Does that make me a liar?

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Hearings resume tomorrow at 10:00am (Thursday, 26 April 2007).  I plan to back before then, but, just in case 🙂

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I read through the Let’s Pretend David Silmser is on the Stand transcripts.  Finally.  A painful ordeal.

It set me to thinking yet again about this whole issue of transcripts and interviews and memory and victims.

Do you realize how often victims are discredited or made to feel and look like fools because they don’t remember minutae?

Do you realize how often victims are discredited or made to feel and look like fools because they don’t have a complex and sometimes painful sequence of events in precise chronological order?

Do you realize how often witnesses are discredited and made to look or feel like fools because they don’t have the hour and day they met Perry Dunlop down pat?

Do you realize that, barring moments and events which are often unavoidably but somehow indelibly imprinted in our minds accuracy is often nigh to impossible without notes or some sort of paperwork to assist in the recall?

I have frequently pondered this while some victims endured cross-examination.

Reading through the transcripts of David Silmser’s cross-examination in absentia set me to thinking it through again.  I decided to test myself and my husband in this regard.

The results are not scientific.  I don’t pretend that they are.  But I have found it an interesting exercise.

So, this blog is restricted to a few thoughts on the matter of memory and a few little exercises which helped me to understand what happens when victims/witnesses are accused of fabricating the truth or outright lying because of discrepancies in dates or details.

Test you memory
Test your memory.  Think of a positive event in your life.  What details do you recall?

Think of a negative event in your life.  What details do you recall?

Go back a week.  Do you remember what you did last Saturday? a week ago Saturday?  Can you account for the entire day – every hour, every person you met,and every conversation you had? Ask your husband or wife or someone you spent all or part of the day with to do the same.  Any discrepancies?

When was the last time you were in a restaurant?  Can you describe the restaurant in detail?  Do you remember the colours of the wall?

the tablecloth? the serviettes? What about the placement of the furniture? Could you draw a diagram?  Can you describe the waiter/waitress.  What was he/she wearing? Did the waiter hand you the menu with his left hand, or right? How many others were in the restaurant? Can you describe the person or persons sitting at the adjacent table?

Do you recall what you did before and after the meal at the restaurant?  Who did you talk to?  What did you talk about?

Those are probably mundane every day events.  How well did you capture and retain the moments?

Negative experience
Now, think of and focus on a particular negative experience in your life.  A bad experience.

What details of the negative experience itself do you recall?  Aside from the latter, what do you recall of the rest of the day? If you were in unfamiliar surroundings, can you describe them in detail?  If there were unfamiliar people around you, can you name them and/or describe them? Can you quote conversations verbatim?  Can you relate the general gist of a conversation?

I have never been sexually abused so am not in position to test my memory with an incident of sexual abuse.  I therefore picked several negative events, both recent and distant and tried to test my memory.  I’ll give you this example.

My father died fifteen years ago.  I can still remember distinctly the way he looked and looked at me when I walked into the hospital room after an anxious five-hour flight.  I remember he reached out and took my hand.  Did he reach with his right or left hand?  I think the right, but when I really analyze I realize I’m not 100% sure.  Was it my left hand?  Don’t know.  It didn’t matter.  I held his hand.

I remember his words.  I remember him dying in my arms about five minutes later. It was all over in a flash. Was it five minutes? Or perhaps ten?  I think it was five.  I say it was five.  I’ve always said it was five minutes. If someone tells me and can prove that it was in fact ten minutes does that make me a liar? Five or ten.  It doesn’t matter to me.  He died.  I was there.  Those few moments are locked indelibly in my mind.

I could give you a general layout of the hospital room, but I couldn’t guarantee accuracy.  Nor could I have done so the following day.  I couldn’t tell you the names of the nurses.  I couldn’t give a description of one single nurse.  I could add however that I stopped at the nursing station when I arrived and asked direction to my father’s room.  I could tell you the nurse said: “He’s been waiting for you.  He’ll be so happy to see you.”  I’ll never forget those words.  They, like his death, are indelibly etched in my mind. Those were words of comfort.  They’re important to me. Sometimes I include that exchange in my account and sometimes not.  Generally I don’t. I don’t count them as part of his death per se.

