Having completed a draft post on the serious business of burgers, I am setting it aside, because something else weighs on my mind.

The story of Joe McLeod, the 70-year-old Alzheimer’s patient who shoved 87-year-old Frank Alexander to his death in a personal care home, is quite possibly one of the saddest Manitoban stories in recent memory.

Oh, this is not for lack of options. Our business knows tragedy, and knows grief. Our business cloaks itself in sadness with every day’s headlines. But there is something uniquely sad about this case, where there is a murder, but no murderer. A human action with no human to be held accountable. By all reports, Joe McLeod doesn’t know what he’s done. How can he? He doesn’t, I hear, even know his own family.

But since this has been whispered around the edges of the McLeod case, a thought: from what I’ve seen, the general public seems more able to accept Joe McLeod’s disease as the finger which pulled the proverbial trigger, than they could for Vince Li, who was targeted by death threats.  

Why the difference, I wonder? Is it the savagery of the crime? Is it the age of the man accused? Is it — as ugly as this is — the age of the victim? Or is it simply that severe schizophrenia is harder for the average person to wrap their mind around than a disease which makes grown men so visibly vacate their own bodies?

It is a hard thing to understand. Maybe no-one really can.  

The best analogy I ever read for delusional schizophrenia: imagine you’re walking down the street. In your hand you’re holding a big, shiny, firm red apple. But as you’re walking down the street, a man stops you.

“Why are you holding an orange?” he says.

You give him a weird look and shrug it off; but then the next person asks why you’re holding an orange. And the next person. And all the while, you’re looking at this apple in your hand, and it is clearly a shiny firm red apple, and you can feel its apple flesh and smell its tart skin and it is clearly not an orange…

How long do you last before you start wondering why all these people are trying to convince you that your apple is an orange?

And how long do you last before you start thinking they have planned this against you?   

In a similar fashion, I sometimes imagine that deteriorating Alzheimers is sort of like knowing you’re holding something in your hand, but you can’t see what it is. And for that matter, you can’t see your hands. And you want someone to tell you what you’re holding in your hand, only when you try to ask them you discover that you no longer know how to speak. And the walls go up, and up, and up…

Aggression is common in Alzheimer’s, the last gasp of a mute and frustrated spirit.

Everything about this is sad, sad beyond belief.

Michael Alexander pledged the family would fight to make sure their father’s death was not in vain. I hope he’s right: as Canada finds itself more and more shouldering the burden of an aging population, a system that’s already so struggling will be strained to the breaking point.

But wherever you think the best place for people like Joe McLeod is, hopefully we can all agree: it’s not on the street.

We need to figure this out, and quickly, and it’s my generation that must do it.


At the top of sloping streets, the bay windows of pastel Victorians wink down on the Haight.

There is a vintage store on the raggedy end of the street, a real vintage store with real vintage things, prim 1950s swing jackets and Jackie Kennedy pillboxes and square wartime pumps. Those things, and a $40 purple velvet blazer that skims my wrists, just how I like it.

I am waiting to pay when the radio, all oldies all the time, eases into a familiar refrain.

If you’re going… to Saaan… Fraaan… cisco…

At the cash desk, the little brunette with the flowers in her hair (yes, really) flinches, reaches out a long thin arm, clicks the radio off.  

“Fuck that shit,” she says, and smiles sweetly. “Cash or credit?”

I wanted to tell her I’d been singing that song for days, ever since we drove over the Bay Bridge in the blue-blackness of the morning, ever since its garlands of lights lit our way into the city by the bay, ever since we turned down the Embarcadero and smelled the wind on salt water and squinted to make out the Golden Gate through the fog and clapped when we finally did.

The Bay Bridge at night.

Instead, I paid for my purple velvet blazer, and left.

But through her, and others like her, I did learn one thing in San Francisco: maybe Winnipeggers aren’t so unusual. Maybe it’s just that everyone hates where they are from.   

We put this theory to the test one night in the Castro, underneath the snapping edges of rainbow flags. 

The Castro is a living monument of sorts; “you’re in the homeland,” I told my friend. The Castro Theatre is still there; so is the door to the apartment where Harvey Milk lived. The Elephant Walk is gone, replaced, like so many things in this surreal and sunbitten city, with a cheerful memorial to the dead: Harvey’s. (Do try their Harvey’s Sticks. Delish.)

Long after night fell we stalked the streets, blood reeling from a couple of rounds of inexplicably generous California shots, and demanded information. “Are you from San Francisco?” we asked, to everyone in particular.

