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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Since the Red River Rebellion... 

With the NHL season cancelled two things have happened in Canada. 1) The Pregnancy rate has gone through the roof. 2) There has been nothing on TV. In fact, I’m sure that I saw CBC Hockey Night in Canada sportscasters selling pencils at the airport. Now, all of a sudden, our TVs are overwhelmed with action – all coming out of Northern Alberta. Just down the road from Edmonton, the home of this year’s Brier (curling championships, which make for some fine TV viewing) is the town of Mayerthorpe, where every television camera that isn’t occupied with the Brier seems to be pointing. This is the town where James Roszko shot four RCMP officers to death. Now this is an ugly, terrible event that is slowly becoming a media circus and an opportunity for politicians to use this tragedy as their own personal campaign platform.
It’s strange who we decide to make martyrs and heroes of in our society. Certainly four officers being shot dead is a tragedy that deserves recognition, but it gets a little dangerous for our society when we idolize the victims beyond mourning and take them to martyrdom, and begin to base policy on the outcomes of this terrible, but unique event. If we’re going to base drug, gun, and policing laws around this massacre, then we should also base our policy around some of the more common, and less TV friendly, dangers that go with policing.

How many officers are killed in automobile accidents each year? Quite a few more than four. Indeed these events usually warrant a bit of TV time, but not to the scale of the Roszko killings. How many more suffer the consequences of alcoholism and drug abuse? TV cameras look far away from this one, but most cops do have drinking problems. It is so common that the force takes it upon itself to pay for the officer’s trip to Betty Ford. Suicide is also quite high amongst cops. As is domestic violence. As the media does a lousy job of telling these stories, our tunnel-vision society does a lousy job of understanding them, and hence our policy makers ignore them.
The media has been doing an outstanding job, however, in turning Roszko into a monster in a matter of days. One news agency has already called him a terrorist, “he terrorized the community of Mayerthorpe for years.” Wasn’t he a part of this community? People are lighting candles in his memory. How did this community influence him to think the way he did about things? The media loves to make monsters. Hitler wasn’t a person. Bin Laden is larger than life, and Saddam Hussein is a rabid dog off of his leash. For the media, and hence for public opinion, it is impossible to see such figures as part of a society or a community. It’s easier to see them as demons, because in that context we don’t have to be a part of them, and hence are freed of responsibility. Alcoholism, car accidents and domestic assault are a bit trickier to turn into bogey men.

For a minute there, I hoped that Canada could serve and digest such events with a bit more intelligence and a little less frenzy. Sadly, I’m mistaken. I met this guy in a bar in L.A. who was en route to Fiji from Canada. I asked him what he thought about Canada. He said, “I think that a lot of Canadians are quite naive.” Although a little offended at the time, I’m agreeing with this guy more and more each day.


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