Hamish McKenzie - journalism student, London, Ontario

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Bust out the pitch-forks

Vigilante justice on the West Coast? I can believe it. "We usually run people out of town who just won't fit in and this guy will never fit in here," the local publican said.

A convicted child sex offender thrust back into society always gets the emotive claptrap rumbling. And so we get such clangers as this from a Blackball resident: "It has imprisoned the whole community". Even a reporter has been compelled to contend that Blackball's residents have been "cowering behind closed doors" since they got wind of their new neighbour. No chocolate fish for guessing which side The Press's Paul Madgwick takes on the argument.

My question to Blackball is this: where do you expect him to live? It's understandable that you feel uncomfortable with a sex offender living in your town, but how does that make you any different from any other part of the country? No matter where this guy goes in New Zealand he's going to be near other people. Surely wherever he sets foot he'll leave a trail of people "cowering behind closed doors".

I wouldn't expect that, being amongst the country's most despised people, he'd be too keen on trotting down to the local pub for a pint. Nor is it likely that he'd even go to the corner dairy for a loaf of bread. In a town like Blackball, where I have no doubt that locals will quickly single him out, it'd be impossible to entertain the prospect of becoming a part of society. There'll be a gaggle of pitch-fork-wielding locals determined to prevent that.

There's a similar case here in Canada, where Karla Homolka, who helped sexually torture and then murder two teenage girls, is about to be released from prison. Funnily enough, people aren't too cool about having her live near them either.

These offenders have committed horrible crimes and have been, and will continue to be, penalised. Going to prison for a long stretch of time -- and by informed accounts prison is not a nice place to be -- is only part of that penalty. Once they're out of there they can look forward to a life of freedom characterised by continual abuse, banishment, and the odd bout of vigilante justice. But they have to live somewhere. It might as well be Blackball.