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Hyperbole tsunami hits TO

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TORONTO -- Most Canadians will have heard of the lethal shooting at Toronto's downtown Eaton Centre last Saturday evening, but the cruelties since inflicted upon the hapless citizenry may have escaped anyone outside the GTA.

As if the shooting spree in a crowded food court -- leaving one young man dead, one critically injured, a 13-year-old boy shot in the head and in serious condition in hospital, and others hurt -- wasn't terrible enough, Torontonians have been subjected to a barrage of bad writing, oft-moronic commentary and a tsunami of hyperbole.

"Bang," wrote one Toronto Star columnist on Sunday. "A life is gone, and so is our innocence."

The writer went on, "we've lost it before."

Well no, actually. Assuming cities have innocence, which is a hell of an assumption, and can be essentially deflowered of it, they, like virgins, get to lose it only once.

If Toronto ever had such a day of reckoning, it may have come almost 35 years earlier, on July 28, 1977, when shoeshine boy Emanuel Jaques, 12, was lured to an apartment above a tawdry body-rub parlour and repeatedly sexually assaulted before being strangled and drowned by three men.

Such is the collective memory, though, that as far back as could be remembered was 2005, when 15-year-old Jane Creba was shot to death on Boxing Day.

"Gutless and pure evil," is how a Toronto Sun columnist began his Sunday piece about the shooting. "It's time to stop sugar-coating it and admit that there is a war in this city. A deadly war." (If the first casualty of war is truth, the first casualty of gunfire on the streets is complete sentences.)

Now in the long-lost days when I did a lot of police reporting, much of it for the Toronto Sun, I was sometimes referred to as Sergeant Blatchford for being what was then called "pro-police."

The current Sun columnist could never be described the same way, but he occasionally lapses into detective mode in that he appears to be under the impression he can solve a particular crime, or should at least be quarterbacking the solving.

"There are dozens of killers loose," he wrote with what has become familiar faux authority, "and even more shooters, on the streets of Toronto, and, who knows, one day you could be in the food court in the Eaton Centre.

"It happened to a bunch of people Saturday. One solution that comes to mind on a night of anger is to go into the gang world, smash them and show them who is boss."

If Toronto police did anything of the sort -- kicking in doors and rounding up bad guys willy-nilly -- this fellow would be among the first to decry the tactics and demand Chief Bill Blair be fired.

Speaking of Blair, he was at the scene Saturday night and held a press briefing. On Sunday, he left that job to acting Deputy Chief Jeff Maguire.

There, the deputy chief said the single smartest sentence I've heard about the shooting: yes, the shooting was a bad thing, a sad thing, but, the deputy said, "one idiot with a gun doesn't speak to the state of affairs of Toronto."

Blair's failure to be at the Sunday press conference, and again Monday, was fodder for the next wave of media outrage: where was the chief? a radio talk-show host thundered.

The Sun columnist, a regular on Sun TV, was on the host's show Monday; both harrumphed that the chief was missing in action, and sniffed that, "I guess if we listen to them there's no problem."

Boys, by the time a fellow gets to be chief, he doesn't do door-to-door canvasses any longer. Blair showed the flag when it mattered, on Saturday night, and said all the right things, which is all a police chief can do.

Thereafter he did what chiefs usually do -- leave the case to the homicide cops in charge of it.

On Monday, the Sun detective was still insisting that the killing was part of a gang war, even though Det.-Sgt. Brian Borg, the homicide officer in charge of the case, said hours before that it definitely wasn't, although there were street gang connections between shooter and victim.

By then, less than two days after the shooting, the Star also reverted to form; no more Mr. Nice Paper and all that stuff about life's "peach-skin fragility."

This is what the paper's front page said, in world-is-ending-size type: Wanted: answers, and above that, the following, Police withhold information on suspect who killed 1, wounded 6 in Eaton Centre shooting spree.

What had actually happened was that police had identified the dead man (Ahmed Hassan, 24) and said they knew who the alleged shooter was, but declined to name him or release a picture.

That was the extent of the "withholding," and there was a perfectly valid reason for it: witness accounts, often unreliable because of the heightened circumstances from which they're drawn, are easy to discredit; detectives were simply protecting their case.

By about 2:30 Monday morning, Christopher Husbands, 23, turned himself in to police. Later in the day, he was charged with one count of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder.

Hassan was the 21st homicide this year in Toronto.

The public nature of this shooting, and the innocents who were hurt, make it legitimately newsworthy. But it is less a sign of the impending apocalypse than all the nonsense being written and spoken about it.

Christie Blatchford is a columnist

for Postmedia News.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2012 A13

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