Posts Tagged ‘crime’

Suspect to be charged in St. Lawrence Psych Center killing

St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, where the crime took place. Photo: Lizette Haenel

St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, where the crime took place. Photo: Lizette Haenel

In the continuation of a very sad story from last month, St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain says her office will be charging Jose Miranda, a 64-year-old patient at the psych center, in the homicide of fellow patient Robert Harrienger. Time Warner Cable News reports it’s not clear what the exact charges will be.

Rain said Miranda’s back in state prison, where he was serving time for assault prior to being sent to the psych center, for the time being. Miranda has what TWC calls an “extensive felony history” dating to the 1970s.


What the UCSB killings mean to one young woman

Elliot Rodger. Image: Still from Rodger's YouTube video

Elliot Rodger. Image: Still from Rodger’s YouTube video

This post from NCPR’s returning student employee Claire Woodcock, who attends SUNY Fredonia during the school year. Claire will be a regular contributor to The Inbox; in this piece, she explores a news story that has particular resonance for her as a college-age woman. –Nora Flaherty, NCPR digital content editor

The bullets that echoed through the streets Isla Vista, California on Friday night left seven dead, 13 wounded and a community in tatters. At the heart of the crime was Elliot Rodger, a disturbed 22 year old with a rancor towards women and the men who were fortunate enough to spend time with them.

It’s still a bitter pill that’s hard to swallow: The malevolent manifesto, the grisly photos, the chilling ‘Retribution’ video piled on top of disturbing interviews with the victim’s families, and the constant updates from competing news organizations.

What happened at the University of California, Santa Barbara, isn’t an isolated incident. There have been several mass shootings over the years, some more destructive than others (Reddit has compiled a list of 103 mass shootings in the United States thus far in 2014.) But Rodger was different. He was roughly my age, and he hated me.

Not because I was one of the girls he would have lusted after — I don’t think I was his type — But because I’m part of the larger group he hated. I’m a woman.

“You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime,” said Rodger in his ‘Retribution’ video.

“I concluded that women are flawed. There is something mentally wrong with the way their brains are wired, as if they haven’t evolved from animal-like thinking. They are incapable of reason or thinking rationally. They are like animals, completely controlled by their primal, depraved emotions and impulses. That is why they are attracted to barbaric, animal-like men. They are beasts themselves. Beasts should not be able to have rights in a civilized society.”

Perhaps the most disturbing mention in his declaration was his sense of entitlement towards women and sex: “It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls have never been attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime, because I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy, and yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men, instead of me, the supreme gentleman.”

Rodger saw himself as executing justice for the isolation he experienced, the loneliness he endured and the sexual tension that swelled up inside of him: “Women are like a plague. They don’t deserve to have any rights. Their wickedness must be contained in order [to] prevent future generations from falling into degeneracy. Women are vicious, evil, barbaric animals, and they need to be treated as such,” Rodger wrote in his manifesto.

Many have emphasized the role that mental illness and gun control laws played in Friday night’s tragedy, and how it could have been avoided. But many women also believe that Rodger’s actions spoke for many other men who hold similar ideas about women and sex.

That belief was evident in the rush of women who were quick to express their personal grievances over Rodger’s actions, his comments and a larger culture in which they frequently feel sexually threatened; they flooded Twitter by the hundreds of thousands with their often-powerful responses, using the hashtag #YesAllWomen (very much worth reading).

Jennifer Medina of The New York Times wrote that for many women at UCSB, “the attacks were like a nightmare caricature of the safety concerns they deal with regularly on a campus where a high-profile gang rape recently prompted widespread concerns about safety and where an outsize reputation for alcohol-fueled parties led some to wonder if the beachside campus culture in any way played into the violence.”

The 2008 National Crime Victimization Survey says that more than 75 percent of the women who reported a rape were less than 25 years old at the time of their assault; more than 25 percent of the victims of reported rapes are between 18 and 24 years old. The White House has acknowledged the problem and issued guidelines for universities to more aggressively combat campus sex assault; but that doesn’t solve the problem. While premeditated mass murder and domestic violence against women are not the same offense, women continue to feel concerned about their safety.

