DSQ > Winter 2008, Volume 28, No.1

This article examines a recent amendment to Ontario's mental health legislation that was named "in memory" of Brian Smith, a local television personality killed by Jeffrey Arenburg, a person diagnosed with a mental illness. Rather than evaluating the socio-legal validity of "Brian's Law", it critically attends to the emergent "narrative of commemoration" that helped consolidate collective memory of the event. The genesis of the legislation is traced through public documents that support the "storying" of the murder, inquest, and legislative debate, including the "mythologizing" of Smith and the derisive story of Arenburg. Both representations are essential to the social and political efficacy of this "double-narrative" and the formal process of commemoration. The "legacy" of Brian Smith as exemplar of moral and social responsibility depends upon the alternative public conception of Arenburg, as mentally ill and morally ambiguous. Essentially, this narrative reaches beyond individual experience, and even social memory, and becomes enshrined in law as institutional memory.



In early 2000, an Ontario government press release introduced Bill 68, or "Brian's Law", an amendment to the province's Mental Health Act. The release defined the new legislation as balancing the need for safer communities with improved care for the "mentally ill." The cornerstone of the legislation was the Community Treatment Order (CTO) — a mandatory, physician-initiated directive of community-based treatment (medication, clinical follow-up, and social service participation) for people with a history of inpatient psychiatric commitment (Government of Ontario, 2001). The controversial Bill was presented as a way to both reduce hospitalization rates and to mitigate the possibility of violent behaviour. "Brian's Law" commemorates Brian Smith, who was shot and killed in August 1995 by Jeffrey Arenburg, a person diagnosed with a mental illness.1 The press release quoted Alana Kainz, the widow of Brian Smith: "This law will be Brian's legacy...Brian's Law will save lives and prevent other tragedies" (Government of Ontario, 2000a).

This is an exploratory study of the social and political commentary surrounding the enshrinement of "Brian's Law." My intention is not to evaluate the efficacy or socio-legal value of this legislation. Instead, I attend to how this formal commemoration was narrated into existence through public discourse, and how this process consolidated both collective memory of the event and popular conceptions of mental illness. Stories intrinsically "offer some fundamental way to make sense of experience" (Garro & Mattingly, 2000a, p. 10). The case I examine involves the production of a socially acceptable narrative that emerged out of the "storying" of the murder, trial, inquest, and legislative debate. Crucial to this construction is the "mythologizing" of Smith and the contrasting story of Arenburg as a necessary inversion of this portrayal. Both representations are essential to the social and political efficacy of this "double-narrative," and thus, to the process of commemoration and its outcomes. The "legacy" of Brian Smith as exemplar of moral responsibility and good citizenship is built on and therefore depends upon the public conception of Arenburg as mentally ill and morally ambiguous. Moreover, in guiding the memorialization process, this "double-narrative" not only reaches beyond individual experience into social memory but facilitates its ultimate institutionalization. Important thematic markers of this narrative journey from "problem" (i.e. the violent mentally ill) to "solution" (i.e. mandatory outpatient treatment), include the generosity and vitality of Smith, the idea of balancing the needs of the public and those of people diagnosed with mental illness, and the political rhetoric of public safety. As Jerome Bruner writes, "[n]arrative imitates life, life imitates narrative" (1987, p. 13). This "two-way" association is vividly illustrated by how this story influenced both conceptual lives and lived ones.

Through media reports and legislative records I trace the genesis of the legislation that resulted from the inquest into Brian Smith's death. I treat these sources as "story-telling sessions" of a highly structured but nonetheless metaphorical and experiential form (Cappelletto, 2003). In this preliminary study, media analysis is limited to the popular press and draws from an admittedly small, selective sample. A quick search for relevant articles published between August, 1995 and December, 1997 was performed in the LexusNexus News database. A total of 24 articles was examined from newspapers written for the mostly working and middle class readership of the Toronto Sun, Toronto Star and the Ottawa Sun, including feature articles and letters to the editor. Separate internet searches found the article in Macleans, a national current affairs magazine, and the Government of Ontario documents. The Ontario Provincial Legislature on-line records were searched for relevant content appearing between April, 2000 and December, 2000.

