Life in the Obituaries

One of my favourite sections of the newspaper, is the Obituaries.

I can hear the guffaws now, the one-liners aimed in my direction, “what are you looking to make sure you are not in them?”.

Putting that all aside, I am not a necrologist, the idea of death doesn’t fascinate me. Considering my previous line of work, many would feel that would be an allowable and understandable character flaw.

Of course, obituaries are not about death, they are about a life lived. They are historic records of times, peoples, and places, lives which have been now forever lost. Of course there is emotion woven into the narrative in the reading of any obituary; especially if that person has become known to you personally. It tweaks the soul and makes us pause. The sensation is underlined by the fact that all of us will, one day, be the subject of an obituary.

A few of the police newsgroups cover the deaths of police officers in particular. Those that served in policing in some capacity through this broad land. Some of those deaths are after long spates of illness or a sudden tragedy, but most are the result of many years lived.

Those that from some twist of fate had shortened lives or were torn from us by some unpredictable illness forces us to be observers –voyeurs of a family’s most heart wrenching moments. It is a glimpse of a family or a family member which allows us to imagine their grief; cathartic for some, tearful for others. The prose, style and the stories in these cases are often overwhelmed by the sadness of it all, both for the individual and the families left behind.

All however, tell a story of birth, life enjoyed and lived, friends made, partnerships formed and children produced. The cause of the death is seemingly less important, it was just “time”.

Our media of course focuses on the celebrity, the politician of some renown, the entertainer who entertained us in some fashion, valuable to society in varying degrees. Some, for personal reasons, touch us deeply, as they were part of our life in a memorable and distinct time. They conjure up memories of the way we were, the songs which were part of our high school dances, the fond moments of getting ice cream at a parlour advertising the three flavours, when we were growing up, those formative years.

In a previous blog I mentioned the assassination of Kennedy when I was a mere 9 years old having some ill definable impact on my life. I was moved by simply knowing that something very important had just happened. The world and my world had changed.

Each of us move to a different beat, a different perspective, a different level of understanding which dictates how we react to some lives taken from us. Each generation defined by its own distinct times. An older generation reaches back decades in their memories and are now moved by the passing of Desmond Tutu or maybe even Betty White. The obituary paints the picture and thus allows us to go back in time, to picture those distant moments often in graphic detail albeit once forgotten.

Geography and profession can dictate what catches a readers attention, taking note of a particular life passing. A soviet ballet dancer who was part of the Bolshoi, more likely to have influenced a young girl living in Moscow or the 10 year old girl in Canada forced to into the requisite dance class.

When I read about RCMP police officers having left us, I read because I understand, recognize the circumstances they found themselves in, can relate to the emotional touch points. One can picture the young recruit from the 1950’s arriving in a remote Saskatchewan town, or in an outport of Newfoundland. Wide eyed, knowing nothing, being introduced to the old veterans in the detachment, finding your way around the small village, all eyes on you as you drive or walk by.

Many of those now passed officers knew little of the place they landed but would form lasting friendships, enduring relationships, and some would even decide that this is where they wished to spend the rest of their lives. Children would be produced and a new generation would become part of the newly adopted town fabric. A city slicker could become a gentleman farmer, a farm boy or girl could live their lives immersed in apartment towers and traffic jams. For everyone, no matter what the choice, in times of reflection, this is almost guaranteed to become the “good old days”.

Fate plays a distinct role in these life stories. We don’t live life in a straight line. Our life arc is continually buffeted by circumstances, by other individuals, by changes and decisions made. The doors you walk through and those that close behind you are turning points and are often not pre-meditated. It is only in looking back that you understand the significance.

There is a fascinating documentary simply entitled, “Obit”, which is highly recommended to you my fellow necrologists. It features the day to day life of Obituary writers for the NY Times, their perspectives on life and death, their choices of who “deserves” an obituary in the NY Times and those that do not. They are good writers first and foremost, able to set the tone of the times and the significance of the life on which they are assigned to write. Even those that died may have not been newsworthy during the time they lived but their death is now news.

