De Adder gets the treatment

The offending political cartoon.

Cartoonist has met the enemy and he is us

The social media scolds bagged some big game last week, extracting an apology from cartoonist Michael de Adder for an innocuous cartoon (above).

The cartoonist was calling out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cronies for their treatment of former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould.

A boxing ring was the perfect setting, because Trudeau gained notoriety as an amateur boxer by knocking the stuffing out of domestic-assaulter Sen. Patrick Brazeau in a charity match.

So far, so good, but de Adder made the mistake of portraying JWR as gagged and bound, symbolizing the fact she was (maybe) legally gagged by solicitor-client privilege and (perhaps) bound by cabinet solidarity. I don’t feel bad for de Adder. He dishes it out and he should be able to take it. But I can’t help wondering about the scolds.

Their reaction is pretty much summed up here in a Tweet that appears to be from John Cleese.

Well, de Adder’s drawing wasn’t doing that. If you enjoy violence against any gender, I recommend the entertainment industry, including best-selling books.

Below are some possible explanations for de Adder’s scolds.

• Because they interact with him on Twitter, de Adder has become an extension of their egos. With this cartoon, he has damaged those egos and must be brought into line.

• The cartoonist is part of an “elite.” This offends those who believe themselves to be intellectually or socially superior. They, like the rich, believe they have achieved their status through merit. By contrast, they see de Adder is a one-trick pony, unworthy of his status. He must therefore be humbled.

• Think of it as psychosomatic, a restricted vision caused by existential adherence to beliefs or causes. The scolds can only see the lower left corner of de Adder’s drawing, causing them to believe the artist is making light of violence against women.

• Others can see the entire cartoon, but cannot grasp its context.

• Or, they are aware of the context but choose to ignore it because willful blindness enhances their cause.

• This is closely related to the propagandist tactic of erecting a straw man and attacking it with full force. In this way, one can inspire outrage against de Adder without having to address substance.

• The above tactic is typically supported by constant reinforcement lest the targets get a chance to think for themselves. For this, Twitter is the best tool in the box.

• De Adder is a journalist, and journalists are seen by many as know-nothing, would-be intellectuals. But even would-be intellectuals, we’re told, are enemies of the people and common sense. Therefore they must humbled. (See Stephen Harper, Donald Trump, the Khmer Rouge et al.) NB: I say this with greatest respect for the broader know-nothing community, which has always been a source of fellowship and inspiration.

Lastly, de Adder is a threat to authoritarians from the entire political spectrum. So, in time, he may regret his insouciance still more. Let us hope his apology will be enough to keep his head from sitting atop a pike or rolling into a wicker basket designed by Louis Vuitton.


Don’t go down that rabbit hole


Mehta fiasco common but avoidable

Conversations between fair-minded people about Rick Mehta tend to begin with something like: “I don’t know who’s right, but I do know … “

Unfortunately, even what we “do know” is wrong or not enough. All I’m certain of is that he was fired by Acadia University Aug. 31 amid a firestorm of accusation and counter-accusation.

The dispute, as others have noted, is a “rabbit hole.” We’ll never know who’s right or wrong. For sure, Mehta’s detractors and advocates (yes, he has some) will never persuade each other of anything.

But there is a way to avoid more rabbit holes: invite Kenneth Westhues, professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo, to lecture on “mobbing” or, in this case, “mobbing in academe.” And while we’re at it, have him speak to non-academic employers as well. Westhues is a leading scholar on mobbing, a phenomenon first identified in the late 1980s by Dr. Heinz Leymann, of the University of Stockholm.

And let me assure you: if Mehta is a victim of the academic form of mobbing, he has plenty of company.

I contacted Westhues because the Mehta controversy was reminding me of two incidents in my own own worklife. Some time ago, a large, somewhat plump and naive young woman walked into a office of twenty-somethings next to the room where I worked. For reasons still lost on me, a single loudmouth in the group began attacking her at every opportunity. He publicly mocked her hair, her intelligence, her body, her words and, unbelievably, her name. Others joined in and soon her work-life was hell. I didn’t participate, but I didn’t intervene either. The pressure grew daily until she left. It was the cruellest psychological attack I’ve seen.

Much later, I saw a gang of office-workers attack someone whose only crime was a lack of support. A single person launched a whispering campaign and it spread like a brushfire. This time I was sure I had the authority to intervene, but I was wrong. There was blood in the water and dismissal quickly became the inevitable outcome. (Concerted, unrelenting attacks on someone’s competence tend to be self-validating.) The instigator, who should have been fired, was triumphant. 