Most are not; we met a tall goddess with a glorious ’70s Afro. She moved from Brooklyn last year. We met a bouncer from Hawaii. A student from Philly. Cab driver from Jamaica. Everyone from everywhere else.

When we finally stumbled on the natives, we were almost convinced that nobody from San Francisco is actually from there. But our new, born-and-raised friends were obliging of our only question.  

“What’s it like, living in San Francisco?”

One by one, they screwed up their noses, stuck out their tongues in the universal gesture of distaste. “I hate it,” one man said. “I want to move to Canada.”

Another waved an arm over 18th Street. “San Francisco is over,” he said.

My real question left unspoken: I never ask them what it’s like to live in a city frozen in time, its mythos enforced by psychedelic star maps and the burden of its own history. 

I found Jim Jones' house and Patty Hearst's hideout!

San Francisco’s mystique is a widow’s wedding gown, salvaged and smoothed by decades of hands. Still picture-perfect, brightly beaded, and pristine. Still ready to be romanced. Her lover is gone, and he won’t be coming home again. But she still remembers.

That is a lot of expectation for the people of a city to bear: the dreams of a nation, of a species even, dreams of love and romance, of passion, politics and art. Dreams that are now realities in some other place.  

Guess what time it is at Haight and Ashbury?

I can assure you it was not 4:20 when this photo was taken.

“Fuck that shit.”

I started to understand why so many of the locals said they hated it there.

Actually, maybe I still don't get it.

But that was San Francisco. Our trip took us somewhere else: Portland, Oregon, a city both beautiful and somehow new, a city bursting with fresh potential, a city that believes in itself as something still being made.

It is also, I might add, a city to which Winnipeg can more reasonably compare, contrast and learn from. But it is also a city that spawned so many constructive blog ideas, they must come one at a time. Patience. I say this for myself most of all — I want to tell you all about it.

Teaser: there will be donuts. Donuts that travelled 3,000 kilometres home.


One beautiful thing did happen that night in the Castro. That morning, while getting ready to visit Alcatraz, I learned via text message that I had been nominated for a National Newspaper Award in the Long Feature category.

There are few words to express what that means to me, or how surprised I was to be nominated, and in a category that speaks so much to me as a writer, and for a story I’ve been wanting to tell for a decade. I can’t thank everyone enough for their kind words about it.

I celebrated that night with our one-night-stand of San Francisco friends, mere feet away from Harvey Milk’s apartment and the old site of his famous Castro Camera. After a few libations, I imagined that Harvey’s ghost approved of my nomination, and my joy.

Friends, it can be a beautiful life we lead. May you all find your own night in San Francisco.

All photos on this page taken by Josh Kolesar, March 2011.


For the next ten glorious days, Nothing in Winnipeg will be Everything in Portland, Everything in San Francisco, and everything else in many Amtrak points in-between.

I hope to be able to blog a bit from the road, sharing some of my favourite scenes and urban discoveries from my travels. In the event that I do not, I will be back in Winnipeg (and back at work) on March 27, and I’m sure I’ll be bursting with blog entries upon my return.

Fare thee well, friends, enjoy these 10 days of a warming Winnipeg, and may all your windshields be free of the detritus of spring.


Oh look Winnipeg, another store opened today!

And as you can see from my grainy Blackberry pic, it was utter madness inside Polo Park Mall, where over 1,000 people piled in starting at 2 a.m. for the privilege of being, uh, the first 1,000 people allowed in our mammoth new Forever 21:  

This line stretched from where the Safeway used to be, all the way to the Bay. THE BAY.

We’ve had a lot of Big Store Openings, and announcements of future Big Store Openings, in the last year, haven’t we?  

And every time, some Winnipeggers get pumped.

And when some Winnipeggers get pumped, other Winnipeggers get understandably disappointed. All this fuss for a store opening? How embarassing. How utterly ridiculous and very, well, Winnipeg of us. Right?

Well, maybe not.

The excitement over coming retail attractions is a reaction I understand, if only because I jumped up and down when I learned we were getting BCBG Max Azria and did a twirl around my desk when I heard about Forever 21. I almost lost my mind when I heard we were getting a Sephora, which has turned into the delicious bane of my existence. And if anyone tells me we’re getting a Betsey Johnson? I will probably collapse and land gently on a pillowy rainbow of joy.

This is generally seen as a sign of Winnipeg’s backwaterness, but I’m not so sure.