Much of what’s appearing on Twitter says this: We are all products of a culture that has demeaned and sexualized women to the point where Rodger’s sense of entitlement, and the threat of violence against women, is seen as normal. Maybe UCSB’s culture played a role in the killings; but, they say, sexual violence can happen anywhere.

On NPR’s Morning Edition today, writer Laurie Penny talked about the sense of entitlement Rodger felt to love, sex, respect and even adoration, and the sense that if he didn’t get that he was “entitled to rape, beat and even kill.” With respect to the #YesAllWomen Twitter campaign and the larger conversation about the violence, she said,

“One of the most horrifying pushbacks is that ‘not all men do this, not all men think like this.’ Well of course, not all men are killers, not all men are violent misogynists. But the idea that before we speak about misogynistic extremism we should take men’s feelings into account and make sure that no man listening to this conversation feels threatened or has his ego bruised. That’s really, really dangerous. That’s the language of silencing and that’s what the #YesAllWomen tweet was reacting to.”

Elliot Rodger’s ideology is by no means an accurate representation of all men’s views on women. Not all men share the same views as Rodger, and not all women think that they do. But there are men who want to hurt women.

This weekend, I watched as CNN and The Washington Post told the story of the killings, and watched updates and comments splatter all over my News Feed–fear was the theme of the day.

But the conversation about Elliot Rodger and his victims has the potential to bring about change. The #YesAllWoman movement has brought many women’s fears, fears that have long been hidden, out into the open. If this violence could happen anywhere, maybe change will start on Twitter.

“Rape culture” issues hit home for University of Ottawa

College students have been at the forefront of trying to change the "culture of rape" with high-profile events such as this "Slut Walk" in Toronto. Photo: Eric Parker, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

College students have been at the forefront of trying to change the “culture of rape” with high-profile events such as this “Slut Walk” in Toronto. Photo: Eric Parker, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

The ugly act of rape has probably plagued humanity forever. But these days there’s a lot of discussion about attitudes that arguably permit – or encourage – sexual violence. Some insist we live in a what’s been labeled a “culture of rape” and more should be done to combat that reality.

The debate about rape culture became very concrete last week for the University of Ottawa. (Side note: If you accept the concept of rape culture it’s a problem to a greater or lesser degree all around the world. But for a variety of reasons the issue in Canada and the U.S. seems exacerbated on college/university campuses and in the military.)

Recently the University of Ottawa got hit with a double whammy. First, it was revealed in February that Anne-Marie Roy, head of the university’s Student Federation, was the subject of a rowdy online chat by five males, four of whom were also involved in student leadership positions. As reported by the CBC:

The online conversation — a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press — included references to sexual activities some of the five individuals wrote they would like to engage in with Roy, including oral and anal sex, as well as suggestions that she suffered from sexually transmitted diseases.

“Someone punish her with their shaft,” wrote one of the individuals at one point. “I do believe that with my reputation I would destroy her,” wrote another.

After confronting a member of the conversation in person, Roy said she received an emailed apology from all five men which emphasized that their comments were never actual threats against her.

“While it doesn’t change the inadmissible nature of our comments, we wish to assure you we meant you no harm,” the apology, written in French, read.

Apparently this conversation was conducted privately on a social media site, but screenshots became available. (Four of the men involved initially threatened legal action if their conversation was made public.) The UO’s English-language newspaper, The Fulcrum, has more extensive coverage here.

The messy incident is illustrative of the “rape culture” debate. Was that private fun between friends, which amounts to nothing more than jokes in poor taste? Or does it prove objectification and violence – real or implied – have become insidiously normal?

Close on the heels of that revelation came an announcement on March 3rd from the UO that the entire men’s ice hockey team was suspended as a result of an investigation into an allegation of sexual assault involving an unknown number of hockey players during a team visit to Thunder Bay. As of this writing, not a lot has been made public about the investigation being conducted by police in Thunder Bay. Here’s how that’s been reported by The Fulcrum.