Here’s how Westhues describes the phenomenon: “Mobbing can be understood as the stressor to beat all stressors. It is an impassioned, collective campaign by co-workers to exclude, punish, and humiliate a targeted worker. Initiated most often by a person in a position of power or influence, mobbing is a desperate urge to crush and eliminate the target. The urge travels through the workplace like a virus, infecting one person after another. The target comes to be viewed as absolutely abhorrent, with no redeeming qualities, outside the circle of acceptance and respectability, deserving only of contempt. As the campaign proceeds, a steadily larger range of hostile ploys and communications comes to be seen as legitimate.”

Mehta’s dismissal letter, especially the last two sentences, is an unwitting illustration of Westhues’s definition. Its intensity, inflammatory language and length are unlike anything I’ve seen in a firing. Perhaps it’s the way academe does these things.

I asked Westhues if he thought Mehta was a victim of mobbing. He was aware of the dispute, but he takes on only three or four cases a year and wouldn’t offer an opinion without first studying every scrap of relevant information.

He did, however, direct me to the many resources on his website.

One is a list of 10 conditions that increase a professor’s vulnerability to mobbing in academe. I’ve highlighted the five that apply to Mehta:

• Foreign birth and upbringing, especially as signalled by a foreign accent;

Being different from most colleagues in an elemental way (by sex, for instance, sexual orientation, skin color, ethnicity, class origin, or credentials);

Belonging to a discipline with ambiguous standards and objectives, especially those (like music or literature) most affected by postmodern scholarship; Based on a Google search, Mehta’s discipline, psychology, is at least affected by postmodern scholarship.

• Working under a dean or other administrator in whom, as Nietzsche put it, “the impulse to punish is powerful”;

An actual or contrived financial crunch in one’s academic unit (according to an African proverb, when the watering hole gets smaller, the animals get meaner). I can’t find any indication that Mehta’s department is having financial problems, but the university is. See CBC, $10.5M bailout for Acadia helps avoid ‘more difficult decisions’.

Having opposed the candidate who ends up winning appointment as one’s dean or chair (thereby looking stupid, wicked, or crazy in the latter’s eyes); From Mehta’s  Facebook Page: “In the early part of 2017, Acadia University was searching for its next President. On March 27, I submitted the concerns that I had with Dr. Ricketts being the next President of Acadia University in a letter that I submitted to the Presidential Search Committee.  … Dr. Ricketts became the President of Acadia University.”

• Being a ratebuster, achieving so much success in teaching or research that colleagues’ envy is aroused;

Publicly dissenting from politically correct ideas (meaning those held sacred by campus elites); Here’s some media boilerplate, courtesy of The Canadian Press: “The associate professor of psychology has been outspoken on a range of contentious issues. He has come under fire for saying multiculturalism is a scam, there’s no wage gap between men and women, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has created a victim narrative.”

• Defending a pariah in campus politics or the larger cultural arena;

• Blowing the whistle on or even having knowledge of serious wrongdoing by locally powerful workmates.

I told Westhues that Mehta seemed to be digging in his heels, or “doubling down,” on the issues that were causing him so much trouble. I asked if his seemingly irrational reaction could be the result of stress. His response surprised me: “Generally, a mobbing target is best advised to dig in heels and go for broke.”

Westhues said that once a mob has formed against a target, any sort of apology he or she may offer is likely to be misconstrued as an admission of serious wrongdoing or dismissed as insincere.

Mobbing can extend outside an academic institution (which is self-evident to people who’ve been following the Mehta story) and become “virtual mobbing.” Westhues cites a “very hostile” petition aginst Mehta as an example of that.

I’ve not studied the petition in detail,” he writes, “but I have done so in the case of similar petitions and learned that many, even most of the signers know little or nothing about the facts of the case, just add their names as a means of what’s called now ‘virtue signalling,’ the conspicuous declaration of values they hold dear.”

Indeed, the very first signatory has no apparent association with Mehta: “… I honestly would boycott any classes with him if I still went there … ” (Emphasis added.)

If you read on you’ll find plenty more signatories who demonstrate no association with Mehta, but say some nasty things.

So, should we be pro- or anti-Mehta?

The answer is: we should be anti-mobbing.

