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No simple answers

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It’s easy to write a story when there’s a bad guy.

That’s how most great stories go, isn’t it? The big bad wolf – or evil corporation, or corrupt government official, or unscrupulous politician or audacious con artist – does something terrible, or greedy, or self-serving, or just plain irresponsible, and people get hurt.

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That’s usually how the song is sung in the headlines, anyway.

So what makes David and Genevieve Weber’s story so interesting -- to me at least -- is that there may not be a big bad guy. But someone is still getting hurt.

The details of the Webers’ ordeal – starting on March 21, when Genevieve started contractions that threatened her unborn baby’s life – can be found in my lengthy story from today’s paper. There’s more to the tale that I either couldn’t fit into the space allotted, or couldn’t verify against currently available records. But I tried to capture the necessary basics of the case.

What I hope I also captured is the caution I felt in penning the story: a caution born of a situation where it seems like most involved were trying to do what they felt was the most responsible thing, but the end result still somehow feels wrong to many who have heard it.

I sat down with the Webers on Thursday, and found them to be tremendously pleasant people. They appeared a bright and loving couple, with two beautiful daughters and a pretty-as-a-picture home outside of Portage la Prairie. And they are apparently well-liked in the local community, where many residents have vociferously supported them since news of the speeding ticket first spread.

But their stress over the ordeal was palpable; they called us, because they didn’t know where else to turn in order to be heard.

On Friday, to better understand the context of the Webers’ story, I had several candid and interesting conversations with representatives from Manitoba Public Insurance and RCMP. Although privacy guidelines prevented them from delving into the specifics of David Weber’s case, a picture did start to come together for me.

In general, the picture looks like this: I think that most people involved in this story, from the RCMP officer who issued the speeding ticket to the Webers themselves, tried to do their best. David Weber was doing what he thought was the best thing for his family; RCMP officers and MPI hearing officers may have felt they were going by the book, doing the best thing for the safety of the roads.

But still, at least to this reporter, the outcome doesn't sit right.

Maybe it comes down to the same reason that the Webers decided, after months of frustration, to call the Free Press: they needed someone to hear them. And to the Webers, having explained their experience and situation and decisions to multiple authorities, it didn't feel like anyone did.

And that can be the most frustrating thing of all, and far more frustrating than any speeding ticket.

This is a common problem with authority systems of any type: they are designed to instruct and enforce, but less so to listen. Usually, that works: we all know the rules, and most of us choose to follow them. Those that choose not to pay the penalty, and our society clips along with relatively little friction.

But it's the extraordinary circumstances that test the limits of how that system hangs together; it's those one-off confluences of unfortunate events that find the cracks where a series of detailed protocols and paperwork and rubber stamps and rules don't add up to what feels like an optimal conclusion.

This is not mere talk. My father, a prominent local psychologist, once told me that the only universal in human psychology is that everyone wants to feel like they're being heard. If that is true, then co-operation, mutual understanding and, finally, an accepted conclusion naturally follows. When you truly feel heard, you are naturally more likely to feel like you've been treated fairly.

And when you aren't, well... this happens.

From everything I've seen and read, it doesn't seem like there was enough of that sense of understanding, for the Webers. There were sensible protocols, yes, and clear rules too. But perhaps there was not enough flexibility within the system as a whole to hear what the family was saying, acknowledge it, and extend some understanding.

For me at least, it's impossible not to feel compassion for the Webers. But when their story fades from our paper's headline, that is one conversation I hope comes out of it -- how to encourage systems where apparently reasonable decisions by several separate authorities don't conspire to catch someone in a net that doesn't stretch to fit.

Because while David Weber is pretty darn unlikely to find himself in such an extraordinary circumstance again, the next time could happen to any of us. And with a little luck and a productive dialogue, maybe we'd be able to walk away from the situation -- whatever our choices -- saying "We know that we have been heard, and understood -- and because of this, we know that we have treated fairly."

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