Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

When freedom isn't worth spit

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We enjoy tremendous freedom in Canada. So much so that we've just been anointed as the second best place in all the world to live.

Most believe that freedom comes with a parallel duty of responsibility -- that as citizens, we are duty bound to do what we can to make life safe and comfortable for all. And when that safety and comfort is attacked it becomes our obligation to pitch in and do the right thing.

Of course, not everyone buys into that.

Last week's Globe and Mail made that clear as hundreds of hand-wringing, knee-knocking "men" took issue with a plan by police, this time the Ontario Provincial Police, to initiate a mass collection of DNA with the hope of solving the particularly brutal murder of a 42-year-old Orangeville nurse.

Sonia Varaschin was killed in the bedroom of her home. Days after the single woman's bloodstained car was found, her body was discovered, discarded like trash, in a wooded area several miles away.

The OPP hinted at a recent press conference that they were in possession of the killer's DNA and asked for the public's help -- a specific segment of the public -- in the scientific elimination of dozens, perhaps scores, of people who are of interest to the investigation.

And what are these people being asked for? A little bit of spit. A swab of saliva.

My guess is that the vast majority of those asked will do the right thing.

Most know that DNA, a genetic fingerprint, is able to direct police toward -- or away -- from areas of interest. Most will subscribe to a sense of civic duty because most will want to see a brutal killer brought to justice and most will do what they can to that end.

But I can't help but feel discouraged by the very vocal bunch that anonymously crammed the comment section of The Globe with cries to "stop the cops dead in their tracks" and "shut them down."

Comments, hundreds of them, implored their fellow citizens to not co-operate, to fear the slippery slope leading to a police state. In this, the second best place in the world to live, I'll bet most have no idea what a police state can mean.

Seemingly lost in the fray is that this police measure is designed to bring justice for the brutal slaying of a young and contributing member of the community.

For some, though, it's enough to believe that frustrating homicide detectives is appropriate payback for police behaviour at last summer's G20 summit.

One poster tried to justify refusal by saying that inserting a Q-tip in his mouth would not bring Sonia back.

Others are quaking and say the samples won't be destroyed as promised (and required) and will somehow end up in Big Brother's data bank only to be manipulated at some later date for the ultimate frame-up.

It must be so uncomfortable to live in such insecure skin and to have your being defined by fear and paranoia.

Last weekend's follow-up Globe editorial was of two minds. It conceded that a DNA sweep "may be justified" and that "coercion may be legitimate" because, as it rightly notes, "a killer is loose somewhere."

But it also says that a judge's order should accompany the sweep. The problem is the jurisdiction for such a broad order doesn't exist. And besides, is ordering responsibility the duty of any judiciary?

As I sit at my keyboard I can't help but think of Sonia, her body unceremoniously abandoned. I think of that small circle that will not lift a finger to help the cops nail the killer, much less surrender a drop of saliva in a case that is all about violence towards women.

I wonder about what my long-dead father, a veteran of Second World War, would think of that sad, little group and their efforts to thwart the authorities as they follow up, seemingly without thanks, lead after lead?

I wonder about our young Canadians currently involved in overseas battles and what they'd think.

I wonder how much sooner Candace Derksen's case would have been cracked if DNA had been available then, as it is now. What could not using DNA's full potential mean in terms of solving Sonia's murder?

I'm fairly certain Canada is the best place in the world to live and confident that our laudable standing is helped little by cowardly people who fail to acknowledge the intertwining relationship that must exist between freedom and responsibility.

There are those that see a DNA sweep as the ultimate invasion of privacy. Then there are those who know it's just a little bit of spit.

Robert Marshall is a retired

Winnipeg police detective.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 4, 2011 J11

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