Narrative Matters

Narrative analysis can be used as a resource for understanding a particular cultural phenomenon because "[j]ust as a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, culture change, too, almost by definition, takes the form of a sequence with a past, a present, and a future" (E. Bruner, 1986, p. 139). Much of the literature on narrative and its application to mental illness (Kleinman, 1988) is premised on the idea that the meaning of illness is socially constructed and that the narrative approach problematizes biomedical understandings of illness and distress (Goodman, 2001). Significant attention is focused on individual identity processes and labeling (Estroff et al, 1991), and although some of this work illuminates the lived experience of those diagnosed with mental illness (Thornhill et al, 2004), much of it remains oriented towards clinical applications (Jacobson, 2001; Ridgway, 2001). Yet recent investigations of the political work of narrative as an instrument of social change (Davis, 2002; Whooley, 2006) demonstrate how "narrative analysis is informed by a political effort to reclaim the voices of those often unheard" (Whooley, 2006, p. 297). Narratives, both personal stories and mediated public accounts, are used politically in many ways, such as to counter medicalizing discourses (Bell, 1999), to challenge diagnostic labeling (Crossley, 2004), and to resist the potentially harmful effects of psychiatric treatment (Crossley & Crossley, 2001). Finally, stories produced and collected by people directly involved in the "mad movement" are an important contribution to this literature (e.g. Shimrat, 1997).

Although narrative and story are often conflated, Garro and Mattingly (2000a) make the distinction between narrative as discourse, that is, structure, and story as an account of events, or content. Narrative structure provides a cognitive template for the details of the story combining time, space, experience and emotion to create a "signifying whole" (Young, 1995, p. 169). In the Arenburg/Smith "double-narrative" 2 three distinct episodes create a temporal framework: 1) "The Murder" (August 1, 1995) provided the initial details of the story and set out the "problem"; 2) "The Trial and Inquest" (1997) acted as transitional elements; and 3) "The Legislative Process" (1999-2000) resolved the narrative. This ordering of events made the conclusion — the commemoration of Brian Smith and the adoption of CTO legislation — seem inevitable. This process demonstrates how "stories suggest the course of future actions as well as giving form to past experience" (Garro & Mattingly, 2000a, p. 17). Yet a critical reading indicates that this resolution is a product of the way this "double-narrative" is represented in public discourse and any conclusion is far from inevitable. Thus, my analysis is concerned with revealing the differential privileging of particular public narratives, and how this affects and is affected by politics and policy.

Determining the Problem: The Murder of Brian Smith (August 1, 1995)

There was less blatant sensationalism in the media coverage of the murder of Brian Smith than expected. The Toronto Sun headline that proclaimed "Media Drove Maniac: Slain Sportscaster Random Victim" (McClintock, 1995b, p. 2) was one of only a few exceptions. Yet blatancy appeared to be unnecessary in this narrative, and it may well have been stronger for its subtler approach. Perhaps more important to the narrative construction were the smaller, seemingly innocuous descriptions (or lack of descriptions) of the two men that repeatedly appeared. The mediated version of Brian Smith's story was full of life-history detail. Following his death, his family was often referred to in the press. His wife (journalist Alana Kainz), his parents and brother, as well as close friends and cousins were all identified by name. Smith's personal and professional accomplishments were also emphasized — a stable marriage, a successful career as a sportscaster, a stint in the National Hockey League (NHL). In contrast, the story of Jeffrey Arenburg was practically devoid of personal detail. His story seemed to confirm Desjarlais' assertion that people diagnosed with a mental illness are often not portrayed as "persons immersed in the stream of social life" (1997, p. 167). Accordingly, the disparity of detail elicited in the two accounts was marked. Arenburg's actions were deemed "senseless" and there was virtually no information about his family. They were never mentioned by name and referred to in only one account as a collective of "family members" who affirm his history of hearing voices (Leroux, 1996). What did get attention was Arenburg's history of insobriety and vagrancy, that is, his moral failures. Although the stories covered the event, the investigation, and the impacts on Smith's family and community, they rarely addressed the suffering of Arenburg in the same contextual way.

