So, this happened. Two people stabbed one person at the Red River Ex, and that is everything we know about it so far because nobody involved wants to talk about it.
A few brief thoughts, if I may:
-- There were three other unrelated stabbings this weekend, including another in our seemingly endless parade of stories about people being stabbed for cases of beer, but I would bet even money that the Ex stabbing is the one that dominates the local discourse for a couple of days. Local coverage is clogged enough with serious crimes -- enough in number and frequency that they all, distressingly, begin to blend together by category -- that a story only rises above the fold if its shenanigans go completely over the top, it happens during a concurrent event like a concert or festival, or if the police helicopter had any involvement whatsoever.
-- Wait, where was the helicopter? Isn't this exactly the sort of case that they would want to tell people they solved with the three-million-dollar air support? It couldn't have been a range issue, since they've flown the thing to Portage la Prairie and back. Are they unwilling to fly the helicopter over large events or large crowds in case it tips them off that something is amiss? Aren't we supposed to feel safer knowing that we have a helicopter protecting us from above?
Boy, I can't wait to have this not explained!
-- What do you figure the worst pun would be as the headline for this story? I'm leaning towards "BLED RIVER EX". But we'll see what the front pages look like
tomorrow today; I've been outdone before.
-- Has there ever been a news story where you read that the victim of a crime has refused to cooperate with police investigations and you thought to yourself, "boy, they sure look better for having turned that down"? The disinclination of both victim and witnesses to assist police efforts strongly suggests gang involvement, but that seems sillier and sillier the longer you think about the setting.
-- Besides the opportunity to be seen together in public, what possible appeal does the Red River Ex even offer to groups of hardened gang thugs? You have to drive all the way out there, it's five bucks for parking, you have to pay twelve bucks apiece to get in, and then what do you even do? Bumper Cars? Whack-a-Mole? That game where you have a magnet on a fishing line and pick up a frog? Do a bunch of ruffians stand around repping their gang colours while their leader rides the Gravitron? Is their gang charter built around a plan to pool their money and buy a plastic bucket of mini-donuts, knowing that it provides a better value for their money than individual bags?
-- I wondered briefly if the crowd was a more unsavory lot than usual because of a particular mainstage act that day, maybe someone with a harder edge that would bring in a rougher audience, but the WestJet Main Stage free concert last night was... Fred Penner. And while that connection would be pretty funny ("YOU! YEAH, YOU, MU'FUCKER! YOU DOWN WITH SANDWICHES?" "I... wh-what?" "SANDWICHES, MOTHERFUCKER! ARE THEY BEAUTIFUL?"), I am forced to admit that it is rather unlikely.
-- I'm not going to lie, a gang rumble in a carnival at night would be an awesome setting for a graphic novel. Wouldn't it? The carnival would have to be empty, though -- it'd have to be established as an annual thing, that every year the carnival comes to town and one night a year everyone knows to stay away from the carnival because the gangs all show up and knife-fight for supremacy. This is getting increasingly unrelated to the story at hand, but man, that'd be neat.
-- So with that said, and with all signs pointing to this as being a one-off isolated incident, will the Red River Exhibition Association feel the need to make changes for next year? I initially figured that it would be a coin toss; the lipservice about safety would be obligatory, of course, and perhaps next year would have a trial period of patdowns upon entering (that the public would inevitably complain about), but I wasn't envisioning any real lasting effects for the long term.
But then I remembered that a man was beaten to death a few years back during Islendingadagurinn in Gimli, a town not exactly known for its sky-high homicide rates. Festival organizers and the Mayor of Gimli reassured everyone that it was an isolated incident, and that the festival would not be meaningfully disrupted by cutting back the more liquor-laden, trouble-courting aspects of the event. And I don't cast any aspersions on them for that strategy, because it is well reasoned and as viable a response as any, but the problem here and now is that theirs was not the response the Red River Exhibition Association needs to pay attention to.
It was the sentencing for that attack, earlier this year, that made headlines when the two assailants received one day in jail and three years' probation for the death. And I doubt very strongly that the Association would directly identify that case as a factor, but I also doubt very strongly that the outcome isn't fresh in their minds.
The Gimli case was a serious assault at an annual outdoor public event that led to almost scandalously lenient sentencing when the Crown could find nobody willing or able to accurately identify the suspects and series of events. What the Red River Ex has on its hands right now is a serious assault at an annual outdoor public event, with the current situation being such that CJOB describes police efforts as "having trouble with a description of the suspects and what happened [because] witnesses aren't co-operating." An uncooperative victim and uncooperative witnesses in an already-high-profile case mean that -- even if the suspects are eventually identified, captured, and charged -- the hard evidence against them will amount to little enough that whatever possible sentence the Crown can squeeze out of it will only be seen as adding insult to injury.
So the Association's immediate response, what they announce within the next day or two, is not necessarily important in the long run; it will be when (or, of course, if) this story goes through the justice system that the Red River Ex will have its hand forced and the Association will need to put up a display of strength. Unless some breakthrough happens in the investigation that can solidly identify the suspects, weapon, motive, and correct series of events -- this is being written at an incredibly early stage in the game, to be fair, but initial reports are less than optimistic -- there will be no real case built against the accused and the sentencing will range from minor to nonexistent. The public perception will be that the stabbing at the Red River Ex had no real penalty behind it; that's a bad message for business, but that's a really bad message for prospective troublemakers; it leaves no deterrents to future violence until, or unless, the Ex steps in and creates some.
Ultimately, no matter what the Association says this week, expect them to be planning thoroughly for next year by beefing up private security and negotiating to strengthen the Winnipeg Police Service presence. Just as well, I think; as much as I like the graphic novel concept I wrote above, I would hate to think of it becoming speculative fiction.
Well, this was a cheerful discussion!