Last week, the union that represents striking Halifax Herald journalists posted an unflattering photo of Mike Savage on its Facebook page, together with a paragraph condemning the mayor for breezing past the strikers’ picket line.
Can this be true? I thought. Did Savage really cross the picket line and enter the Herald Building?
It was not true. The line Savage crossed was nowhere near the strikers’ workplace. It was a secondary picket of a downtown hotel where the Greater Halifax Partnership, a business promotion organization of which Savage is a director, was holding an awards ceremony.
The newspaper was a co-sponsor of the event, and CEO Mark Lever had been scheduled to present some of the plaques. Lever stayed away to avoid a confrontation. Savage chatted briefly with the picketers on his way into the event.
The striking journalists have also picketed various Herald advertisers—as if driving revenue away from a business whose problems stem from an industry-wide hemorrhage of revenue somehow served their interests.
The frustration and fear workers feel as they watch their livelihood—their calling—slip away is understandable. But the notion that 1940s-style industrial union tactics can win the day for journalists in 2016 is delusional.
Whatever faint hope the strikers have rests in part on public opinion. It does not help their cause to construct artificial tests in the form of secondary picket lines, then condemn as enemies anyone who fails these tests. It would make much more sense to court Herald readers, including the mayor and the members of the Greater Halifax Partnership, by demonstrating what journalistic craft and talent means to a modern city.
Chances of a six-day-a-week print edition of the Chronicle-Herald existing in 2020 are next to nil. Everyone involved—workers, owners, readers, community leaders—must adjust to this new reality.
That’s the one shining light in this dispiriting conflict. When they aren’t wasting their time on picket lines and posting gratuitous insults, the striking journalists have been producing a creditable daily news website.
News stories in Local Xpress have consistently set a higher journalistic standard than the strike-breaker copy that fills the Herald’s pages. No surprise there. The best Herald writers and editors are very good at what they do.
Local Xpress could be so much more. A professionally produced news website aimed at the interests and temperament of traditional Herald readers poses a bigger threat to the Herald’s owners than pickets at the local Ford dealership, or Facebook insults directed at the mayor.
As a condition of receiving strike pay, Herald workers walk the picket line 20 hours a week. The requirement is reduced, but not eliminated, for workers who contribute to Local Xpress. The strikers’ smarter course would be to abandon picket lines altogether and throw their hearts, souls, and talents into the task of beating the Herald at its own game.
The strikers can report news better, faster, and more accurately than the desperate substitutes struggling to fill their dead-tree shoes.
Instead of picketing advertisers, the strikers should be luring them to their news site—with irresistible copy and advertising opportunities. Sell ads. Sell subscriptions. Offer supportive readers a chance to contribute to the survival of good journalism in Halifax. Lobby civic leaders in grownup conversations, not by shouting at them from picket lines.
I don’t know what will become of the Herald or its striking workers. But a top-notch local news website run by capable journalists seems a far better bet than hoping for a return to good old days that are gone forever.
To make sport of bad English translations by non-English speakers is to flirt with, nay dive headfirst into, unbecoming condescension. But sometimes, it’s irresistible.
“Please use it referring to as equipped,” has been an all-purpose mantra in my house ever since those words arrived on the wrapper of a Honda Civic air filter sometime in the 1980s.
Last weekend, my son Silas received a set of Chinese-made Edifier speakers he had ordered on line. Among the packaging, he found this poetic brand testimonial:
I believe this can only be fully appreciated as blank verse:
Big surprise, astonishment, and enjoyment.
Ever from the sparkles of ideas sprouts
out of designer’s sketch.
Every piece of edifier’s works
breathes with a vivid life,
palpitating with the spirit of music.
For music is a spiritual thing,
and youth hood is creed.
In the domain of music,
we promenade hand in hand.
Edifier is not only a product,
but also a harmonious attitude to life.
Silas gave the speakers three stars out of five. Please use it referring to as equipped.
I like to think my home town of Kempt Head (pop. 21) is the smallest place on earth to boast both a heavyweight champion of the world and a Nobel Prize winner. The champ, who was also a war hero, died in 1942. We lost the Nobel laureate this week.
