Riding out the storm
of changing times
(March 9, 2000, Gazette)
By Kelley Power
As I write this, a 16-year-old boy is waiting in the remand centre in St. Johns for a hearing in April which will determine whether or not he will be tried as an adult for the murder of Samantha Walsh. This, Im sure, you all know.
For the past month, most of us have followed the story of the disappearance of the 13-year-old Fleur de Lys girl, waiting for any news of her possible fate. When it finally came, Im positive that I heard a resounding gasp of shock and disbelief echo around the island.
Undoubtably, it wasnt the discovery of the crime itself that surprised us; after three weeks of fruitless searching turned up no trace of the girl, most of us who huddled around our television sets every evening expected the worst.
Rather, what makes this act particularly disturbing to the people of Newfoundland is the implication it has for our continued confidence in this island as a refuge from the nefarious attitudes that exist in the rest of the world.
We like to think that we dont have to look upon every stranger with suspicion, that we can walk down a street without clutching our wallets tightly to our chests. We want to believe that we really know our friends and neighbours.
Newfoundlanders are re-nowned for their hospitality and friendliness toward each other and to those who visit the island. The basis of this pleasant disposition is the natural tendency we have to give people the benefit of the doubt, trusting rather than distrusting on sight.
have always held up rural Newfoundland as the area that best
demonstrates this characteristic of our culture, it comes as
an even greater shock for us to discover that an outport community
could be the backdrop of such a heinous crime as occurred in
Fleur de Lys.
There was a similar backlash of fear and suspicion in the time following that crime. And to make matters worse, the public not to mention the girls parents couldnt even be comforted by the fact that the killer(s) were apprehended. That murder remains unsolved.
But the lesson taught to us by these events seems so quickly forgotten. After the initial shock wears off, we resume our usual routines leaving back doors unlocked, hitchhiking on quiet roads deeming the crime that spawned our fears an aberration of the norm, rather than a sign of changing times.
Support for this attitude can be easily found. Information from Statistics Canada for 1998 credits Newfoundland with one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the country. For that year we also had the third lowest rate of homicide in Canada 1.29 per 100,000 people.
Not bad, but it doesnt alter the fact that there has been a steady climb in that rate since 1994.
But is all this signalling a change in the traditional Newfoundland way of life? Maybe, to some extent.
Lets be realistic: things simply arent the same as they used to be. You cant walk home alone at night and be 100 per cent sure of your safety. You cant leave your car running while you dart into the bank. Its not even safe to shake a fist at the kids that throw snowballs at your car; the little punks might turn and beat the crap out of you.
however, be extreme to say that our society is plunging into
a deep, downward spiral. The shift is not so severe that we need
to become a fearmongering, gun-toting, barred-windowed population.
For students, developing a cautious nature would, I believe, be especially important because, as is the tendency of the young, we too often overlook our own mortality.
for example, do those of you with a penchant for pugilism stop
to consider the fact that one of these days your opponent might
pull a knife instead of just sticking you with a mouth-full of
complicated concepts. Theyre small, simple things to be
aware of in order to prevent more serious situations from developing.
Our only option, really, is to pursue a policy of effective damage control. Awareness of the changes that are occurring around us, and a desire not to let them ruin the culture we have come to know and love, are at least a beginning.