Shortly after the suspension, top University officials held a press conference on March 6th to announce a task force to deal with the issue. While the array of responses available to administrators is not infinite, some are unimpressed. As reported by the Ottawa Citizen on March 7th:

Isabelle Hetu, president of the union of student workers at the university, said she doubts the task force will elicit results.

“There’s a lot of other task forces that have been created by the University of Ottawa in the past years. They’ve all ended up on a shelf and no one’s heard about it,” she said. “I can pretty much assure you that we won’t see the results of that in the near future.”

Hetu, a graduate student, is involved with the independent initiative against rape culture on campus, which has a list of recommendations aimed at changing the culture on campus, including a mandatory course about harassment and discrimination.

Task forces, mandatory courses…how do any of those get big enough to change something this pervasive? And while it’s the University of Ottawa getting the negative headlines right now, this is not a problem confined to any single campus or country.

Personally, I think the Internet is part of the problem. Porn of all types is so freely available. There’s a sense that it can be consumed, shared and discussed freely in private circles. This general smutification (my own made-up word) flourishes, creating a new normal – a secret undercurrent, if you will. (And with or without sex, social media has exacerbated the issue of bullying too, which tends to be part of this problem.)

The Internet isn’t going away. Porn isn’t going away. And I don’t favor censorship. So what counter forces can be brought to bear on the scourge of sexual violence?

No bomb found after Watertown High School evacuation

Police and school officials searched Watertown High School for a bomb after a threat this morning forced evacuation. They were assisted by C.J., the explosive detection dog. Photo: NYS Police

Police and school officials searched Watertown High School for a bomb after a threat this morning forced evacuation. They were assisted by C.J., the explosive detection dog. Photo: NYS Police

After a bomb threat this morning, Watertown High School was evacuated, according to a press release from the Watertown City School District. Police, school officials and a bomb-sniffing dog found no evidence of a bomb. They’re currently investigating the bomb threat. Here’s the complete text of the press release from the school district:

The Watertown High School was evacuated today in response to a bomb threat that was discovered at approximately 11:45 a.m.  Upon a thorough sweep by our school district’s School Resource Officer, New York State Police with “CJ” a trained bomb threat dog, as well as specially assigned WHS staff members, no evidence was found that a bomb was in the building.

Our deep appreciation goes out to the Watertown City Police Department, New York State Police, and Watertown City Fire Department for their quick response to our call for assistance.  I also would like to commend all the Watertown High School staff and all of our 9-12 students who cooperated and truly worked together to maintain a safe environment throughout the evacuation process.

Our first priority in these circumstances is to assure the safety and welfare of students and staff.  Our second priority is now to conduct an investigation using both anecdotal evidence and camera data to identify the person(s) who may be responsible for this criminal act.

Clinton County charges 14 with welfare fraud

Clinton County, NY. Image:

Clinton County, NY. Image:

Happy post-Thanksgiving week to you all, and thanks, weather gods, for reminding us it is, in fact, winter. Man, is it winter.

There are many stories in the papers so far this week with opportunities to do nice things for other people because it’s the holidays and that’s something we do. But there’s one that stands out as being not particularly nice at all: In Clinton County, the Plattsburgh Press Republican reports, 14 people are being charged with welfare fraud in what county Assistant District Attorney Jason Marx told the paper he believes is “one of the biggest welfare fraud sweeps in the history of the tri-county area.” The total amount of fraud, the county District Attorney’s office says in a press release, is more then $105,000. All of those being charged were arraigned in the second half of last month and are awaiting trial. All the charges are felonies.

The instances of fraud are mostly pretty low level — at or below the $4,000 range. A few cases are much more eye catching. These include a Champlain man who’s charged with first-degree larceny after allegedly receiving about $23,000 in reimbursements for mileage from the county; a Mooers man who received about $28,000 in medical assistance after allegedly misreporting his income; and a Plattsburgh women who allegedly was paid $16,585 in medical and SNAP (food stamps) benefits for which she wasn’t eligible.

