Books tells stories of injustice

Elizabeth Cran
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Why would anyone want to read about injustice?

It’s painful though educational. One of these books tells of a man in late 19th-century New Brunswick hanged for a murder he didn’t commit. The other tells of a young woman Mountie driven out of the corps by sexual insinuations and other forms of discrimination.  

Both show in detail how injustice builds and grows from little or no base.  

The man happened to be in the place at the time some people thought the murder had been committed, even though it was proved other wise.  

The young woman happened to be serving in a detachment of Mounties which contained a number of sexist men, at a time when the corps as a whole had only recently admitted female members and had not changed its regulations accordingly.

 Janet Merlo who tells the story of why she left the RCMP in No One to Tell (Breakwater, $24.95) now works in Howard House, “a supervised transitional home for ex-offenders” in her native Newfoundland. She is a good, natural writer. From that point of view, her story is easy to read, though, from the point of view of what she has to tell it’s extremely painful. But she’s loyal to the RCMP, and regrets having had to leave them. Throughout the 218-page book, she stresses that most Mounties are not like the ones who frustrated and tormented her.  For instance, having her vacation cancelled with no explanation, and being signed up to take an exam she didn’t want and was not prepared for.  Concessions made to other staff were not made to her.  And the list goes on and on until finally she breaks free of it all, with her health damaged and her husband’s health ruined.

The Lynching of Peter Wheeler” (Goose Lane, $19.95) is an equally tragic story — in the proper sense of the word.  A 14-year-old girl is horribly murdered in a village in Nova Scotia. Peter Wheeler, a seaman employed on shore temporarily, is arrested for it.  

Some of the facts explaining this are: he was “not from around here”; he was “a man of colour”; he did not go to church, as he had studied the Bible on his own and so did not adhere to any local form of Christianity; he had once been heard making a crude remark about Annie, the murdered girl; and he had been seen on the road near her house, and had gone in for a few minutes at about the time of the murder (though this was later proved to be twelve hours or more too soon).

Debra Komar, the author and a forensic anthropologist, tells of how prejudice, ignorance, and a refusal to face facts brought on a terrible outcome.

Nobody has ever solved the mystery of the girl’s death.

 

Elizabeth Cran is a freelance writer who writes a book review column for The Guardian. To comment or to send her books to review, write her at her new address: 95 Orange St., Apt. 101, Saint John N.B., E2L 1M5, or call her at 506-693-5498.

Organizations: RCMP, Howard House, The Guardian

Geographic location: New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia Saint John

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