Spirit Quest

Spirit Quest

'We are all both victims and bearers of guilt'

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

  Image from the Halifax Media Co-op.

18 May 2012 — Although the sun was shining there was a cool wind blowing up Barrington Street in Halifax. Off in the distance I saw the flashing lights of the police cruiser as it escorted a long line of people processing to St. Matthew's United Church.

This wasn’t a parade, no bands or cheers, only the sound of shoes pounding the pavement. There were a few flags, the Nova Scotia ensign, a beautiful rainbow banner symbolic of the Gay Lesbian Transgendered people, the Queers as they often call themselves. There were some signs calling attention to the purpose of this walk: a memorial of the tragic death of Raymond Taavel.

This young man was found beaten to death outside Menz and Mollyz Bar on Gottigen Street in the early morning of April 17. Witnesses say that  he was attacked after trying to break up a fight.

Just past Spring Garden Road the procession turned and filed into this very old church, a Halifax landmark, in the heart of the city where hearts could bleed and mend as friends recalled the life of this man who possessed an insatiable passion and intensity for living.

Inside the church it wasn’t all grief and tears, there was even laughter as friends shared stories. It was interspersed with music by the Women Next Door Choir. Megan Leslie, a Halifax MP confessed that, “We have wrestled with so many questions”.

One thing was missing: condemnation of the perpetrator of the murder. Andre Denny was also a victim, a schizophrenic with a history of violence who had overstayed an hour-long unescorted pass from the East Coast Forensic Hospital across the harbour in Dartmouth. Rather questions were asked about the system that allowed this to happen. Was it homophobia? Taavel was a gay who had been partnered for nine years.

MP Leslie asked, “Was it the failure of the justice system? Was it our failure; the failure of us as a community, as a society?”

Denny has been charged with second degree murder and will face a judge who really won’t know what to do with him given the resources at hand. Our criminal justice system seems incapable of dealing justly with the mentally ill. Our prisons are full of them. The closing of prisons by our government will mightily exacerbate the system that punishes people for being sick. It is easy to be outraged about what happens even in our peaceable kingdom.

That morning the Rev. Betsy Hogan, minister of the historic St. Matthew's Church, had told the congregation that there is nothing wrong about being angry. Jesus was angry a lot of the time but he refused to be violent except perhaps on that occasion when he drove the money changers from the temple.

I sometimes fear that we are often not angry enough, not bothered to do something to fix the broken system, to make the necessary investments in our prisons, to turn from retributive to restorative justice. It is so much easier to double bunk or even triple them, to lock them up and throw away the key and forget that there are human beings behind those walls. It makes us feel so good until we realize that even the Paul Bernardos and Russell Williams may someday walk our streets again.

I do not suggest that there are easy answers, but some suggestions aren’t answers at all, e.g. bring back the hangman and his noose or whatever we might copy from our neighbours to the south.

What really amazed me and heartened me on that Sunday afternoon in early May was that there was an absence of bitterness, no condemnations but a recognition that we are all both victims and bearers of guilt. We can’t separate ourselves from society

As I watched the procession I had a powerful sense of the presence of the Spirit of which I so often write about. It isn’t some disembodied energy, but rather very much alive causing people not only to weep but care.

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