As the DA points out in the press release, welfare fraud is a particularly serious issue when county budgets are stretched as tight as they currently are, and defrauding the government isn’t exactly classy. It’s also somewhat saddening that out of the three major instances of fraud, one is for medical assistance, and the other is for that and food stamps. Interestingly, both are in flux right now. Food stamps funding was effectively cut as of November 1, and the future of the program isn’t clear as Congress continues to wrangle over the Farm Bill. Meanwhile, as the Affordable Care Act takes effect over the next couple years, we’ll know more about how it’s going to impact the high cost of health care in America.

Maybe those being charged with these crimes are terrible, welfare queen-type people who would steal from the government no matter what (my earlier thoughts about welfare fraud and welfare queens); maybe they’re just people with problems who did something, or a number of things, that basically constituted an ongoing theft from the local government. Probably, they’re somewhere in between.

Will at-home drug testing keep Massena kids clean?

Massena, NY. Photo: Gary Stevens, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Massena, NY. Photo: Gary Stevens, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

North Country now is reporting this week about a new effort Massena is making to keep local kids off drugs: distributing drug testing kits to parents (actually, they’re giving them to the school district for distribution to parents who want them.) It’s part of an initiative by the Massena Drug Free Coalition called “Trust but Verify.”

Police chief and coalition chairman Timmy Currier told the paper the new effort could be useful in a couple ways. First, it could help kids resist social pressure to use drugs: “The purpose of this program is first, to act as a deterrent and provide kids with an excuse not to use since they could be drug tested by their parents.”

Second, he says if parents do test their kids and find they are in fact using drugs, they can deal with it privately: “The parent can consult with their family physician or another confidential professional and determine the best approach in treating their child. This will be done without punitive action and focus completely on getting their child the help they need.”

The kits can detect cocaine, meth-amphetamines, opiates, THC, oxys and benzodiazepines, and the article reports the test is 98 percent reliable.

Tests are free and made available through a partnership of the Massena Police Department, St. Lawrence County Probation Department, Rose Hill Adolescent Chemical Dependency Program and Massena Central Schools. If parents need to talk about a positive result or the testing process, they can call a local and confidential help line 800-776-7344. Pickup locations are listed in the article.

Both interim school superintendent William W. Crist and Tina Buckley, director of the Rose Hill program, agree this is a positive move. Here’s Crist, talking to NCN:

“I applaud the parents who have taken a test kit for their children to “Trust But Verify” the stark reality of our youth being tempted by street drugs and unprescribed Massena Drug Free Coalition prescription medication…Our schools represent a miniature model of our community. Both should be safe places for our young people to grow, learn and mature. Drugs and substance abuse don’t permit that safe environment to exist.”

And Buckley:

“Free drug testing is a great opportunity for parents to practice prevention within their family. By having the tests visible and close by it allows parents to give their child an out when they are pressured to use and also is available if the parent has concerns about a child’s behaviors. This opportunity is a win-win for families.”

Massena’s making ongoing efforts to tackle its drug problem, both on the consumption side (for example, five students at the high school were recently taken to the hospital after taking prescription drugs at school) and the distribution side (recently). In the past, the village has tried to deal with the problem in several ways, including increasing surveillance in certain areas and drafting a nuisance law, as well as more traditional law enforcement measures.

Writing about the surveillance question at the time, I raised the question of whether the village’s plans might represent a potential civil liberties issue. I’m interested in that same question here. I’m intrigued by the notion that the drug test would be considered an “out” for kids who don’t want to use drugs but might feel compelled to do so by social pressure, but on the other hand, isn’t there something a little unsettling about the possibility, as a high school kid, of being randomly tested for drugs by your parents?

What do you think? Am I flying off the handle here? Is this completely reasonable? Or would you look at this and say “I don’t think that’s OK?” Read the whole article on NCN before you make up your mind…

Kingston Penitentiary closes with a charitable flourish

Kingston Penitentiary. Photo: Sean Marshall, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Kingston Penitentiary. Photo: Sean Marshall, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

What are the most famous – or notorious – prisons in the U.S.? Alcatraz? Sing-sing? Attica?

