"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

funerals and politics

RIP RCMP Constable David Wynn

Constable Wynn was murdered while performing his duties as a sworn officer of the law and by all accounts was a pretty good guy who leaves behind a wife and children who will never see him again. He was a former paramedic who joined the Mounties and did a nasty, occasionally dangerous, often thankless, probably often frustrating job that the vast majority of us would not care to do and for that he is owed our gratitude. We mourn his passing and grieve for his loss and sympathize with his family.

I got into a bit of a discussion on Twitter tonight about the supposed politicization of Wynn's funeral by the prime minister and it may shock you to see me defend him, at least in part.   I don't think Stephen Harper politicized this funeral any more than any other. I emphatically do not wish to politicize Wynn's death. It is tragic and has little or nothing to do with political issues in Canada. I hope his family can be left to mourn without having to make any pronouncements on public policy or electoral politics.

Wynn was investigating a stolen vehicle when he walked into the wrong place at the wrong time and paid for it with his life. That can happen to police officers and no amount of training, equipment, backup or draconian throw-away-the-keys legal code will ever change that.

Unfortunately to my mind, we have reached the point in our culture where the death of any uniformed public servant requires politicians to respond. Wynn's funeral was attended by both the Prime Minister and the Premier of Alberta along with thousands of police officers from across the Canada and around the world. Such funerals get bigger and bigger as we attach more and more moral superiority to police officers. Wynn was murdered in the line of duty, but even funerals for police officers killed in traffic accidents bring out other officers en masse in a show of solidarity, which is in many ways admirable.

I am, however concerned about the question of politicization. The prime minister and the premier are important people, yes, but the prime minister is not the head of state, nor is the premier the highest official in Alberta. (Where the hell were the Governor General and Lt. Governor?) They attend either out of a sense of sincere solidarity or at the very least to show the voters how much they support law enforcement. The former does not require them to do anything but attend, the latter usually means speeches and crass politicking. To complain publicly about their presence at such an event in the absence of such speeches or politicking is rather like protesting the funeral of a soldier killed in combat because you oppose the war. In such a case, I emphatically do not condemn opposition to war, but I question the appropriateness of the time and place of the protest.

If such speeches are made, if politicians do what they do and try to curry favour by their presence, let them. Let the family mourn. Let the funeral proceed without any further distractions. I would compare it to having an estranged family member or ex-spouse or lover suddenly show up at the funeral of a loved one. Especially if they feel compelled to give their own eulogy about how the deceased wronged them. For me, it is simply pragmatic good manners not to raise a fuss there and then, not to scream and shout and make their unwelcome appearance the one thing that everyone remembers from the funeral. At the same time, there is every reason to show up at the unwelcome party's doorstep the next day and give them all the shit imaginable.

For political reasons, Stephen Harper and Jim Prentice had to attend Wynn's funeral. Their base, and probably their opponents, would never let them forget it if they hadn't. Whether they would have attended if they were not in politics is another, more personal question none of us can answer for them. That said, I do not think that they politicize the event by their simple presence. Whether they deserve to be vilified for their actions the next day depends on their actions. (though given the CPC's track record of issuing a plea for funds to help the Prime Minister fight the evil Muslim terrorists who would murder us all in our beds only hours after the Charlie Hebdo office attacks, one might just wonder about the purity of their motives in such a situation). The coverage I have seen has been limited and none of it mentioned speeches by either politician or any role played by them other than attending the funeral. Whether they attempt to make political hay out of it after the fact remains to be seen, though I have seen enough of this prime minister to have little doubt that he would gladly load Constable Wynn's corpse onto his political bandwagon and parade it through the land if he thought it would get him more than a handful of votes. I hope he proves me wrong, it would be a nice change.







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1 comment:

UU4077 said...

I wonder how many police officers have died in the line of duty since Harper became Prime Minister, and how many of their funerals he has attended.