Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

When A Hero Falls in Fort McMurray

I sit here early this morning with a heavy heart as I write this. There have been very few times during the course of writing this blog that I have felt at such a loss for words, and struggled so hard and long with an issue. I have lost sleep, and shed tears, and had dozens of conversations. I have laid there late at night staring into the darkness, hoping that the silence of the night would help me to identify all my feelings and find a way to express them. In the end, though, it was a discussion with the Intrepid Junior Blogger that led me to write this post, a conversation in which she, wise beyond her years, simply advised me to be honest. And so I shall.

I write today, of course, about the recent incident involving Mike Allen, MLA of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo - and someone that for the last two years has become important to me. When I first began this adventure Mike held a seat on RMWB council, and he was one of my very first supporters and encouragers. He shared my posts, retweeting them and emailing them to others. He and I would have coffee together on occasion, and we would discuss all sorts of things, from local government business to other matters in the community. When he announced that he would stand for nomination of the PC party in the provincial election I put my support behind him, because I believed he was the best representative for our community. I will not hesitate to admit that I worked on the campaign to get Don Scott elected, and so I worked beside those doing the same for Mike, our paths often crossing. I was at the victory party when they were both elected to office, and I have been in contact with Mike ever since, watching as he began to take on stronger roles and do more and more for our region with issues like Highway 63. And, then, this past week, when the news arrived from St. Paul, Minnesota,  the bottom fell out.

When I was told that Mike had been arrested, and the nature of the charge, I cried. I cried because I knew what it would mean for him professionally, and personally. I cried because I couldn't quite put it together in my head. I cried because I knew the aftermath of the incident would be ugly in every regard, although even I underestimated the vicious nature of some of the things that have since been said. I cried because I knew I would need to tell the Intrepid Junior Blogger, who had been at the victory party too, and who had worked on the campaigns. The IJB is a young woman, almost 14, old enough to understand prostitution and the exploitation of others. Old enough to understand the severity of being charged with a crime in another country, particularly when there representing our province and on government business. Old enough to be deeply troubled by it, just as I was. Old enough to know the truth.

And so, later that day when all the brouhaha had faded away a bit, I told her. I cried again when I did so, and while we did not talk about it much that day we did so again last night, when I shared with her my deep internal struggles over the entire topic. I told her about the phone calls I had received from media after the news broke, calls asking for the "Fort McMurray reaction", calls I rejected because I couldn't even articulate my own thoughts and feelings in a sensible way, and I certainly wouldn't presume to speak for anyone else. I told her about the wide and varied reactions, from forgiveness and acceptance to sheer hot anger, the harsh and cruel words others said, but how others expressed their support. I told her how some had seemed to want me to feel a certain way - disappointment, or anger, or vengeful - and how I could not seem to feel much of anything for longer than a few moments, each emotion quickly being replaced by a new one. I told her about my hesitance to judge anyone, because I do not believe we are on this earth to place ourselves in judgement of others. I told her how some had asked if I would demand Mike resign from his role of MLA. I told her how confused I was, and how I did not know what to write. And she told me tell you all of this, because it is the truth.

I will admit that I have felt anger, seething anger because so many of us, myself included, have fought long and hard to share the "good story" of our community, to replace the tawdry headlines with ones that reflect who we truly are as a community. Seeing our city name tied up in this hurt me deeply, and felt like a blow to all the work that has been done to show the world that we are not the place they might think we are. I felt anger, too, for the people of this community, people who I knew felt betrayed and let down and disappointed. I have felt sorrow, mostly for Mike's family, because they too would have seen some of the viciousness of those who attacked him (and while I understand anger I think there is a point where it simply becomes an evil cruelty, and neglects to recognize that others, even politicians, are human). I felt embarrassment, knowing how I would feel if it was a visiting elected official from St. Paul caught in a prostitution sting here, and how that would make me view the place from where he originated. I felt concern for Mike, too, because I knew the stress of this all could take a tremendous toll on his physical health and well-being. And I have cycled between those feelings - anger and sorrow and embarrassment and concern dozens of times a day, going from one to the next, and never fully being able to grasp what it all boiled down to - until I asked the IJB how she felt. And when she replied I realized she was right, and that I felt the same way. She said, very simply, that it hurt.

I looked into those beautiful brown eyes as she told me how it hurt to see someone you have looked up to fall in such a way. She explained that no one is perfect, and that we all make mistakes, but that this was so hard to understand. She told me it did not change the good things Mike has done, both since his election and before, but that it had changed the way she looked at him. She told me that it is hard to see a hero fall. And I realized that in the end I too, more than anything, was simply hurting over it all.