The Times keeps a “mortuary” card and photo index of all newsworthy lives dating back to the early 1900’s ensconced in a ramshackle basement archive. They write about those that lived a usually long life, lived a creative life, a distinct life, a life worth mentioning. Not all of them fit the criteria, in fact the more interesting ones tend to be about those we didn’t know–the death of a man who rowed across the Atlantic and then the Pacific ocean because it was there, or the 16 year old female aviator who barnstormed the country in the 1930’s while still in high school and lived to the ripe old age of 98. Many of the upper crust of American society are disappointed if their beloved family member does not become a few column inches in the NY Times.

Does reading an obit cause you to think of your own mortality? Of course, we all end up there after all, but it makes you ponder whether you could be doing more, spending more time with others, doing things that promote your potential and well-being, all the while realizing that the finality of life is often not under your control.

In the last couple of days in the Mountie world, chosen randomly, there was Steven Neill Brown who passed at the age of 72 but spent 42 years of that life with the RCMP. Tom Edwards who joined the RCMP in 1956, who in his spare time liked dancing, and even taught dancing. Ken Davis, who liked to draw and after the RCMP had a second life working for the Cities of Kamloops and Nanaimo.

Three lives who in just the last few days are now gone, each with their own unique story, distinct personalities, their children now following in their wake. As a police officer the profession by definition means that they would have touched others, sometimes profoundly sometimes only for a few seconds.

So you see the obits have almost nothing to do death but everything to do with the life. We must remember that lives lived well are always interesting. Reading of a fulfilled life offers up inspiration and challenges you.

Socrates said that “death may be the greatest of all human blessings”.

Jim Morrison more to the point said “no one here gets out alive”.

Clearly death is inevitable and it is said that no one can talk about death for more than a minute without having to change the topic. So, even though I enjoy reading about other peoples lives, I will admit that am not real keen on being the subject of one.

For those that have gone, may their souls find a good resting place.

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons via Flickr–Some Rights Reserved

Hearing Drums…

“No reason to think Debra’s indigenous background played any role in police decisions in this case, it must be acknowledged that indigenous women and girls are vulnerable to stereotypes” – Justice Renee Pommerance

An example of the somewhat twisting crooked line thought process of Justice Renee Pommerance of the Ontario Superior Court, who was recently presiding over the court case of Regina versus Doering. This case was either another misconduct case brought against a police officer– another example of the police victimizing an indigenous woman–or was it a gross miscarriage of justice?

In this London Ontario court case, Justice Renee Pommerance, at the end of the trial found Constable Nicholas Doering guilty: of one count of criminal negligence causing death; and one count of failing to provide the necessities of life.

The case involved the death of 39 year old Debra Chrisjohn of the Oneida of the Thames First Nation and occurred on September 7, 2016. Her cause of death was cardiac arrest– a likely and predictable result of prolonged methamphetamine use. This happened while she was last in the custody of the Ontario Provincial Police.

Constable Doering is an officer with the London City Police, who turned over his custody of Debra Chrisjohn, to the Ontario Provincial Police and it is while in the latter’s custody that Ms. Chrisjohn eventually died.

Cst Doering, however, was the one charged. This wrinkling fact, one that doesn’t seem to flow from any normal victim timeline. In trying to uncover and assign responsibility, this alone was a significant departure from what one would normally expect and raised some questions at the logic that must have been in play.

This aside, the highlight for the television and print news attending the trial was that the victim, Chrisjohn, was an “indigenous woman”. In the current times an indigenous person as a victim is an inescapable inference for the media implying, even if not stated, that there was a possibility of overt racism and wrong-doing on the part of the police.