In a society as aggressively consumerist as ours is, there is immense value in having access to the goods. That is basically, after all, what consumerism is all about: get that stuff. And since consumerism is aggressively hierarchical — the It Jean, the It Bag, the It Soap — it’s not just any goods we want to have access to. 

No, we especially crave the goods that everyone else wants… and are subconsciously pretty darn aware of what we can’t get.  (Online shopping has made that playing field a bit more level, but only a bit. Consider how many people still go on full-blown vacations to Vancouver, Minneapolis, Toronto or New York primarily to go shopping, and you’ll see that online stores haven’t flattened the hierarchy of consumer acquisitions.)  

From the outside, famous brands move into Winnipeg because of corporate expansion strategies — nothing more, nothing less. To the corporation, we are far from special. But from the inside, to groups attracted to and by the brand, having that brand at home does make us special. It makes us special to the other markets that don’t have one.

In short: to Winnipeg, and Winnipeggers, a new hot store arrival isn’t just a corporate expansion strategy. It’s an invitation to the in-crowd. And an awful lot of people want to be included in the in-crowd.

No matter where you live, that effect makes the arrival of a new brand just feel like something worth celebrating, when it’s relevant to your particular lifestyle.

Besides, huge crowds for hip store openings is not solely a Winnipeg phenomenon, or even a mid-level market phenomenon. In Tokyo, 5,000 people swarmed the opening of an H&M. Obviously, that’s a much smaller scale, per capita, than Winnipeg’s Forever 21 turnout - but again, that was freakin’ Tokyo, the city from which all street fashion flows.

Are there better things we could be putting our energy into? Yes. But what nobody ever mentions is that there are also worse things we could be putting our energy into… and besides, what few engage in their criticism of store-opening hijinks is that when hot brands show up in Winnipeg, it can mean a nice little boost to our economy.

Not only does it mean that people from nearby provinces and rural areas might come to Winnipeg to shop instead of Calgary, Minneapolis or… wherever — and Polo Park manager Deborah Green believes the addition could attract American shoppers - but it keeps more Winnipeg cash in the city too.

I talked to a few people in line today who regularly went to Minneapolis just for Forever 21; now, that cash mostly stays in Winnipeg. When I know I’m going to be travelling, I save up to drop big bucks at Betsey Johnson and H&M — bring those here, and I wouldn’t be so moved to put my cash into travel and shopping elsewhere.

At least, not until the next hot brand that we don’t have happens.

So yeah, I get the store-opening hype — and I sort of like it. Party on, you crazy shoppers. Party on.

On that note, why not open it up for a little show’n'tell of stores I hope come here, and will promptly join the hordes of cheers for. Feel free to add your own to the list:

1. H&M

Cheap chic icon. The designs have rapidly became sort of limp and disappointing, especially in terms of quality - but their designer collabs are still fab, and there are still lots of gems to be found on their shelves.

2. Topshop

The Bay just landed the rights to it, so they are bringing it to Canada, starting with mini-shops within Bay stores — though whether or not that includes Winnipeg is yet to be seen. Whatever, I’ll take it. It’s not quite cheap-chic — sort of a Le Chateau price range - but Topshop carries much more striking styles.  

3. Betsey Johnson

I’m not holding out much hope. Forever 21′s pricing is a natural in the bargain-friendly Winnipeg market; Betsey Johnson’s price points are, um, not. (That dress will be mine, also.) But Betsey is incredible. Her tailoring is to die for, hugging and shaping the body without squeezing it. The clothes are feminine and flirty with just the right amount of edge. They’re also unapologetically retro, so any classic Betsey piece will never really go out of style.

4. John Fluevog Shoes

It won’t happen. Fluevog stores are fairly restricted to high-end markets. But it should, because I happen to know approximately a zillion Fluevog fans in Winnipeg who would take out a second credit card to keep that store close to home. Including me.


Ah-ha! Here we are once again, where I come bearing many links to share, with you, the people who stumbled in here and spilled coffee on your “back” button. Without further ado, may I present another installment of late-night linky-posts, wherein I share some linkies you may not yet have enjoyed.

Wish I could have made it to Pecha Kucha or the Social Media Manitoba Tweetup tonight, but I appear to be coming down with a cold. So it’s just me, mint tea, and the blog tonight.


+ Ethan Cabel is doing great work for the Uniter, this time bustin’ out a bit more meat’n'potatoes on the Dewar file. (The Free Press has the full transcript of the decision up now, but Ethan had the extended info first.) I like a lot of what Ethan’s been doing there.  

