Sunday, 1 April 2012

Every Parent's Worst Nightmare

All of us in first year CreComm read the book Journey for Justice by Winnipeg Free Press crime reporter Mike McIntyre. The book covers the kidnapping and murder of Candace Derksen. As a parent I found the book hard to read at times. This is without a doubt every parents worst nightmare, and I think it would be hard for many couples to deal with something like this and still keep their love strong and family together. What I got out of the book above all else is a respect for Cliff and Wilma Derksen for the way they dealt with something so horrific.

The book is split into three parts and part one is by far the most readable. It covers the period when Candace went missing and what her family went through before the discovery of her body. What was the most interesting to me about this was how people can deal with not knowing. If a loved one went missing the mind would never turn off. Every doorbell of phone call would be a glimmer of hope followed by disappointment when it wasn't the news that you want to hear. This could lead many people to extreme anxiety or depression.
The book works so well in part one because it reads like a story and really makes the reader feel for what this family is dealing with. It also creates emotion by showing how the Winnipeg Police dealt with the family and some of the accusations that were made towards them. Losing a loved one would be hard enough and would only be made worse if the person who lost their loved one was being accused of wrong doing. The whole scenario is simply unthinkable.
Cliff and Wilma Derksen
The other thing that came through clear in the book was the role that faith played in helping the Derksens heal. I am not a religious person but the book gave me true sense of how faith in God helped the Derksens through this tragedy. I also got a sense of how faith helped them to forgive Mark Grant, the man who caused them years of pain and suffering.

Mark Grant

The book did seem harder to read in the parts two and three, as it got into more of the logistics of the Mark Grant trail and verdict, and also seemed to use long passages of quotes that sometimes seemed unnecessary. This changed the tone of the book. It seemed like a novel in part one but by the end it almost felt like I was reading a text book at times.
As an aspiring journalists the book taught me that quotes are great if they progress a story but should never feel like they are there just there for the sake of it. With that being said, I think the book was very well written and I believe that a book like this would be difficult to write, considering that many people involved would probably be reluctant to talk.
Journey for Justice works because it comes from an author who is friends with the parents of the victim. This gives the book some heart which is something that many crime books lack. An example of this is a book I read called The Killer Book of Cold Cases. This book goes purely for the sensationalist and gory details of crime stories and even features a cover with skulls and police tape. It works for what it is trying to accomplish but is a completely different kind of book than Journey for Justice.

Journey for Justice is also different from McIntyre's stories in the Winnipeg Free Press because a book can show so much more of the emotional side of stories. When he spoke to us he said that when he writes articles he is forced to leave lots of information out of stories because his word limit won't allow for much more than the basic information of a story.

The most powerful part of all of this for me was hearing Wilma Derksen speak to us. She is a picture of strength and poise. She talked fondly about the memories of her daughter and also spoke about her respect for Mike McIntyre and the work that he has done She said about his book "When I read it I was amazed. What a wonderful summary of something that took twenty-six years to live."

For Mike McIntyre I'm sure there can be no greater endorsement of his work. 

Friday, 30 March 2012

Blogging for the Missing

Shelley Cook's frustration with the way that she saw Winnipeg's mainstream media portraying missing aboriginal women came to a boiling point in the winter of 2004.

Shelley Cook

On November 22, 2003, Dru Sjodin, a Caucasian college student went missing from a mall
parking lot in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and the case garnered massive amounts of media
attention in Winnipeg. A few months later, on February 20, 2004, sixteen year old Sunshine Wood, a Manitoba girl of aboriginal descent, went missing from the St. Regis Hotel in Winnipeg, but Cook noticed that the Wood case was not getting anywhere near the same kind of attention in Winnipeg that the Sjodin case was getting.

Sunshine Wood

“Her case was barely covered,” said Cook, “Dru was still missing at this time and her case was getting far more attention in Winnipeg than a teenager in Manitoba who vanished from our own city. I remember being mad, but at that time of my life I didn't think I could actually do anything other than be outraged.”

