Stories from a Victim Offender Mediation Programme
“No vengeance or hate, just healing.”
So begins Vancouver Sun reporter Ian Mulgrew’s article about a remarkable woman named Katy Huchinson. Mulgrew’s article (No Vengeance or Hate, Just Healing) ran June 16, 2003. A lot has transpired in the year since. Katy’s life and ours have become intertwined. But to understand just how and why, you’ll need the background.
Thousands have now heard Katy’s story, “The Story of Bob” McIntosh, the popular lawyer, Captain of Team Canada at the 1997 World Triathlon championships, loyal friend, father and family man who died violently in Squamish on New Year’s Eve that year. Katy had spent the day cooking, the couple’s twins, Sam and Emma playing nearby as she finished preparations for the small dinner party she and Bob were hosting that evening. Friends arrived, the evening wore on, and Bob became concerned about a raucous house party just down the street. The party was apparently out-of-control. Worse, it was being held in the home of a close friend and neighbour whom Bob and Katy knew to be away, vacationing in Mexico. Over 100 youth were partying there, some invited by the neighbour’s son, some not. Bob and his two male guests decided to look in on things before they got any more out of hand. Bob climbed the stairs to the master bedroom and apparently protested about youth being in it. One punch knocked Bob out. Four kicks to the head, delivered by a second youth, severed an artery and ended Bob’s life.
The first youth, Ryan McMillan, took responsibility early for having delivered the punch. He was charged with manslaughter but the charge was stayed since it appeared someone else had delivered the fatal blow. Ryan McMillan was given a three-year conditional discharge for assault. The RCMP investigation continued, but any potential witnesses—100 strong—closed ranks and maintained a code of silence. It was almost five years before there was sufficient evidence to charge a second Ryan, Ryan Aldridge, with manslaughter.
Katy had made a video, describing what life had been like for her and for the twins for the previous five years. When police played it for Ryan Aldridge, he broke down and ended the almost five-year silence with the words “I killed him.” That night he wrote a letter to Katy and the twins, taking responsibility for his part in Bob’s death, describing his own nightmares, saying: “The secret [sic] has been destroying my life as well as yours.”
The next morning, the RCMP brought Katy to Squamish. She stepped into the room where Ryan was being interviewed to meet him. The following account is from an article Katy gave us which appeared in the National Post: “I wanted to pick him up and put him in my arms” said Hutchison. “He was having a hard time finding words. He started to cry. I said it was going to be OK. He’d have a tough road in the immediate future but if he dealt with it right now, he’d have a chance. I asked him what happened. He didn’t remember. He said, ‘I was drunk, I kicked him.’ It was a recount of a blur, the uselessness of the situation.”
Hutchison looked at him. Aldridge didn’t look up. The interview was over. “The hardest part was on the way out I could see him on the TV screen. He was by himself, sobbing. I wanted to make it OK for him… He seemed genuinely remorseful.”
As reported in Ian Mulgrew’s article, Katy is clear that this encounter helped to heal the wounds “I accept what happened. I accept he made a fatal error. But what does forgiveness mean? I expect him to make a difference in someone else’s life.”
Soon after, Katy began speaking to high school students about the dangers of unsupervised parties, taking her powerful presentation to schools and any forum where she could gather a youth audience. And gather them she does. In an hour long multi-media presentation, Katy introduces them to Bob: his childhood, his school years, his passion for sports and athletic prowess, their story-book courtship, their wedding, the birth of their children and Bob’s delight in them, and the sudden death that took him from them all. She speaks of risky contexts: drugs, alcohol, unsupervised parties, and how “misguided choices” ended Bob’s life. It is by no means a preachy presentation. On the contrary, Katy cares deeply for her audiences. She invites them to life lived to the full, to relationships of respect for self and others, life characterized by responsibility, courage, autonomy, dignity, wise choices and joy. High school students are gripped by her message. “The only missing link, of course, is having Ryan Aldridge doing it with me,” Katy says. “I think it would be a really important thing for him, for me, for the kids. I hope over the course of his incarceration there will be some communication between us. I think the more involved victims and offenders can be, the better.”
In the Spring of 2002, the Vancouver Sun ran a series called Crime and Consequence for a number of weeks. Professor Liz Elliott, a colleague and friend of CJI, wrote one of the articles on Restorative Justice, commenting very favourably on CJI’s approach and our Victim Offender Mediation Program as an exemplary restorative model. Katy Hutchison saw the article. She called us and we set a meeting with her to explore what VOMP might have to offer. Coincidentally Dwight Mater, the Victim Liaison Coordinator at one of the prisons nearby, called to say that Katy had been in touch with him. He felt VOMP could well assist in meeting the needs of both parties and suggested we be in touch with Katy.
We met Katy and listened as she shared aspects of her story we could never otherwise have known. About the struggles and the growth. About her twins Sam and Emma, now ten, donating proceeds from a garage sale to an anti-bullying program, winning a poster contest with the theme “Stop the Silence; Stop the Violence”. Ten-year-old peacemakers who, after seeing Ryan in court at his sentencing, began to ask about him fairly frequently. “I wonder what Ryan is doing right now” they ask. “They don’t fear him,” Katy says, “Ryan has become a character in our home. The children echo my feelings. What happened was a horrible, awful thing, and they hope Ryan can get help.”
A few weeks later in June 2003, we arranged to meet with Ryan. He found it difficult to believe that a program like VOMP existed but was clear that he needed to continue on the path he had begun. Katy had sent a letter for Ryan with us, in which she made clear she hoped to meet with him in hopes of greater healing for them both. She affirmed the direction he had begun to take, saying, “If the letter you wrote to Squamish is a reflection of some insight and maturity that you have gained since your incarceration, then I believe you are on the right path.” She made clear that the losses had been enormous, but that she had no need or desire to extend the harms. It was clear that Katy, Sam and Emma had hopes for Ryan: that he would heal, too, and achieve his “full potential in life.”
We began to tailor an approach that would meet the needs expressed by Katy, Sam and Emma, as well as those Ryan had expressed in his letters (to her and the children, and in a subsequent letter he sent to the Squamish community newspaper for publication).
A short time later, Katy and Ryan met face-to-face in a board room at the prison. I find that words fail me at this point whenever I attempt to describe these meetings. Perhaps that is best. The real test is how the parties, the Ryans and the Katys, feel.
Ryan watched, as Katy played her presentation “The Story of Bob” for us on her notebook computer. There were tears and important dialogue: the taking of responsibility, confession, acknowledgement of one another, of the pain of past and present, of hope of healing and life yet to be lived.
A few weeks later, Ryan sent us a letter to be forwarded to Katy. Shy, reticent and imprisoned though he might be, he had decided to do what he could to assist with Katy’s presentations. The letter had been framed for Katy to read as part of the presentations she continues to make. In his cover note to Katy, Ryan says, “Maybe in the future I could come to one of your presentations and answer the youths’ questions. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be involved in your presentation.”
In his letter, Ryan offers a good deal of himself. He shares the foggy recollection of the events of that New Year’s Eve, the awareness of his involvement in Bob’s death, the fear and spiral into despair that ensued. He writes movingly too, about the impact on his family and friends, his rediscovery of the importance of his relationships with his parents, and about the life sentence that will be his in recognizing the incalculable costs of his choices that night. His letter implores other youth to consider the consequences of their choices, to recognize how easily a wrong choice can lead to tragedy.
Ryan ends his letter with a poem given to him by Katy, Sam and Emma, saying “I read it every night and it inspires me… with Katy, Emma and Sam’s forgiveness— maybe I can move on and forgive myself…”
I cry out
I admit it,
I can’t do this alone:
I have not suffered alone.
There has always been help and always will be.”
Oh, what a peace admitting this
Has given me.
Now I move forward
With joy in my heart
When we contacted Katy to ask permission to print this article in our Annual Report, we sent her the first draft and asked if she would like to add anything. This is what she sent by email a few hours later:
When Bob and I were first married, I recall coming to him in tears with the news that my infant nephew had been diagnosed with cancer. I told Bob that I could not imagine anything worse than having a sick child. Bob held me in his arms and said, “You are right. This is awful—but you need to remember something, Katy. This is not the last crisis our family will face. Life is a series of crises. They are punctuated by celebrations. The true measure of a person is how they move between those crises and celebrations.”
But we can always choose how we
react to what happens to us. In EVERY situation we can step back, take a
deep breath and think about our reaction and how it is going to shape
what is to come.
There will be more to come. Katy is about to meet the other
Ryan, the one who punched Bob when he was confronted at the top of the
stairs. And additional steps will bring more healing still.
It is always so when light eclipses darkness and people like these
determine to do the unthinkable: to encounter one another in all their
brokenness and work together toward their mutual healing: to overcome
evil with good.