+ Behold, our empire grows! In the last few weeks there seem to be a lot of new Winnipeg blogs launching. To wit: my frequent partner-in-crime, WFP photographer Trevor Hagan, now has a blog. Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck weighs in with Left Hook. The anonymous Ice And Grain (nice name) has launched, and so have approximately ten million rod-coloured blogs. No, the phallic imagery isn’t lost on them either. Any other new Manitoban blogs made your radar lately?

+ This has been going around for awhile, but Steve Langston’s Manitoba By Bicycle website, featuring a guide to an 18-day bike tour of the province, is almost inspiring me to remember how to ride a bicycle. (Yeah, yeah. As it turns out, you do forget, okay?)

+ A very stylish Winnipeg blogger landed a guide to Winnipeg on the terribly popular Design*Sponge blog.

+ Are the Winnipeg Jets back in the NHL yet?

Media Mayhem

+ The Chicago Tribute presents: Nine Things Photojournalists Don’t Like To Hear. Moment of truth: I have personally inflicted Nos. 1 and 7 on photographers, even though I do totally know better. (H/T to Colin Corneau.)

+ It’s almost International Unfollow Charlie Sheen Day! I started celebrating this early. Like, the day he signed up for Twitter early. (Though I did throw my hat in the ring for his internship, which given recent events seems doubtful to happen.) But I encourage everyone else to celebrate it on Friday, Mar. 11.

Global Things That Aren’t Terribad

+ I sort of really like the 100 Women initiative, spearheaded by the U.S. State Department. This isn’t just smart — and, I’ll wager, awfully cost-effective — development aid, it’s also a decent minor international relations strategy. The world has long looked to the U.S. to share, and to teach: where the U.S. has gone wrong (many times) over the decades is how often it has confused “share” with “shape,” or rather forcibly shape. This program appears to strike the perfect tone… and empowers women leaders in developing nations, to boot. Nice idea.

 In Other News…

+ Next week, friends, there are big adventures afoot for Double Em Martin! Adventures that, I think, will produce some neat and picture-y blog posts, and maybe with some actually original content, though they may keep me from blogging for a week or so. I am pumped.

+ I just have to put this here, courtesy these two awesome people, about this story:


Speaking of which, something else funny came out of that article, for me. (Galston knows of which I speak.) but I’m going to blog about it tomorrow. I need time to stop smacking myself in the forehead over it.


Broadcast journalism class started at eight-o’clock in the morning, sharp. Be there, or risk the wrath of Steve. Despite the sickness (physical, mental) that plagued me through most of Creative Communications, I was almost always there.

But on that day, I almost wasn’t. Instead, only half-an-hour before class, I sat sprawled on my bathroom floor with a shard of glass buried deep in my foot. The clock was ticking. I called the instructor, Steve Vogelsang. My message may have sounded a little desperate.

“You’re not going to believe this,” I said, or something like that. “But I’ve got this piece of glass in my foot and uh… I can’t walk and uh… I might be late.”

I hung up. Clock still ticking. I’m picking at the hole in my heel with tweezers, frantically, blood spattering onto the floor. Steve wasn’t calling back. If he didn’t get that message I was in deep trouble, man, I was in serious trouble.

In a fit of desperation, I grabbed a tiny paring knife, sucked in my breath, grit my teeth, and carved that damn thing out of my foot. Then I threw on my boots and tore out the door, hobbling on the toes of the lacerated foot. I raced to the bus, and took it downtown, and ran from the Concert Hall to Red River College’s downtown campus, and then I burst into the broadcast journalism studio, staring at the clock… 

And Steve Vogelsang saw me come in, just seconds before the clock ran out, and laughed. “Well hello, limpy,” he said. “Your message made me laugh.”

It was probably the biggest relief of my life.

And that was Steve and Forde Oliver’s broadcast journalism course for me, this pressure cooker of expectation and bursts of stress and unexpected mirth, this force of nature that blew me through my last year of CreComm even when all other attempts at success had failed. 

Every Thursday morning I’d manage to haul myself in just after dawn, ready to write scripts and edit tape. Every Thursday around noon, I’d hide under the stairwell, sob my eyes out and call my dad in hysterics about how I couldn’t handle it anymore and couldn’t go back to class. And every Thursday at 5:30 p.m., I’d sit in the broadcast studio grinning like a fool, alternately surprised and smug about how the whole shebang came together in the end.

I ended up getting a C-minus in that class, and it was the proudest grade of my life.

