A line has been crossed

I would like to see an interview published, with a spokesperson from the Ontario Crown Attorney’s Office, explaining why delivering a very disturbing letter to a grandmother in Newcastle is not a hate crime. The one-page letter, stuffed into Brenda Millson’s mailbox, has been widely quoted, but the full copy available online shows how much of it has been left out of the coverage and follow-up.

I would like to see an interview published, with a spokesperson from the Ontario Crown Attorney’s Office, explaining why delivering a very disturbing letter to a grandmother in Newcastle is not a hate crime.

The one-page letter, stuffed into Brenda Millson’s mailbox, has been widely quoted, but the full copy available online shows how much of it has been left out of the coverage and follow-up. This note really does read like something a CSI-type crime series scriptwriter would dream up.

Max is a 13-year-old with autism who sometimes lives with his grandma in the Ontario town. He was described in a venomous computer-printed letter to his caretaker as “your wild animal kid.”

In most jurisdictions, describing other people as subhuman would raise a red flag of hatred.

Especially if you advocate — with multiple!!!!!!! hits!!!!!! to the EXCLAMATION KEY!!!!!!!!!! — that the boy be killed.

“You had a retarded kid, deal with it …. properly!!!!!” says the letter.

How do you deal with a “retarded” kid (or, in this case, grandchild)? The letter answers: “They should take whatever nonretarded body parts he possess and donate it to science.” If not, the letter goes on to imply, Max is no good to anyone.

If you were a lawyer in the Ontario Crown Attorney’s Office, wouldn’t you consider this letter to be hate, expressed in a criminal way? In Ontario, they must set the bar pretty high.

The author, signed: “One pissed off mother!!!!!” even describes her hatred, for the lawyers in the Ontario Crown Attorney’s Office who might have missed it. “I HATE people like you who believe, just because you have a special needs kid, you are entitled to special treatment!!!! GOD!!!!!!”

When you use “I hate” with the capslock key down, while describing a child with a disability as not human, something that should be killed to harvest his organs, and expressing direct hatred as well to people who take care of disabled children … well, I’m not a lawyer, but I can see where a line has been crossed.

Finding the writer shouldn’t be too hard. Police just need to knock on a few doors and ask questions of neighbours. A home within earshot of Millson’s back yard, where Max often vocalizes either happiness or discontent, if it has normal children in it, would probably provide the suspect.

And then, rather than having the entire world just rant at someone’s gross insensitivity, we could possibly see some healing occur.

From decades of dealing with stories of tragedy, both in the Advocate newsroom and as a volunteer for people with “special needs,” I know there’s another perspective here that isn’t being addressed.

On a TV sitcom, someone would say at this point: “Someone needs a hug.” In its barest essence, I’d say that’s probably true here. Obviously, someone isn’t coping with his or her life right now.

Finding and confronting the writer would probably be the first, most important step toward a whole heap of good.

Think about the global outrage that has followed coverage of this news story. I’m sure the writer of the letter has considered it at length by now. That’s the easy part.

But if we are outraged at this level of insensitivity to the lives of Max and the people who care for him, we are bound to at least try to understand the forces that would drive someone to put such evil thoughts onto paper, fold up the letter and hand deliver it to another person’s door. That’s the hard part.

For all we know, this letter could be a thoughtless prank gone horribly wrong. If that’s the case, the writer needs to be found, and some new information delivered to the writer. Like, about the consequences of expressing hatred and the harm that it does.

Right now, police are said to be investigating other avenues than a prosecution under hate laws. That’s a bit of good news. The Crown attorneys dropped the ball here and though I can’t see what police could do to pick it up again, at least a simple look through the neighbourhood would identify the writer.

But if, as a society, we are looking for better outcomes than simply identifying and punishing someone, we’re dropping the ball as well.

Because behind that hateful letter, there is someone who needs a chance to confess, repent — and even to ask forgiveness. Perhaps even, someone who, with the right information, could become a potential friend.

At the very least, someone with a personal story that can add a chapter to the one we’ve seen so far.

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com.

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