Good Friday or My Day in Court

Puslinch Township
Ellis Chapel 1861

My wife was taken aback when a police officer delivered a summons requiring me to appear in court. I assured her I hadn’t been up to any mischief lately… as far as I could remember. My memory being what it is since I had a brain injury did not give her much comfort.

I was surprised to find out that I was to appear as a witness to my own car accident. I found it rather strange, since I was the so called victim in an accident, to be called in as a witness

for the defense. The other driver was being charged since she hit me while I had the right of way when I approached the intersection.

I was wondering what good my testimony would be. Off course the light was green when I went through the intersection. Of course she made a dangerous left turn, going into the on-coming lane without being able to see if it was clear. That’s why I didn’t stop.

When I showed up for court and introduced myself to the crown attorney. She asked me only one question. What colour was the traffic light? My obvious answer was, “Green.” She told me we were going to trial as the other driver was contesting the charge against her. Her defense was that I had run a red light. She asserted this despite the statement from a disinterested witness who had a clear view of the whole scene unfolding in front of her.

After some formal introductions and statements being read, the driver pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. In the end the judge levied a fine of less than $50 and no demerit points. I was not called to take the stand since the accused had been convinced, just before the court went into session, pleading guilty to a lesser charge would service her interests better. Once the judge had issued her judgement the crown attorney came over to me, apologized for the light sentence and told me I was free to go home.

Some Thoughts

This conviction left me with a strong sense of injustice. The other driver’s poor judgement, or impatience, or inattentiveness has had a huge impact on my life not to mention many people I’m closely connect with.

20160226_080912
My Good Friday Tree

My initial thoughts about the reduced sentence, being like a slap on the wrist was, “unfair”. On the other hand, a harsh penalty like a heavy fine and several demerit points would not have changed my circumstances. Further, I reasoned, she had not intended to cause bodily harm. However, I did take offense to her claim that I had run a red light. However, that was only in discussion with the crown attorney. That statement never came to the judge.

The crown attorney, in dealing with the matter, had no idea whether I had been injured in the accident or what kind of injury I had sustained. That was never part of the discussion. I had no reason to inform her. Though, my injury would likely have impacted my time on the stand if I had been called to witness.

I had been advised before going to court that the key issue was to have this matter settled in my favour. As long as the other driver was given a guilty verdict the court would have served my interests. The light sentence had no negative impact on her insurance. The guilty verdict has direct positive impact on my insurance. You could say that the greater injustice was done to the insurance company. They would not be able to collect a higher premium for the costs the other driver has incurred.

In the end, the court appearance was a bureaucratic exercise, not a place where justice would be meted out. Had I gone into the court feeling vindictive, I would still be unsettled about the plea and verdict. There have been court cases where the failure of the courts to decide a suitable sentence have been much more momentous. Good Friday historically not excepted.

Telling the Story

I had opportunity to tell the story of my court appearance several times. Needless to say, family members and friends found the ‘slap on the wrist’ sentence highly unfair. Understandably so.

In one conversation a woman was particularly outraged about the light sentence. She just couldn’t see how our court system would allow that. I then mentioned that the driver who ran into me was in her mid 70’s. That completely changed her opinion of the judge’s decision. Somehow the driver’s age had a huge positive impact on her sense of what is a fair sentence.

I reflected on that with her and suggested that if the driver had been a 21 year old male, her outrage would have been greater. She agreed. Then I took the discussion a step further. I asked her how she thought the conviction might have played out if the driver had been an aboriginal Canadian.

It would be pure speculation. However, based on the incarceration rates among the Canadian population a different verdict could have been very likely. Our biases run deep. Our biases have a way of blinding us to what is a fair conviction and sentence.

When someone messes up we are quite judicious before giving the benefit of the doubt. We will first size up the person. It seems like a person needs to earn the privilege of being judged less harshly. If we are through birth or other factors part of the right demographic we are awarded that privilege much more readily.20151012_122052

In a recent CBC discussion a rather telling and powerful phrase was shared in reference to the aboriginal population in Canada. One spokesperson was adamant that when it comes to aboriginal Canadians, they are over policed and under protected. It isn’t the lack of policing that is necessarily the problem. It is the manner in which they are treated, by the police, by the court system and by the prison system.

