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On Val and giving victims a voice

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It’s one of the most famous lines of poetry: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold."

There’s been reams of insight on what that line by Yeats actually means, of course. (Heck, it`s not like I can take on Chimua Achebe .

But one that I often think about when it comes to journalism is reporters’ relationships with institutional/government/organizational hierarchies for information.

In my opinion, the news if often made when non-organizational sources (like witnesses of a crime, or families of a homicide victim, say, or an advocacy group) come forward with information or insight that force or compel these organizations to respond. Sometimes, the insight isn`t sanctioned, like University of Manitoba`s so-called `Don Quixote’, Gabor Lukacs.

Sometimes it’s allegedly made-up, with devastating consequences.

And sometimes it`s enough to shake an organization very deeply, becoming embedded in the public consciousness.

Part of my and my colleagues’ job is navigating these claims, and the stories of people who speak to us.

A recent opinion piece in our paper by Doug Johnson  decried the choice of victims to speak to media as if it was tawdry, cheap choice.

"Parents of murdered children sometimes show up on television the next time there's a murdered child of similar age or background. They become experts, trotted out to relive their tragedies, ostensibly to bring an informed perspective on child or teen homicide.

Cavalier about what they're doing so long as it makes for good copy, video or sound-bites, newsrooms sanctimoniously promote this stuff as newsworthy.

This isn't the only -- and certainly not the best -- way to honour the dead," he said.

Or not. I felt angry with that depiction because I think the public depends on information filtering out in this way, sometimes, from victims. If they have to lose someone in a devastating way – something I cannot possibly understand, nor can others until they experience such a trauma – what right do I have to judge what they may or may not say?

What kind of critic can applaud silence without considering its cost, if the person choosing to speak is fully aware of going public with their stance or their insight on their loved one?


Anyways, this post is for Val McCaffrey, founder of the Manitoba Organization for Victim Assistance (MOVA).  She died Christmas Day.

McCaffrey was the aunt of homicide victim T.J. Wiebe, and used his murder and her reaction to it to form a support group for the families of homicide victims.

When the organization began, she ran it out of her home. It soon grew to have a court worker – who is there to provide support for victim’s families – and to host information sessions. I met a number of families there who came to lean on MOVA in their darkest hours. Talk about grassroots community organization. Talk about an effort that was anything but cavalier.

I’m not going to write a long ode to someone I sadly didn’t know closely. I don’t think Val would like sentimentality. She once turned me down on writing a piece on her and an amazingly brave act she had committed to. She chose silence on that front, and I respected that and her for it.

But I know that when I was looking for a voice the other day for victims – on a completely unrelated story -- I was deeply saddened to hear she’d passed away.

McCaffrey was the real deal – no sound bite queen nor attention seeker. And she lived what few of us do – the commitment to make a dream a reality, and the ability to reach out to those who are truly lost. She will be missed, I know.


VAL MCCAFFREY (nee WIEBE) It is with saddened hearts that the family announce the passing of Val on December 25, 2010 at Riverview. Left to cherish her memory are her husband Lawrie, daughter Allyson, grandchildren Arielle, Mykyla, Graham, step-grandson Tyler and chosen grandson Tristen. Val also leaves behind her father Abe (Rolly), brother Floyd (Karen) and sister Holly, in-laws Roy (Florence), Judy (Richard) and Val (Blago); as well as nieces and nephews and many other relatives and friends. Val was predeceased by daughter Andrea, mother Sadie, and nephew TJ. Val grew up in St. Vital where she met her husband of 40+ years. Her first job was working in a sewing factory, then Eaton's. Val had obtained her teaching certificate in 1969 but chose to pursue a marriage and family. Val stayed home and helped grow our family and volunteered with numerous church and charitable foundations until our children were in school at which time she decided to pursue her passion and return to University where she obtained her degree in Human Ecology in 1986. Val had the extreme privilege of starting the first Family Studies course; infant lab and teen parenting program in the Seven Oaks School Division. After retirement in 2004, Val became involved in M.O.V.A., helping victims of homicide in addition to volunteering to speak to 3rd and 4th year medical students on early diagnosis for Ovarian Cancer. Val also enjoyed her summers at Sunset Bay where she could sit in the hammock; enjoy a boat ride on the lake, visit with the neighbours, or an afternoon tending to her many beautiful flowers. Boredom was never a concern when it came to Val as there was always work to be done. Val also enjoyed traveling and experiencing every aspect of the culture she was visiting including attempting to learn the language. Val travelled by many modes of transportation from cars, boats, planes, a donkey up a mountain path in Greece, dolphin ride in Cuba, and a zip-line in Costa Rica. Cremation has taken place, a memorial service will be held on Saturday, January 8, 2011 at 1:00 p.m. at John Black Memorial, 898 Henderson Hwy. The family would like to extend their gratitude to the staff of Riverview - 3E as well the W.R.H.A. Palliative Care Program. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to - Ovarian Cancer Canada, 101-145 Front St. E., Toronto, ON M5A 1E3 - M.O.V.A., Suite 20-226 Osborne Street N. Winnipeg, MB R3C 1V4 - or a charity of your choice



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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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