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Justice, fiction and Canada

Darryl Hopkins was a mild-mannered guy. As mild-mannered as anyone who’d spent two tours of duty – one with Special Forces – in the quagmire of Vietnam could be.

Darryl Hopkins was a mild-mannered guy. As mild-mannered as anyone who’d spent two tours of duty – one with Special Forces – in the quagmire of Vietnam could be. Disenchanted with hostile reception he’d received in his home town of Madison, Wisconsin, when he returned from the war, he’d moved to Canada, married a nice girl from the Maritimes, settled into a gray life of Canadian obscurity and eventually moved to Vancouver to escape the endless Winnipeg winters.

The first new year in Lotusland, Darryl rekindled an old interest in downhill skiing and "discovered" Whistler. It wasn’t long before he and his wife – childless by fate, not choice – settled into the weekender lifestlye, driving up Friday nights and joining the rhumb line back to the city Sunday evening or sometimes, Monday morning.

Janet took to skiing like the former hockey player she was – quickly and effortlessly. Whistler became the spiritual centre of the couple’s universe and over the years, their circle of friends came to include only those who shared their passion for the playground two hours north and a world away.

Darryl thought often – obsessed really – about the years of fun they’d had together and the years that stretched ahead, bleak, mournful, bitter years he’d have to learn to spend without his wife. He understood the medical reality of the blood clot that had travelled a venous route from Janet’s injury, up her leg, through her torso and into her heart where it stopped cold and killed her instantly. He knew it was fate, or the hand of God or some other obscure, mystical imagination of the human mind that had killed his wife.

But he couldn’t shake the conviction it was that bastard snowboarder who’d really done it. Killed her as sure has if he’d taken out a pistol and shot her through the heart.

It was the last run of a perfect day, an exhausting day, a double diamond day and they were cruising down to Creekside, a cold beer with friends and a comfortable evening at home. They were on Bear Cub at Darryl’s suggestion, headed for Lower Dave. Toilet Bowl had been a mess of icy moguls earlier in the day and neither of them had the legs to want to ski it again.

Darryl skied behind his wife, enjoying watching her not unshapely hind side cut graceful short radius turns 30 feet or so in front. Just past the first sweeping left, a banzai border had crashed out of the trees above, hit the centre of the run hard, careened into Janet and sent her flying over the edge of the run into the stumps and cedars below. Darryl heard her wail, an unearthly cry as her tibia and fibula snapped clean at the top of her left boot.

The boarder was picking himself up when Darryl came to a stop. He looked Darryl squarely in the eyes, mumbled "sorry" and set off down the run. For a brief moment, Darryl gave passing thought to catching him and breaking his neck, but his wife’s cries were chilling and he popped out of his skis and scampered down the slope to her aid.

Ski Patrol was there in no time, it seemed. The Patrol Doc showed up moments later and administered morphine to calm the pain of a compound fracture. Janet’s left leg was splinted and she was gently tobogganed down to a waiting ambulance.

When she died three days later, everyone was shocked and surprised. Darryl was devastated.

The scene replayed in his head like an endless loop as he worked through the night. He’d come up on a Backcountry pass in order to avoid suspicion over the large backpack he carried. Skinning up, he’d hiked out to the far side of Oboe and set up his tent where no one was likely to see it. He’d spent the day preparing C-4 charges and Claymore anti-personnel mines. He cleaned and recleaned his 30-30 deer rifle. He went over his plan carefully.

Now, in the dead of night, avoiding the wandering lights of nocturnal groomers, Darryl set about placing his deadly charges. He chose spots he’d scouted all season long, places trashed by boarders but rarely traversed by skiers. He set trip wires – middle G piano wire, strong but invisible – between trees, some at ankle level, some neck high.

As a rose dawn broke over the peaks to the east, Darryl secured his perch, a sniper’s perch, on a ridge above Franz’s Meadows. He heated a last cup of coffee and chewed anxiously on a stick of Juicy Fruit. He waited patiently until the first loaded chairs on Big Red came into view. A new day was dawning.

That’s fiction, okay? It’s a story. I made it up. There is no Darryl, no Janet, no mournful husband, no plots of revenge. I thought it up, wrote it down, polished off the rough sections and brought it to an unspecified, but suggestive ending.

So sue me.

Or arrest me. That’s what happened in Ontario last month. A kid in high school, a kid who’d been bullied for years because he talked differently and was probably obnoxious, was arrested for a story he wrote for Drama class. His story was about a kid who’d been bullied and picked on and almost driven insane by his way cooler classmates. In his story, the kid planted explosives in his high school and set them to blow up when his tormentors were eating lunch and having fun. He too chose to leave the ending open to interpretation and imagination.

The school suspended him. Kids told their parents. Rumours started to fly and expand and grow out of control. The cops were called. The kid was arrested and the smoking computer he’d written his work of fiction on confiscated. No bomb-making material was found. No fertilizer. No diesel. No C-4. No detonators. No Bombmaking for Dummies books. No guns. No knives. Just a story written by a kid who idolizes Stephen King and has lived the hell of being the target of bullies.

After spending Christmas, New Years, his 16 th birthday and over a month in custody awaiting a bail hearing, this dangerous dude was finally released to his parents with an onerous list of restrictions, including not using the Internet, not leaving his home unless accompanied by a parent and not going within five kilometres of his former school, from which he has been permanently expelled. The kids who beat the shit out of him a week before he wrote the story and had bullied him for years are still in school and doubtlessly still believe they’re too cool for words.

What’s wrong with this picture? What’s happening to our sense of justice and fair play? How can something like this be justified. Why do peaceful protesters sit in jail while the plaid Mafia enjoy suspended sentences for bashing their heads? Why does one of our local kids get carted off to Pemberton to finish school and her bullying tormentors comfortably stay home and enjoy the obscurity of anonymity?

I don’t get it.