In the purely political aspect I have to say I do not know if Mike should resign his seat as an MLA. I believe he had to resign from the PC party, as they would have likely demanded it anyhow, and justifiably so. I swing between thinking he must step down, and that he can no longer represent us effectively in his new role as an independent, to thinking that perhaps he should stay on and try to redeem himself. I do know that redeeming himself would take immense work and fortitude, because it will not be an easy task, and may be impossible. I wonder if we would find another representative who would do better for us, or if in fact we could find ourselves worse off in some way. In the political sense I want what is best for our community, and I am still not entirely sure what that is.

In the community aspect I know that Mike has significant support within this community, and I am genuinely glad to see he does as I think he will need it regardless of his decision about his future as an MLA. I know too, though, that he has lost the faith and trust of many who voted for him, and regaining that will be a long and hard road. It is not an easy path ahead of him.

In the personal aspect? I do not condone what he has done, not in any sense as I am both a woman and the mother of a young woman, and I reject a "business" that far too often preys upon young and vulnerable women and men. Sexual exploitation and human trafficking are very real issues, and they weigh on me heavily, and so I cannot turn a blind eye to what he has done - but I also cannot and will not condemn him as an individual or a person. Why? Because as the IJB has said no one is perfect. Because I do not sit in judgement of my fellow man. Because I am not the judge and jury, and I am not a deity. Perhaps there are those who feel quite comfortable condemning others, and judging them - but I am not one of them. I can condemn the act, but not the individual, and so that is the path I have chosen.

It has been a difficult week in Fort McMurray. It has been a week when I have travelled through so many emotions, and when I suspect many have been through similar journeys. Perhaps others arrived immediately at their conclusions - anger or acceptance, rejection or forgiveness. But not I. I continue to feel and think my way through all this, balancing my personal feelings with my feelings as to what is best for this place I love and call home. I have gone through great inner conflict, including whether to even write about this subject at all, knowing that what I write would be unlikely to fully please anyone, and knowing that writing it opens me to attack, too (and I have on occasion been on the receiving end of vicious attacks, and know how easily some find it to be cruel to others who share this earth). In the end, though, I asked the IJB if I should write about it and she simply said "It's what you do. You are a writer, so write it, and do what you always do. Just be honest" - and so I have. The simple honesty is this: it has been a painful week in this community, and my heart hurts for so many reasons and on so many levels. And for once, on this very rare occasion, words have failed to capture what I feel, and so I will allow myself to just feel my way through all this, one day at a time.


  1. I have known Mike for years and know what you are feeling. It really is a lot like grieving the death of a close friend. I can also understand what his family is going through and the personal shame they are feeling. A member of my immediate family was also involved in a sexual scandal that resulted in a conviction that kept tongues wagging for a long time. It has been years and I still choke up when I think of it, much less talk about it. Unlike Mike
    and his family, we will have these feelings but will soon move on. It just shows how life can turn on a dime.

  2. I am so glad you did write this and you did it beautifully. Although I do not know Mike as closely as you, I had the absolute pleasure of being at a few events with him last month, and he is such a nice man with a very big heart for YMM. When I first saw the posts on Facebook, I was shocked and then sad. Then I saw the comments, people laughing at the situation, loving the fact that someone messed up and knowing the hell he is about to go through for his actions. There is nothing funny about it at all. But I saw A LOT of support for Mike too. Sometimes things happen, people do things without thinking it through or realising the repercussions of their actions. Thank you for opening up a very personal part of your soul and opinion to write this. I think that the people who know him best all feel the same. IJB is a bright young lady, I wonder where she gets that from ;)

  3. An honest and heart wrenching piece of writing! In addition to the feelings and various emotions the writer mentions, there is also the one of betrayal, in all its aspects (such as total trust, friendship, teamwork, etc.) - this one is one of the most difficult to overcome - and it takes a long, long time to accept the betrayal, and move on... some do, but for others, try as they might, betrayal lingers hidden but always there, just under the surface. May this writer find all the strength and wisdom needed to work through this!

  4. I do not know Mike Allen personally, so I thank you for sharing this from your perspective. I can assure you many people are feeling the same way, it's a blow to all of us who call YMM home and care about our image. At the end of the day, we do need to remember that even our politicians are human, and while we may experience a wide range of emotions over the situation, he is the one who will have to face the music and understand there are a wide range of reactions to go along with the emotions. Not all people can hold themselves in check when emotions run high. I am very disturbed by what he did, but I am glad to see him handling the situation the way he is. Some would say he has no choice since his arrest was made public, but he could still choose to run and hide and he's not doing that.

  5. Well written, and for sure I find myself struggling with the same thoughts and feelings. I think we do need to have frank discussions with all citizens of all ages about sexual exploitation, age appropriate of course. The average age an exploited person enters the sex trade is 13 and that age is getting younger every year. We can't have our heads in the sand. Twenty five thousand (25,000) children in Canada will enter the sex trade this year. Here is a report on 10 American cities.