Don’t Read This One

Seriously, I’m just ranting – you don’t need to read this one.  I feel like I say too much, but not nearly enough, and am just trying to get out of my head for a moment.

It’s okay to give this one a pass.

I’ll write something else later.

Either way, here goes nothing…

To say I am frustrated and disappointed with the Fire Marshal would be an understatement. There really are no words, yet at the same time, there will never be enough words. I can’t wrap my head around what appears to be a flippant dismissal of the loss of life, and responsibility, and justice…and while none of that can bring back those kids, I feel like a half-assed investigation only adds insult to injury. I mean, isn’t the main function of a Fire Marshal investigation to determine the cause of a fire? Not just call it inconclusive, sit on it for over two years and then say, “Oh, I don’t know, it was probably caused by (this first guess). Case closed.”

I don’t think a Coroner would just wave his or her hand and say, “I don’t know…the person probably died because of (this first guess). Case closed.”

Or maybe they would. I don’t know if anyone is doing their freaking job anymore. I have lost confidence in the people who hold such positions to carry their share of the responsibility in determining what happened, and how similar tragedies can be prevented in the future.

They didn’t even interview the lone survivor about that night, let alone any of the people who were at the apartment so often it was like a second home to them. Yet apparently felt it was fine to ask me questions through a friend. For the most part, though, they just made an assumption and called it a day. An assumption that was quite likely incorrect. Didn’t even look into anything else; any other possible cause.

One smoke detector had no battery, the other was probably not working – they’re not sure. Just that everyone reported that no smoke detectors were going off when the fire was discovered. One was located above the stove in the kitchen, and one outside the boys’ bedrooms at the front. So…I guess the one in the kitchen also served as the regulated-by-law smoke detector that is supposed to be outside of the girls’ sleeping areas, as well? A little double duty from over the stove in the kitchen?

That both exits were on the same side of the building doesn’t seem to have raised any concerns about the apartment being up to code, nor the fact that walls were added to turn the space into a 4-bedroom instead of two. I have a screen shot of the rental ad – well, a rental ad for that apartment. Not necessarily the one the kids answered when they found the place. But basically the same. It wasn’t turned into a makeshift 4-bedroom for them specifically. It was advertised as such. Are two smoke detectors really enough for a 4-bedroom when one of them is in the kitchen area? Above the stove, for Pete’s sake?

That the landlord is not legally responsible for maintaining the smoke detectors is frustrating. Apparently we as a society feel it is up to a group of kids in their early 20’s to dutifully check to ensure everything is in proper working order when they move in, rather than the owner dude renting the space to them in the first place. I didn’t check mine until this all happened, because I know that the landlord checks them regularly, but when I found that things like this can not only happen, but also be my fault, I became a little more paranoid than I was before (and I was already really paranoid). I am not in my early 20’s, though. Not on my own for the first time. I was 41 when I started testing my smoke detectors more often than the landlord was doing it.

The kids’ landlord didn’t do it at all. Not in the time that they lived there, at least.

And apparently the Fire Marshal doesn’t deem that an important factor, either. Doesn’t think any of it is, really. So what if three kids and a little kitten lost their lives? No one need speak for them. No one need determine the reason how any of it happened. I used to believe people in those positions would fight to do their jobs to the very best of their abilities. That not knowing wasn’t a suitable answer. That guessing was never the way.

Which means I watch too much TV. Turns out to real people, it’s just a day job, and then they go home, without giving another thought to those who will never get to go home again.

I get that everyone’s just doing the minimum required. I get that nothing can change what happened, no matter how much investigation is done. I understand (almost) all of it on a reasonable level, but that doesn’t change my frustration and sadness and disappointment and anger and hurt and…just…overall upset-ness. The minimum effort raises more questions than it answers, and those kids deserve more. The families deserve more. Ethan deserves more. He at least deserves the chance to fill in some of the blanks for those investigating what happened. He was there, after all, and he’s the one who has to live with those memories for the rest of his life. At least ask his side of it, if it’s your job to determine what happened. To me, that actually falls under the bare minimum, but then again, I’m not the Fire Marshal. Just someone who, on some level, will never really understand any of it at all.

I go over that night in my head constantly, you know. Constantly. I wasn’t there. I’d never been inside the apartment until after everything had been taken out. I didn’t even know any of them but Alysia. But I picture it over and over; my mind is full of unanswered questions about how everything happened, trying to fill in the many, many blanks. I feel like if any one thing had gone differently that night, they would all still be alive.

If even just one smoke detector had gone off, for example.

I had a dream last night that I was choosing between…like, it had something to do with Spanish, even though I don’t speak it. But essentially, I had to choose whether I would learn to help Spanish-speaking people in a legal forum, or a musical one. I know. But hey, music speaks, too. I had the impression that either I would be working for people’s rights – the rights of those who could not communicate effectively due to the language barrier – or if I would help in a more spiritual/emotional way through the implementation of music and dance programs.