Why? Because of Steve, really. Because he pushed us, hard — though he also knew when to pull back, just enough. Because his energy inspired sort of a frantic loyalty to the cause of broadcast journalism, a loyalty that made giving up never quite an option… as tempting as it often sounded. Because as much as he put into that class, you felt obliged to at least try to keep up.  It takes a great instructor to lead by example, to ask so much but back it up with his own effort.

When I got my C-minus, I was proud because I knew that I had given all I had to give, at that difficult point in my life, and managed to make it through. True, it wasn’t an A — but I had earned every last mark of that C-minus, earned it through lead limbs and tears and tired eyes, earned it through an instructor that set the bar high and damn well expected us to make the leap.

No wonder that when Steve Vogelsang announced his resignation from RRC today, after nine years teaching journalism and broadcast journalism, there was such an explosion of sadness all over the Internet, such an outpouring of eulogies for his RRC career.

So this is mine.

Steve is a fantastic instructor, all constructed bravado and unflinching honesty. He has inspired a lot of young Manitoban journos, and entertained many more with his tales of shenanigans from the broadcast world. (Current CreComms: if Steve hasn’t yet told you the tale of his script misadventure with an older anchor in Prince Albert, I believe it was, do insist that he tell you.) And he was very well loved in Winnipeg.

Red River College is losing a great instructor and gaining a great, big hole. Whoever fills it will surely bring their own talents to the table, but Vogelsang’s zest and zing for the job was one-of-a-kind…  even when you had to take a knife to your own foot to avoid his wrath.

Good luck out there, Steve. Don’t forget us in B.C., y’hear?


This is a post about spaces and communities. This is a post about how we create and define the online worlds we shape and inhabit, and a story that is unfolding at this moment that tests those methods. This is not a post about Winnipeg. (But it might be, soon.)  

Meet Fred Clark. Fred is a newspaper editor in the U.S. and an evangelical Christian. In 2003, he had an idea: he would blog the entire first book of the infamous Left Behind series of crapopcalyptic End Times fiction. He would break down each page, patiently slashing apart the bad writing, bad theology and bad people behind these books.

It turned into a truly awesome achievement, one that I encourage everyone interested in thoughtful things to read in its entirety. (Start at the bottom post and work your way up; then click “previous” to get the next set.) At this point, it may take weeks of regular visits to get through, but it is as entertaining, intelligent, and thought-provoking as anything I’ve ever read.

And incredibly, eight years later, Fred is still doing it. (He’s now in the midst of the second book of sixteen.)  This is a terribly uncommon level of blog commitment in itself — but he’s also doing high-quality blogging on many other matters of faith, politics, culture and society.

I discovered Slacktivist circa 2004, when someone linked the early efforts of his Left Behind blogging. And I watched as it became one of the most remarkable spaces on the web. It has made a profound impact on me not just as a writer, but as a person. I wasn’t alone: over the years, that plain and unassuming blog assembled one of the most powerful and active communities I’ve ever seen.

Fred’s posts regularly received 500 comments, or more. In their threads, discussion and debate about God and war, about astrophysics and Aesop’s fables ran together, gained steam, spawned ideas. On a blog by an evangelical Christian, the commenters were Christians and atheists, Jews and pagans, agnostics and theists of every description. There were Bible-Belt-preachin’ preachers and radical feminists, straight white single men and gay black parents. It seemed like everyone was there, and at times everyone had a voice.

The community was fascinating to watch. It largely moderated itself: the discussions, often incredibly thoughtful and highly intellectual, were vigorously defended by the community that had come to value the space. Despite the sensitive and often controversial topics, the comments virtually never devolved into the muck of mudslinging and sociopolitical-jingoism that festers in the comment sections of so many other sites. It was a thrilling site, an inspiring place to think and grow. And for almost a decade, it steamed merrily along.

Then Fred made a happy announcement: he was moving the site to Patheos, a blog-hosting site dedicated to “balanced views of religion and spirituality.”

Only things didn’t turn out to be so happy in Slacktivist-land.

Then things got worse.

To summarize the controversy: Patheos, as it turns out, hosts a lot of blogs that are far from inclusive. (I won’t link to any, but there are some blogs there that are drenched in homophobia and xenophobia, among other problems.) There were reportedly bigoted comments made by the site administrator, which I haven’t seen personally but have read reactions to.

For many Slacktivist commenters, the move came across like a betrayal: the betrayal of a space they had invested so much time in creating, defining and shaping. And they responded, hard. A schism has begun to yawn, and for the first time that I’ve seen on that community, true ugliness has infected the threads, as arguments turn personal and the personal turns nasty.

