By Chad Ingram
Despite the weather, last Wednesday was a dark and distressing day in the Haliburton Highlands.
There are still some unanswered questions about what happened that day, but we do know some things.
We know that on the morning of July 15, a man went to enter the Valu-Mart in Minden, and by all accounts assaulted an employee there when he was asked to put on a face mask. We know he drove menacingly around the parking lot, striking vehicles and the grocery store itself, before speeding away on Highway 35. We know he was followed briefly by a police officer, and that using the man's licence plate number, the OPP located the man at his residence near Drag Lake. We know there was some kind of interaction there, that two OPP officers fired their weapons at the man, and that he was pronounced dead at hospital a short time later. We know that a semi-automatic rifle and pistol as well as police handguns were recovered from the property.
Those are the facts, as we know them, ones that have been confirmed by the store’s owner and by the Ontario Special Investigations Unit, which is probing the incident.
As that incident was unfolding last Wednesday, and in the hours afterward, what manifested itself on the social media platform Facebook was a maelstrom of misinformation, a great, whirling pool of wild speculation, conjecture, accusations, rumours, judgement and bickering. Many in the community were aware something serious was happening, none of us knew for certain exactly what, but that didn't stop many from just coming to their own conclusions. Just going for it, just making up their own narratives in the space left by the lack of real-time information from the police. People stating, with apparent authority, whether the man had weapons or not, or whether he was denied entry to the store or not (which was never reported), as if that would have in any way justified what happened, or what his motives might have been. Maybe the guy this, maybe the guy that. People had heard this, people had heard that.
Social media can be helpful for a number of reasons, but it can also be problematic, in the way it can be both a breeding ground and conduit for misinformation, misinformation that can spread quickly.
We know very little about the man who was killed last week – outside of his name, which we are withholding until next of kin is able to be notified by police – and we’ll likely never know the real reason for what happened that day.
Facts – real, concrete facts from validated sources – can be difficult to come by in such situations. You often have to work hard to get them, or sometimes be patient in order to get them. Since the Haliburton Highlands OPP is now under investigation by the SIU regarding this incident, the SIU is now that main, validated source of facts regarding this tragic situation.
It can be frustrating, sometimes, how long we must wait for facts to emerge. But they are worth waiting for. Every time.