I chose law, and even in the dream I couldn’t believe I was picking the more difficult road.

I just felt it would be the one where I could be most effective and make the most difference.

I chose to speak for those who could not speak for themselves.

Ghomeshi Verdict

Well, turns out that, no matter what else I was thinking of talking about today, there is now only one subject that’s worth my voice. Yet I am so angered and ashamed and sitting here in frustrated, impotent disbelief that I can’t even think of words. So bear with me.

Back in 1988 (nearly 30 years ago now) powerful film called The Accused was released. Starring my love, Jodie Foster, it told the tale of a woman who had been publicly gang raped, and the struggle she went through in both the court of law, and the court of public opinion, to bring her attackers to justice. It was a very tough but very necessary watch.

Today, we’ve been shown that our justice system – and indeed much of our society as a whole – have not come nearly as far as we pretend we have in those 30 years. I want to say today’s verdict hurts my heart (which it does), and that I’d hoped for a different outcome but am not surprised by the actual one (because that’s also true). I also want to say again how angry and disheartened and frustrated I am by the result – because I do feel all of those things.

But mostly what I want to try and express is the very physical effect it’s having on my body now. I feel sick. I can’t focus on my work. I am shaking and every muscle in my body is tense like a wire pulled too tight. I am damn near crippled by it, and I don’t even know any of the people involved personally. Yet there are no words for the effect this verdict has had on me, and from what I can tell, that’s a large part of the problem in situations like this as a whole. There aren’t words to express it. There are just emotional, mental and physical reactions, all happening on the inside, out of sight (except for all the trouble I am having typing this…the amount of backspacing and correcting I have to do is obscene). In cases where there is physical evidence, it’s much easier to prove a point to an outsider. In cases where the loss of a loved one is involved, it’s easier for someone else to have some sort of sense of what that means, having also lost loved ones themselves, but to varying degrees.

But in cases of rape and sexual assault – you just can’t. If you’ve had no personal experience with it at all, you just can’t imagine. And to those who can imagine, there are no fucking words. None that come close to expressing their experience, nor the effect it has had on them forever. Forever, guys. It’s not something you get over, or forget, or have any control over. You can go years without thinking about it, and then something random happens and you’re right back there in it again, experiencing it all again, on the inside, just like you did the first time. It’s a wound that never truly heals. It’s cut that does not scar. It just breaks open again from time to time. For the rest of your life.

And whether it happened yesterday, or 30 years ago, some details you never forget. Everything that happened during the assault remains fresh as a daisy (whatever that means – never mind – it stays crystal fucking clear). Yet everything before and after is gone. A blur at best. Your body and mind don’t consider those details to be important, so they are let go, and 100% of your focus is on what happened to you. Maybe you have even thought before about what you would do should you ever find yourself in such a situation, but guess what? You almost never do what you think you’d do. You can’t plan a reaction to something like that. When it happens, some other subconscious part of you takes over. Self preservation – of your whole self, not just your body – takes over, and when all is said and done, the very first person to judge you is you. You go over it and over it in your head, and imagine other outcomes, and things you could have done or should have done – you envision every possible scenario, including whether or not someone else could have helped, or something you might have said instead that would give your attacker pause.

Because most of the time, it’s someone you know. Maybe even someone you love. Someone you trust. Someone you wojuldn’t have suspected was even capable of such a thing. Someone in a position of power or authority. An employer. A healer. Every single time, it’s someone who should have known better. And then when they treat you like nothing happened, like they did nothing wrong, and that you should know better than to think them capable of such a thing, that’s when the fun self-doubt game sets in! You can’t remember what led up to the assault, so maybe you did do something to encourage it. Maybe it was a huge misunderstanding. He did say he likes it rough (though to my mind, that means he likes rough stuff done to him, not the other way around), and you consented, so maybe you just were too embarrassingly naïve to understand what he meant. He’s just so logical and likeable and no one will believe you when you’re not even sure you believe yourself. So yeah, forget it…you misunderstood and blew everything way out of proportion. Give him another chance, and you’ll see how wrong you were about him. Or he’s your husband…for better or for worse, right? You promised him that. Or you’ve slept together before and this was maybe just a one time thing…just a mood, or whatever (though even a one time thing is one time too many…I tell myself and then don’t listen when it pertains to me). Or you work together and still have to see each other at a time. No sense in rocking the boat over a simple misunderstanding. Be nice. You weren’t raised to be rude, and you’d like to keep your job, so just forget it and move on already.

These women – “the complaintants” (dumbest name ever for what they actually are – heroes, champions, survivors, not-taking-any-bullshit-igans) – they stood up. They gave a voice to the only words they were able to find along the way. They spoke out, for themselves, and for everyone else who has suffered through a similar life-altering event. They said no, I will not let you do this to anyone else. Not one more.