Some commenters have declared they are leaving, or just not commenting again. Others have floated the idea of starting a spin-off community for former Slacktivist diehards to recreate the space that Fred led. Some have lost respect for Fred; others, just for each other.

And Fred, one gets the impression, is now left trying to put the pieces of his community back together. But there is no picture on this box for reference. So how do you restore a virtual space which, once so firm, is now so splintered?  

What I’m more interested in and what fascinates me about this story, which is still very much in progress, is the questions it raises about online communities, and who owns them, and how they evolve.  It amazes me, for instance, that what only three weeks ago seemed like such an exceptional space has been torn apart so quickly.

To me, the most incredible effect that the online world has had on discourse is that it has created a sense of true ownership over content spaces that does not, and almost cannot, exist in most traditional or for-profit media — except for maybe the beloved small-town paper.

The Slacktivist community was made beautiful by that process. Now it is struggling to survive it.  A double-edged sword. And the comments (particularly on this post, warning, huge) are a fascinating snapshot of these new communities, wrestling with just how to handle that sword safely.

“I don’t know who you are or why you think you’re so damn important, but kindly bug off. This isn’t just some random message board and you’re not talking to some random, drive-by commenters… the trolls and jerks that show up here aren’t just invading a message board some of us like. They’re invading our home.” 

-Commenter Geds @ Slacktivist, responding to unknown commenters

As the Internet grows into its adulthood, as more and more people find their online-homes in niche spaces, often run by un- or underpaid authors, how will we learn better to navigate the balance between content creators, and content community? What services may arise to better facilitate achieving and maintaining that balance?  

Or does it all go back to basic human social skills, to a give-and-take, push-and-pull over content and emotional ownership? That’s a game which traditional media has not yet had to play much at field-level (where he who owns the transmission tower, owns what’s on it and where it goes), but bloggers like Fred Clark are learning all too swiftly.

The good news: I believe that Slacktivist will come out of this experience battle-scarred, but perhaps stronger for it.

Meanwhile, as a purely hypothetical point, it makes me wonder: what do I want this humble little space to be, as it grows to find its shape? And how will I define it?


Here’s a question, to which I honestly don’t know the answer, and am hoping someone else does:

Do judges get any education whatsoever in the psychology of survivors?

I ask this because, sadly, the Dewar file appears to be the gift that keeps on giving. When I read that story last night at work, my initial response was along the lines of 1) bang head against desk, and 2) ask the question I just asked above, to nobody in particular.

Let’s set aside the particulars of that case, with which I am not familiar enough to comment. And let’s set aside the verdict. Instead, let’s focus only on this passage:

Also concerning, Dewar said, was that the girl returned to the home after she was allegedly abused when it “was surely not a safe place to be.”

“Slow reporting and returning to the environment in which the alleged incidents occurred are matters which could be inconsistent with the allegations,” Dewar said.

The Crown and the girl each contended there was no other place for her to go. The girl had come to live with relatives because her mother had a drinking problem.

“I accept they have a point,” Dewar said. “Notwithstanding, I must at least acknowledge that it’s possible she went back because she was safe there.”

I’m glad Vic accepted that they “had a point,” though he didn’t seem to think it one worth believing. At any rate, there seem to be two things going on here. First, although there was an acquittal in this case, I can’t shake the sense of victim-blaming in that first graph: there is an underlying sense that, y’know, if she just hadn’t kept going back there…

But the bolder, more obvious, more outrageous claim in that passage is that Judge Vic (we’re on a first name basis now, Vic and I) appeared to base his acquittal, at least in part, on the fact that a child returned to the care of her alleged sexual abuser. And that this is not logical, because it was “surely not safe,” and so thus it is evidence alone that the allegations could be false.

That represents such a massive, complete and total failure to understand anything about victim psychology — especially child victims — that it it is more than unforgiveable. It suggests a broader and serious issue: someone was able to become a criminal judge without having the foggiest idea of who victims are, and how victims behave — or, for that matter, who abusers are and how abusers behave.

And if one man became a judge without that basic understanding, how many more like him are out there?

Here is a newsflash: people go back to their abusers all the time. Wives and husbands, boyfriends and girlfriends go back to the romantic partners that beat them, making on average seven attempts before they leave for good (and sometimes not surviving that long). Elizabeth Smart didn’t flee from Brian Mitchell. And so on, and so forth.

