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It's sometimes hard to reach the high road

Dear Uma: It is just too weird when you are the one telling me about news in Watson Lake! When I am out of Watson Lake I never think to read news online; I don't even take a computer with me unless it is a business trip, so I was truly surprised to come

Dear Uma:

It is just too weird when you are the one telling me about news in Watson Lake!

When I am out of Watson Lake I never think to read news online; I don’t even take a computer with me unless it is a business trip, so I was truly surprised to come home to your e-mail concerning the two RCMP members here who are being charged with sexual assault.

Surprised and made uneasy, I must confess: there is something extra disturbing about such a crime when it involves the very people who are being trusted (and paid) to keep us safe.

Or is that an archaic attitude, I wonder; is it now peculiar to our generation, and older? It may be media coverage, but it seems there is so much of that very sort of betrayal that it has almost become commonplace, a frustrating fact of life, like commuter traffic.

I don’t know much more than you do about this event, other than the victim is rumoured to have been a woman new to the community. That must have been incredibly difficult for her, to come forward with this accusation in a small town where she was, I assume, without support from friends or family. To accuse policemen carries an extra risk; she is a brave woman.

I went to my rage place when I read your letter; I get so tired of these endless incidents of betrayal and violence, this nonstop cacophony of man’s inhumanity to man, and to know it happened on my doorstep, so to speak, made it worse. For the first time since moving here I have experienced a frisson of fear on my night walks, not from the rare encounter with another walker, but caused by the sight of any vehicle with lights on top!

An act of violence against a woman naturally adds fuel to the fire; when first I read about the charges, I wanted those men shot. If they couldn’t be shot, then castration and lobotomies, followed by a public pillorying where they could be properly spat upon, would satisfy me.

The investigation is to be an ‘internal’ one, so the sad truth of the matter is they will, if found guilty in the first place, very likely simply be transferred to another community, if they haven’t been already.

The secrecy is disquieting: it is understandable the name and whereabouts of the victim be confidential but it seems the townsfolk ought to know whether or not these men are still in the community!

Are all little towns so big on secrets? It seems some are buried deep, the shovel buried with them. When something like this happens it feels like everyone closes up; a pall of paranoia hangs over the town. Obviously there were people who knew about this event, but who? What was their involvement?

There have been acts of violence against women here before this one; many of them repeat offences. This is what keeps the women’s shelter beds occupied, and there is a sort of tacit communal silence around the abuse.

The men, the beaters, are not treated any differently as they go about their business in town. Nothing is said, or indicated, to demonstrate even a mild disapproval of their actions as they buy their lumber, sit with friends drinking coffee in a cafe or attend a community event.

This lack of reaction was a great surprise to me when I first encountered it here; other villages in other places would make it abundantly clear to a man who behaved in this fashion that he had broken faith with his community; he would be made to feel the magnitude of his offense and would be expected to demonstrate a proper restitution and contrition before he would be deemed socially acceptable and admitted back into the public life of the village.

It is difficult in the midst of this to remember to try to be our best selves, but your letter is a good reminder. Your words were not angry, but full of compassion—typical of your gentle and thoughtful response to the world, the consequence of the high road you have consciously chosen to travel: almost entirely the opposite of my instantaneous, low-road reaction.

Ah, compassion! A quality not mentioned often when listing sterling qualities. It seems to be reserved for the Mother Theresas of our times; it is not for us more ordinary folk.

I wish for it for myself. I wish for it because many of the people I most admire and value demonstrate this quality. Possession of it seems to give them an aura of peacefulness about themselves and an ease with their surroundings and with everyone around them.

Anger and hatred are powerful emotions; they take up a lot of room, demanding a lot of energy and they are not worth the time and trouble because the return is simply lousy. Creating and caring for them is all-consuming; there is no room for the stuff that makes one feel good.

Like most people, I am committed to feeling as good as I can as often as I can; learning and practising compassion in circumstances such as this one helps me return to a place free of the desire for vengeance, for punishment.

In order to work my way through my fear and my anger around this latest outrage, I am going to try to remember to consider the people not only directly involved, the victim and the alleged perpetrators, but those caught in the periphery.

The woman, the target of the assault, will suffer long after the hearings are over and the legal determinations are made. Her friends and family will suffer with her.

The policemen accused have mothers; they may have sisters, daughters, wives, or girlfriends—what are these women to think of these men, suddenly revealed to them in a new and horrifying light? They have friends and colleagues who will be shocked and repelled by their actions.

All of these people’s lives are going to be impacted by this event and by what transpires. Even if the men are found not guilty, the stench will cling to their relationships and their careers.

I can feel sorry for everyone caught up in this through no action or choice of their own, simply through knowing one of the accused.

The conflict for the women who love these guys will be awful; how does a woman resolve such a dilemma as finding herself attached either through choice or familial relationship with a man accused of sexual assault?

Finally, the men themselves may be feeling they have been profoundly wrong in their behaviour; they may be remorseful. They are for sure being made aware of their bad judgment; they have been suspended from work.

It cannot feel good, to be the sort of person who can do something so injurious to another human being. Surely that carries its own punishment—to be host to feelings so intensely dark and sick that they demand expression in violence and abuse.

To ponder thus is to find compassion, a remedy for the bitterness that comes of dwelling too long with thoughts of what is bad about some human beings and a reminder we are all members of the same species—we are the family of man.



Heather Bennett is a writer

who lives in Watson Lake.