Who was that nurse?  I have no idea.  I couldn’t identify her if my life depended on it.  What was she doing when I arrived?  I haven’t the foggiest. Did she point me down the hallway with her left hand or right?  I don’t know.  I know she pointed.  But with what finger, or what hand – not a clue.

I couldn’t tell you what the room number was.  Or even the floor of the hospital. I think it was five, but I’m really not sure.

Nor could I tell you the colour of the bed sheets.  Well, the sheets were white, but the bedspread?  I know it was coloured, but what colour?  No idea. How do I know it was coloured?  I can see it, but I see it without seeing the colour.  Just as I see the nurse at the nursing station without seeing her features.  Strange.

I know I was in an emotional state when I arrived at the hospital, and when I finally laid eyes on my dying father I neither saw nor heard anything else. Those painful moments are etched in my memory.  I didn’t consciously decide to remember them.  I just do. They are with me forever.

Do the staff who worked at the hospital that day remember my father?  Some may.  But from what I recall of my own years of nursing, I wouldn’t count it. There was nothing untoward about his illness.  Nothing which would make him stand apart from the hundreds of other patients a nurse cares for in the course of a year. But someone may.

But, more to the point, do the many people I encountered in the hospital that day remember me?  Do they remember that I was indeed there?  I doubt it.  I truly doubt it. Perhaps the following day someone would have recognized me.  But two weeks later?  Six months later?  A year later?  I doubt it.

If none of the hospital staff remembers that I was actually at the hospital that day, does that mean someone could try to insist I wasn’t there? Does it mean someone could imply I’m a liar because I can’t prove I was there?  But, if the nurse happened to jot a note on the chart “Daughter arrived” I am in luck.

I’ll take it another step.

If asked I could write down an account of my father’s death.  A week from now I could do it again.  A month from now again.

Would the accounts be identical?  Probably not.  It might depend on what I was asked to write, and it might depend on time, and it might depend on my frame of mind at the time.  In one account I might include my brief exchange with the nurse at the nursing station.  I might not.

Which of my brothers said we’ll leave you alone with Dad for a little while?  One of them did.  Which?  I’m not sure.  I think I know, but, it doesn’t matter.  But, if I say one of them said it but I can’t remember which, am I lying?  Am I just making things up? Should I remember?  Am I at fault if I don’t?

If I add a detail in one chronology which I didn’t include before, does that mean I am making it up?  If I failed to mention my brothers in one scenario but include them in another does it mean I am hiding something or lying?  Does the fact I made no reference to them before negate everything I have to say about being with my father when he died?  Does that make me a liar?

What if I never say a word about the way my father looked at me and smiled when I walked into the room?  What if I found that just too private and too personal and too painful to share with anyone? If I tell you about it later, does that mean it never happened?  Am I lying?

If I consciously or even subconsciously decide not to detail the moments I remember most distinctly am I lying when I finally manage to share those too?

Friends and acquaintances

Have you noticed the focus at the inquiry on when a witness met Perry Dunlop? or Carson Chisholm? or Helen Dunlop?  and the implication that if a first meeting date or subsequent meet doesn’t correspond to that of some document or other the witness is lying? or trying to hide something?

Think of some of your good friends.  When did you meet?  How? When? Where? Who was there?  What did you talk about?

When was the first time you visited?  Was it at their home? or yours or elsewhere?  What date was it?  Who was there?  What was said?

How long did the visit last?

Can you remember when you met those friends in relation to each other, i.e., did you meet Jane before Tommy? and Tommy before or after Harry and Sue?  Did you meet before or after you started a new job or some other significant event in your life? Are you sure?

Can you give a year and month?

If you keep a diary and happened to write it down, no problem.  Otherwise, what do you recall?

What about acquaintances?  Think of a few.  When did you meet?  How? When? Where? What did you talk about? Who was there?

Chronology
The days immediately after my father died are a bit of a blur.  I know funeral arrangements were made.  But the sequence?  Who was called when?  Who called when?  No idea. Who arrived at the house when? But, the funeral?  Yes.  I remember bits and pieces. If pressed I could remember more. But not the way I remember the moment he died.

I can take it to a more recent scenario.  My husband was rushed into hospital 02 March.  Ten days later he had open heart surgery.  I can recall certain events in those ten days, but in honesty they are a bit of a blur.  I can’t recall the sequence of events with precision. If I really sat down to sort it out I could perhaps come up with a reasonable chronology, but with the exception of several major events in those days, including the day his surgery was cancelled and rescheduled and the day he was wheeled off to the O.R I could never vouch for it’s accuracy.  It was an emotional time. And it was a blur.  From the moment I received a phone call from the doctor informing me that my husband was being sent directly to the hospital until the day 16 days later when I my husband was discharged. A blur.

Over a month downstream and already my mind has stored certain moments as worthy of recall.  Most are isolated moments and events.

One I will probably never forget is seeing him in the recovery room 30 minutes after his surgery. I remember the day we were told his aortic valve was shot – completely shot. What day was it?  Was that before or after the car had to go in the garage for a fix up?  I don’t know.  I know both events transpired, but in which sequence? No idea.  I may have jotted it down.  Barring that I am reliant on records at the hospital and garage.

What day did this doctor, that doctor or the other talk to me?  I’m not sure.  With a little effort I might be able to sort it out.  I know with certainty they talked to me.  What days did friends and family call?  What days did I call them?  Before surgery?  After surgery?  How many times? Who said what?

But, did my husband have open heart surgery? Absolutely.  Did I talk to doctors? Absolutely.  Did I call family and friends and they me? Absolutely.

If I get my time sequences mixed up does that make me a liar? Or does it mean I am trying to hide something?

There is something fundamentally flawed with the process being followed at this inquiry. Lawyers representing the various institutions are functioning as though this is a criminal trial and not a search for truth.  Regardless of admonitions from the judge lawyers representing the institutions can not or will not remove themselves from their comfort zone of a “vigorous” cross-examination process which is applicable to criminal procedures.

This is supposed to be an inquiry.  True, I believe this matter of memory and  cross-examination at criminal trials needs to be addressed and overhauled to clip the wings of over-zealous lawyers intent on a win at all costs.

But my issue at the moment is with the process at the Cornwall Public Inquiry.

It seems to me our inquiry system or process needs a completely revised mechanism for dealing with witnesses.  The harassment of witnesses which has transpired during the Cornwall inquiry hearings is totally unacceptable.  Many of the “victim”-witnesses have been severely traumatized by sexual predators.  In addition many have been treated like liars by “institutions” which honed in on and latched onto discrepancies in interviews and transcripts.  Lawyers defending the alleged predators and “insitutions” in turn have treated the “victims” like liars and money grubbers. (Need I say that it generally takes a lawyer to initiate a lawsuit?)

That this process should find its way into and find a place in a public inquiry is a disgrace.

As indicated above in my thoughts on memory the horde of lawyers at the Weave Shed bent on exonerating the various “institutions” and “alleged” predators within those institutions of culpability are totally ignoring the underlying fact that these victims have had their lives significantly and permanently damaged by the perverted and self-serving acts of sexual predators. Their memories of those events are indelibly and forever etched in their minds.  Their memories of events extraneous to the abuse are probably no better or no worse than ours when it comes to painful and negative events in our lives.

The mandate prohibits testimony of those sexual acts, those moments which they will never forget.  But lawyers can go on and on ad infinitum about discrepancies in this transcript, that transcript and the other, and on and on about the response of the “alleged” victim to the institutional response.  And the “alleged” victims are painted as good for nothing liars who conspired to do something or other with Perry Dunlop and Carson Chisholm and Helen Dunlop and who knows who else?

And Heaven forbid an “alleged” victim” mistakes the day he first met and talked to Perry Dunlop!

The mandate of this inquiry and the manner in which the function of memory is being spun to discredit “alleged” victims ensures that the cover-up of the cover-up continues.  This is not a search for truth. It is an all-out effort to bury the truth and discredit those who bear it.

As it stands, the mandate coupled with the process ensures a successful cover-up of the cover-up.

I have a number of comments to make on the transcripts.  I wanted to think this through first and get it off my chest.

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Don’t forget the Steve Parisien Legal Defence Fund.  Steve needs your help.  Keep him in your prayers as well.

And that’s enough for now,

Sylvia
(cornwall@theinquiry.ca)

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