of their homicides, the girls they force into prostitution and the people they sell drugs to, they're victimizing their own people,” he says. “There is nothing cultural about the Indian Posse. The only cultural thing is a gang subculture.”

But the gang's history and the Wolfe brothers' story are significant for what they reveal about the roots of violence and dysfunction in many prairie communities: Richard and Daniel were born into a family that suffered generations of pain as a result of residential schools. Their parents were addicted to alcohol and drugs. They had little supervision or care as children. Their home was violent. Daniel, as his mother acknowledges, almost certainly had fetal-alcohol-spectrum disorder, which impairs judgment and impulse control.

The cost of what they started is almost incalculable. It's a plague that stalks neighbourhoods west from Winnipeg to B.C. and north to the most remote and desolate reserves. The direct, measurable impacts, according to a report by the Saskatchewan Criminal Intelligence Service, are mostly financial: The gang's presence, or even perceived presence, drives down property values, boosts insurance costs and generally diverts resources to crime prevention.

The gang also erodes confidence in public institutions – not only in police and the courts, but in schools and the general possibility of making a living legitimately. It preys on poor people by getting them hooked on drugs or the fast money of prostitution.

And then there are the immense indirect costs, the wasted potential of so many young people who end up dead or in prison when they are capable of so much more – including, no doubt, the Wolfe brothers themselves.

Coda: ‘We have to make that change now'

Daniel's letters to Richard from 1997 to 2007, written in a bubbly script, document the ups and downs of their relationship and the gang. He gives Richard updates on who is locked up and who is dead. There's always news about their family, particularly their younger brother, Preston. Although he was just following in their footsteps, Daniel was critical of Preston's bad behaviour as something that had to be stamped out.

There are also references to Daniel's two children with former girlfriends, whom he rarely saw. The mother of one of his children committed suicide on the Valentine's Day after his death, saying she couldn't live without him. Their child now lives with a grandparent.

The letters also make reference to their father, Richard Wolfe: “I haven't seen dad yet, but that's nothing new,” Daniel wrote from prison in 1998. Later, he wrote that their father was in a Saskatchewan paper because he stabbed a friend to death after a day spent drinking hairspray. According to the report, it was his 55th conviction.

Toward the end, Daniel began reassessing his life. He talked about leaving the gang. In 2007, he wrote to Richard from the Regina Correctional Centre: “We're not getting any younger bro. We have to make that change now. I told mom to show me the way on that road, so now I have to chill on all that other sh--!”
He never made those changes.

Sgt. MacKinnon says that although Daniel is dead, and although there have been a number of high-profile Indian Posse members sent to jail recently, the gang remains a top priority for police. And that's not likely to change.

“We'd be naive if we thought the IP was going to go away,” he says. “Here we are 20 years later, you've got in some cases grandsons of original members who now see themselves as IP.”