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Beating up nuns, or taking the high road

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The crime beat will bring you the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, a total roller coaster ride.

Sometimes, they’re all wrapped into one story. Take the court hearing Wednesday where I heard about the absolutely breath-taking forgiveness of a recently widowed mom. Her 21-year-old son, Nolan Kunz, died in a car crash in 2008.

The story that ran in our print edition didn’t fully document the woman’s amazing capacity to evade the insatiable thirst for "pitchfork justice," a bang-on term coined by local Crown Tony Kavanagh in a recent law article.

Remember, this woman is so devastated she couldn’t show up for court. However, she asked Crown Joyce Dalmyn to tell the car’s 22-year-old driver Ashten Milne she didn’t want him to go to jail, because she didn’t think it would help a kid who hadn’t had many breaks in his life.

She simply wants Milne to lecture high school students on the dangers of speeding so he might be able to save another child’s life.

The idea is inconceivable to most, and Milne – the kid who came late to court – has a chance to get his act in line.  The judge has reserved his sentencing decision.

The thing is: there’s many people who choose the high road, or who illuminate the public in the midst of difficult, bloody or plain or disturbing subject matter. The volume of their insight is the back story.

I had a phone call with a friend this week, a young mother, who said the arrest of a Somali mother for allegedly stabbing her two young children shone a much-needed light on post-partum depression.  The story especially drew attention to different cultural traditions and attitudes to new mothers who are recent Canadian immigrants.

The woman I know was grateful that something mainstream reportage doesn’t often focus on was thrust into the limelight, although she wasn’t happy about the awful circumstances.

Gail Wylie, executive director of the Healthy Start for Mom & Me, pointed me to a fantastic piece of research from the University of New Hampshire.

The irony is the research indicates women from some more impoverished countries have cultural traditions which help them cope with childbirth, instead of isolating them.

"As citizens of an industrialized nation, we often act as if we have nothing to learn from the Third World. Yet many of these cultures are doing something extraordinarily right - especially in how they care for new mothers," says the research.

In my own research for the piece, I was shocked to learn of the prevalence of "baby blues" among North American women.

Which brings me to a letter by Mike Babinsky, an encylopedia of knowledge on a hardened area of Selkirk Avenue near Powers Street.

Babinsky was horrified after seeing some hardened drunks harass two nuns, after business owners in the neighbourhood have been grappling with the issue for years. He said although the aggressive panhandlers have publicly peed, pooped, and harassed area citizens for years, bothering nuns was a new low. There’s no easy answers on how to resolve the pervasive social rot.

However, Babinksky does see good in his own community: the businesses and residents that band together to protect the area and people that live there, plus police who are patrolling the area and listening to residents’ concerns, plus making arrests.

Part of his letter:

"We have been having a problem with drunks drinking open liquor on this block. They sit and block the sidewalk while drinking alcohol and harass, intimidate and aggressively panhandle people walking by. They visibly urinate and defecate in an open community garden at 554 Selkirk Avenue as well as on our buildings.

This has been going on for a few years, but what happened a few days ago was the final straw and something had to be done. On Tuesday, June 1, 2010, at about 5:30 pm one of these drunks went after two nuns on the Selkirk Avenue sidewalk. The nuns were horribly scared. They were intimidated into a corner of a building trying to back away. The drunk was extremely aggressive and intimidating and he looked like he was going to harm them. It was so horrendous that a City of Winnipeg Transit bus driver had to stop his bus in the middle of the street, in the middle of the block, to try and stop this assault on the nuns. Other vehicles also stopped and people watched as the drunk would not listen to the driver and he continued to scare and harass the nuns. After hearing all the yelling I was called to help the nuns get away. I had to go between the drunk and the nuns. The drunken man tried to fight and became quite aggressive with me but I managed to get him across the street and away from the nuns.

I called the non-emergency line about 6:00 pm to report the incident but unfortunately the line was busy and I couldn't get through.

The next day on Wednesday, June 2, 2010 I called [police] in the morning around 9:30 am looking for assistance, and went over the situation with [them]. At that time the drunks were already back drinking on the street. Quickly two cruiser cars pulled up and most of the people that were drinking scattered. Only one remained, and the police picked him up. To my amazement it was the guy who had shook down the nuns the day before. I was very happy when you called me the next day to follow up on the incident. From the Police Officers who attended the call that day, to your attention and care in this matter, everyone has done a great job.

As I am writing this letter right now, I noticed the same group of people blocking the sidewalk, having open liquor, and causing people to have to walk on the road just to pass by them. I called the police at 986-6222 to report this and the response time by the police was rapid. Two of the five people were taken away and the area was cleared...we have a good community in this area, but a few bad apples like these people wreck it for the majority of us. By us reporting the incidents and the police arresting the law breakers we will keep everyone safe and happy.

People are always quick to complain when things go wrong, but this time I would like to be quick to thank the City of Winnipeg Police Department in District 3 for a great job done and please keep up the good work."

And, lastly, speaking of choosing a higher road: following a nearby gang-related shooting that hurt two children, the 7-11 on the corner of Ellice Avenue and Maryland Street took down part of a sign advertising the video game Mafia Wars.

One small step at a time.
 

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About Gabrielle Giroday

Gabrielle has handled the police and crime beat for the Winnipeg Free Press since 2009, meaning she’s seen the best and worst humanity has to offer.

Covering the crime beat in a city known for its homicide rate and violent crime can be challenging, but Gabrielle tries to look at the more complex factors that drive violent events. She began the beat after originally joining the Free Press in June 2005.

Her previous experience contributing to the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business magazine, the National Post, Maisonneuve magazine and NOW Magazine. She was also a member of the editorial board of the Queen’s University Feminist Review, and completed a degree there in politics and English. Some of the Toronto native’s favourite adventures include hitchhiking in the Cuban countryside during a stint studying in Havana, and hanging off the back of a jeep climbing the Kanchenjunga mountain in Nepal.

Gabrielle also felt privileged to write about the first-time elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the summer of 2006, and received a grant from the Canadian Association of Journalists and Canadian International Development Agency to write about sexual violence there.

She recently went to Cameroon in fall 2010 as part of an expert election monitoring team, on behalf of the Commonwealth.

When she’s not chasing a story, Gabrielle can be found jogging every morning by the Legislature and down Portage Avenue.

She’s always enthusiastic about stories that involve investigating the road less travelled or the opinion less broadcast.

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