Well, in Canada, that distinction seems to belong to a penitentiary opened in 1835, right on the scenic lake shore of Kingston, Ontario.

You may not have heard of Kingston Penitentiary’s most famous inmates, but Canadians can collectively shudder when they think of convicted murders like Paul Bernardo, Clifford Olsen or Russell Williams. Here’s a short who’s-who of infamous inmates incarcerated there over the last 178 years, as compiled by Maclean’s Magazine.

This detailed story from the annals of CBC delves into the dark corners of the facility’s history, back when even children might see hard jail time.

The original rules for inmates stated that inmates “must not exchange a word with one another under any pretence whatever” and “must not exchange looks, wink, laugh, nod or gesticulate to each other,” with violators receiving the lash.

The original facility was a single, large limestone cellblock with 154 cells in five tiers. Those cells were 74 by 244 cm in width and 200 cm in height.

The three other wings of the main building were completed by the 1850s and the dome that connects the four cellblocks was added in 1861. It was then the largest public building in Upper Canada.

I think that cell size converts to roughly 29 by 96 inches of floor space with 79 inches of headroom. Ugh! The article includes a link for a 360 degree view of the interior of the grounds, and an interview with architectural historian Jennifer McKendry on the building’s significance. (Sorry to say this is “geo-fenced” for Canadian viewing only.) Here’s a time line of the penitentiary that should be accessible to all.

Kingston Penitentiary postcard, c. 1930. Photo: Bill Stevenson, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Kingston Penitentiary postcard, c. 1930. Photo: Bill Stevenson, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Women were moved out to their own prison in the 1930s. Like it or not, prisons elicit all kinds of morbid curiosity, including the question of executions. And here’s what I found on that:

While capital punishment was legal in Canada until 1976, it was only practiced until 1962. Capital executions were never carried out at Kingston Penitentiary itself, as executions were carried out at county or provincial jails.

According to that link, two inmates who killed a KP guard in an escape attempt were executed – elsewhere – for that crime in 1949.

With most inmates now transferred to other facilities, Kingston Penitentiary will officially close September 30th.  I, too, am curious about where those prisoners all went and how that was determined, but that’s research for another day.

As was mentioned by Martha Foley on Thursday’s Eight O’Clock Hour, the last hurrah for the prison as such will be public tours from October 2-20. Those are being offered as a fund raiser for the regional United Way. (That ticket sale site has a tantalizing statement that “Minimum-security work-release-offenders may still be working onsite”. )

Unfortunately for many, those tours have completely sold out.  Numerous news outlets are reporting keen interest in attaining tickets. A tricky wicket, with explicitly stipulations that tickets may not be re-sold. Writing in Thursday’s Kingston Whig-Standard, Peter Hendra recounts the difficulties organizers are coping with in the face of overwhelming response. (A faint hope for the most interested might be to volunteer to help give the tour.)

Perhaps this is a good time to mention an also-ran option: Canada’s Penitentiary Museum. It’s just across the street to help the curious grapple with this subject.

Debate continues about what to do with the prime waterfront property down the road. Back in 2012, at least, news accounts like this one by the Globe and Mail indicated it would be sold:

The site’s maintenance costs mean it could sit dormant for years, said Christian Leuprecht, a Kingston politics and economics professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University. “It’s tragic but I just don’t see alternatives,” he said. “There’s a reason the federal government is closing it, because it’s a money pit.”

As reported in March by Paul Schliesmann for the Whig-Standard, former warden Monty Bourke is among many who want to preserve and maximize at least some of that storied past, even if actual development has to include mixed use.

What Kingston doesn’t want to see, he said, is a repeat of what happened with the closing of the British Columbia Penitentiary in New Westminster and the St. Vincent de Paul Penitentiary in Montreal — and now Prison for Women — which have been abandoned and fallen into disrepair.

He said the newly elected prison museum committee is dedicated to the project and members have a wealth of artifacts and knowledge to contribute.

“I’m committed to preserving the history. I’m committed to building and highlighting that connection with Kingston,” said Bourke.

“I suspect the city would support that. We’re talking benefits such as tourism. We want to be at the table.”

