2 November 2010

Russell Williams: voices of authority and privilege dictating on his right to live

Revised June, 2012

News coverage of the Russell Williams murder case has been deemed to be appropriate (Majority feel, Globe and Mail, Oct 25). Viewers comments have occasionally been restricted, yet it is under the auspices of one of the national newspapers itself that the greatest injustice and perhaps even, crime, has been committed. Of the three pieces in the Full Comment pages recently, on the murderer and former colonel Russell Williams, only one expresses worthwhile ideas.

Barbara Kay has judged Russell Williams's sense of morality, based, I suppose, on her own scarcity of it. If we examine that piece in more depth, we realize it is not the fact that he killed that bothers her most, for she herself is advocating that he be killed; it is something else that concerns her. If not the fact that he committed murder, what it is it exactly that she objects to? She doesn't care for his manner of carrying out his crimes, with efficiency, premeditation, and lack of feeling (see Russell Williams deserves, National Post, Oct 25, 2010). In my comments on a different piece (Should we kill, NP, Oct 31, 2010), I referred to Kay's column on the subject as being similar to Hitler's sense of morality, a point of view that was not warmly received. Let me explain further.

It has struck me that there's something not quite right about someone using their position to advocate a certain position, and one that involves executing someone. Yet this is what Barbara is doing, and apparently with the approval of the National Post. If Williams is seen to 'deserve' the death penalty, then in Kay's view it seems it would be morally acceptable to execute him if done 'humanely.' If this is the case, how do you cause someone's life to end humanely? Is it best to sneak up on them and hit them over the head from behind, or not tell them that you're going to inject them with a drug that will end their life, as Harold Shipman did in England? Or should one place them on death row for years on end, so they will know for certain (almost) that they will never live a normal life ever again but must simply wait for the grim reaper, though when he does come, presumably the physical pain the death row convict will feel will not even come close to what his own tortured victims suffered. It is the physical pain Barbara Kay is concerned about, isn't it? Not the emotional pain of the condemned man, or possibly even that of his victims and the families of his victims. Is Kay's aim to see justice done, or to present her own views for others to consider, or to try to convince readers of her own beliefs, at the same time ridding herself of the emotional distress caused by hearing what this man Russell Williams did.

Kay refers to Williams as evil, thus deserving of capital punishment in her view. But who is she to decide who is evil or not, or even whether evil truly exists in our world or whether anyone is wholly evil. Which one of us is wholly evil, or wholly innocent? No one. Williams conducted himself well doing his job; in fact, he had a highly successful military career (Col. Russell Williams, The Record, Feb 13). Should this count for him, or are the bad deeds men do the only ones people should remember? Should a man who has committed such atrocities be given the death penalty so that others learn from that, or to rid the world of people like him, or because he is seen to be evil and morally inferior?

If anyone focuses on the weaknesses or moral frailties of any other person, is that acceptable? If we advocate death for that person, in a country where the death penalty is not lawful, and if we do so in a forum which is read by countless readers, is that permissible? Is that 'freedom of speech' or is using the power of one's position to pursue one's own agenda, one that involves the killing of another human being, an action that should be deplored? Who, indeed, has the right to determine who should have to die (see Williams doesn’t, NP, Oct 27, 2010).

Russell Williams is being made a scapegoat, someone to take on all the hatred and emotional turmoil that can't be placed elsewhere, by people who have the power to address this situation rationally and sensibly rather than as something 'evil. The fact that his escapades involved sexuality, however warped and deviant people may see that, suggests that what we need from this man, and his family, friends, and colleagues, is as much information we can get so we can understand this better. Furthermore, setting up a dichotomy between execution and brain malfunction doesn't even make sense (Should we kill, NP, Oct 31, 2010).

Are Opinions' pages of newspapers permitted to present views that could incite hatred? How is it that individual writers or journalists are allowed to write on subjects they know nothing about, or are permitted to present their thoughts on important topics in a disoriented, or thoughtless, yet persuasive manner. If, as they might well claim, these are simply their opinions, why is it such a newspaper as the National Post pays them to promote such meaningless thoughts or possibly dangerous ideas? It seems what counts most is selling newspapers.

Added June, 2012

Two additional revelations may lead to further considerations on discussion of the death penalty vs life for Russell Williams – the fact that he is receiving a pension (Russell Williams collects pension, 2011) and his reluctance to accept responsibility for the attack, coercion, and emotional harm to one of his victims (Maclean’s exclusive, 2012).

Col. Russell Williams: Who is this man?
By Raveena Aulakh, David Bruser and Katie Daubs
The Record
Feb 13, 2010

Maclean’s exclusive: Russell Williams offers a defence
By Michael Friscolanti
June 14, 2012

Majority feel Russell Williams coverage struck ‘right balance’
By Jane Taber
Globe and Mail
Oct 25, 2010

Russell Williams collects pension yet owes $8,000 in victim fines
By Valerie Hauch
Toronto Star, & thespec.com
Mar 8, 2011, & Mar 9 2011

Russell Williams deserves to die
By Barbara Kay
National Post Full Comment
Oct 25, 2010

Should we kill a serial killer, or does the fault lie within his brain?
By Paul Russell
National Post Full Comment
Oct 31, 2010

Williams doesn’t deserve to die
By John Moore
National Post Full Comment
Oct 27, 2010

Links updated June, 2012