My family in Ottawa now has a “murderer” amongst us. Father murdered even drunker (and alcoholic) son in a drunken rage. Thing is, I am getting the idea that my family feels worse for the “murderer” than they do for the victim. Let’s explore that and relate it to the Conservative government this country is stuck with.
As Press Secretary to Solicitor General James Kelleher, he and I attended a meeting in the mid 1980s with “lifers” in the Leclerc (medium*) Institution, north off Montreal. You only get to join the “lifer” club if you are a “murderer.” Imagine: Across the table from us, only a lunge away (plus a few extra feet), sit four or five really bad guys. There are two stand-out memories from that meeting. First, they say: “We are not recidivists.” Wow, that is articulate. And also factually true. Most “murderers” do not do it again (i.e. do not recidivate). They made their mistake and they are paying for it. Second, they say: “Don’t call us ‘murderers,’ that makes it sound like it’s our occupation.” (Ok, and maybe a third memory: They just do not seem to be “bad guys.”)
And if you think about it, someone who skis once, and lives to tell of its terror is not a skier. So, why is someone who murders once a “murderer”?
Because we all love to label things, and labeling people who screw up as *obvious* bad guys is a great way of sweeping bigger problems under the rug. It sells newspapers and the Conservative government can use it to sell fear and its brand of hate.
Let’s think about Maisie Clark.
Who??? The bane of my time as Press Secretary, that’s who.
Poor Maisie Clark. In 1980 she is the 60-ish year-old upper-crust widow of a University of Guelph administrator and is recovering from the annulment of her second marriage, *and* has on-going affair with that ex-husband. A little twisted. She is stalking her ex and his new wife (during the affair). Goes to his house only to pick up some lawn chairs (she says) but stabs her ex’s new wife to death: twelve times.
You can see from the headline above, how Maisie’s case is portrayed. From the article above we learn that Maisie “is becoming unhinged,” is “weak and ailing [and] “poses little danger to society.” Toronto columnist June Callwood, inveterate campaigner of the downtrodden, weighs in heavily on the case. The political pressure is intense to have her granted a Royal Prerogative of Mercy.
You can see my quote at the side here. I did not actually expect to find the Citizen article or the quote, but there they are, on my first click as I look for anything on Maisie. My goodness the internet is amazing! (This foot-in-mouth by me as Press Secretary is seared into my memory. My embarrassment is that my quote, I thought, was not a quote but was off-the-record and background only. But I did not utter that important caveat. The office was not amused with such a frank and heartless quote.)
Let’s compare the Maisie headline to this one, related to my relative:
John Mcrae is ten years older than Maisie was. Also a grandfather. Maisie did get her Royal Prerogative of Mercy and then got even more leniency later. This is not on her file, so I am not breaking any confidentiality: Professionals in the office were appalled by the case and how officials buckled under the pressure from the pearl-necklace set.
What kind of justice will John Mcrae receive? My first wife, a criminologist, introduced me to a watershed book, whose title says much: The Rich Get Richer, and the Poor Get Prison. Now in it’s eighth edition.
We have a government, led by Uncle** Steve, that is tough on crime, even though crime rates are dropping. We have a government that is messing so much with the correctional system, against the evidence, that it might actually be increasing the long-term risk to society, by making inmates meaner, sicker, and with less skills for coping when they are eventually returned to society.
Drug and alcohol addition are foremost public health issues. Anger management and dealing with mental illness and learning disabilities are societal problems which, when not dealt-with, become criminal issues, with sad perps and innocent victims. We ignore these issues at our peril. Really.
Uncle** Steve and the boys, borrowing a page from failed Republican programmes in the US, love to get tough on crime because it scares us, and makes us want a strong government that promises (quick-fix) solutions. Canadians have become intoxicated by fear. Who needs evidence when we are all scared? (But don’t worry about global warming, because Uncle says it ain’t so)
My heart goes out to those around Mike Mcrae, the victim. No one should die like a dog, not even dogs. And my heart goes out to the father. He will have to live with his regret and guilt. I just cannot get into revenge or punishment in such a case.
My background is in political science and environmental studies, but several years in the Office of the Solicitor General and the Parole Board helped me to better understand the large part of our society that is ignored, and its problems.
In researching this article, I discovered that the Hon “Jim” Kelleher passed away in 2013. He was a good man. Rest in Peace.
* Most inmates with long sentences are in medium or minimum institutions because they became relatively safe through institutionalization and burn-out due to age and the day-to-day grind of incarceration.
** “Uncle” will be used in this blog to describe any leader who thinks that s/he knows best and that others around him (most likely a “him”, but maybe a “her”) are mere trifles in the way of the one truth that s/he possesses.
Image credits: Cover photo: Licence purchased from iStock © Luka Lajst. Other images are extracts of a work.