Justice Pommerance would in her summation find nothing racist in the actions of the police officer; but then seemingly still drew a line of guilt to the officer hinged on the fact that the victim was a drug user and this combined with being indigenous made her therefore more open to being stereotyped. It is ok to scratch your head at this point.

Maybe more telling was the fact that the indigenous were protesting and drumming outside the courtroom throughout the trial, only there one would have to assume serving to imply racism, regardless of the facts that were being outlined inside the courtroom. The continuing photo and television coverage of the case never failed to show the indigenous protests.

This should have been seen as the first sign that this trial had the potential to enter into the political social atmosphere where the whims of a few would or could override common sense.

This set of circumstances started out like many calls during the normal life and routine of uniform police officers.

Constable Doering responded, along with other police officers and three paramedics, to several calls of a woman wandering into traffic and trying to force her way into vehicles. She was described as being “agitated”, “high on drugs trying to get into her van with her and her kids..yelling profanities..throwing herself against the car” according to the one caller.

When the police arrived at the scene, the situation had escalated to the point that Ms. Chrisjohn was now being physically restrained and held down on the ground by a member of the public.

Cst Doering was the officer who eventually stepped up to take responsibility for her; arrested her, and put her in the back of the police vehicle. Checks of her legal status showed that she was also wanted on a warrant for “breach of recognizance”. The warrant was held by the Ontario Provincial Police at a nearby detachment.

At the time she was put into the vehicle she was described as being “alert” and “conscious” and was responding to the police demands, talking and moving about.

Ms. Chrisjohn at the time of the call was quickly recognized by some of the attending officers as having been taken into custody the day before. She had a history with the police and was known to be a user of methamphetamine. In fact the day before the police had also dealt with her over a suspected overdose and she had been hospitalized. The warrant was not executed at that time as the police had to wait for a medical clearance from the hospital.

At the point of this latest arrest, Ms. Chrisjohn was observed by a paramedic but only through the cruiser window, at which point they offered up the opinion that it would be pointless to try and take her vital signs in this agitated state, that her vital signs would be skewed if in fact she was on methamphetamine. Her outward appearance was consistent with the use of “meth”.

There is an interesting sidebar with regard to the three paramedics who attended. In their reports they had indicated that Constable Doering turned down their offer of examination. However, under cross-examination by the defence, it was learned that they had not actually offered their examination, and it wasn’t turned down by Cst Doering. The implication was of course that the paramedics wrote their reports to to cover their own backsides.

Because of Ms. Chrisjohn outstanding warrant, Cst Doering made arrangements to meet an OPP officer at a local Tim Horton’s to turn over the prisoner to them.

So far there is nothing unusual in this story. This scene or one like it gets played out hundreds of times throughout this country on an almost daily basis.

But it is in the next 45 minutes, during the transport of Ms. Chrisjohn; that the Justice feels the officer failed in his duties.

Ms. Chrisjohn, according to Cst. Doering, goes from being abusive and a little resistant; sitting straight up and talking, but at some point slumps over and is “moaning” and “shaking”.

It was during this same time, that Cst. Doering stops the police cruiser to insure that she has not escaped from the handcuffs, not to check on her well-being.

Constable Doering stated there was no conversation during this time, that he had the window open so it would have been difficult to talk in any event.

In his testimony Cst Doering described the victim as displaying “interludes of angry outbursts…bouts of incoherence…” and “talking about bombs in the back seat of the police car”.

Justice Pommerance in her decision states that Constable Doering did not take into account Ms. Chrisjohn’s “deteriorating condition” and did not seek the “medical” help she couldn’t obtain for herself. She felt that Constable Doering’s “inaction” was “likely” shaped by “preconceived notions he had of drug users”.

The Justice further states that “it is not clear what if any observations would have prompted him to call EHS”. This too is a bit of a confusing statement. If the Constable did not observe anything that warned him of a medical condition, why in fact would he change his opinion?

