Print Media Treatment of Hate as an Aggravating Circumstance for Sentencing: A Case Study

3. How the Print Media Portrayed the Miloszewski Case

The first section of this paper focused on the newspaper reporting of the aggravating sentencing circumstance. In other words, what was the overall context within which discussions of subparagraph 718.2(a)(i) and Miloszewski emerged? The analysis now shifts to contextualize the discussion by examining how the print media characterised the overall story. A majority of the newspaper items included in this analysis were not focused exclusively on subparagraph 718.2(a)(i), but instead on the offenders' link to white supremacist groups, the nature of the offence, and the court proceedings. Therefore, it is important to understand the overall content of the items, within which discussions of the aggravating sentencing circumstance occurred -discussions of subparagraph 718.2(a)(i) emerged within the broader coverage of Miloszewski.[8] As Roberts and Doob (1990: 452) suggest, "news media treatment of sentencing [and legislation] must be seen in the context of media coverage of crime."

The analysis in the last section reveals that newspaper items related to Miloszewski individualised and pathologised the five men who were sentenced for the crime. As a result, the media "explained-away"the event as an individual aberration, and in the process avoided the issue of systemic racism. Implications of pathologising the crime and avoiding the issue of racism will also be outlined. The section begins with an explanation of media coverage of crime-related stories.

Media Coverage of Crime-Related Incidents

It has been well documented by media researchers that the media report frequently about atypical or deviant behaviours (for example, see Cavender, 1981; Cohen and Young, 1981; Ericson et al., 1991). Media consumers therefore receive a steady diet of sensational, crime-related stories. "A great deal of what is consumed and made integral to daily life are stories of crime, law and justice. The majority of news items focus on crime and other forms of human transgression"(Ericson, 1995: xi).

Journalists commonly rely upon individualistic or one-dimensional accounts of the crime-related stories they cover. While interpreting an event and attempting to make sense of what happened -and why -the media frequently pathologizes crime as an individual aberration. In his analysis of media reporting of the "scared straight" phenomenon, Gray Cavender (1981: 431) argues that journalists convey an ideological message that crime is "…an individual choice that has little relationship to any social variables. Criminals are portrayed in a one-dimensional manner as evil, vicious, and barely human."[9]

A corollary of this individualisation of crime is that the media "explain-away" incidents, as opposed to understanding and reporting them within their broader socio-cultural context. Ericson et al. (1991: 8) explain the process and consequences of media accounts that individualise and pathologise crime and deviance:

A lot of news consists of moral character portraits: of demon criminals, of responsible authorities, of crooked politicians, and so on. The emphasis of individual morality is not only a dramatic technique for presenting news stories as serial narratives involving leading actors but also a political means of allocating responsibility for actions and attributing accountability. Moreover… personalization combined with an event-orientation 'produces the appearance (or collective representation) that troublesome persons rather than troublesome social structures are at fault. This mystifies the social roots of trouble in a society that is structurally unequal' (Pfohl, 1985: 353). By individualising problems on a case-by-case basis, the news…[rules]…out systemic and structural accounts that might question the authority of cultural values, the state, and the news and legal institutions.

Moral character portraits, individualisation, pathologisation and allocating responsibility are processes that the print media used to "explain-away" the Miloszewski case.

Pathologising Miloszewski - Explaining-Away the Crime

Newspaper items related to Miloszewski frequently reported about the association of the five men with white supremacist groups. In doing so, the print media attributed the actions of the perpetrators to their association with a fringe element. By focusing on the perpetrators' skinhead status, newspaper items pertaining to Miloszewski pathologised and individualised the crime, and avoided discussions of the relationship between the incident and problems of racism in Canada. It is important to recognise and denounce the seriousness of the Miloszewski case, however it is also instructive to understand how it represents and relates with systemic racism. In this respect, racism must be examined and understood as:

various -in kind, in disposition, in emotive affect, in attention, and in outcome. Moreover, racisms are not unusual or abnormal. To the contrary, racist expressions are normal to our culture, manifest not only in extreme epithets but in insinuations and suggestions, in reasoning and representations, in short, in the microexpressions of daily life. Racism is not -or, more exactly, is not simply or only -about hate (Goldberg, 1997: 21; as quoted in Kobayashi and Peake, 2000: 393).

Following the arrest of the five men, the police were quoted in the newspapers as describing the crime as a "random attack by skinheads" (Charlottetown Guardian, April 23, 1999: B5). One item appearing shortly after the arrest identified the five men as being "…connected by police to some of the most violent and racist white-supremacist groups in North America and Europe" (Crenetig and Mata, The Globe and Mail, April 22, 1998: A1). Further police statements to newspaper journalists suggested that the "men were believed to belong to White Power, a supremacist, skinhead group" (Lethbridge Herald, May 28, 1999).

Newspaper items that followed the arrest of the five men continued to emphasise their links to skinhead and white supremacist groups. In one item following the guilty plea (see, Papple, Sarah, "Five skinheads guilty: Plea bargain sees thugs convicted of manslaughter, "The Province (Vancouver), May 28, 1999: A8), the author emphasised that the five men were 'skinheads', and that the sentencing hearing could reveal links to organised racist groups. "If we can see the evidence of how the hate groups work, and what organisations are involved, it will be very telling, said spokesman Harry Abrams [from the B'nai Brith League for Human Rights]. I think organisations of men in three-pieced suites will be in charge of this fringe element" (see, also Papple, Sarah, "Real Supremacists wear business suits, say police in B.C. "The Edmonton Journal, October 24, 1999: A8). Similarly, other items associated the five men with white power and to "…other white supremacist groups, including the Northern Hammerskins, the Aryan Nations and the Heritage Front"(Canadian Press, Calgary Herald, May 28, 1999).

Items appearing during the sentencing decision reiterated the 'skinhead' status of the five men who killed Nirmal Singh Gill. "Skinhead case in judge's hands: Crown counsel issues warning of belated shows of empathy," was the title of one item just prior to the sentencing decision (Moore, The Halifax Chronicle-Herald, October 16, 1999: A13). Similarly, items appearing after the sentencing decision remained focused on the skinhead affiliation of the five men, as illustrated in the following titles:

Skinheads jailed in death of Sikh: 'Moronic' attack on caretaker called racially motivated (Moore, The Toronto Star, November 17, 1999).

Skinheads get prison terms in Sikh's killing: B.C. judge gives five men 12-to-15 year sentences for hate crime against temple caretaker (Armstrong, The Globe and Mail, November 17, 1999).

Five skinheads get hard time for beating death of Sikh (Jamieson, National Post, November 17, 1999: A4).

In general, several newspaper items concerning Miloszewski focused on the association of the five perpetrators with organised skinhead groups. These items suggest that from the outset the print media attempted to "make sense"or interpret the crime by focusing on the 'skinhead' status of the five perpetrators. However, in juxtaposition to this focus, the court noted during sentencing that the five were not in any sense an organised group:

"…these five like-minded young men, despite their swaggering and bragging, were not in any real sense an organised gang. None of the five can, on the evidence before the court, properly be characterised as a leader. Rather they were a group of social misfits who congregated for the purpose of consuming alcohol and fantasising about establishing a white supremacists society and ultimately a world in which these small-minded, frightened men would be in power" (Armstrong, Globe and Mail, November 17, 1999; see also, Vancouver Sun, November 18, 1999: A23 - my emphasis).

Dangerousness and Violence - More Pathology

Further evidence of the newsprint media's attempt to "explain-away" or "pathologise" Miloszewski emerged in their explanations of what "went wrong" or what caused the crime. For instance, in explaining why the crime occurred some items explored the family background of the five perpetrators (see, for example, Armstrong, "Taught tolerance, Sikh slayer's parents say son of Polish immigrants had trouble fitting into multicultural society, schools, court told, "The Globe and Mail, October 7, 1999). Daniel Miloszewski, who moved to Canada from Poland with his family, "…had problems adjusting to Canada's multiracial society from the beginning." "By the time he was 19, Daniel Miloszewski's adjustment problems had taken a sinister turn. He cut his hair short, bought his boots and leather jacket and began to listen to music with racist lyrics" (Armstrong, October 7, 1999). With this characterization, the media leaves open the interpretation that the stress of living within Canada's diverse society somehow contributed to the crime - that diversity caused divisiveness and undermined unity (cf. Li, 2001). Unfortunately, this avoids the issue of systemic racism and only provides a "simplistic but convenient explanation"(cf. Li, 2001) as to why some Canadians perpetrate acts of racial violence.