Psychological reactions to physical or sexual abuse are varied; but the reality of an abuse victim, child or adult, appearing to willingly return to their abuser is common. Why? Because the thing that allows abusers to abuse is that they are very, very good at gaining power over their victims. Once they have gained power — and when it comes to children, that’s not very difficult - they can commit their abuse with impunity, knowing that there’s a good chance the victim will return, again and again.

At no time is this the victim’s fault. For many who have had to live through it, being a victim of ongoing abuse is an incredibly confusing thing. They suffer, and hurt, and live in fear. Then they think - ”but he’s the only one that loves me.” Then they think — “but it hurts so much makes me feel so ashamed.” Finally, they think, ”nobody can find out, they will all be ashamed of me.” They may think they love the abuser. They may have been brainwashed to believe that the abuse is a form of flattery, or intimacy: “it’s our little secret, okay?”

That is the cycle of control which allows abusers to commit their crime for weeks, months and years. They isolate their victims, expand control, and force their victims into a position of dependency. Once the victim is where the abuser wants them, they can then commit abuse and use a variety of tactics to ensure that the victim is too scared, ashamed, dependent or otherwise silenced to tell anyone about it… and to escape the abuse.

And the cycle continues, in silence, and for every case of child abuse that gets discovered, countless more children suffer quietly in the shadows, and return to their abusers because they do not and often cannot know any other course of action. As many as 1 in 5 feel numb to the abuse itself, and do not experience conscious trauma over it until much later — it is just part of their lives, as unchangeable to them then as the weather. 

Lest we forget how this ends: sometimes, someday, when all goes wrong and the victim could not escape, this happens.

Teaching these facts — that a superficially “willing” return to an alleged abuser is not evidence of lack of abuse - to every single judge in the province would not be difficult. There are a multitude of psychologists, advocates, and organizations right here in Winnipeg that, I’m sure, would gladly host free workshops teaching the psychology of victims, and the psychology of abusers for Manitoba’s judiciary.

Do judges learn these things when they begin to preside over criminal trials?

If not, why not?

And if they do… why did Judge Vic obviously not learn it?


A Tweet today alerted me to the looming arrival of Unburger, which will take the place of the now-shuttered Right There! Korean restaurant on the corner of Stradbrook and Osborne.

We don’t know what Unburger is. We don’t know exactly what it will serve. We don’t know if it will be as stupendous as Sherbrook Street’s sublime Boon Burger. All we know about Unburger, is that it’s somehow “un,” and that Kyle is in charge. (Hi Kyle!)

Hey, that’s enough info for me to get damn excited — because maybe this Unburger is going to undo Osborne Village’s fast-food problem.

After a decade of life in this little commune - a friend once aptly observed that living in the Village feels much like living in a dorm - I can confidently say that the most surprising problem this area faces is a lack of decent fast food. And as someone who almost literally survives off of food made by other people in under five minutes, this is a big problem.

For a long time, there was Subway, and there was A&W, or you could walk to Confusion Corner and get Burger King. And that was all there was for awhile. Then Extreme Pita moved in to that fugly little strip that replaced the burned-out hulk of Divine Decadence. Then that franchise closed, and Little Slice of Heaven opened, serving pizza and ice cream and generally providing late-night solace for drunken punks. And then we finally got Kawaii Crepe and… well, that’s about it, unless you count the hot-dog carts.

Then again, with noms like this, who needs options?

In a neighbourhood that is still one of Winnipeg’s densest, most youthful and most gleefully urban, that really isn’t good enough. In fact, the limited array of decent fast food choices is essentially my one complaint about life in the Village, and it’s a complaint I’ve heard over and over from Village-dwelling friends, all of them — like me — chicks who don’t cook and are really effin’ tired of Subway.

Conclusion: if Unburger reaches only a very modest level of deliciousness — or better yet, innovation — the Village will be better for it, the business will be successful, and we shall all rejoice and hold hands that the Village is a little bit closer to being a full experience. 

This news also reminds me about how fascinated I am by the proliferation of “boutique” fast-food joints. I’m talking places such as Boon Burger, Kawaii Crepe, and presumably Unburger - little independent joints that are highly specialized, use high-quality ingredients and aim for healthy fare. 

This trend has been long established in other cities. In Portland, I once had the most stunning frozen yogurt of my life at a little shop that only sold two flavours of gourmet, organic frozen yogurt on the day we were there, plus a small selection of fruit to add in. I am saddened to hear it has recently closed, but Portland had since gone so bananas for gourmet fro-yo that papers are calling it “yogurt culture” now.