The meeting took place and the prisoner was turned over to Constable McKillop of the OPP. She frisked her and put her in her police vehicle for the final journey to the cells. She did not call for medical attention at this time, so one can only conclude there was still nothing observed which warranted an immediate medical examination. She did state that she was told by Cst. Doering that she had already been “medically cleared.”

If this is true, Cst Doering made a huge error here and should have been forthright and accurate about her medical history. It would not have changed anything, but it would not have allowed for the perception of callousness that was being portrayed by Crown in the courtroom.

In the beginning, Constable McKillop had in fact been charged as well as Doering, but those charges were later dropped by the Crown who said that there was “no reasonable prospect of conviction”. One has to assume that McKillop being told that the subject had been medically cleared was an exoneration in terms of her personal culpability.

If one takes the Crown viewpoint however, how is that McKillop is not charged? Was she not in a position to also observe the prisoner and therefore have the implied need to observe the condition of the prisoner? It seems patently illogical.

Once the OPP officer had arrived at the lock-up in Elgin, Ontario Ms. Chrisjohn was “limp” and was taken into the cells: “feet dragging as being carried toward the cell, where she is placed on the floor in the recovery position”. There is no evidence that Ms. Chrisjohn is not breathing, it is only after a couple of hours that she is observed to not be responding.

At 7:52 pm she had lost consciousness and was rushed to the hospital. She died later that evening.

Those are the pertinent details and if accurate, this verdict should scare the daylights of each and every street level police officer in Canada.

One should also be reminded that criminal negligence causing death is no small charge. Section 219 of the Criminal Code says that everyone is “criminally negligent who in doing anything, or in omitting to do anything that is his duty to do, shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons”. Of course the key words in this case and other criminal negligence cases is how one would define “wanton or reckless disregard”.

As any observer of the news or recent court decisions will attest, the indigenous card is constantly at play in many levels of jurisprudence in this country. This is true especially in each and every circumstance involving the police. We now seem to have another example of the warping of the system to fit a repetitive narrative.

There are seemingly two subjects in this country which cannot be questioned or commented upon in polite political and social circles, or reported on in any meaningful way. Immigration and the Indigenous.

Many, including this writer, historically, always had faith in the court’s courage– the last resort for standing for what was right, not what was politically expedient. Many hope that the final arbiter would judge by the facts, immune to often hysterical special interest groups.

Unfortunately, that seems to be changing, as strong and compelling evidence is mounting of political interference seeping into the court system; whether it be in the naming of judicial appointments, or in the verdicts and findings of cases that have gone to trial. Evidence of Crown offices over-stepping their reasonable expectations of a successful conviction in the interest of political expediency is also growing in parallel.

The Indigenous with their constant cries of indignation and a seemingly endless supply of monies for lawyers, seem to be the blunt leading force of this drive to their particular view of what constitutes justice.

An indigenous involved criminal case is the equivalent of chumming the waters for lawyers who have discovered a new and lucrative speciality. Government policy puts them at an operating advantage. Settlement over trial– not likely to get their hands dirty in the confines of a public courtroom has great appeal to our learned friends.

This case is another glaring example and is similar to the case in Saskatchewan involving Colten Boushie, where no less than the Indigenous Justice Minister at the time, Jody Wilson-Raybould inferred racism with the acquittal of a clearly innocent and victimized Gerald Stanley.

Throughout this trial indigenous protestors were outside the courthouse, holding vigils, drumming, and putting out the usual media talking points of “she was a human being, she had a family, she was a mother, she was a sister, she had friends”, all duly reported and mopped up by the local media. A dozen police officers also attended the trial in support, but their pictures were not taken– the few indigenous who attended were on the front page.

There were the usual persons in attendance which seem to now flock to the side of the Indigenous, the requisite lawyer always now present for the victim family. In this case it was Caitlyn Kaspers, who was a lawyer with Aboriginal legal services and was also acting as legal counsel for the family. She made some curious comments including “that the family recognized and was thankful for was that the justice consistently respected the dignity of Debra”. That the judge was “making sure that all counsel tendered evidence that was as respectful as possible, and the family noticed that”.

