Raw nerves become exposed during times of great stress

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
August 4, 2017 - 6:07am

KAMLOOPS — During times of crisis, it’s natural for our sensitivities to be heightened.

It wasn’t surprising, then, to receive an angry response to a story yesterday about a Williams Lake evacuee being charged in connection with the trashing of a hotel room in Kamloops.

A window was broken, a fridge overturned and some items set on fire, according to a report released by RCMP. A suspect, who is a wildfire evacuee from Williams Lake, has been charged with arson and mischief.

This is what one reader said: “Really, Mel, why would you mention evacuee? The deed done was rude and deserves the punishment, but 99.9 evacuees have been thankful, well-behaved, nice people. Rude of you, imho.”

I understand this defensiveness toward evacuees, and don’t at all disagree with the impression that 99.9 per cent of them are admirable people dealing with a very difficult situation in a strong, honest, even heroic way.

But is it necessary to insert a disclaimer every time an evacuee commits a less than stellar act, such as abusing the helping hand offered by agencies, volunteers and host communities? Or, even, to expunge such references from the record?

Drawing attention to the reality of such acts is important, and no one has ever suggested, to my knowledge, that they represent anything but a small minority. Still, they happen.

There was no reason to censor the police report by deleting the evacuee reference, as information that describes people charged with crimes is in the public interest. Put another way, it’s of interest to the public, but that doesn’t mean it’s gratuitous.

So, to those who may have taken offense to the suspect being identified as an evacuee, rest assured it represents no false impressions about the vast majority who gratefully accept help from others in an honorable manner. Hundreds upon hundreds of news stories have highlighted the challenges faced by evacuees, and their gratitude to the communities that have hosted them.

At the other end of the scale, there was the complaint from a reader about the fact evacuee dogs are allowed on leash in Riverside Park during the emergency. I wondered how long it would take for this one to come up.

Says a Facebook post: “I am not allowed to have a dog in Riverside Park. So why should anyone else? Go to Pioneer Park next door with your dogs.”

I assume this person knows that the only dogs allowed in Riverside Park are evacuee pets, as the comment was made in reaction to the same police story, but maybe I’m wrong. At all other times of the year, in all other circumstances, dogs are banned. And, while evacuee dogs are taken for walks on leash, residents’ dogs still aren’t allowed, as far as I know.

Is that unreasonable? Surely, the City is doing the right thing by letting the registration centre at the arena include pets, and allowing evacuee dogs to be walked there while they’re in care? Surely, there are times when exceptions to the rule should be made.

In times of stress, there will always be perceptions of unfairness. In the middle is the great mass of things that are done right, and on either end is a thankfully slim margin of imperfections.