Did I mention it's waterfront? Kingston Penitentiary beside a busy boat harbor in 2009. Photo: Lucy Martin

Did I mention it’s waterfront? Kingston Penitentiary beside a busy boat harbor in 2009. Photo: Lucy Martin

Asked by CKWS TV about future possibilities for the federal property, Kingston and the Islands M.P. Ted Hsu replied: “Wait and see what the government does in terms of decommissioning the site so you know what state the site is in, what conditions any future owner has to abide by, for example preserving some of the heritage characteristics and then put together a business plan.”

To be determined, basically.

Kingston residents, what would you like to see there?

And, everyone else, what could happen there that might spark your interest in visiting Kingston, to experience that city’s past and present?

Phone snooping in Canada

Sign carried in protest against NSA surveillance programs. Photo: Mike Herbst, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Sign carried in protest against NSA surveillance programs. Photo: Mike Herbst, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

In the wake of revelations about government surveillance in the U.S., it’s only natural to wonder what’s going on in other countries.

Here’s a recent article from the Globe and Mail about norms in Canada:

For nearly two decades, Ottawa officials have told telecommunications companies that one of the conditions of obtaining a licence to use wireless spectrum is to provide government with the capability to monitor the devices that use the spectrum.

There are regulations that govern this access, though the back-scenes details ate not generally available to the public.

But The Globe and Mail has obtained past and current versions of the accord, which governs the way that mobile-phone companies help police pursue suspects by monitoring telecommunications – including eavesdropping, reading SMS texts, pinpointing users’ whereabouts, and even unscrambling some encrypted communications.

Wireless carriers are told they must be ready to hand over such data should police or intelligence agencies compel the release of the information through judicially authorized warrants. Such information goes well beyond traditional wiretaps, and also includes phone logs and keystrokes.

In some respects, this appears to be along an older model of needing a court order before tapping a phone for the purposes of criminal investigations.

But those who worry about sacrificing personal rights in the name of fighting crime, terrorism or espionage still have concerns about transparency and application, as expressed here:

“We would suggest that a piece that governs the behaviour of telecom providers licensed to operate in Canada ought to be available for public discussion by parliamentarians, academics and security researchers,” said Scott Hutchinson, a spokesman for the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

This post is not a comprehensive summary of the subject, just another detail along the way.

Drug bust in Massena highlights NYC link

A multi-agency drug task force announced today 12 people were arrested in Massena on federal drug trafficking charges. According to a news release, the investigation netted 380 grams of cocaine, 377 grams of heroine, 100 grams of crack, 5 handguns, and $11,000 in cash.

Almost all of those arrested are young, under the age of 30. And while most of them are from Massena, what’s interesting is that three are from New York City. Law enforcement officials highlighted this connection between local street crime in the North Country and larger, more organized suppliers from NYC “who travel north seeking new and expanded markets.”

In the release, St. Lawrence County District Attorney Nicole Duvé called the bust “an important step in addressing the increasing presence of urban heroin and cocaine supply networks in northern St. Lawrence and Franklin counties.”


What happened to “nice” Canada?

A Canada goose, being not so nice. Photo: Ken Slade, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

A Canada goose, being not so nice. Photo: Ken Slade, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Canada and Canadians have a long-standing reputation for being nice. While there are worse labels to wear, “nice” can feel bland and tiresome at times – sort of like some Miss Congeniality runner-up award.

Sure, other words come up too: friendly, polite, compassionate. Sometimes admirers throw in additional terms like progressive. I’m not here to trash that cheerful storyline. By and large, this is a pleasant country with helpful, well-intended citizens who value compromise and co-operation more than is usually the case in the U.S.

But there are plenty of examples of a less-kind Canada, from past to present. Here are a few worth pondering, in chronological order.

First, something that challenges the view Canada has been much nicer to its native inhabitants than the nasty old U.S.A. As reported in the Canadian media this past week, much is being made of a discovery that during the 1940’s some hungry aboriginal children (and adults) in Canada were used for nutritional research. Here’s how the CBC summarized what government researchers did::

They found people who were hungry, beggared by a combination of the collapsing fur trade and declining government support. They also found a demoralized population marked by, in the words of the researchers, “shiftlessness, indolence, improvidence and inertia.”