Justice Pommerance said that the officer had “pre-conceived notions about drug users and that Cst. Doering held fast to those notions when dealing with Ms. Chrisjohn. Rather than moulding his theory to fit the facts, he seemed to have moulded his facts to fit his theory”.

And here comes the first indication that Justice Pommerance is open to the the race card. Judge Pommerance as noted in the introduction to this blog says: “it must be acknowledged that indigenous women and girls are particularly vulnerable to stereotypes”. Ms. Chrisjohn being indigenous, was more prone to be stereotyped according to the Justice.

So Constable Doering’s offence is that he did not somehow interpret the actions of Ms. Chrisjohn in the back seat of his police vehicle as being a person in need of immediate medical attention.

First lets point out the known effects of methamphetamine.

Negative effects of crystal meth according to the Foundation for a Drug Free World state that those side effects, in the short term are: “disturbed sleep patterns, hyperactivity, nausea, delusions of power, increased aggressiveness and irritability”.

Because they push their body to artificial levels they can also experience a serious “crash” or physical or mental breakdown. The long term damage is “increased heart rate and blood pressure” which could lead to “cardiovascular collapse”

The symptoms observed by the Constable were entirely consistent with the use of crystal meth, including her slumping over and becoming lifeless. There were no signs at the time, nor would there be many that she had entered the state of a cardiac arrest.

When examined later in the cells due to her irregular breathing, they determined that she had now become at risk for cardiac arrest, was alive when they transported her, but died after arriving at the hospital.

“She had been identified as a drug user who was known to London police. This informed the officer’s interpretation of her conduct” said the Judge.

Should history, or observed behaviours not be a factor in an officers actions?

The SIU who conducted the investigation and recommended the charges against Cst. Doering and Cst. McKillop should also be viewed in a critical light.

The SIU came about as a result of race relations that had deteriorated in 1990 in Ontario. It was labelled as the “first of its kind” and was heralded as “all civilian”. (If this sounds familiar to the IIO in the Province of British Columbia– it is)

The Ford government recently stated that the legislation supporting the SIU as the “the most anti-police legislation in history”. Lengthy delays in reports, lack of police insight, and civilian investigators led to criticism as to their capabilities to see beyond the political. Suffice to say there were a lot of growing pains, which continue to this day.

Having slumped over three times during her ride with Cst Doering, he should have interpreted this behaviour to mean that she was in need of medical attention and to not do so meant that he behaved with a “wanton, reckless disregard” for her well being.

There is no evidence that even if she had been examined at the scene, or enroute, that somehow this would have saved her from cardiac arrest.

In the end, Justice Pommerance seems to have listened or was able to draw a line from the police behaviour to the indigenous cause. It seems like she was hearing the drums, there doesn’t seem to be any other possible explanation.

No one should doubt that the Liberal progressives, the same ones which are paradoxically stymying freedom of speech in this country have the political majority. Bias is being shown and bias is being reported without any kind of journalistic conscience. In this atmosphere the message is clear, that there can be no criticism of the indigenous.

Ms. Chrisjohn at the age of 39, personally and as a direct result of her lifestyle brought eleven children and three grandchildren into the world that are now motherless. Her addictions did not cause her death, that was someone else’s fault, the colonial system caused her death, or so the current narrative goes.

Race is not the sole determinant in any court case and certainly was not in this one. Justice Pommerance seemed naive of the day to day vagaries of policing, but to then tie it to race was egregious.

The courts, like police management, the Crown and the media seem to be falling down the Orwellian precipice where justice is secondary to optics and pleasing the vocal few.

To be a uniform cop in this era is indeed a dangerous job, but it is not the criminals who are the threat.

Photo Courtesy of Ashley MacKinnon via Flickr Commons – Some Rights Reserved