Because one was one too many.

And their reward for taking that impossibly difficult step? To be put on trial themselves, instead. To be the most recent victims of an ancient system of “justice” that still favours the perpetrator. The accused didn’t even have to take the stand in his own defence. He didn’t even really say he didn’t do what he was accused of – he simply said it was consensual. Which…isn’t that speaking FOR the women? However. His actions were never really put on trial. The actions of the women were, instead. Oh, they didn’t tell the whole truth in their original statements? Maybe because they weren’t the ones on trial. Maybe because their actions before and after the assaults had zero to do with his actions during the assault.

Then, to add insult to injury (and more insult), the judge basically accuses the women of lying under oath, says we have to put a stop to women submitting false claims of assault (because apparently that happens all the time, even though the vast majority of such crimes go un-fucking-reported), and then throws out some statement about how his verdict isn’t the same as saying that the events didn’t happen, just that there’s reasonable doubt that they didn’t happen.

Um, Judge Super-Genius, sir? That’s actually exactly what you’re saying.

He’s not only dismissed the women’s claims as invalid, but he’s also sent a very clear message out to anyone else who suffers a similar fate and has dillusions about stepping forward to accuse their attacker. This verdict has basically silenced every other survivor – not just in this city, but everywhere. Canada’s women lie about being raped. And if the oh-so-polite Canadians can do it, then surely every other country’s women are liars, too.

Does anyone even know what a struggle it is to come to terms with the notion that what happened to you is assault? That it’s a crime? Just to get your own self to understand it is a huge inner battle, and you are your own worst critic. Guaranteed, every single thing said to those women during the trial has already been gone over by them themselves. They have already torn themselves apart and then pulled themselves back together enough to take the enormous step of speaking up. At the risk of not being believed, of not getting justice, of not getting some sort of closure.

And thanks Canadian Justice System! That’s exactly what’s happened today.

You know Ghomeshi is going to get laid again. And you know it’s only a matter of time before some woman gives him the benefit of the doubt and it happens again to someone else. Will that woman step forward? Or will she think about herself what so many others will think – that she was warned, and that she should have known better. That it would in fact be her own stupid fault.

To that woman – or women – whoever you are, and to the women who left the courthouse after the battle of their lives today, I will say right now that I believe you. I stand by you. And I will vent my impotent yet righteous rage online for all the world to see or not see because I believe you. I believe in you.

And it’s not your fault.

On The Need For Mental Health Reform

So, back in 2008, a guy named Vince Li got on a Greyhound bus and, seemingly out of nowhere, started stabbing the young man sleeping next to him, 22-year-old Tim McLean.  Li would go on to sever his victim’s head, show it to the horrified passengers who were huddled on the side of the highway, and then not only remove other parts of McLean’s body, but eat them, as well.

In court, Li was found not criminially responsible for the crime, and sent to a high security psychiatric ward.

Less than 8 years later, he has legally changed his name and is preparing to live on his own again.

I have to say, I am really struggling with this whole thing. On the one hand, I understand that mental illness is a legitimate reason to not be held responsible for committing a crime. On the other hand, this man took the life of another, and while he may be feeling better now, the other passengers, the bus driver, the trucker who stopped to help, the police on the scene (one of whom has since taken his own life) and most of all, the friends and family of Tim McLean, will carry this horror and loss with them for the rest of their lives. I’m just not sure how I feel about someone causing – deliberately or not – so much pain and suffering to others, being able to just move on and live out the rest of his life.

I think this whole scenario serves to highlight the many issues and problems with the way mental health is handled, both in this country and possibly around the world. I think, even though great strides have been made, at its heart, we still don’t really know what to do, what to think, or how to feel. We can couch our thoughts into PC wording, or spread clever memes and hashtags on social media, but I am not sure anyone actually has any real understanding of how best to deal with mental health issues. I’m not sure it’s even possible to really understand, not for those suffering, and not for anyone who is not.

It’s not that people aren’t trying hard enough. I think it’s just such a vast and complex issue overall, and the fact that mental health is completely intangible, and invisible – we can’t touch or see the problem itself, only the external effects of it – that all makes it even more impossible to truly get a grasp on. In addition, actual focus on mental health – in terms of the wider public, at least – has really only come about in recent years, comparatively speaking. We hear horror stories of drilling holes in skulls to release the demons within whenever someone had a headache (along with pretty much anything that happened in asylums around the turn of the 20th century or so), we shake our heads in dismay at tales of electroshock therapy and the mishandling of postpartum depression. Even the effects of addiction and withdrawl haven’t been fully investigated and treated as of yet. There’s still so much more we don’t know or understand than we can claim to have a handle on, and that’s kind of terrifying, if you think about it.