The researchers suggested those problems — “so long regarded as inherent or hereditary traits in the Indian race” — were in fact the results of malnutrition.

Instead of recommending an increase in support, the researchers decided that isolated, dependent, hungry people would be ideal subjects for tests on the effects of different diets.

This came to light through research published in the May 2013 issue of Histoire Sociale/Social History by food historian Ian Mosby. It’s generated considerable attention and the source article can be viewed here. Ian Mosby speaks about the subject in this CBC interview on “As it Happens”:

“…my sense of it was that they saw this as a problem that would not be solved, and so therefore their experiments were not making the children’s lives worse – this is what I imagine them to be thinking.”

Mosby’s guess about motives sounds bang-on to me. These days there’s general consensus that governments confronted with hunger are obliged to at least try and supply relief. But safety-net mentality is pretty much a post-war 20th century social contract. In the bad old days, plenty of countries thought little of letting those on the ladder’s bottom rung fend for themselves, or simply fall off. (Please note I am not condoning the racism, cruelty and neglect those practices reflect. I’m simply suggesting that present outrage is often viewed through the lens of modern expectations.)

If some “travesty scale” for violence against original inhabitants existed, the U.S probably retains a commanding lead over Canada. But things like this recent revelation, or a beating caught on video, challenge the common assumption that Canada treats its native populations comparatively well.

Moving to more current events, here’s one I don’t even like to bring up. Remember that gory murder and dismemberment in 2012, allegedly committed by Luka Magnotta? As detailed by Wikipedia, Magnotta is a “… pornographic actor and model accused of killing and dismembering Lin Jun, a Chinese international student, then mailing his severed limbs to political parties and elementary schools.” (No one has been convicted for that murder yet. Here is a time line of the case from the Montreal Gazette.)

This week, though, the owner of a website based in Edmonton, Alberta was charged with one count of “corrupting morals” for posting a video that allegedly showed the murder/dismemberment. Mark Marek runs something called “Best Gore”. As reported by the CBC:

Marek has defended his website’s role in the case, saying it provides a public service by educating the public about the dangerous side of human nature.

As you can imagine, the charge of “corrupting morals” can be difficult to apply in general, and it’s really problematic in case of the Internet. Here’s more on that law from Global news:

Toronto criminal lawyer Jonathan Rosenthal says that the section is an “old-fashioned section of Canada’s law,” that is rarely used.

“It’s a law that is used for offenses where it’s not pornography, but you know it’s wrong,” said Rosenthal. “Cases involving this law would be very difficult to prosecute as you have to prove intent.”

I have blogged before about my own belief that excessive media attention can function as oxygen for criminals and would-be criminals. So beyond observing that the Canadian legal system now gets to wrestle with the complex issue of Internet freedom in the context of posting snuff videos, I’m ready to move on.

And then there’s a new area where Canada starts to feel uncomfortably like the U.S. – the political “enemies list”. Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently shuffled his cabinet. A fairly standard event. What seems less standard was this allegation, as reported by the National Post:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office asked Conservative political staffers to develop lists of “enemy” lobby groups, as well as troublesome bureaucrats and reporters to avoid as part of preparations for incoming ministers named in Monday’s cabinet shuffle, according to leaked emails sent to Postmedia News by an unidentified source.

Whoa! Shades of Richard Nixon! What’s the deal there?

To be fair, few people and even fewer countries are 100% squeaky clean all the time. And I’ve also cherry-picked examples to suit this post’s theme. There’s also a sizable faction in Canada that is convinced Prime Minister Harper and current Conservative Party practices take the low road as a standard strategic choice. There’s a ready audience for facts or stories which support that view.

So, was “nice Canada” ever real? Or just a myth?

If you think Canada has become less nice, so to speak, would you care to postulate on the how and why of that decline?

Modern times?

An “evil prime minister”?

The pollution of American culture? (This theory is quite popular in Canada!)

Do tell.