Although police officialdom and government would wish the media to be compliant and socially responsible and refrain from a search for information about the decision to place bodyguards around Premier Kathy Dunderdale, there’s still a public issue at play here, an issue that prompts questions that should be answered.
Obviously, a degree of awkwardness is created when wondering, in any sort of overt fashion (in a newspaper column, for example), why the premier has to be protected, the reason for such discomfort an obvious one: no sensible person would wish to jeopardize Dunderdale’s safety or compromise the effectiveness of the security.
Nevertheless, to state (what should be) the obvious, this isn’t Jane Doe we’re discussing here, but the premier, the most noteworthy and influential person in government, whose public (and sometimes private) life will always appear conspicuously on a wide-ranging radar. Thus, people in this province are entitled to more information than that supplied thus far by Dunderdale herself and Royal Newfoundland Constabulary spokeswomann Suzanne FitzGerald (the latter has turned into the ubiquitous face of the constabulary, a comely face, for sure, and — aside from probably setting many a young male heart aflutter during what seem to be nightly appearances on television — she’s become an expert at delivering, in the smoothest of ways, example after example of cop-talk, generic and vague, the type of language never more evident than in her carefully worded remarks about the premier’s security detail).
By releasing more information, or answering direct questions, the government and the cops will allow the public to decide — as is its right — whether there’s been an over-reaction here or whether the extraordinary protection for the premier is justified. Obviously, most normal-thinking individuals are inclined to take the authorities at their word, but there’s nothing wrong, and everything right, in asking for the kind of elaboration that would allow Newfoundlanders to more thoughtfully draw their own conclusions.
Questions such as:
Since these “incidents” are “serious” enough to warrant bodyguards, should anyone showing up at a public function to hear the premier speak do so with apprehension? If, in the company of the premier, are you putting yourself in danger? That seems to me to be a legitimate, very practical matter that should be addressed.
Were these “incidents” worthy of further investigation? Are they, in fact, under investigation?
Is there a “person of interest,” as the cops often describe a suspect, being looked at? Is there a wingnut out there who’s provoked safety issues for the premier?
Were there troubling emails or phone calls directed towards the premier? Was Dunderdale accosted at some point?
Is the safety issue confined just to Dunderdale or are members of her family being protected as well?
A sidebar of some passing interest here: news stories have reminded us that this is not the first time a premier has required protection, and I recall myself that back in the mid-1980s, when I was being paid by CBC Radio to cover the political exploits of Brian Peckford, Constabulary officer Bob Garland was as familiar to reporters as the premier’s flacks. Installed as Peckford’s bodyguard, Garland became the premier’s shadow and, aside from (one would think) making a small fortune in overtime and accumulating thousands of travel points, had a plum assignment that undoubtedly enhanced his career, becoming, as he eventually did, a senior officer in Labrador and Corner Brook (where his professional life came to a screeching and ignominious end when he was convicted of sexually assaulting a fellow officer).
Still another digression: label me a cynic if you want, but this sort of matter never harms the standing of any politician. Call it the sympathy vote, for want of a better expression, but politicians seen to be putting themselves at risk as they dedicate themselves to improving the public lot can’t help but garner bonus points from their constituents. (I’m not implying, obviously, that there was any sort of political motive here, merely that good PR is a by-product, a silver lining in a dark cloud).
In any case, at the risk of belabouring the point, there are questions to be asked here and should continue to be asked, even if they cause an occasional case of foot-shuffling unease.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.