A Most Extraordinary Convergence

I’m thinking tonight of November 2nd, 2003. This was the eve of the 25th anniversary of Theresa’s murder. I was in a hotel room in Ottawa preparing to hijack The Policy Center for Victims’ Issues first national conference for Canadian crime victims. I was mad, which is my typical frame-of-mind when I confront these things.

And I was nervous. I was preparing to walk across the Ottawa river into Hull to meet a man who I admired, knew by reputation, but had never actually met. Pierre Hugues Boisvenu was fresh from the murder of his daughter, Julie, and he was mad too. We were both principally mad because the Canadian government had decided to to throw a party for crime victims, but didn’t bother to invite us – and thus Quebec – to the shindig. Oh yes, they had invited the usual suspects of Quebec dilettantes – the policy makers, the victim mouth-pieces, the criminal justice wonks and NGOs – but no victims. I found the insult particularly galling – and was admittedly over sensitive – because the day that the conference was set to open, November 3rd, 2003, happened to be the 25th anniversary of Theresa’s death. So who did they invite as their keynote? Some renegade rape victim. Never mind that the renegade rape victim happened to be the author of a recently released book on victims rights; the keynote should have been me.

As I say, I was sensitive. I was so unsure of things that I had invited Patricia Pearson to the party. She was now writing for MacLeans, it was my hope she would write a follow up article to her National Post articles from the previous summer, though I knew I was wearing out my welcome, and Patricia was ready to move on from being a bell-ringer for my cause.

The next twenty-four hours were so stressful to me that, before meeting with Pierre I promptly ate a half a bag of Coffee Crisp candy bars stashed in my hotel room (purchased from Shoppers at a post-Halloween discount rate). So after downing the Coffee Crisps I make the trek to Hull, to some pre-determined Italian restaurant where Pierre suggests we meet. I’m expecting a guy as frazzled as me. In walks Pierre… in his very French turtle-neck… cool as a silk-cucumber. The guy is all grace. He orders for me, suggests the wine, proceeds to lay out a plan-of-attack to deal with the conference planners in the morning. You would never guess that this guy had lost his eldest child less than six months ago.

The plan is thus: the morning plenary – with close to 1,000 conference attendees held hostage – will no doubt have a question and answer period from the floor. The floor will no doubt have microphones on opposing ends of the conference hall available for questions. In sync, Pierre and I will approach the two microphones, then in tandem we will denounce the conference – in French and English – for its hypocritical position of claiming to speak for victims, but failing to allow the bereaved to speak for their dead relatives.

The plan was executed exactly as Pierre suggested. The usual suspects blanched, shucked-and-jived, defended themselves. The hijack was covered by the national news, tipped to what would occur by the fact that the National Post carried a full page article on Theresa’s anniversary on the morning of the conference. This should have spelled success but it didn’t. In fact this was the nexus where I first was introduced to the notion that gorilla tactics ultimately don’t work, or rather… they might work for the French, but they don’t work for me.

That evening – after a day of butting heads I had drinks with Patricia Pearson’s parents. The experience was unusual to say the least. When I had last seen them I had been Patricia’s boyfriend. Now I was this guy coming to Ottawa, looking for justice, without a clue as to how power works in the Nation’s capital – a little more than slightly pathetic. Patricia’s father sat to the side and cracked jokes at my expense (just like old times). Patricia’s mother – who is a former senator, asked bluntly, “who have you talked to?”. I rattled off a list of nobodies. “You need to talk to Priscilla de Villiers.”. The next morning I did. Without going into it now, Priscilla opened up the door and let me see exactly what this victims’ business is all about.

A day of extraordinary convergences, but that was not the end. I got back to my hotel room that night very late, feeling defeated and very confused. Greeting me was this email subject heading:

“I knew your sister”

An old friend of Theresa’s had read the National Post article and found the courage to contact me.

His name is Terry Roth. I can assure you he was very close to Theresa. At a time in her teenage years where Theresa was moving away from her family, Terry became a close friend and confidant, he probably knew her as well as anybody in the final months of her life. Terry knew me as Theresa’s snotty-nosed little brother. In the last 5 years we have been reacquainted. Terry and I are friends. He is a wonderful confidante, and keeper of Theresa’s memory.

I find it extraordinary – thirty years on – that a “friend” would still hold vigil to Theresa’s memory.

I knew your sister: what better affirmation could anyone ask for?

Post Script:

1. Pierre Hugues Boisvenu is now the president of Quebec’s victims’ advocacy group, AFPAD

2. Priscilla de Villiers introduced me to the producers of W-Five, and to Steve Sullivan who is now the first Federal ombudsman for crime victims in Canada.

3. Geoffrey Pearson died last week at his home in Ottawa.

4. Patricia Pearson’s last writings on Theresa’s case can be read here

5. Facing graduation in less than 5 weeks from NC State’s Public Administration program, I have now become one of those dilettante wonks – armed with a graduate degree in justice administration, I can blow hot air on public policy with the best of them.

6. Canada’s Policy Center for Victims’ Issues does good work on public policy: the right tool for the right situation.

7. Terry Roth can remember all the jokes that made Theresa laugh.


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