Friday, March 30

The journey for justice continues

Last week, our Creative Communications class had the pleasure of listening to Mike McIntyre discuss his latest book, Journey for Justice: How ‘Project Angel’ Cracked the Candace Derksen Case.

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McIntyre did a great job at interweaving excerpts from Wilma Derksen’s book into his story.  From his detailed accuracy to his emotional insight, you can really sense that McIntyre had a strong relationship with the Derksen family.  The things he wrote about were not simply assumed, but were interpretations of factual stories and feelings shared by the Derksens.

I absolutely loved reading the first part of Journey for Justice.  It was a story that hit home for many reasons, considering the streets, stores and neighbourhoods were all places I recognized.  Someone very close to me was actually around Candace’s age when she passed away.  After reading her story, hearing someone talk about growing up at the same time as she did was a huge wake-up call.  It was a reminder that this crime actually happened, and is far beyond a simple story that you read and later put in the back of your mind.  The reality of this case is somewhat unnerving, but what really impressed me was the perseverance of the Derksen family.  The way they coped with the situation was incredibly humane and sincere.

The only part of the story I really didn’t connect with was the second half.  McIntyre’s writing style is not to blame for this reaction, because it’s the process of the court case that inevitably gets a little longwinded.  There are necessary details in the second half, however, that explain what happened during the Mark Grant trial.  It also included some interesting facts about forensic science and how it’s changed so drastically over the past few decades.  I appreciate that the story shows that DNA testing is not quite as glamorous as it’s cracked up to be.

The key message I took away from McIntyre’s book and presentation was how important it is to be sensitive about the people you’re writing about.  Never once in this story did I question the morals and beliefs of the Derksen family.  Surely, McIntyre considered the way these people were portrayed in the book, and he did a fantastic job in encompassing their compassionate essence.

Another thing I learned about writing crime stories is that it doesn’t always have to be about exploiting someone else’s wrongdoings.  Of course, Mark Grant was highlighted as an abusive and unbalanced human being, but that wasn’t what the whole story was about.  So much more of the book focused on what Wilma, Cliff, her family and her community were going through.  McIntyre wrote their entire story, including the before, during and after, as opposed to simply catching the final verdict of the court case.

Although this may sound like a strange comparison, I do see some similarities between Journey for Justice and the military documentary Restrepo.  Although Restrepo is much more gorey and violent, there are some exceptionally emotional clips that mirror parts of the Candace Derksen story.  The soldiers who survived the war in Afghanistan are so amazingly candid during their interviews, and it made me think of how candid the Derksen family was to include such incredible detail on their painful journey they went through.

All in all, I really enjoyed Journey for Justice and the message it relayed.  It was a heartbreaking story about the strength of a family during a devastating journey, a community coming together to help find their oldest daughter, and how an entire national supported the search for this young Winnipeg girl.  McIntyre and Wilma were so sincere during their presentation, and you can tell that they had such a great relationship during the process of writing this book.  This experience really shone light on the importance of being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes, and knowing where your personal and professional lines are drawn as a journalist. 

Mike McIntyre is a justice reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.  You can follow him on Twitter here.
Wilma Derksen is the mother of Candace Derksen, and has a blog about her amazing journey here.

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