Cook also believed that the media in Winnipeg stereotyped missing aboriginal women. “I can't stand the fact that many of Manitoba's missing women are portrayed the way that they are. Clearly you can't ignore the elephant in the room that some of these women lived high risk lifestyles, but a person's lifestyle, race, and living conditions shouldn't matter.”

So in 2009, when Cook was assigned an Independent Professional Project (IPP) as part of the Creative Communications program at Red River College in Winnipeg, she finally saw the opportunity to do something about her frustration. “Originally I wanted to write a book that featured the stories of three or four missing aboriginal women. I wanted to highlight these women as human beings, showing them as people, not as troubled women or sex trade workers.”

She pitched her idea to a panel of Creative Communications instructors, and although they liked the concept, they thought it should be presented in a different medium. “They liked it, except they didn't think a book fit the project. To them a blog made more sense, because the stories are not finished. At that time I never imagined my project would become what it is today.”

What her project became was the Missing Manitoba Women blog, a site that tells the stories of Manitoba's missing and murdered women, the same stories that Cook believes are ignored by mainstream media in Winnipeg.

In 2010 the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) reported in a fact sheet entitled Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls in Manitoba that “Manitoba has the third highest number of cases in Canada.” NWAC reported that in 2010 there were 79 cases of missing or murdered aboriginal women in the province of Manitoba.

Cook realized that for many family members of missing women, her blog provided the only place where they could tell the story of their loved ones. “People want to talk. Many of the people I have spoken to have never really been given the opportunity to speak out. Don't get me wrong, I've had to earn the trust of these families, but since I've started my online work I have come to know many of the people in the community.”

One of the people she has become friends with through the blog is Matt Bushby, the fiancé of Claudette Osborne-Tyo, who went missing from Winnipeg's North End on July 24, 2008 and has never been found.

Claudette Osborne-Tyo and Matt Bushby

He feels the Missing Manitoba Women blog is the only place where he can tell the real story of his fiancé. “I wanted to tell Claudette's story for years, but I don't have good writing ability so when I was able to tell Shelley the story, and then have it told on her blog, it was a good feeling,” said Bushby, “Shelley was the only one who made me feel comfortable. Claudette had some problems, but that's all the rest of the media ever focused on. She was a loving mother and fiancé, but that kind of story doesn't sell papers does it? People want dirty laundry.”

At this point, Bushby is just looking for closure. “I'm not thinking she's going to walk in the door tomorrow, but I just want to know what happened for the sake of her children.”

Cook's blog has let families of missing women have the stories of their loved ones told, but she is still humble when asked about the difference she has made in people's lives. “I feel like I get too much credit. It's all grassroots. Anyone can do this. Anyone.”

To check out the Missing Manitoba Women blog visit

Friday, 2 March 2012

Respect the Canadian Soldier: A look at the film Desert Lions

There are a large portion of Canadians who are against our involvement in the war in Afghanistan. It is fair to criticise our involvement in this war, but we should distinguish between the war itself and the soldiers.

The documentary Desert Lions shows the day to day struggles that a group of Canadian Soldiers face in Afghanistan. The film was by shot by Lt.-Col Mike Vernon in the summer of 2010. It follows Canadian soldiers while they work to professionalise the Afghan National Army. The Desert Lions are a nine-man team deployed at Combat Outpost Lion in Nakhonay, one of the deadliest places in Kandahar Province.

Lt. Col Mike Vernon

These soldiers live in one of the deadliest places in Afghanistan and are attacked in one portion of the film. They deal with heat that is typically over 40 degrees and they are in primitive living conditions. They wash their own clothes with a wash board and buy blocks of ice to keep their food refrigerated.They also deal with the frustration of training afghan soldiers, despite a language barrier and immense cultural differences.

This film goes so much farther than the sound bites and interviews you see in the news. It shows a real picture of life for these soldiers and also shows doses of humour and humility, despite their frustration.

Many Canadian soldiers put their lives on the line everyday. They do their jobs while the fear of death is all around them and they continue to work after witnessing their friends being injured or killed. People may be against the war but we should all respect the amazing and difficult work that Canadian soldiers do.

