When prosecutors co-opt headline writers

You’ve got to hand it to Steve Drake, prosecutor in the trial of a man charged with killing Isle Madame lobster stealer Philip Boudreau: He knows how to frame a problematic case in a way headline writers will find irresistible.

Drake’s problem was to persuade a local jury to convict 67-year-old lobster fisherman James Joseph Landry of murdering a man who evoked little sympathy outside his own family. Boudreau had terrorized the tight-knit community for years: stealing lobster at will, taunting the fishermen he stole from, openly selling his ill-gotten wares from a pickup truck parked on the Isle Madame Causeway, routinely threatening mayhem and arson against the families of anyone brave enough to object—including federal fisheries officers.

Drake’s ploy was to reframe Boudreau’s decade of terror as a simple dispute over lobster. He called it “murder for lobster,” implying Boudreau Landry, a licensed fisherman, had resorted t0 lethal violence just to pick up a few extra lobster. (NB: Boudreau held no fishing license of any kind.)

What happened on the waters off Petit de Grat on the morning of June 1, 2013, was dreadful. One fervently wishes someone aboard the Twin Maggies had called a halt before events spun so horribly out of control.

But calling Boudreau’s death “murder for lobster” not only takes the focus off his chronic bullying, it obscures the responsibility of DFO and the RCMP, who failed to act against Boudreau’s years of brazen lawlessness. As an added bonus, it feeds the nasty trope of life in the rural Maritimes as a half step removed from Deliverance. [For more on that, see New Yorker writer John McPhee’s brilliant takedown of Deliverance author James Dickey in The Survival of the Birchbark Canoe.]

The jury didn’t buy Drake’s slogan—it disappointed prosecutors with a verdict of manslaughter—but headline writers lapped it up, adopting the prosecutorial frame with universal enthusiasm.

I keep saying, “headline writers,” because, for the most part, reporters who actually covered the trial didn’t use the phrase. They quoted Drake when he floated it during his opening remarks to the jury, but they knew better than to adopt his tendentious wording as their own.

Most CBC headlines are written in Toronto:

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Cape Breton Post headlines spring to life in a centralized Transcon sweatshop composing room located in another province:

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The Halifax Chronicle Herald still writes its own headlines, and ought to know better:

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Likewise CTV:

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The Mop and Pail:

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The National Post’s best copy editor comes from Judique. I’m betting she was off the day this slipped past the rim:

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I suppose we should be thankful HuffPo abjured its normally obligatory “trigger warning” prior to describing backwoods misbehaviour.

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