How often don’t we speak before we check our biases? Our biases have a way of colouring what we do and say.

I’m a Different Person

Snakes & Ladders
Snakes & Ladders

I was listening to a story about a gentleman in his nineties who had recently died. Despite living in poverty he regularly bought birdfeed for the wildlife that visited his yard. He had one reason. When he was a young man he had been imprisoned in a concentration camp. From his cell the only thing he could see through the window near the ceiling was the occasional bird flying by. It was these birds that gave him hope. They helped he dream about freedom. They helped him imagine himself beyond the immediate circumstance he found himself in.

When he was liberated from the concentration camp he kept his one promise, his promise to never fail to feed the birds. And so, despite his meager means, he always kept the birds fed that visited his backyard.

As I heard the story, I was not able to contain my tears. I had to pull over to the side of the road to give myself time compose myself.

Later that day, I shared the story and my own reaction to it with a friend. In retelling the story I was once again overcome with emotion. I explained that I rarely had this type of response to stories prior to my brain injury.

In response to that, my friend asked if I hoped to maintain this level of sensitivity. I’m not sure. On the one hand I see it as a good thing. I mean, can one be too empathetic? On the other hand it seems rather disruptive to be hyper sensitive.

If I listen to a similar story but with fictitious characters, my response is very neutral. It’s just a story.

The stories or situations that touch me deeply usually involve someone dealing with a personal struggle or someone reaching out with compassion.

Recently a niece of mine was dealing with a serious health situation in which her child had been put into an induced coma. My heart went out to him. Each time I heard an update on how he was doing I was in tears.

churchyard
Percy 1997

Last week I walked through the church yard with my grandson. We were looking at different grave stones and commenting on some of the people, different neighbours we I had known from the last 30 years. When I saw Percy’s grave stone, dated almost 20 years ago, I was moved to tears. I had known him for a number of years. He had come to Canada as a Bernardo child. His disability limited him to working as a farm hand. He had been badly treated as a farm hand for many years. The memory of the struggles he had gone through and the compassion that the last family had shown him touched me deeply.

These experiences and many other similar situations make me realize I am a different person from a year ago. In addition to the brain injury, I could no longer continue my job. As a result I no longer identify myself by my job title. I now realize that the job title coloured my view of myself more than I realized. I no longer carry the responsibilities or the demands on my time. Life has slowed down considerably. I now have more time to focus on other matters.

I now have time for people who live right around me. The half hour or forty-five minute commute, twice a day, are behind me. In the past year I have spent more time with people in the neighbourhood and have met more new neighbours than I did in the previous 29 years that we have lived on Minifie Rd.

I also found out recently that we no longer live rural but now actually live in the hamlet. No, we did not move our house. The hamlet now includes our property through some invisible shift. Not that the change gives us any additional municipal services.

My familiarity with fatigue and headaches makes me take my time when completing chores or running errands. I have no need to hurry. I’m not living with goals that have firm or urgent deadlines. That part is rather enjoyable. At the same time I am finding things to do that are meaningful or rewarding on a different level.

My slower pace is particularly noticeable when I am experiencing fatigue. I have become that annoying driver on the road that is driving at the speed limit or, oh horrors enough, even below the speed limit. I can’t believe how hard it is to push that gas pedal down a bit harder. If I think of it I switch to cruise control for the sake of the traffic behind me.

One of my slowed down activities that I’m actually enjoying is playing Snakes & Ladders. It’s not the Snakes & Ladders that exciting, but watching my four year old grandson’s excitement when playing the game. He’s excited when he gets to go up a ladder. He gets twice as loud and excited when he goes down a snake, because then the game will take longer.

I’ve made the game more interesting by suggesting that he not count out the moves after he rolls the dice but to simply add the numbers together. It’s fascinating seeing his number sense grow. Soon he was telling me which numbers to not roll to avoid the snakes. Recently he did some subtraction to figure out how many spaces a particular snake would set him back.

I’m starting to acknowledge the reality of what I read recently. An experience with mTBI means I will never be the same person again. In some ways I’m okay with that. Some days.