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October, 2006

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Dawson Tragedy involves everyone
By Kristine Berey

In the aftermath of a tragedy, perhaps in a kind of spiritual homeostasis, basic needs surface: the need to understand, and the need to act.
When we learned of the shootings, for a small eternity, all parents of Dawson students were locked in a circle of terror. As our children came home, one by one, we were freed but still united, in the anguish of the families of those kids who didn’t. We still grieve for Stacy De Sousa and still pray for the others who are recovering. Losing a child is unbearable to behold, and we have no word, like “widow” or “orphan”, to name this loss.
But what if a child is lost while he is alive? Soon after the tragedy, Andree Ruffo, a former youth court judge, ostracized for her outspoken views on youth protection, said that the “gunman” depicted in the media was someone’s son, someone’s brother. Parenting alone, Ruffo went on, cannot predict which kids get into trouble. In court she has seen “good, even admirable” parents, who were doing their best. When parents face financial or cultural obstacles, being a “good” parent becomes harder.
Kimveer Gill’s mother says she didn’t know of his internet life. A family friend claims, “He was a good kid, he never fought or anything.” I believe them, because the unthinkable is the easiest to deny. I challenge any mother to fully monitor their teenager’s internet activities.
The mother of the boy who made threats against a high school in Hudson seemed to prove the negative effects of bad parenting when, in court, after failing to show up for a first hearing, she hit her husband with her purse. But she also said about her son, “I’ve been trying to get help for him since he was 11.” Did anybody hear that?
Teachers are better suited than parents to pick up warning signals—not of violence, but that a child needs attention—simply because they have more experience. As a former teacher, I recall what a struggle getting help can be. `Ignored by the administration, I once suggested to a parent that she take her child to be assessed.. The parents were told by their family doctor, “Bring him back when he’s six, and we’ll put him on Ritalin.” The child was then four years old and no non-pharmaceutical help was offered. Another young child was “just in the moon” according to one of his caregivers, who didn’t think it a problem. In that case, the child was checked and was eligible for treatment. Whether or not the needed therapy was delivered, I don’t know.
In a newspaper article on Kimveer Gill’s aborted military career, it was mentioned that he couldn’t coordinate his arms and legs as he marched, making him the object of ridicule. “They were always after him for that,” said a fellow soldier-in-training. “Bear march—that’s what they call it when you can’t swing your arms in time with your legs.”
Gill’s coordination may be an insignificant detail, but for many teachers and therapists, a child’s movements are a first warning signal that help is needed.
If Gill gave warning signs as a youngster, no one picked them up. His stated reason signing up for basic military training at 17, was to get his hands on “the guns and bullets.” This and other unusual behaviour resulted in the army excluding him. The day of Gill’s dismissal, the warrant officer slammed Gill’s gun magazines down on a table and declared “This is not the kind of person we want in the armed forces.” Is this the kind of person he wants unsupervised in society? If Gill’s problems were at last perceived, why was he ignored, neglected to the point that he succeeded in obtaining weapons?
Children at risk are not more prone to violence. But they become a target, and for every murderous explosion such as the one at Dawson, there are many more who turn their rage and despair inward. Quebec’s suicide rate the highest in Canada and the third highest in the world.
After the Polytechnique massacre, students and a group from Toronto formed the Coalition for Gun Control. According to police and statistics, it has saved lives, notably of women in domestic violence situations. The fact that the .45 calibre pistol and a 9mm semi-automatic rifle Gill carried were obtained legally and required signatures from close family members is not proof that gun control should be scrapped. It means that our vigilance and our responses, as parents, teachers, doctors, police officers and lawmakers, must be refined.
An automobile’s hand-brake will not prevent a drunk driver from getting behind the wheel and mowing down innocent people. Still, no one suggests that it is of no use.
The control and regulation of firearms is an essential safeguard, when other safety nets have failed, and sends the message that we are not a gun-slinging society. In addition to limiting firearms, the Coalition promotes education, countering the romance of guns and the myth of arming for self-protection.
Laying blame or pinpointing the exact cause of the Dawson shootings is impossible, because it is much too diffused. Nor can any solution be the “right” one. But the responsibility to keep working for prevention, on a personal or political level, involves us all.


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