In a continued effort to "make sense" of the crime, one item cited the mother of Robert Kluch, who attributed the crime to "…her son's friends and the death of her husband…" (Bolan, Vancouver Sun, October 15, 1999: A9; also see Moore, The Gazette, October 15, 1999: A10).

Another item quoted the mother of one of the five men, who noted that her son "…had difficulty socialising with other children and was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and other learning disabilities in school. He dropped out at age 14, already addicted to drugs and alcohol."

Some items emphasised the pathology of the five men by focusing on the 'danger' that they represented to the community. In a sensationalistic tone, one item noted: "Security was tight at the court, with armed guards, a security gate and a glass wall separating the public gallery from the five men, the lawyers and the judge. One security guard wore a bullet-proof vest" (Matas, September 28, 1999). In the same item, Crown counsel was quoted as saying the five men were "exceptionally dangerous, violent and callous individuals."

Other items cited the inability of the five men to accept responsibility for their actions as evidence of their dangerousness and pathology. "The lack of remorse and attitudes displayed by these five…is frighteningly menacing," the Crown was quoted in one item (Matas, The Globe and Mail, September 28, 1999 -my emphasis). Similarly, one of the accused was quoted as saying: "I have no remorse" (Bolan, September 30, 1999: B1). The message was that the explanation for the crime could be found in the ruthless and violent character of the five perpetrators.

During the police investigation, and while the five men awaited trial, the police obtained wiretap authorisations to record conversations between the co-accused and undercover police officers. The media frequently reported these conversations in their construction of the five men as evil and pathologically out of control. In one item Robert Kluch (one of the perpetrators) was quoted as saying it would be a good idea to murder 100 Indo-Canadian children at a school (Bolan, Vancouver Sun, September 29, 1999: B1). The item also referred to Kluch's violent past and how he had committed several hate-motivated acts. The overall tone of the item was that the incident could be explained through the out of control and extremely violent behaviour of five skinheads.

The final example of pathologising the five perpetrators was found within an item that discussed the academic record of one of the five men (see Bolan, Kim, "Skinhead killer won scholarship for marks earned while in prison, "Vancouver Sun, October 14, 1999: A5). In the story the journalist questioned how it was possible for one of the five "skinheads"to be recognised for their academic performance while in custody awaiting sentencing (the individual won an award for academic achievement).

The tone of the article was that it seemed impossible, even inappropriate to recognise the academic achievements of a savage, skinhead killer.

Miloszewski as an example of Racism

Not all of the items pertaining to Miloszewski ignored the issue of racism in society. However, for the most part these stories discussed how this individual act was racially motivated, without attempting to discuss the problem of systemic racism. In one item Balwant Singh Gill, president of the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple, was quoted as saying that "…the temple's congregation was 'very, very upse about the killing and the racism. These people [the five accused] are so filled with hatred in their minds,' he said. 'It is very, very scary'" (Matas, The Globe and Mail, September 28, 1999).

Defence counsel in the Miloszewski case also drew attention to the broader issue of racism, mainly in an attempt to convince the judge to impose a lesser sentence than the Crown was advocating. Defence counsel David Butcher argued that "these offenders have inherited some very old prejudices… Unfortunately, the reality is that racism and racist-motivated crime is not unique" (Moore, Canadian Press Wire, October 14, 1999). Another item quoted the same defence lawyer as saying: "It is in my opinion that you [the judge] should have some understanding of the history of racism in this community and in this country… [racism]…is entrenched in every aspect of our society." The defence continued, "it is apparent that such a sentence will do nothing to eliminate racism in this community or nationally" (Bolan, Vancouver Sun, October 15, 1999: A9; also see Moore, The Gazette, October 15, 1999: A10).

A Vancouver Sun item (Grewal, October 12, 1999: A19) criticised the paucity of analyses and editorials "expressing revulsion and outrage at this racial violence. "The item quotes a human rights advocate who argued that, while "big names of white supremacist groups attract a fair amount of media attention, many hate-motivated crimes are done by people not associated with any particular hate groups. It is easier for people to dismiss white supremacists as pathologically unstable or crazy. It is harder to accept that regular people can perpetrate violence based on the notion of superiority. "Although the article draws attention to the issue of racial violence, it does not treat the case as part of a continuum of systemic racism within Canadian society.


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