The heavyweight champ was of the unofficial variety. Jack Munroe was born June 21, 1877, at Munroe’s Hill, Kempt Head. In December, 1902, he was working at a mining camp in Montana when the heavyweight champion of the day, Jim Jeffries, passed through Butte on a barnstorming tour. In each city, Jeffries offered a local boxer the chance to spar with him, with a cash prize to any who could last four rounds.
On December 20, 1902, at Button’s Broadway Theatre, Munroe, a strapping lad with a bit of amateur boxing experience, not only lasted four rounds, he actually knocked Jeffries down in the final frame. The local newspaper claimed the ref, a member of Jeffries entourage, had given the champ a long count. An Associated Press version of that story triggered a national sensation, forcing Jeffries to give Munroe a rematch. On August 26, 1904, at Mechanics Pavilion in San Francisco, he dispatched the Cape Breton Miner in two merciless rounds.
The Nobel laureate was David H. Hubel, a Harvard Medical School neurologist who, in the 1990s, bought a summer cottage at Munroe’s Hill, Kempt Head, a stone’s throw from Jack Munroe’s birthplace. The modest bungalow had a clear view of Alexander Graham Bell’s summer residence on the opposite shore of the Great Bras d’Or Channel.
In 1981, Hubel and his colleague Torsten Wiesel shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine for what the prize committee described as research that “disclosed one of the most well guarded secrets of the brain: the way by which its cells decode the message which the brain receives from the eyes.”
The Washington Post added more detail:
Starting in the late 1950s, Dr. Hubel’s research revealed the architecture of the visual cortex, the region of the brain that receives floods of data gathered by the eyes.
Together with Swedish neurophysiologist Torsten N. Wiesel, he discovered how nerve cells — neurons — analyze the light rays that hit our retinas, bit by bit, to assemble the detailed, moving and almost infinitely diverse final images that we perceive as our external world.
Over 25 years of work together, the men revealed that the cortex is arranged in vertical columns of cells, each module devoted to process a different constituent of the seen world: form, contour, color, movement and three-dimensionality.
Professor Hubel and his wife Ruth, who died last February, spent their summers months quietly at Kempt Head. There was nothing pretentious about them. The professor’s unruly shock of white hair and slightly dishevelled appearance were a familiar sight at community events like the Ross Ferry Firefighters’ Famous Pork Barbecue. You can get a sense of his gentle, self-effacing humour from a charming autobiography he wrote at the time of the Nobel award.
David Hubel died Sunday in Lincoln, Massachusetts, his winter home. Born in Windsor, Ontario, and raised in Montreal, he moved to the US to attend Johns Hopkin’s University. His obituary in the Boston Globe reports:
David loved learning and had numerous interests. He was fluent in French and German, and once gave a scientific lecture in Japan in Japanese. He loved to read and to travel. He played the piano, recorder and flute, and in 2013 took up the oboe.
He was an avid astronomer (and built his own telescope tracking system to keep planets continually in the field of view, which he called his gronking gadget). Partly by necessity but also for sheer enjoyment he built many of his medical research devices. He was an avid tennis player, sailor, skier, and Red Sox fan…
In his spare time he loved woodworking and to design and weave wool rugs and scarves on his loom that made for wonderful gifts. David also practiced Morse code and was a ham radio enthusiast and would teach anyone interested how to use the slide rule or abacus.
Beyond his wonderful sense of humor, perhaps his strongest legacy will be his kindness and generosity to his family, friends, his Harvard College undergraduate freshman seminar students, and his research trainees and proteges. David and Ruth were pleased to have established undergraduate science research scholarships at Dalhousie University, Wellesley College, and University of Windsor.
A remarkable man. Sincere condolences to sons Carl, Eric and Paul, and the rest of the family.
Last month, University of Massachusetts scientists working with laboratory cell cultures said they had succeeded in suppressing the extra chromosome associated with Down syndrome, a technique they predicted could lead to treatments targeted at the symptoms of the condition.
We’ve got a genetically similar community, visible minority who are being targeted and terminated globally. People think, “Well, this is the way it is and these people just shouldn’t be.”
A friend who knows I have identical twin grandchildren with Down Syndrome sought my reaction to Forrestall’s complaint. I replied:
I am not quite in the camp of those who reject any attempt to treat Down Syndrome, but I certainly understand why people with Down Syndrome and their parents (and grandparents) bristle at the assumption they need to be “fixed.”
I can only view this through my feelings about Josh and Jacob. They get excellent medical care. They have had tubes in their ears to deal with chronic infections. Josh has had heart surgery. These conditions and others result at least in part from their chromosomal distinctiveness. No one thought twice about whether they should be treated. Of course they should.
But what about the constellation of qualities that include, but are not limited to, their intellectual disabilities? These qualities are a huge part of who they are. Without them, they would be totally different. There will never be a magic bullet that increases their IQs but leaves their humour, affectionateness, willfulness, stubbornness, loyalty, laziness, warmth, and joyfulness untouched.
When I see Josh and Jacob struggle to read the simplest words, or to make their garbled speech understood, sure, I wish life were easier for them. But I don’t long for them to be different, or more like other children. I adore them as they are.
And by the way, there is already a genocide of children with Down in the form of selective abortions. We would not countenance this for sex selection or red hair or gayness, but we take it for granted with Down Syndrome.
Today, Mike Finnerty, summer host of CBC Radio’s The Current, carried out a series of interviews on this subject—with one of the Massachusetts researchers, with Renee Forrestall, and with Christie Hoos, a parent of a Down syndrome child whose views differ from Forrestall’s. By themselves, these interviews would have made a thought-provoking segment. What really set the piece apart was Finnerty’s final interview with Halifax actor and freelance photographer Will Brewer, who has Down syndrome, a conversation conducted without a trace of condescension on Finnerty’s part.
You can listen to the program here (after a CBC promo):
Here is a transcript of Will Brewer’s comments:
Mike Finnerty: Will Brewer was born with Down syndrome. He’s a photographer and an actor. Will, thanks for coming in and welcome.
Will Brewer: Thank you.
MF: What do you make of this scientific breakthrough we’ve been talking about?
WB: I was surprised. It would be hard for me to think about that because I am who I am, and I love who I am.
MF: Can you tell us about what sets you apart in your on mind. What do you think it is about you and the fact that you are someone with down syndrome that makes you different to others, special from others?
WB: Well, I am so special because my mom says that I am magic. But I would say that everyone with Down Sydnrome is magic because I see it in their eyes when I take their photo. I can tell that they are happy of who they are and how they came out, and who have loving parents who are just superb at what they do.
MF: Is there anything about your life that you would change if you could?
WB: No. I just. I am happy where I am because now I have found a place where I can create art and have friends and have great relationships with people who I care about, and people who have — beautiful; magical children with Down Syndrome.
MF: If you were to think about your life — you know, your 24 hours a day, seven days a week — what percentage of your life would you say is happy or joyous and what percentage is unhappy?
WB: Sometimes I do have issues. Sometimes I just feel like crying sometimes, for no particular reason, because I think that’s part of who I am, because I do have sensitive thoughts as well, but in everyday life, I enjoy it.
MF: Specifically, do you have issues — health iussues and other kinds of things that are, you know, not good in your life that you would, if you could, using these new therapies that might come down the road, that you would fix?
WB: Well, 28 years ago, when I was born, I couldn’t breathe — or like, I couldn’t cry when I was born. So a couple months later, I had heart surgery. And I do have a thyroid condition as well.
MF: What do you think about the idea that sometime in the future you could, through medical intervention, correct or suppress that extra chromosome and that would mean that they’re weren’t people who had down syndrome? What would you think of that?
WB: I would think it would be very interesting to actually see that because, I do have friends who are not Down syndrome as well, and I don’t kow if they would want to change themselves. But I would never change. That’s who I am.
MF: What would you like people out there who are listening to know about your life as someone with down syndrome?
WB: Well, first of all, if they want to have a picture taken, they should come to me (laughs)
MF: Because you are a photographer?
WB: Of course.
MF: Are you a good photographer?
WB: Oh I really am.
MF: And what else would you like people to know?
WB: That we are who we are and we love who we are. We want a place in this earth, in this generation, in this life of everyday, and we are proud of who we are.
MF: Will, thanks for talking to us.
WB: Thank you.
Almost four years ago, Contrarian reported that researchers at Stanford University had used a drug therapy to improve the learning skills of mice with a form of Down syndrome. Like Renee Forrestall, Jenn Power, community leader at L’Arche Cape Breton and mother of my twin grandsons with Down, found the research distressing. She said people with Down’s don’t need a cure; they need “a society that values what they have to offer.”
The fascinating discussion that followed produced many thoughtful contributions on all sides of the issue. (There are too many posts to link individually, but if you click here and scroll back to the earliest posts you will find them all.) The Contrarian discussions eventually spread to the New York Times parenting blog Motherlode, where hundreds of people weighed in.
Huffington Post’s Canadian edition yesterday published an investigative report by a team of student journalists from the University of King’s College detailing the housing crisis facing Nova Scotians with intelectual disabilities.
There is not enough room in the system for all of the people who need a place to live. They languish on waiting lists that are hundreds of names long. Their families, in turn, must support them with scant financial, caregiving or community programming resources. Eventually the families get too old or sick to do it, making the situation for their relatives in rehab even worse.
With so little room, placements are driven by crises. These crises, in turn, lead to inappropriate placements that only exacerbate individuals’ disabilities and sometimes cause mental health issues.
It is a bureaucratic system driven by policies, not people’s needs. And in the instances where policy would help to improve lives – in properly licensing, regulating, staffing and overseeing housing options – the system falls short.
Successive provincial governments have known all about this crisis and have repeatedly promised to fix it. The current NDP government is no exception.
After years of inaction, the Department of Community Services (DCS) recently produced a report — more accurately a discussion paper — about options for dealing with the crisis. The new document repeats sweeping promises of change, but DCS continues to ignore the findings of a 2001 report it commissioned that could have served as a basis for action 12 years ago.
“The Kendrick report is now over 10 years old and basically the fundamentals of the Kendrick report are no different now than … 10 years ago,” Dr. Brian Hennen, a past president of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, told the student journalists.
Jenn Power, Atlantic Regional Co-ordinator for l’Arche Cape Breton [and—disclosure—my daughter-in-law] summed up the crisis on her Possibilities blog.
[T]he primary struggles of the individuals profiled in the piece are not their disabilities per se, nor the way those disabilities might affect their mobility, learning skills, or emotional health. Instead, the suffering they endure arises from the way the provincial “support” system treats them as a result of their disabilities. They are reduced to their diagnoses, their difficult behaviours, their classification level. They languish on endless waiting lists with no idea of the future, then are hurried into last-minute crisis placements at warehousing facilities. They are forced to fit into an existing (outdated) system; the system is not expected to change to fit the needs of individuals.
This is not news to any of us who have friends or family members with intellectual disabilities, or who have been involved in this field for any length of time. Our people are overlooked, patronized, ignored, devalued, and abused. Their voices are not heard. But boy, do they have something to say.
At Nova Scotia’s l’Arche communities, and many other DCS-funded homes, bureaucratic rules often deepen the impact of disabilities, rather than lighten them. Here’s one of several examples Power cites:
Lindsay and Tanya, both of whom graduated from high school and hold down full time jobs, would say that they deserve the right to stay home alone and watch TV or read a book or relax on the couch for a couple of hours every now and then. But because they live in a provincially funded group home, they are denied this dignity of risk and are forced to join whenever their housemates leave the house.
Of the ways Darrell Dexter’s government failed to achieve its supporters’ aspirations, none is more disheartening than its failure to bring order, purpose, and humanity to the Department of Community Services. Will the next government do any better?
I never saw Dan in a school setting, but he served me many times. He was simply superb at a job that is too often under-appreciated for both difficulty and impact. Writing in the Coast, Tim Bousquet described him as “hands-down the most energetic server imaginable.”
Dan carried out all the basics with exemplary grace, and he was also wickedly funny. You looked forward to his visits to your table, because his dry, dead-pan humor, coupled with exquisite comic timing, invariably left you smiling and chuckling. What only occurred to me after he died is that his humor always carried a point: he was making a small but shrewd observation about himself, or you, your mates, other people in the restaurant, the restaurant staff, or the restaurant’s management. Or life in general. I miss him very much.
Dan’s energy was the more amazing because waiting tables was always his second job. When he clocked in to begin his whirling dervish service at Bearly’s each evening, he had generally already pulled a full shift helping students at Central Spryfield School.
Dan’s closest friends knew he worked two jobs to afford his children, Oliver and Abigail, the very best educational opportunities available—at private schools and ballet academies. That’s Dan and his kids in the photo.
Over the last few weeks, Dan Falvey’s dedication paid off in a way that would have filled him with pride. Oliver received letters of acceptance from both Harvard and Princeton. He travels to Cambridge next weekend to begin the enviable task of choosing between the two.
Oliver didn’t have any Harvard or Princeton alumni among his ancestors. He didn’t come from a region that regularly exports its best high school grads to the ivy league. His guidance counselor had no special drag with Harvard or Princeton. But Oliver had talent, a work ethic, and a role model that would be the envy of any family. I wish him the very best.
I have more reader mail on the furore around Rehtaeh Parsons’ death and the factors that led to it. Once again, a few preliminary points.
- Rehtaeh’s family and friends are going through an unimaginably horrible experience, one they have handled with grace and courage. The one point that united everyone in this case is sympathy for their ordeal.
- It bears repeating that, if you or anyone you know are having suicidal thoughts, please call the toll-free Kid’s Help Line at 1-800-668-6868 or the toll-free Suicide Prevention Line at 1-888-429-8167. Also please check out this website, and this list of warning signs.
In a post on April 11, I raised a number of misgivings about the frenzied public response to Rehtaeh’s death. I expected my views to provoke controversy, but in fact, most of the emails directed to Contrarian’s comment link (at the top of this page) have been positive. There’s an initial sample here.
Many more negative comments appeared on Twitter, where I had a series of vigorous exchanges with people who thought I was too trusting of police, and not sufficiently sensitive to “rape culture” and bullying. In particular, some reacted angrily to my contention that photogenicity played a role in the explosion of media interest in this case. Others thought the existence of a photo depicting the November, 2011, encounter between Rehtaeh and four young males ought to have been an open-and-shut basis for a “child pornography” prosecution. Much of the discussion focused on exactly what we know and do not know.
To follow some of these discussions, check out the Twitter feeds of Daily News alumnus Ryan Van Horne, Herald reporter Selena Ross (who was the first to break the Rehtaeh story), Tim Pratt, @allisomething, @KristiColleen, Raveen S. Nathan, and André Pickett.
Meanwhile, Sydney lawyer Candee McCarthy has called me out on a point of law. I wrote that, “a jury which concludes only that the accused is probably guilty must acquit, and police and prosecutors who reach the same conclusion should not lay charges” [Emphasis added]. Replies McCarthy:
Although I agree with your assessment regarding a jury’s obligation, I don’t believe that police and prosecutors should be held to the same standard as a jury. I submit that police should not lay charges frivolously, but they should lay charges if there is evidence or information to support a charge; a charge is not a conviction and should not be held to the same standard as one. The police shouldn’t need to prove a case to lay a charge. They have to be reasonable, sure, but out of the “three tiers” (for lack of a better way to put it), their burden is the least onerous.
The Crown then has the job of proving the case. It is the Crown Attorney that determines whether to prosecute the charges laid by the police, but the crown is not (and shouldn’t be) the judge and jury. In the interest of serving the public’s interest they need only ascertain a reasonable prospect of conviction. (As such I submit they should be prosecuting cases where they believe the accused is “probably guilty”.)
I confess that in writing my quick summary of the presumption of innocence, I relied on that prestigious legal journal, Wikipedia. And when I wrote the clause McCarthy objects to, I wondered if I was overstating it. Apparently I was. I am not a lawyer, but I do wonder if McCarthy overstates the ease with which police should lay charges in cases where they are uncertain of guilt. I know that the Marshall Inquiry devoted a lot of time and thought to the roles of police and prosecutor. If any lawyers or judges out there want to weigh in and help educate the public, I’d love to hear from them.
This is a sad case all around and I agree that folks and the media are quick to pass judgment… just as all too often they pass judgment on young women for their private sexual behavior (consented to or not) by calling them a “slut” and thinking it’s ok to disrespect these women’s bodies by sharing personal and intimate photos. It’s not like these types of allegations are rare lately… If we as a community are becoming more outraged over victim allegations, I say so be it. Maybe we need it – it’s a hell of lot more comforting to me than to continue to bear “rape culture” commentary and victim blaming.
The outrage and sadness is so palpable at the moment that it is virtually impossible to remind people that while a beautiful young woman has lost her life in a most horrific and tragic way, and allegedly 4 young men were somehow involved, nobody has been convicted of anything, and the police have so far been unable to build a strong enough case leading to charges that would lead to such a conviction. Vigilante justice will only lead to further crimes and in all likelihood more injustice. All the publicity and the extent of public reaction since this story broke may well provide the impetus for somebody to come forward with something the police could build a case. This sad story is far from over.
I have… feeling a bit ill about the hysteria. The British gossip media has now picked up the story. This poor, sad girl, seems be getting forgotten in the frenzy of public grief, blame, politics and just plain old bad journalism.
I wonder how this has become a story about bullying, and the reactions of others who seem to think the solution is to bully the boys. I don’t understand a lynching mentality and hopefully, never will.
I hate the expression, “this could have made her death mean something,” because nothing could ever make this death worthwhile. However, this sad affair could have become a lightning rod for so much positive discussion about social justice, teen alcohol consumption, depression, sexual rights, and sexual health, etc. What a shame that we, in Nova Scotia are so lacking in visionary leadership, be it social, political, or educational…. My 2 cents…
I guess it’s obvious I agree with Janet. If this awful set of events does not spur concerted community action on “teen alcohol consumption, depression, sexual rights, and sexual health,” instead of kneejerk demands for vengeance, we will have missed a tremendous opportunity.
“What if the cops and prosecutors were right?” I guess now we will find out, unfortunately still much too late for the teenager’s family. In other cases, the cops ask publicly for anonymous tips to help with their investigation of criminal activity. I wonder/doubt if this was initiated in this case, perhaps because it was not considered to pass the test of “criminal.”
Reinforcing the inadequately defined “vigilante” boogeyman (which the Anonymous press release you provided addressed and denied), and raising the girl’s “depression” in an ambiguous manner that should have clearly clarified that there was no suggestion it could have caused this suicide independent of the [alleged] rape and subsequent internet humiliation, seemed a little bit manipulative to me.
Several other people pointed out that the Anonymous statement I linked to specifically rejected vigilante action, a point I should have noted.
“Given that the topic of your post is on the nature of reporting in the matter,” wrote Brad Fougere, “that’s kind of reckless, no?”
Here is the pertinent excerpt from the Anonymous release:
We do not approve of vigilante justice as the media claims. That would mean we approve of violent actions against these rapists at the hands of an unruly mob. What we want is justice. And That’s your job. So do it.
The names of the rapists will be kept until it is apparent you have no intention of providing justice to Retaeh’s family. Please be aware that there are other groups of Anons also attempting to uncover this information and they may not to wish to wait at all. Better act fast.
Be aware that we will be organizing large demonstrations outside of your headquarters. The rapists will be held accountable for their actions. You will be held accountable for your failure to act.
Surely paragraphs 2 and 3 belie the pro forma rejection of vigilantism contained in paragraph 1. Like so many others, Anonymous presumes guilt (not innocence, as a civil societies do). It presumes the right to gather names and release them, if the criminal justice system does anything other than prosecute the implicated boys. And since all bullies are cowards, Anonymous does this from behind a mask of anonymity.
Fifty years ago and 1,000 miles to the south, they would be called the Ku Klux Klan, and like the Klan, they are deserving of community scorn and disgust. In this regard, it is astounding that the CBC and other media outlets have shielded the identity of the local bully who speaks for Anonymous, while giving him a platform from which to spread bile. Surely some journal or journalist must be up to the task of outing him.