Managers of all kinds looking for help with that could start with the Waterloo Anti-mobbing Instruments. And then look around Westhues’s website.

It might just keep you from falling down a rabbit hole.


A life and death dishonoured

It’s time for the authorities to clear their heads and come clean on CR’s death. Apart from the threat to civil liberties, a year of official silence dishonours the life and death of a man who was loved and is missed.


When officials create an information vacuum, regular folk will fill it with theories.

Here then, is the Turpin Laboratories theory of why the identity of CR remains a provincial/municipal secret a year after he died in a Halifax police cell: the Serious Incident Response Team, which investigates possible misdeeds in the policing world, and the Public Prosecution Service, which prosecutes when SiRT brings charges against someone, don’t get along.

And they don’t get along, the theory goes, because of the “Officer 1” case. In January 2016, SiRT charged Officer 1 with stealing “cut”, a substance used for diluting illegal drugs, from the HRP evidence room. The PPS, aka “the Crown”, failed to act until it was too late to go ahead with the prosecution, so Officer 1 got to walk away from it all.

SiRT gets the last word in these situations, so its director, Ron J. MacDonald, wrote a masterpiece in the art of flaying another organization while being studiously neutral.

Here is MacDonald’s conclusion:

This investigation led to the conclusion that there were sufficient grounds to lay charges of theft, breach of trust, and obstruction of justice. As a result, charges were laid on January 27, 2016, and SiRT’s file was provided to the Crown on March 15, 2016. Subsequently, the Crown entered a stay of proceedings on May 30, 2016. On January 27, 2017, SiRT was informed by the Public Prosecution Service that due to issues related to delays in the prosecution of the charges, that the charges would not be re-instituted.

As a result, Officer 1 is deemed never to have been charged with any criminal offence.

You can find more on this here and MacDonald’s concise report here.

At best, we have here a conflict between two public agencies with different mandates over two unrelated policing issues. Worse, is the possibility the two organizations are engaged in a peeing match. Worst, is the possibility that SiRT believes the PPS is protecting bad cops.

How have we arrived at these hypotheses? We know that MacDonald wants to charge someone because both SiRT and the PPS acknowledge they’re currently discussing CR’s case. Chris Hansen, a PPS spokesperson, said last week: “I think it would be correct to say advice from the Crown is ongoing as the investigation continues.”

We know that SiRT and PPS have been batting this one back and forth since January or February because MacDonald told me in late 2016 that CR’s case would be ready early in 2017.

In other words, as in the Officer 1 case, SiRT wants to prosecute and the Crown is taking a long time to get  on board.

SiRT and police don’t need PPS permission to file charges, but they almost always consult first. It makes sense because if the PPS does not believe the case will succeed, then there’s not much point in going ahead with it. If you ignore the Crown’s advice and lose, well then you have career-damaging egg on your face.

Hansen said there is no connection between the two cases. When I asked MacDonald about that, he was studiously forthright: “I do not intend to address that question.”

It’s time for the authorities to clear their heads and come clean on this. Apart from the threat to civil liberties, a year of official silence dishonours the life and death of a man who was loved and is missed.

Other posts about CR:

One death, 365 days of inquiry, 0 answers

Did a police dog eat SiRT’s homework?

Irony or hypocrisy?

Criminal charges disappear along with dope

Sure hope there’s no cover-up here


Did a police dog eat SiRT’s homework?

Tomorrow, May 16, the Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT) and the Halifax Police Service will reach the 11-month mark in their suppression of the name of a 41-year-old man who died in a Halifax police cell.

That means it will have been 11 months since SiRT supposedly began investigating the death of CR, as I call him.

I have several theories about the delay. One is that SiRT Director Ron MacDonald has been too busy helping the NS Bar Society put Lyle Howe in his place to move the CR investigation along.

Another theory is that, for the dullest of reasons, SiRT is never going to release the results of its investigation and, consequently, you will never know whether the victim simply died from misadventure, was killed accidentally through negligence, or was murdered.

A third theory is that a police dog ate MacDonald’s homework.

It’s difficult for bloggers to dig into these issues because we don’t have the thousands of followers enjoyed by mainstream media. A communications flack once told me: “I really don’t have time to give a high priority to questions from bloggers.”

I completely understand and even sympathize. But the media don’t seem interested, which means I’ll have to put on my amateur reporter fedora and begin calling CR’s family and friends to confirm his identity.

