Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/2/2017 (1522 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On Thursday, the Free Press ran a story that challenged a belief many of our readers seem to hold dear: do not speak ill of the dead.
The Free Press learned that Irvine Jubal Fraser, the Winnipeg Transit driver who was stabbed to death early Tuesday morning, was facing serious criminal charges at the time of his death. The 58-year-old had been out on bail awaiting trial for historical child sex abuse allegations. Court documents show Fraser was arrested in 2013 after a woman went to police saying she was repeatedly molested from 1982 to 1991, starting when she was about four years old.
Some anger was shared on social media — not so much directed at Fraser, mind you, but at the fact this was even reported. The Free Press also received some angry phonecalls and emails. Many people accused the Free Press of trying to sell papers and bait clicks. Most comments were variations on a theme: "Shame on you."
It’s difficult to wrap one’s mind around the fact that the victim of a senseless, tragic murder could also be accused of molesting a child. It's difficult to fathom how an already awful story could possibly get worse.
Many people felt grief, anger, shock and fear about the fact that a bus driver was stabbed to death on the job. It’s possible to still feel those same emotions after learning that the victim was possibly the perpetrator in a different crime. It’s possible to not know how to feel at all.
It's easier to know how to feel when the story is one of good vs. evil. We want our monsters to be obvious, which is why a lot of people had trouble with the idea that, say, someone with undiagnosed schizophrenia could be found not criminally responsible for a particularly gruesome murder.
But we also want our victims to be perfect. Our culture has the tendency to lionize people who have had their lives taken too early or in horrific ways. It’s easier to make a perfect person into a saint. Perhaps that's why there's a tendency to underscore just how brilliant and kind — or, at the very least, how young and attractive — a person was, because it makes the loss of a life seem even sadder, somehow. As though the bigger contributor one was to society, the bigger the hole they leave behind. As though only the best and most productive people deserve our tears.
That's not true, of course — mostly because people are not perfect. People are flawed. People are complicated. People have pasts. They have skeletons and dirty laundry and baggage. Sometimes, those things are brought into the cold light of day following a death. Other times, they are buried with the dead. How many obituaries read like revisionist histories? All of the good, none of the bad.
It is not a reporter's job to eulogize the dead. Sometimes, the facts uncovered are inconvenient; they explode those tidy, good vs. evil, hero vs. villain narratives. Sometimes, the facts uncovered are unpleasant. Trust me, no one takes pleasure in reporting something this grim. No one is disputing that Fraser's family has already been through a lot and this will undoubtedly bring fresh pain.
But the public interest in this story cannot be denied. Fraser's criminal charge caught his union by surprise. Whether or not city officials had allowed an accused child sex offender to continue operating a transit bus is a question the press and public have a right to be asking. Imagine if my colleagues had decided not to report the facts they’d uncovered? They wouldn't be doing the job readers trust them to do.
Fraser did not deserve to be attacked and killed for doing his job. That he was facing criminal charges does not change the fact he was also the victim of a horrific crime that has set a city on edge. That he was murdered doesn't change the fact he may have hurt someone else.
A man was killed and a woman will never have her day in court. Any way you look at it, this story is a tragedy.