We have procedures and punishments for those who break the law outright, deliberately and knowingly. Those have changed a lot over the years, too, as we learn more about incarceration and rehabilitation. We aren’t sure what to do with the criminally insane – those who seemingly can’t be rehabilitated and released back into the wild (aka civilization), so we keep them locked up indefinitely, for the safety of themselves and others.

But we have a very vague line drawn where accountability and responsibility is concerned, and that is part of the problem. We agree that some people shouldn’t be punished for crimes that they can not be found criminally responsible for. But…what can be done, instead? Can justice still be served if the offender can’t ever be held accountable for his or her actions?

Li claimed he’d been hearing the voice of God for a good 4 years before “God” told him to kill Tim McLean. There’s zero point in trying to find the logic in it. Like, God also said “Thou shalt not kill” – there was no caveat in that statement. And did God also tell Li to eat parts of the guy he’d been instructed to kill? To defile the body and cut pieces from it to put in his pockets? To show the head of his victim to the other passengers on the bus once he’d removed it? Did God create the aliens that he wanted Li to save the rest of us from?

Did God tell him to carry a big-ass knife around with him, just in case?

We’ll never know any of that, because we weren’t inside Vince Li’s head, and if we were, everything would make sense to us, because that’s how mental illness works. You see one thing; the rest of the world sees something else entirely. Everything you see is real, whether it’s actually there, or not.

In that way, reality is subjective.

So, basically, to Vince Li’s mind, he did nothing wrong. He was a hero, in fact, saving us from aliens, or whatever.

At the time.

But what about now? What does he think and feel abuot what he’s done now that he’s medicated and doesn’t hear voices anymore? His condition is currently not curable, so he must remain medicated for the remainder of his life. And there’s nothing to say that his treatment won’t need to be adjusted in the future to remain effective, so hopefully he’ll be closely monitored for the rest of his life, too, since he won’t be able to determine on his own if his reality is slipping again.

And that’s the thing, really, because who can tell? In the days and weeks leading up to the murder, no one noticed anything wrong or different about him. He’d been hearing God’s voice for 4 years, and apparently no one could tell anything was amiss. So how do we, as a society, know that we’ll still be safe even when he’s back out in the world, living on his own?

We don’t.

Maybe it’ll be fine, and he’ll never do anything like that again. But guaranteed there’s more people out there listening to the voice of God speaking to them and only them, every day. And no one around them can tell. There will always be more people slipping, and breaking from reality. There will always be crimes committed for which the perpetrators are not criminally responsible.

I realize that we can’t just lock everyone up and throw away the key, or hospitalize them until they die. I understand that, in this case as in many others, Li is and will continue to be closely monitored, even when he’s on his own.

But I think we need to find a better way. Some way to not only research and find new methods of treatment, but to also see that a better sense of justice is served. What Li did may never seem real to him, but it’ll never be anything but real to those who suffered as a result of his actions. There needs to be some form of punishment, some price to pay. Some attempt at atonement for crimes committed.

And not just in this case, nor just in cases where there is an added criminal element. We need to do better for mental health issues overall. Even something that seems simple from the outside – depression = sad, so therefore sunshine, laughter and hugs are the cure – is more complex to the person living with it, and to those around them who are affected by it. Hugs can sometimes be the cure for sad, but being sad isn’t the same as being depressed. Being sad is a mood. Being depressed is a condition. Hugs won’t cure depression any more than they cure a broken arm or a ruptured spleen. And that’s how we have to start thinking about mental illness in general. We need to treat it the same way we treat physical illnesses – as something that’s actually not all in our heads.

Even though it technically is in our heads, but not in a way that can be brushed off as irrelevant or easily remedied. It’s not something that can be quantified nor understood, even by the sufferer.

It’s a physical ailment of the mind.

As for when there is a criminal element involved…I just don’t know. There needs to be something in between institutionalization and rehabilitation/release. At least for the length of time a mentally competent person who’d committed a similar crime would receive in a court of law. Something that would allow for closer monitoring of the individual, as well as further research into the disease, the hopefully both understand and treat it better. Like a halfway house, but with stricter controls, medical and therapeutic monitors and less tangible access to the outside world. We don’t allow murderers out on unaccompanied day trips and the like while they are serving their sentence; the same should really hold true for those who kill while suffering a break from reality. The act is the same, the accountability is different, the punishment should be somewhere in between.

I think that might make it easier to determine what punishments would best suit others, too, like those who commit crimes of passion, or while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Addiction is itself a mental illness, and while someone may commit a crime while they weren’t entirely in control of themselves as a result, there is still a price to be paid.

They always say the punishment should fit the crime. I think the real problem is that we’re slowly realizing that the issue is not nearly that clear-cut; not so black and white. It’s a series of complex layers that we’re only beginning to dig into.

So maybe the way we deal with it should have several layers to it, as well.