They won’t like it and neither will I, but I’ll do it because the police and SiRT are being undemocratic. And, unfortunately, it seems to be catching on.

If you know something about CR, you can email me at I’ll do my best to honour a request for anonymity, but I don’t have the resources to resist a court order demanding your name and I don’t want to go to jail. A pretty good solution is go to a library or internet cafe you don’t routinely visit, set up a phony gmail account, send me the email, and then kill the account. It’s not bulletproof security, but it requires a lot of effort to learn who you are. Whatever you do, don’t send it from work.

If you feel your information is so hot that organizations will indeed go to extreme lengths to find you, then give it to the CBC, which has a secure drop at


Irony or hypocrisy?

Another troubling aspect of the trials of Lyle Howe

More than nine months ago, on June 16, 2016, a 41-year-old man from Halifax (let’s call him CR) died in the cells of Halifax Regional Police.

The province’s Serious Incident Response Team

Lyle Howe
Lyle Howe

was asked to investigate. But SiRT has a policy of suppressing the identities of people involved in their investigations. And HRP, in the style of Canada’s famously “tight-lipped” RCMP, has itself made CR’s name a secret.

So, nine months after CR died in HRP’s care, no one will say who he was. This is a serious, but not severe, case of  authoritarianism, which can break out in a police force at any time. In Canada, it is usually associated with the RCMP, not HRP.

But why is the secret investigation taking so long? After all, we know from watching TV that witnesses’ memories fade with time and sometimes they move away or even die.

Incredibly, the answer may lie the high-profile troubles of Halifax lawyer Lyle Howe, who is currently being roasted by the bar society for poor conduct.  CBC’s Blair Rhodes wrote about Howe’s latest trials last week. Here’s an excerpt:

“The three-member disciplinary panel has sat for 58 days since it began 15 months ago. The hearing was originally expected to take about a week.

“The panel chair, Ron MacDonald, also heads Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team, the body that looks into complaints against police. He has had to schedule breaks in the hearing process to allow him time to do his main job. Decisions from SiRT have been announced in fits and starts over the last 15 months.

“Similarly, panel member Don Murray, a prominent Halifax-area defence lawyer, has had to reschedule cases in order to continue attending the hearing.”

In other words, cases such as CR’s appear to have been delayed because Ron MacDonald, like Don Murray, has too much on his plate. In a general sense, you could say MacDonald and Murray are “double-booked”. This is reasonably common for lawyers, which is why they can often be seen flying around the halls of courthouses, their robes flapping in their wakes like Harry Potter.

OK, you say, but why is the bar society reviewing Howe in the first place? Here’s Blair Rhodes again:

“The bulk of the allegations against Howe focused on rather mundane aspects of his practice — things like double-booking and missing court dates.”

Let’s give this a few seconds of soak time …

Got it? Yep, two of the lawyers reviewing Howe have found the process so demanding that, on the face of it, they are exhibiting the same failing for which they are slow-cooking Lyle Howe.

Could be ironic, hypocritical, or both.

This brings us to the continuing suppression of CR’s name. It’s a serious matter. Being in custody means you’ve lost control of your life to your jailers. It’s a life-and-death responsibility for the jailers. Unfortunately, they’re human, so we create outfits such as the Serious Incident Response Team to keep an eye on them — to ensure cell-deaths, accidental or otherwise, don’t become a routine event in law enforcement.

This is because in less civilized parts of the world, people are arrested and never seen again. Sometimes they die by accident, sometimes not. Their bodies are dumped at sea, fed to animals — whatever. When their loved ones come looking for them, there’s no record of them ever being in custody. Or if there is a record of arrest, it turns out the prisoner was “released” the next morning and then disappeared. Or he hanged himself and incident is still under secret investigation.

If there truly are bad guys involved, the best case scenario for them is that everyone just gets tired of waiting for the answers and stops asking.

Long ago, I met a freshly-immigrated coroner in Montreal at a New Year’s party. We had both been over-served by the time I asked him about an obvious failure of the justice system in Canada’s Ocean Playground.

“Well,” he said, smiling as he swirled his Scotch. “People do get away with things, you know.”

Can’t happen today, you say? Well, maybe not if we consistently exercise proper oversight, which we’re not doing in this case. At the very least, secrecy and investigatory sloth undermine public confidence in law enforcement.

If you’ve read this far, you might enjoy my novel, Max’s Folly. Click here for more information. — Bill Turpin