If you have not seen the movie, here it is. I strongly suggest people check it out.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Graham James comitted the worst kind of crime

It is expected that Graham James will find out on March 20 whether or not he will receive jail time for sexually abusing Theoren Fleury. I am not normally one of those "tough on crime" people that believes that we should lock up every criminal and throw away the key, but in the case of Graham James I believe a severe punishment is justified.

Everyday parents leave their children in the trust of adults, whether it be school, hockey, swimming lessons or whatever. To betray that trust with kids and their parents is a sick and heinous thing. Kids should be able to walk into any situation with any adult and believe that they are in a safe place. At a young age kids need to be able to trust the adults that are around them or it can completely twist their view of the world.

I read the Theoren Fleury autobiography and I know the details of what James did to him. He trapped Fleury into a situation where he felt he could not tell anyone or his chances at the NHL would be done. Plus a boy at that age would be so ashamed of what was happening that they may just want to keep it quiet. James new all of this and used it to manipulate Fleury and countless other boys.

Having that happen at such a young age would do permanent damage to anyone and it is no suprise that Fleury spent years abusing drugs and alcohol.  Fleury and every other boy that James did this too has been handed a life sentence because they will never live a completely normal life.

Graham James didn't want to show his face outside the courtroom because he was obviously ashamed. Well Mr James you should be ashamed. You stole the innocence of countless young boys and have caused years of pain and suffering for them and there families.

I hope the justice system does right and puts you away because if they don't it will be a severe injustice and a slap in the face of the people you hurt.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Fiance of missing woman continues to search for closure

On Wedneday, I did an interview for a magazine article that was the most emotional thing I have done since joining CreComm.

Matt Bushby is the fiance of Claudette Osborne-Tyo, a woman who went missing in 2008 and has never been found. When Shelley Cook, the founder of Missing Manitoba Women blog gave me his contact info, I was terrified at the thought of interviewing someone whose gone through what he has and trying to ask questions that still got me the answers I needed, while being sensitive to what he and his family has been through

My fingers trembled as I dialed his phone number. I had a list of interview questions prepared, but the list never was used. As soon as I started talking with Matt I knew that asking questions off of a piece of paper wasn't the way to do this. Instead we just had a conversation. Matt is soft spoken, articulate and an obviously intelligent man. I could hear the emotion in his voice as he told me that with every year his hope is fading that Claudette would return.

Matt does not feel like the media and the police have always been fair with him, but he never raised his voice or made accustions. He knows that Claudette will likely not show up suddenly, but at this point he just wants closure, for himself and for Claudette's kids.

I can't thank Shelley Cook enough for helping me with my article and I strongly suggest that people check out the Missing Manitoba Women blog, which tells the stories of Manitoba's missing women that mainstream media often doesn't tell.
Claudette was a mother and a fiance, and I pray for Matt's sake that one day he gets the answers that he's been searching for since 2008.

Drug and Alcohol Problems are no joke

Whitney Houston's sudden and tragic death got me wondering why is it when a famous artist dies from a drug or alcohol problem, people rush to talk about what a wonderful and talented person this was, but when they are still alive and dealing with their problems they are ridiculed. Millions of people around the world deal with alcohol and drug problems and these are illnesses that kill people and destroy families.

Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, and Michael Jackson were all the butt of jokes on late night talk shows like SNL and Conan before their death These are easy jokes that get easy laughs and I've been guilty of laughing at them. Mya Rudolf's impression of a drugged up Whitney Houston became a fan favorite on SNL and the more she acted completely out of it, the more laughs she got. Well now Houston is dead and I assume that the character will be retired. It's not funny now that she has passed away but it never should have been funny in the first place.

I think that as a society we have accepted that if a famous person has problems then we can make fun of them and laugh at their problems.

I think we forget that drug and alcohol problems and mental illnesses are diseases. We would never make fun of a person dying of cancer but we ridicule people dying of addictions.