I was recently going through “memorabilia” I had set aside to scrapbook, and found several newspapers my husband brought home from a business trip to Ottawa, Canada. Looking at it, I was struck by the differences between American media and Canadian media. Now, assuming it was not just a slow news day, the cover stories on the paper I picked up included coverage of a memorial for the 20th anniversary of the bombing of Air-India flight 182, a gathering of dragon boat crews in Vancouver (all of whom were breast cancer survivors), and a controversial museum display to be exhibited in Toronto. No murders. No robberies. No “bad” news. The closest they got to bad news was coverage of a US Supreme Court decision that ruled against the “little guy” in favor of the government and that the Canadian government had issued a travel visa to relatives of a hard-line Syrian general so that the general’s grandchildren could be born in Canada, and thus being able to claim joint citizenship. Amazing.
I thought maybe it was a fluke. A slow news day. So I looked at the other papers my husband had brought home. A new artistic director for the National Ballet of Canada. Breast cancer survivors fighting for a new drug. The Conservative party in the government fighting a bill in Parliament. A former immigration minister accused of “misdeeds” by handing out travel visas to friends and relatives of staff members. This was, by Canadian standards, shocking. But, by far, the most intriguing story – on the front page, no less – “Don’t ostracize convicted killer, criminologist warns”:
Convicted killer [name excluded] risks falling into the wrong hands at the “margins” of society unless Canadians help her rebuild her life when she leaves prison, says a group helping ease her re-entry to society. Attempts to ostracize [her] when she completes her jail sentence in less than 12 days could backfire. “Someone who’s banished is more vulnerable to all sorts of influences and all sorts of people. She is not sheltered from that. She would be at risk.” It is not in the public’s interest to marginalize [her] no matter how distasteful people find her, or how much revulsion they feel about her crimes.
The article did not mention anything about the crimes for which the woman was imprisoned, so I had to look her up. That, in and of itself, I found to be interesting. Read any story in your local paper about a trial or sentencing of a criminal, and the story will include a “recap” of the crimes in question. It turns out that this woman had served 12 years for manslaughter for her part in the most heinous sex-crimes murders, with multiple victims, in recent Canadian history. But no mention of the crimes in the article at all. Nothing to remind the public who this person was. I could only assume that the public needed no reminder. And yet, here were professional criminologists, on the front page of the Canadian national newspaper, urging their fellow citizens to accept that she had served her time and was rehabilitated.
Based upon what I read out on the internet, the woman is very lucky she is a Canadian. The crimes she was accused of were so vicious that any prosecutor here in the “States” would have sought the death penalty, and there would have been no problem with securing that sentence. But what amazed me the most about the story was that, even though this horrendous monster was about to be released, the professionals involved with the case were not warning the public, but chastising them. Several communities had already voiced their displeasure at the prospect of this woman relocating to their vicinity, and a home that had been under construction for her by her parents had been burned to the ground before the building was complete.
It made me think of the vast differences between our society and that of our neighbors to the north. Statistically speaking, they have about 100 times the number of guns per capita than the US, and yet gun crimes are almost non-existent. The vast majority of the population lives in very close proximity to each other within 200 miles of the US-Canadian border, but still familiarity does not seem to breed contempt as it does here. Everyone is just so nice. No greater example could be made than the display of Canadian hospitality and warmth during this year’s Olympic Games in Vancouver. Maybe courtesy and gentility are not dead, just a little further north.
As Americans, we pride ourselves on being the “Melting Pot” of the world. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” I wonder, did the “wretched refuse” of Canada end up here? Maybe that is why the only headlines we see in our American papers are sensational ones. Corruption! Murder! Bombings! Conspiracy! Scandal! Have all the good folks left? Are the only ones still here the “homeless, tempest-tossed”? The optimist in me says, “NO! WE ARE STILL HERE!”
I have to believe it is true.