Interested to see where it goes here in Winnipeg. What’ll be new? What’s next? Oh, and also really eager to have an actual day off on Friday to grab me a crepe. Pepe le pizza-style.

EDIT: For those still arriving here via Googling “Unburger,” a gift: some blurry pics of the Unburger menu in a whole new post!


Apparently, Winnipeg news now comes in theme parties. Last week, the theme was judges gone wrong; this week, it is newspaper madness! Everyone start making your theme-party pirate hats!

Here you go!

The announcement today that Metro Canada, a chain of free weekday newspapers targeted at a young, “metropolitan” demographic, set off a Twitterbomb. Then the story landed on my to-do pile during my news shift today, because that’s how these things work.

And so it came to be that this afternoon, I chatted with Metro Canada president Bill McDonald. Most of our chat can be found in my story. I don’t have my notes at home with me right now, so forgive me - I am paraphrasing his points from memory.

To distill the Twitterbomb down to a few key points, these were the questions on many people’s minds. First: how will the Metro model work in Winnipeg, which lacks the commuter-heavy distribution points of Toronto or Vancouver? And second: how will this impact the other papers in the city?

The answer to the first can be found in my story. But the second question won’t be easily or quickly answered.

The biggest part of that question is the issue of revenue and readership. McDonald noted several times that Metro papers don’t tend to be significant competitors for daily broadsheets, such as the Free Press. Interestingly to me, when I suggested that Uptown might be more impacted - they are also free and aimed at a young urban demographic, after all, though weekly and much more entertainment-focused - he replied that they tended to fit more in a daily market, not a weekly niche.

Okay, so they are a competitor in the Free Press bracket, and yet not really. I get it, and wouldn’t be surprised if Metro doesn’t make a significant impact on the Free Press either — the target audience and content is just too different, and Metro papers make no claim to do highly intensive, long-form reporting. They are, as McDonald said to me, focused more on tight reporting of news of the now. Something to read on the bus.  

Might Metro have somewhat more effect on the Winnipeg Sun? Maybe, but at least to my understanding much of that paper’s core audience is built around its sports coverage, and Metro won’t threaten that.  

But what I don’t know, and don’t pretend to know, is whether or not Winnipeg is big enough, and advertisers have deep enough pockets, to support this new entry into the market and all of the existing ones, without someone getting hurt. A distribution of 40,000 isn’t peanuts here — that’s more than twice as much as Uptown, I believe, but don’t quote me on that and I’m too lazy to check now - so that reach will pique many advertisers’ interest… and this is a paper that has a big brand name and knows exactly how to launch in a market.

How this all shakes out remains to be seen.

But there are definitely some upshots to Metro’s arrival — not the least of which is the fact that Metro plans to create about 15 in-house local jobs, including editors and reporters, as well as hiring freelance writers. If Winnipeg proves big enough to add the Metro without losing jobs elsewhere, this is an incredibly positive thing.

 The job market for reporters is incredibly tight right now — almost nonexistent in Winnipeg, really — and I know a lot of journalism grads who give up on the field, before they’ve ever had a chance to play. Any paper giving the opportunity to young reporters to help them gain experience, build a portfolio, and decide whether or not they are nutty enough to do this for a career is a great thing for Winnipeg.

There could also be a lot of value in shaking up the status quo. While television and radio go through regular shake-ups, Winnipeg’s newspaper world has been incredibly stable for ages. Sure, the Free Press and the Sun are competitors; but they are also very well-known to each other, and are generally settled into their brands and demographics. Uptown has been unchallenged since the (awesome, as I recall) Perimeter Magazine shut down circa 2000, and the community weeklies are not only similarly well-established,  but all owned by the Free Press itself.

But the Metro, in this market, is a clean slate. It  combines a lot of little elements that relate to all of those other papers — it’ s free, it’s Tab-sized, it has local news and some local entertainment, it’s positioned for convenient discovery and pick-up.

Only time will tell for sure who and what Metro Winnipeg impacts, and how it impacts it - but there’s something to be said for having a new kid on the playground. Even before you know if he wants to play ball at all, it’ll probably get you thinking about working on your throw.

Speaking of the weeklies though, one has to wonder — how will the arrival of Metro Winnipeg shake out with regards to Winnipeg’s already-existing Metro?

P.S. Like the pirate hat? Who doesn’t! Find out how to make it on the website I borrowed it from, here!