The sixth serving of our summer reading series has a palpable WTF flavour to it; three stories that have the power to shock you through the sheer unlikelihood of their situations, the terrible injustice inherent in their contexts, and the unusual and even frightening characters they bring to light.
An epidemic of sexual assault threatens the integrity of Canada’s armed forces. Creation “scientists” re-interpret the history of the world during the Alberta floods. A homegrown terrorist hitchhikes his way to his own death.
All three of these stories won Gold Medals at the 2015 National Magazine Awards.
Every day, five individuals in the Canadian military community become victims of sexual assault.
Synopsis: An original investigation by two reporters from the French-language current affairs magazine L’actualité and published under the headline “Crimes sexuels dans l’armée,” this incredible work of journalism pieces together the facts and stats, the court marshals and testimonies, the victims’ perspectives and the military context, and the efforts to cover up, to expose, and to resolve the shockingly common occurrences of sexual assault in Canada’s armed forces. This is Canadian magazine journalism at its finest.
National Magazine Award winners Noémi Mercier and Alec Castonguay spent months investigating and writing this story for L’actualité, and it was the only nominee to receive 2 gold medals at the 2015 National Magazine Awards. The story was translated and republished in Maclean’s. Read the original French; read the English translation.
It took a shy, but courageous, Aboriginal teenager to finally put a stop to Wilks’s behaviour. In December 2009, 17-year-old Robbie Williams walked out of Wilks’s examination room in tears and called the police. A long list of victims followed her example. “I knew something wasn’t right as soon as I walked in the room. You wanna meet the right procedures and everything, so I followed through with everything he got me to do. For a long time after that I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. He made me feel worthless.”
Bonus reads: The silver medallist in Politics & Public Interest is Jake Macdonald’s “The Cost of Freedom” (Report on Business), which looks at the future of prairie agriculture following the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board.
The silver medallist in Investigative Reporting is Joe Castaldo’s riveting story for Canadian Business titled “The Entirely True Tale of the Man Who Had an Idea, Borrowed a Boat from Neil Young, Dumped Iron in the Ocean, Angered the Vatican, Ticked Off the United Nations, and Tore a Small Town Apart—Just to Make Some Salmon Happy.”
“I am going to put an end to all people,” God says, “for the Earth is filled with violence because of them.”
Synopsis: Nearly half of Canadians believe that humans and dinosaurs co-existed, and many of these believers subscribe to one or another version of Christian Biblical literalism which holds that geological, paleontological and anthropological time that science measures in millions or even billions of years in fact is measured in mere thousands since the time God created the Earth in six days.
National Magazine Award winner Andrea Bennett takes an inquisitive road trip to the Big Valley Creation Science Museum in central Alberta—harrowingly coincidental to the near-apocalyptic deluge which flooded much of that province in June of 2013—getting to know some of the adherents to and critics of the Young Earth Creationism movement, and reflecting on the parallel (and sometimes intersecting) historical gazes of science and faith. Read the story.
Henderson himself grew up in what he describes as a “rather strict” Presbyterian household—grace at every meal, church on Sunday, Bible reading in the afternoons at his grandmother’s. When he was fifteen, he began to see some contradictions between his faith and science. “Strangely,” he said, “my dad bought me this book called The Evidence for Evolution. When he gave it to me, he said, ‘Now I don’t want you to believe everything in this book.’”
Bonus read: The silver medallist in Essays is Jody Smiling’s “Through the Rockies” (Prism International), a pristinely articulated meditation on the family road trip.
“Where are you going?” Bekkering asked. “Calgary,” answered the man. “This is your lucky day.”
Synopsis: The terrifying assault on Parliament last October was like a nightmare come true for many Canadians: 21st-century Islamic terrorism hitting home. For one Calgary man, an agricultural consultant named Harry Bekkering, the frenzy of national anxiety and media coverage eventually illuminated a familiar face: the Ottawa gunman was a taciturn, purportedly devout man to whom he’d given a well-meaning lift across the Rocky Mountains just a month earlier. As the country came to grips with the tragedy and its context, Bekkering came to realize that his unlikely passenger was not a true believer but a tragic, alienated figure in need of help; help he never got.
National Magazine Award winner Michael Friscolanti profiles Mr. Bekkering, reconstructing the voyage from Chilliwack to Calgary and his subject’s evolving observations about Michael Zehaf Bibeau. Read the story.
A month after the shooting, Bekkering still struggles with feelings of guilt. Should he have spotted a warning sign? Was Michael already planning his attack when he climbed into the truck? Or did his inability to secure a passport, either Libyan or Canadian, push him over the edge?
Bonus read: The silver medallist in Best Short Feature, Elizabeth Renzetti’s “Ayahuasca (Mis)Adventures” (ELLE Canada) needs little further introduction beyond the mention that ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic herbal brew reported to have divinatory properties.
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Stay tuned for another Summer Magazine Reading Series edition next Thursday.