Jaded journalist has a (tentative) change of heart

More than a year ago, I sat in the North Vancouver Provincial Courthouse watching a small television monitor as a blubbering Ryan Aldridge confessed to a police officer that he had, in fact, killed Bob McIntosh.

The confession followed an undercover RCMP sting operation in a hotel room at the Vancouver International Airport, at which Aldridge also confessed and demonstrated the three or four "soccer-style" kicks to the head he delivered after McIntosh had been rendered unconscious by a sucker punch from Ryan McMillan. This all happened New Year's Eve in 1997.

I remember New Year's Day of 1998 attending the Polar Bear Swim at Porteau Cove, where Wendy Magee told me the tragic news from the night before. I lived at the time in Garibaldi Estates, and had heard the sirens of police and emergency vehicles racing up the hill to Garibaldi Highlands.

Hearing Aldridge's sobbing confession, I couldn't help thinking of him as a gutless puke, and that was being polite. In a society that has increasingly embraced violence on television and in sports, kicking a man when he's down is still taboo.

And it must be remembered that Aldridge never did come forward to confess. If he hadn't been caught in the police sting, he might still be walking the streets of Squamish, bullying other young people as was his habit, and laughing and joking with his friends, drinking and taking drugs.

But he was caught, and to his credit he did plead guilty, sparing Katy Hutchison and her children, Emma and Sam, from the horrific details of the case that would come out at a trial.

But, having seen the effects of his actions on the community, and the five years of silence, which tore at the hearts of McIntosh's family, friends and the RCMP as well as many other community members, I wished Aldridge would rot in hell. I hearkened back to the solution for a similar odious criminal proposed by a friend of mine in Terrace.

"First we take his clothes off and nail him by the foreskin to the barn door. Then we coat his gonads with honey and let a grizzly bear loose," he suggested. "But in the spirit of fairness, we give him the lid of a rusty sardine can with which to defend himself."

Fortunately for Aldridge, Katy Hutchison is much more forgiving and far-sighted than either myself or my Terrace friend. Right from the start she stated that she would like Bob's killer to confess, pay his penalty, and then make something positive out of the rest of his life. As she put it, even if Aldridge could contribute to society one-tenth of what Bob did, society would be better off. I don't know of any other person who would take that attitude, rather than seeking revenge. But when you see Hutchison in action, and realize how sincere she is, you understand this is the only option for her to make something positive out of a tragic incident for herself, her children, and Aldridge.

It appears, at least for now, that Aldridge is following that path. He has joined Hutchison in making two presentations of The Story of Bob, one to hundreds of Grade 8 students in Abbotsford and another to the Abbotsford restorative Justice Association.

I haven't seen their joint presentation, and likely won't as members of the media are not welcome. That's a pity, as I can imagine the impact of the dual presentation, and suggest it should be mandatory viewing on public television for everyone in the world. Perhaps that will come.

But what I can say is that I believe Katy when she says that Ryan "is extremely articulate, speaks well and speaks from the heart." Sitting in a jail cell pondering the world and its options after committing such a crime should at least afford you the opportunity to focus your thoughts.

And Katy has afforded Ryan the opportunity to do just that, and make something positive out of his life. He appears to be listening. It is never easy to stand in front of 400 school children and confess your greatest sin, never mind a slightly smaller group of adults all passionate and knowledgeable about the justice system. That, my friends, takes guts. So I take back the "gutless" part.

And If Aldridge keeps on contributing to helping other young people avoid his tragic path, I might even take back the "puke" part.

If not, I reserve the right to call my friend in Terrace. By now he might have some even better ideas.

Al Price was editor of The Chief at the time of Bob McIntosh's murder. He lives in North Vancouver.

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