The circumstances of the officer’s death raised many difficult questions for journalists at The Spectator. What drove this officer to take his own life? Was there something disquieting going on within police ranks — an internal investigation, perhaps — that drove this officer to take his own life, with a police-issued weapon, while on duty?
The violent and public nature of the act — an officer shooting himself in an open cemetery where anyone could have stumbled upon the scene — suggested that the officer may have been making some kind of a statement. Yet no one knew for sure what his motives were. As CBC Ombud Esther Enkin points out, “Suicide is incredibly complex, the reasons for people taking their own lives is incredibly complex… To pretend you can get into someone’s mind is really almost impossible.” Clairmont and others felt it would have been irresponsible to speculate.
Watch Esther Enkin discuss the importance of not making assumptions when reporting on suicide:
The police had a tendency to be tight-lipped, especially when it came to the death of one of their own. They were not willing to provide The Spectator with answers to any of these more difficult questions, and certainly not on the record. According to managing editor Roger Gillespie, the police did not want the story to be reported, and the fact that they were reluctant to comment or assist with the story was to be expected.
“To be honest, over the past 10 years, there have been a lot of stories I think the police would just as soon not have us cover — you know, crazy rogue cops that did all kinds of stupid shit, hero cops who fell from grace. There have been a lot of stories like that in Hamilton.”
One of The Spectator’s reporters on the crime beat raised an additional concern. He was worried that if the paper reported this story against police wishes it would damage his relationships with his sources inside the force. Gillespie acknowledges that lots of reporters feel they have to curry favour with their sources to get scoops. He is adamantly opposed to this logic. “It’s not our job to do what the police want us to do. That’s not a consideration — it should not be a consideration.”
Working with such limited information, what could The Spectator confidently and responsibly report, if anything at all?
Watch Jim Poling discuss the difficulties of navigating these gaps in the story: