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This is perplexing The CBC’s very capable reporters and editors know full well that Boudreau held no commercial or sport fishing license of any kind. They know his status as a non-fisherman is both a key fact, and a probable factor, in the events leading to his disappearance.
Never discount the role of haste in deadline journalism. Toronto web editors who are not the primary reporters covering this story may have simply assumed that a man pulling lobster traps on a boat in Nova Scotia must be a fisherman. If so, then presumably the network will promptly correct the two stories here and here (although one of them has already been online almost a week).
If, however, the CBC has made a considered editorial decision to describe Boudreau a fisherman, that would be a further sign the network is allowing itself to slip into a pro-prosecution mindset. Misidentifying Boudreau as a fisherman is essential to portraying the events as a “dispute” over fishing “territory,” which is a but prosecution-friendly frame for the case.
Already contributing to an apprehension of bias on the part of the CBC are the network’s emotive and credulous account of the family dynamics in the case, and its continued failure to look into allegations, widespread in the community, that little or nothing was done in response to many complaints against Boudreau lodged with the RCMP and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Many in the community want a formal inquiry into that aspect of the case, but CBC listeners and viewers remain in the dark on this score.
The CBC’s coverage of this story ought to concern the network’s journalists and managers.
On Wednesday, I questioned CBC reporter Phonse Jessome’s reporting on the Philip Boudreau killing, and the broader media failure to probe allegations the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the RCMP received many complaints about Boudreau’s chronic lobster thievery and trap vandalism over the years, but did little or nothing.
In an essay on the CBC’s website, Jessome elaborates on his approach to the story (though he makes no overt reference to my criticism). Unfortunately, he sheds no light on why the CBC continues to skirt the DFO-RCMP angle.
On Monday, CBC reporter Phonse Jessome recounted sensational excerpts from what purported to be a confession by one of the fishermen accused of killing Philip Boudreau June 1. He supplemented his reporting with editorial comments that portrayed the killing as an unfathomable escalation of a feud over “fishing territory.”
Based on widely known but lightly reported facts, the escalation is not unfathomable. To portray it as arising out of a “feud” over “territory” is to adopt one side in highly contentious matter.
Tuesday, while reporting a brief court appearance by the accused men, Jessome added more editorial commentary, stressing the trauma experienced by the Boudreau’s family, portraying defense lawyer Joel Pink as “crafty,” and accusing defense lawyer Nash Brogan of “blaming the victim” for comments that, in my view, gave a more accurate account of the backstory than the CBC’s.
There’s an odd uncertainty about exactly what documents the CBC possesses or has seen. At various points, CBC newscasters, program hosts, and Jessome himself described the reporter as having “obtained the police file,” “obtained parts of the police file,” “read the police file,” “read parts of the police file,” and even, in one statement by Jessome, as having “read the file several times.”
Throughout his reports, Jessome appears to be describing the statement, not quoting from it, and quotation marks are conspicuously absent from the CBC’s written version of the story.
These discrepancies may amount to nothing more than sloppiness, but the CBC ought to clear them up. Knowing first hand how thoroughly CBC producers and lawyers vet stories like this, I find the circumlocution unusual. There is a big difference between having obtained (and retained a copy of) an entire police file, and having been shown parts of a file selected by someone with an interest in the case.
There’s another problem. Where do you get access to a police file in a murder prosecution? Almost certainly from the police or the prosecutors. Given that the death appears to have grown out of an altercation, police and prosecutors may have trouble getting a second degree murder conviction against any one of the accused, let alone all three*. Whether selected by police, prosecutors, or Jessome, the précis Jessome presented served to buttress a charge of murder, rather than manslaughter, against the man who pulled the trigger, and to implicate the two other crewmen in the most serious elements of the crime.
Any reporter given access to the electrifying documents Jessome saw or obtained would have reported their contents. Still, I wish the CBC had gone beyond its rote caution that the information “has not been admitted into evidence, or tested in court,” and examined the reasons why someone on one side of the case may have wanted this part of the police file to come out now, months before trial.
Throughout his reporting, Jessome adopts the line of the dead man’s family and supporters to misrepresent the killing as a feud arising out of a dispute over “fishing territory.” There is no territory in the lobster fishery. Any fisherman licensed to catch lobster in
District 26 District 29 is legally entitled to set traps anywhere around Isle Madame. Informal traditional family fishing berths may be deeply felt, but they have no legal standing.
In any case, Boudreau was not a fisherman, a fact the news media still fails to grasp more than three weeks after the incident. Here’s an online headline from today’s Cape Breton Post:
And from the Halifax Chronicle-Herald:
(To their credit, Herald editors apparently caught the error. Later online versions of the story omit the fisherman reference.)
Even if Jessome accepts the local tradition of family-based lobster berths, Boudreau, as a non-fisherman, had no territory to defend by cutting traps. What he did have was a long criminal record for property crimes. The community knew him as a bully who, among other things, frequently threatened to burn down the homes of anyone who crossed him.
For years, Boudreau used a small motorboat to steal lobster from the traps of licensed fishermen, then brazenly sold them by the side of the road in Isle Madame. He took sport in speeding past working fishermen, taunting them by waving lobsters he had just removed from their traps.
This spring, Boudreau escalated his vandalism by cutting the buoy lines from traps of fishermen who allegedly encroached on an area where his brother liked to fish.
In a local store on the night before his death, Boudreau encountered one of the men who would be accused of killing him the next day. He brandished a knife at the fisherman, and used it to demonstrate how he had cut the lobsterman’s traps.
Let me pause here in anticipation of those who may accuse me of justifying the taking of human life. Murder and manslaughter are never justified. The people of Isle Madame are rightly horrified at the events of June 1. I share their horror and dismay, but sugar-coating the events leading up to the crime serves no useful purpose.
Today’s media have a growing appetite for glorifying victims of crime that I find distasteful—and sometimes suspect. Maudlin, one-sided portrayals of the family dynamics in this case do nothing to illuminate the events.
This leads me to my greatest objection to news coverage of the Boudreau murder. Fishermen and others have complained to authorities about Boudreau’s flagrant violations of fisheries law for years. One official told me he believed more than 20 complaints had been lodged with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
In one case, Boudreau reportedly told a local fisheries officer he would burn down his house “with you inside,” a threat that goes far beyond fisheries law to violate Criminal Code prohibitions on death threats.
There is a widespread impression on Isle Madame that little, if anything, was done in response to these complaints. At a minimum, the RCMP and DFO owe the public a full account of how they responded. Some residents I’ve spoken with believe an inquiry is in order. Barring an early and satisfactory explanation from the two agencies, I am inclined to agree.
This long history of complaints to law enforcement agencies is unquestionably a story worthy of Phonse Jessome’s investigative talents—a story every news organization in the province has ignored.
* In principle, police and especially prosecutors are supposed to avoid approaching criminal cases with a mindset that equates getting a conviction with winning. They should certainly avoid selective leaks to build public support for their case before trial. The Public Prosecution Service owes Nova Scotians an explanation of this leak.
The James McGregor Stewart Society, a small voluntary group with a single summer intern, has managed to pull off in a month what the Disabled Persons Commission of NS (annual budget: $600,000) and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission ($2.1 million) have not achieved in the decades of their existence.
It has surveyed the accessibility of MLAs offices throughout the province. The results will not be a source of pride for Nova Scotia or its legislators.
The survey rated MLAs’ constituency offices based on parking facilities, power door buttons, entrance accessibility, washroom accessibility, and proximity to accessible bus routes. Since accessible bus routes are mostly beyond an MLA’s control (many ridings have none), that category was not included in the final ratings.
Only four MLAs (Lenore Zann, Eddie Orrell, Kelly Regan, and Graham Steele) got a perfect score: paved parking with designated accesible spaces; level entrance, satisfactory ramp, or elevator; power door button; accessible bathroom with grab bars and wheel-under sink).
One MLA, Chris D’Entremont, who represents Argyle and sits on the Management Commission that will decide whether accessibility will be a condition for reimbursement of office expenses, scored a perfect zero. His office has no paved parking, no designated parking spaces, no level entrance, and no accessible washroom.
Although 43 MLAs claim an accessible doorway, only eight have a power door button, which means a constituent in a wheelchair can get in only if someone assists them. Once inside, wheelchair-using constituents will find only eight offices with fully accessible washrooms. How confidently could you attend a meeting knowing you would would have no chance to pee until you got home? You certainly couldn’t hold a job in such an office.
Another 30 MLAs claim some level of washroom accessibility, but lack grab bars, a wheel-under sink, or a high toilet. This translates as: Use at your own risk of accident or humiliation.
The survey turned up fewer regional variations than you might expect. The average MLA scored 3.1 points. Urban MLAs averaged 3.3, while rural MLAs averaged 2.9.
Metro MLAs averaged 3.2; Cape Breton MLAs just 2.4.
Liberal MLAs had the best score: an average of 3.5 points. PCs averaged 3.0, and the NDP trailed the pack with an average 2.9 points.
Two MLAs, Percy Paris and Geoff MacLellan, have not yet completed the survey. Cape Breton South is vacant.
Perhaps the most telling statistic is this: The eight MLAs who sit on the House of Assembly Management Commission, the body currently deciding whether to require accessibility as a condition of expense reimbursement, have an average score of just 2.3 — the lowest of any group I checked.
Speaker Gordie Gosse, who chairs the committee, has a double distinction: His constituency office and his office in the legislature are both inaccessible to people in wheelchairs.
Clicking on the image at the top of this post will bring up an interactive map of Nova Scotia with a colored marker for each constituency office. Clicking on a marker will bring up accessibility details for that office.
Please note that the map and the data underlying it are works in progress. Some MLAs continue to provide new information, and the society’s intern, the redoubtable Kelly McKenna, is updating it continually. The information in this post is up to date to the best of my knowledge, but it’s a lot of information, and there could be minor errors.
Hold the ketchup, if you please.
A committee meeting at Province House this week has the potential to correct a logstanding injustice in the way Nova Scotia is governed.
At the behest of the James McGregor Stewart Society, a disability rights organization, the House of Assembly Management Commission will consider requiring constituency offices to be fully accessible before MLAs can claim reimbursement of office expenses.
You might expect this to go without saying in 2013, but it doesn’t. Many MLAs’ offices are only partly, if at all, accessible. They may have a level entry or a satisfactory wheelchair ramp, but lack a paved parking lot or an accessible washroom. They may have a wide enough door to admit a wheelchair, but no automatic door opener to let wheelchair users come and go unassisted.
People with unrestricted mobility sometimes miss the significance of that last distinction. Wheelchairs users value their autonomy as much as anyone else. They want to participate without having to ask for help.
The House Management Commission doesn’t have to guess about what constitutes an accessible office. The standards are clearly set forth in Section C of the Nova Scotia Building Code, which all new commercial construction must meet.
It’s not clear that any of the constituency offices now in use fully comply with this standard. This effectively bars Nova Scotia’s 28,000 wheelchair users from full participation in the political process. It puts constituency office jobs beyond reach of applicants with disabilities.
MLAs know this is unacceptable. The gentle explanation for why it wasn’t fixed a generation ago is inertia. In many parts of the province, it’s hard to find good office space. Many MLAs enjoy a close relationship with their landlords, which they aren’t anxious to disturb. No one likes the hassle of moving to new quarters.
That’s why the summer of 2013 offers a unique opportunity to correct this injustice. The election that’s expected this fall will produce an unusually large crop of new MLAs, all of whom will be seeking office space. The Commission could require any new constituency offices to comply with Section C in order to qualify for reimbursement. It could establish a firm timetable—certainly no more than the five-year term of a typical commercial lease—by which existing constituency offices must be brought into compliance. The first election after 2013 could serve as a final deadline for existing offices.
Leasehold improvements are a standard feature of office leases. The landlord carries out the work, builds the cost into the rent, and ends up with a more desirable, barrier-free property at the termination of the lease.
Fixing this problem will undoubtedly cause some inconvenience for MLAs. In a letter to the Commission, the society put that burden in perspective:
The challenges MLAs will face meeting this requirement are real, but they must be weighed against the perpetuation of second-class citizenship for 28,000 Nova Scotians. One is a matter of inconvenience; the other a human right.
Speaker Gordie Gosse chairs the Management Commission, whose members include MLAs Frank Corbett, Becky Kent, Pam Birdsall, Moe Smith, Michel Samson, Chris d’Entremont, Andrew Younger, and House of Assembly Chief Clerk Neil Ferguson. The Commission meets Thursday at 1 p.m. in the Red Chamber.
If it fails to act before the upcoming election, we’ll have to find a strong word than “inertia.”
The Dexter Government’s decision to make a retroactive grab for disgraced MLA Trevor Zinck’s pension should not pass without comment. It is a cynical exercise in pre-election pandering to public hatred of politicians.
The pandering ploy reflects badly on the government as a whole, but especially on the lawyers among its ranks, including Darrell Dexter and Graham Steele, both of whom certainly know better.
The courts should be left to deal with Mr. Zinck according to the evidence as it may be adduced at trial, and the law as it existed at the time his of alleged crimes and misdemeanors. His fate should not be determined by politicians in a panic over their shaky chances of returning as a majority government, or anxious to in appease a media-fomented public clammor for retribution.
This PR-motivated retroactive tampering with justice is especially unworthy of a party with social democratic pretentions, because it opens the door to retroactive attacks on the past earnings and entitlements of all manner of unpopular groups—-Welfare recipients, people with criminal records, and the mentally ill. It deprives innocent dependents of earned income security they had every right to assume they could count on.
I hope but doubt that one of the opposition parties will have the gumption and the integrity to oppose this tawdry measure.
Contrarian reader Joyce Rankin reacts to Contrarian’s caution that justice will not be served by presuming a hearsay accusation of sexual assault to be true in every detail. I don’t usually print reader responses at this length, but in the interests of fairness I will do so in this case without edits.
Please, please, please don’t be one of those men who keep doubting that a rape took place. Every woman knows that there are many many rapes that are never reported because the victim knows exactly what kind of a shitstorm she will letting herself in for and decides not to report. Decides that the trauma and hurt of being raped is bad enough, and she doesn’t want the trauma and hurt of being insulted and be-littled and her private life examined in public. I’ve read that the incidence of false reports is something on the lines of 2%, and that’s including the grey area of women raped by their partners.
The Groveland case is not something I know much about, but for you to say that it’s doubtful a rape took place because the woman was a “bad egg” –how 1950s of you! I think it more likely that the woman was raped by someone either close to her, or someone in a position of power, and .she had to come up with a story to account for things. Knowing that an accusation against the true perpetrator would not be believed (maybe because he was a white man with influence, and she was a young woman with none), she blamed it on those young men more vulnerable than herself. Otherwise it’d be HER OWN FAULT, because we all know women aren’t supposed to let it happen to them, and if it does, they must have done something to cause it.
And exactly what made her a “bad egg”? Had she actually had sex before? been known to take a drink? I guess that meant that she was “asking for it!” Because we all know that no men, young or old, has ever had sex, taken a few drinks, or gone out of the house after dark.
So does that mean that if you were with a group of work/classmates and you were all having a few drinks, that they decided they wanted to have sex with you and you didn’t want to, and they said, “well, you came to the party, what else did you expect?”, they raped you, does that mean that it would be your fault? That you should have known better than to go there, or that by having a drink you might expect something to happen?
In the Cole Harbour case, it seems the existance of photos show that the rape did indeed happen. The fact that some of the perpetrators bragged about it, and spread the photos around, shows just how ingrained this rape culture is. The boys expected the victim not to say anything, because they knew that she knew that their word would carry more weight, and that their possible futures would be considered worth more than hers. That they had the upper hand. Again.
You can doubt that a rape took place, if you want to delude yourself. But I ask you: why is the occurrance of rape held to a higher standard of proof? If I called the police and they came to my house and my door was standing open, the lock was broken, items were missing, my computer was gone, and the house was torn apart, they (and my neighbours) would assume that I’d been burglarized. If I called and the police came and found that there was a person lying in the street dead, with injuries that could not be self-inflicted, they (and passers-by) would assume that a killing had taken place. But if a woman calls the police and she’s been beaten and had forcible sex, they ask her about her sexual history, and everyone starts trying to find reasons why it was her fault -the way she was dressed, she was out at night, she had a drink…….. If the burglar breaks into your house, no one tells you it is your own fault for owning nice things.
It is true that we should not assume guilt in a court of law, but I think if the boys were bragging about it, then we are pretty sure it happened. The question is, why did the police take so long to do anything?
I was going to say, please don’t conflate these two stories, but on second thought maybe you can. Because the common thread is that many people don’t believe a woman who says she’s been raped, and the questions always come down to the victim’s conduct, rather than the rapist’s.
Because many sexual assault victims do not report the crimes, and because the nature of sexual assault is such that testimony often comes down to he-said-she-said disputes that cause genuine victims to be disbelieved, some feminists have come to the position that all such allegations must be believed; to doubt them is to abet rape culture.
I understand how they reach that point, but I believe they are wrong to do so. Such blanket assumptions will inevitably lead to wrongful convictions.
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.