A free society relies on functioning governmental institutions and police forces. Right now we don’t have that in Nova Scotia, in my opinion, because there is too much bureaucracy, a lack of public accountability, and a lack of effective coordination of services.
Thanks again to all who contributed. Join in by clicking the “Email a Comment” link near the top of the page.
What if the cops and prosecutors were right?
What if competent RCMP officers carried out a conscientious investigation of allegations that Rehtaeh Parsons was sexually assaulted, and that a pornographic photo of the event had circulated among her acquaintances, before concluding there was no prospect of a conviction in the case?
Because we cherish freedom and abhor wrongful convictions, we set a high bar for criminal convictions. Accused persons must always be presumed innocent. To convict them, evidence presented in court must satisfy a judge or jury of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt—not a frivolous or fanciful doubt, or one based on prejudice or sympathy, but a doubt grounded in reason and common sense, and logically connected to the evidence (or lack of evidence).
A jury which concludes only that the accused is probably guilty must acquit, and police and prosecutors who reach the same conclusion should not lay charges.
What are the known facts here? On the night of April 4, Rehtaeh, a photogenic 17-year-old who had been hospitalized for depression had a sudden blowup at home. She ran to the washroom and locked herself inside. By the time her mother broke in, Rehtaeh had injured herself in a manner that would prove fatal.
Who can imagine a more devastating experience for a parent than a child’s death in these horrific circumstances? Everyone who hears this story feels heartbroken for Rehtaeh’s mother, her father, her loved ones. I feel awful for them, and I hope nothing I write here will add to their dreadful burden.
In her grief, Rehtaeh’s mother created a Facebook page in tribute to her daughter, that included the following allegations:
[O]ne dreaded night in November 2011 [Rehtaeh] went with a friend to another’s home. In that home she was raped by four young boys…one of those boys took a photo of her being raped and decided it would be fun to distribute the photo to everyone in Rehtaeh’s school and community where it quickly went viral.
These allegations made a heart-wrenching story utterly sensational, as anyone who has turned on a radio, opened a newspaper, or logged onto Twitter or Facebook in the last few days knows. When photos of Rehtaeh as an appealing, apparently fun-loving child began circulating, public emotions exploded. The hactivist collective Anonymous even threatened vigilante action against the boys accused of the alleged assault, and Toronto Liberal lawyer Warren Kinsella egged them on.
Notwithstanding ritual insertion of the adverb allegedly, many if not most of the news stories about Rehtaeh’s suicide proceeded from the assumption that Leah Parsons’ account is accurate: that her daughter was sexually assaulted, an explicit photograph of the event circulated cruelly among her schoolmates, and these events caused her death 17 months later.* We should bear in mind that these remain allegations; they are an account of the facts originating with someone who has the deepest possible emotional attachment to the story.
Leah Parsons’ account may turn out to be accurate and provable in court. It may turn out to be probable but not provable in court. It may turn out to be an understandable but flawed vision of events through the eyes of a devastated mother. In none of these cases does our collective rush to judgment make things better.
One uncontested fact that has received scant attention is that Rehtaeh was treated for depression, including at least one hospitalization. Depression is a terrible illness, and an often fatal one. Would that society could summon the same passion to combatting this scourge that it has in response to her terrible story.
Finally, if you or anyone you know are having suicidal thoughts, please call the toll-free Kid’s Help Line at 1-800-668-6868 or the toll-free Suicide Prevention Line at 1-888-429-8167. Also please check out this website, and this list of warning signs.
* To varying degrees, Feministing, The Huffington Post, ThinkProgress, The Toronto Star, the Halifax Chronicle=Herald, and the Globe and Mail could all have been more careful about separating their reports of the allegations from their narrative reconstruction of events that remain unproven. The National Post and the CBC, notably Stephen Puddicombe’s exemplary reports, were more circumspect.
Virtually all news media ran roughshod over well known guidelines for reporting suicide in a way that lessens the risk of contagion.