Turning the page
Writing is a lonely effort. While the raw material for Blamed and Broken came from countless hours spent talking to other people, translating their words into a coherent and undeniable narrative fell solely to me. It was difficult. Not just because the scope of the book spans more than a decade in the lives of so many people. Not because it required a fresh look at thousands of pages of documents that had either been hidden or carted off to archives. And not because I knew early on that what I was writing would challenge some deeply held - and fundamentally false - beliefs surrounding the death of Robert Dziekanski. It was also difficult for me because I began writing at a time when I was least able. As anyone who knows me understands, I was diagnosed with PTSD following some particularly difficult assignments as a journalist with CBC.
I won't go into it all here. Google is your friend. In the darkness of my mental illness, writing became a candle. At times it flickered. For long periods it would not burn. Yet I never gave up trying to light it. As harsh as my own life had become, which included two hospital admissions, the spark that compelled me to be a journalist for more than 30 years, never completely died. The unanswered questions and inconsistencies that sprang from the tragic death of Robert Dziekanski, were too powerful for me to ignore.
Alone, I wrote. Some days it was a sentence. Many days it was nothing as I went through my own struggles. Although a publisher would eventually become interested in the idea, I continued to write as therapy. It kept me connected to the one thing I thought gave my life purpose: telling stories.
The writing, however, was never about "the book". It was to set down a story that I simply couldn't allow to remain disregarded or disbelieved. It may sound self-serving, especially to those who don't know me, but there would be no point in writing Blamed and Broken if I didn't believe with all my being that as a journalist it is imperative to, as Carl Bernstein famously says, convey the best obtainable version of the truth. I covered the case of Robert Dziekanski for years. I always did my best to be balanced, fair, complete and transparent. I dare say many of the people who figure in Blamed and Broken acknowledged at the time that I was a careful and fair. I could have stopped there. I didn't.
I often sat alone in the empty public galleries in BC Supreme Court rooms, as I followed the trials of the four Mounties involved in Dziekanski's death. I was mindful that this wasn't just a process. It was about real people who's lives are forever changed by the events of October 14, 2007. Three people are dead, who otherwise wouldn't be. And though a public inquiry, a special prosecutor and the criminal justice system maintained that ten years of examinations and trials were not about holding the Mounties responsible for Dziekanski's death, it's hard to reconcile that with the facts.
I knew eventually people would read Blamed and Broken. Again, I was alone as I anticipated how people would receive it. A handful of people aside from my literary agent and those at my publisher Dundurn Press, were given the manuscript. But the real test would be with readers and the wider public. So this week, ahead of the publication, I sat down for an interview on CBC's The Current, where I have appeared a number of times in the past. Yes, there were laudatory comments on social media. They lifted my spirits. For those I am grateful. There were also people who - not having actually read the book, mind you - called it "a crock of shit", alluded to me having PTSD, and were remarkably unashamed to rely on name-calling, and childish sarcasm while clinging to false notions of what actually happened. I was alone again as I read those bleak assessments. Yet, if I had any doubts about the need for the story to be told, they evaporated thanks to the instant judgement of uninformed critics.
Later the same day, I had planned a small gathering to officially launch Blamed and Broken. I had concerns that few people I had invited would show up. I imagined I would be largely alone in the back room of a Vancouver pub, a box of books my only company. I suppose I could have simply assumed that's how the day would end. But I've never been satisfied by stories I didn't follow through on. I'm glad. At one point there were so many people, there was barely room to move. The box of books was quickly emptied. And for the first time since I began writing Blamed and Broken, I didn't feel alone.