Commentary | Canadian media twisted bus tragedy

Hyde Park

Whenever an event as tragic and random as Tim McLean’s July 30 death on a Manitoba Greyhound occurs, it undoubtedly shakes our sense of security.

Here was a young man, the same age as many university students, killed gruesomely in a seemingly arbitrary, unprovoked attack. Our national insecurities are on display in a clear glass case, but we lose the ability to examine them logically.

Even in 2008, we still work ourselves into frenzies, unable to separate rampant emotions from rational thought, constantly jumping to conclusions. Unfortunately, since the incident, the Canadian news media has appeared more like their American counterparts in fueling these notions.

The first ridiculous idea asserted is that Greyhound buses should have security on par with airlines. Not only is this idea impractical, but it also displays a startling ignorance of exactly how bus travel differs from airline travel.

The majority of stops in small towns are at truck stops, restaurants, or even just street corners. Even if there were metal detectors at Greyhound stations and random wand checks, it’s highly unlikely Greyhound could provide an almost impenetrable shield against weapons the way airports with single entrances can.

Additionally, a random attack of this nature could have happened anywhere, not just on a bus.

Another shoddy argument being regurgitated is that we should give the accused, Vince Weiguang Li, the death penalty simply due to the shocking nature of the crime.

This neglects the fact that punishment for murder in our judicial system is correctly based on intent, not severity, as well as the fact that Canada hasn’t used the death penalty since 1976. Resorting to capital punishment would be the equivalent of a revenge killing or a public lynching.

Even more ludicrous ideas have been tossed out like confetti. Opposition MPs approached Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day with a proposal for a knife registry.

Why apply a system that worked so poorly with guns to something that everyone has several of in their kitchen? A scissors registry or spatula registry would be just as useful.

Others argue that the incident should draw an eye to our lax immigration policies, since Li was a recent immigrant, as if a Canadian citizen could not have committed this attack.

People naturally consider extremes more favourably when they feel threatened, and the media perpetuates these ideas by surrounding us with them. The crime may have “sent a shockwave across the nation,” according to a CTV broadcast, but how much of that is the media’s fault?

Although murders tend to make the news, very few ramp up delirium as feverishly as this one did. If media outlets didn’t exploit such tragedies, would anyone still be willing to put their rights aside and buy into such ridiculous ideas?

It’s pretty alluring to believe hyperbole when you’re constantly exposed to it, but we have to be smarter, more discerning, and able to look beyond the Chicken Little effect of such incredibly rare acts. Otherwise, ideas like a knife registry or intensive bus security in remote regions of the country may start to look reasonable.

Instead of buying into the Canadian media’s fear mongering over the issue, we should be content with the fact that incidents like the one that took Tim McLean’s life are extraordinarily rare and don’t warrant major alterations to security in our society.

John Kmech is a student at the University of Alberta. This article originally appeared in the Canadian University Press.