The truth shall set you free
As family and friends began gathering in the George Martin Hall chapel for Andrew Bartlett’s memorial service last Tuesday afternoon, Dennis Cochrane spoke with a small group of reporters outside McCain Hall.
Hands stuffed into his coat pockets and communication director Jeffrey Carleton in high alert at his side, Cochrane took questions from journalists about the latest hot topic tied to the case: hazing.
Without confirming or denying that hazing happened on campus during the hours leading up to Andrew’s death, Cochrane said he’s called on Larry Batt, the dean of students, and Mike Eagles, the athletics director, to prepare a review of athletic policies.
But that wasn’t the only thing on the agenda that cold, November morning.
“There’s been a couple underlying issues that have come along,” he said. “Obviously, the mourning and the sympathy everyone has for Andrew’s passing and his family. The second issues comes back to journalism, because there was some discussion about journalism students preparing a summation of events.”
Present at the scrum were Lily Boisson, Alex Solak and myself on behalf of theAQ, reporters from The Gleaner, CTV and CBC, and at least one additional photographer. However, although we were well represented, theAQ wasn’t officially invited.
Two weeks later, speculation has not ended and secrets still abound on campus. Everyone’s curious—everyone wants to know what happened but information is scarce and it’s causing rifts on campus: pitting jocks against student journalists looking for the truth and student journalists against the administration that isn’t giving out enough information—in some cases, because they don’t have it yet.
Although frustrating, these divides were inevitable. When loyalty and reputation come into play, truth can take a supporting role to understanding the situation. The questions that come up aren’t easy to answer—whose fault is this? What will it mean for the future? What will become of Andrew’s legacy?—but they’re things everyone wants to know.
But they’re also questions that cannot be addressed when the flow of information stops.
So where do we begin? In this case, the trouble seems to start with the Fredericton police department, which has kept tight-lipped on details from day one and has done little to help the public understand what happened that night. Sure, they’re waiting for information, too—lab results take time to process and reports take time to organize and file—but at this point, they’re not acknowledging (or dispelling) rumours, either. They haven’t even confirmed the location of the call they responded to—despite the fact that it has been reported by media sources.
The only things we’ve got to go on are a vague statement made after the identity was confirmed and a promise of a report in the near future. How long can the FPD keep people waiting like this?
Months, if the McKendy case taught us anything. The public was shocked when the professor was murdered in his home by his daughter’s former boyfriend, but in time it came out that the family had been nervous and worried for his safety–concerns they spoke to the police about, although the existence of these concerns did not come out until later in the investigation.
The McKendy case was a good example of how information can be kept out of sight and out of reach when there’s no public demand for answers. It would be difficult to argue that making the public aware of these threats immediately would have done a lot of good, but keeping them a secret didn’t help matters, either – it just caused more speculation and fuelled suspicions.
There’s an argument to be made that sometimes the public interest is best served when authority withholds information—for example when information puts others in danger.
But in many cases, the absence of free-flowing information is a danger in and of itself, as rumours abound and harm the community as a whole.
With or without the help of authorities, we will confirm the details of Andrew Bartlett’s last night and publish the truth. It won’t be easy but it is our responsibility to the community that we serve, especially when authorities in Fredericton who are also trying to find the truth aren’t as eager to share what they know.