Dog days of summer and police violence

Barbara Amiel ask if the investigation into Sammy Yatim’s death is satisfactory

Michelle Siu/CP

August columnists are allowed a one-off diary of midsummer madness. In my case, of course, the ramble invariably touches on my dogs. Summer is high prey drive for them, so I spend time protecting bunny families that live under our garden hedges. I can’t decide whether rabbits are hare-brained or tactically brilliant. They come out to eat at twilight and are invariably spotted by my Kuvasz. Their response is to sit dead still, cottontails motionless. This absence of movement temporarily baffles the dogs. Sometimes the pause works—after all, prey should run—but sometimes not, and then the chase is on. I must say I’m just about OK taking dead raccoons and possums out of my dogs’ mouths, even horrible-looking moles with yellow claws, but when it comes to bunnies, I am appalled. Then comes the disposal problem, given the rather cavalier nature of garbage pickup these days.

I’m not sure if my dogs are acting illegally when they kill raccoons anymore than I can be certain that the raccoons are not mad when they pick fights with two large dogs, but I haven’t the stomach to take remnants into a raccoon morgue to determine if they are rabid. Usually I hear the noise of an encounter and it’s cacophonous. So far, it’s 9-0 for the dogs. You can’t leave carcasses rotting, so I generally resort to a fast-food outlet. Dead animal goes in bin bag and, around midnight, wearing a hoodie, I do a quick run to the back of a McDonald’s. The shift workers showed me how to open the huge garbage vans and I nip into the deserted area where the trucks are parked and throw in the double-bagged corpse. I sometimes wonder, if a policeman sees me, hoodie and furtive, will I get tasered? “Drop that bag,” they’d say, and I’m not sure I would. Or will McDonald’s review security camera footage and turn me in?

Sammy Yatim was tasered—and shot nine times on a Toronto streetcar last week by a policeman after Yatim wielded a small knife and scared all the passengers off. The incident is being investigated. Eighteen-year-old males can be driven by a thousand momentary demons and such a death is every parent’s nightmare. But is putting it into the hands of the Special Investigations Unit satisfactory? The SIU takes ages, its full report is confidential and meanwhile, local feelings are bubbling away because everyone who actually knows anything has to button up during the investigation. Then the members of the SIU—by law, not active police officers—are distanced from the event. A former policeman I know claims a colleague quickly bled to death after being cut in the leg with a paring knife. Tasers seem just as lethal, so I can’t understand why—having cleared the bus of passengers—the police didn’t just shut the streetcar with Yatim inside? There may be reasons, but we can’t get them while the SIU is out.

Nine shots plus Taser sounds more than over the top, although police who don’t do brilliantly on target training still get a gun. Anyway, they are all taught to aim for the body, because only Clint Eastwood can hit a limb when it’s moving. Policemen investigating policemen is hardly inspirational, but surely an independent committee can afford one working officer from the streets? Or is current experience a liability?

I nearly cut my own fingers off with a paring knife last week trying to open a Game of Thrones DVD from Amazon. The packing is fiendish. After you get through the outer parcel, then the cellophane wrap, you reach the cardboard dust jacket, which has to be removed to reveal a folded fan with the three DVDs  slotted into places apparently sealed with glue. Is there a packaging conspiracy out there? I’ll be found dead with my hands clasping not an empty bottle of sleeping pills but a childproofed bottle of blood-pressure medication.

And while I’m at it, am I the only person who cringes at phrases now so popular on news shows, such as the need to “have a national conversation”? It was bad enough when we all “dialogued” or had a “constructive exchange.” Why can’t we just “debate” or “argue”? Sanitation of language never works. You banish the word “nigger” and replace it with “negro,” then “black,” then “Afro” and virtually imprison people for using the N-word and suddenly people are calling themselves “nigger” again. I know the difference is that an Afro person is allowed to call themselves what they like but frankly, if I were to call myself Yid, I would find it difficult to condemn non-Jews who did the same. Using nasty names is a giveaway of a nasty person but nothing more. Couldn’t we just agree that sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me—as I was taught on the playground long ago? We have all become osteoporotic when it comes to talk.

Getting back to my dogs, by analogy, at least: My summer prey drive for food and clothing has been successful, too. Last month, I discovered the world’s greatest chef. And that’s after dining at some pretty swank places. He’s here in Toronto with the improbable name of Arpad Magyar. He came to our house to cook a dinner and my Magyar Kuvasz, also named Arpad, was thrilled—particularly after tasting chef Arpi’s roasted provimi veal with paprika sauce and double-smoked bacon. Then I found the best shirts at Pink Tartan, a Canadian shop in Toronto, and haven’t taken off the silk pyjamas I bought there for a fraction of the price that Stella McCartney charges for inferior ones. I suppose if I wore an item of raccoon-trimmed clothing and ate rabbit, I could claim some sort of synchronicity with my dogs, but even in a one-off column, that would be a step too far. Happy summer all.  

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