From the beginning, a great deal of emphasis was put on the "Motive Mystery" (McClintock, 1995a): Why would anyone want to hurt this particular man? Emerging with this concern was the idea of senselessness, which became a dominant theme in the accounts. It was made clear in all the reports that this was a completely "random" event, "a senseless act of violence" (Fidlin, 1995, p. 12). Interviewees were represented as "struggling" with attempts to apply logic and reason to their interpretations of the event. Ottawa Mayor Jacquelin Holzman was quoted in the context of this "mystery": "[t]here was an evil man, a sick man, a crazy man, someone who had a problem and chose to solve the problem with a gun" (Leroux, 1995, p. 2). The phrase "simply in the wrong place at the wrong time" (e.g. VanRijn, 1995a, p. A1) appeared repeatedly in this initial phase of the narrative. An interesting offshoot of this theme was the assertion that Smith's "fame" (as sportscaster at CJOH-TV in Ottawa) led to his murder, that he was "picked off" by someone with a grudge against the media simply because he was readily identifiable in his role as television personality (Caragata, 1995). The picture that emerged was of a senseless crime committed by an insane person. Most accounts initially framed Arenburg's motive as an expression of his intractable and seemingly inexplicable anger at the media. This interpretation was corroborated by the police discovery of a list of media personalities in his apartment (Van Rijn, 1995b). Surprisingly, however, there was a distinct lack of media reflexivity in the formal press coverage, although a notable exception appeared the day after the incident when a CJOH colleague of Smith called it an "oddity to cover a tragedy so close to home. 'You get a whole different perspective. Here we are in the middle of the kind of story we cover all the time'" (Toronto Star, 1995a, p. A1). As the story developed over the next week this stance was seemingly forgotten as Arenburg's "true" motive was revealed as a product of his psychosis. Ironically, Arenburg's delusions were inseparable from a monolithic conception of "the media." He believed it to be responsible for his continued suffering, and he explained his actions as an attempt to gain the intercession of a judge who he thought would be able, through legal intervention, to prevent the media from causing him further pain. His story, however, became an ideal media object nonetheless. Many articles ran photographs of Smith's funeral procession alongside an image of Arenburg making an obscene hand gesture outside the courthouse (e.g. Van Rijn, 1995a). Yet perhaps the final insult to Arenburg's dread of the media came when Brian Smith's funeral was broadcast live on CJOH television on August 4, 1995.

One ubiquitous element among the reports was the combination in a single sentence of a reference to Smith's NHL career with the circumstances of his murder. The Toronto Star reported how "[t]he sportscaster, who played with the Los Angeles Kings and Minnesota North Stars in the late 1960s, had just finished his evening broadcast and walked out the station's main entrance when he was shot from a distance of 60 metres" (1995, p. A1). This formulation occurred in almost every article examined regardless of the editorial slant of the source. The Toronto Sun led with a similar yet slightly more descriptive scenario: "Witnesses said the gunman parked his car some 60 metres from the front entrance of the CJOH studios, pulled a long-barreled .22-callibre rifle from his trunk and fired two shots, one hitting the sportscaster and former NHL player" (McClintock, 1995b, p. 2). Although it may appear trivial on the surface, this connection seemed to be an important signifier of Smith's full membership in the Canadian cultural imagination: it established his true Canadian citizenship. Indeed, a full description of his "hockey family" — his dad, brother and uncle all played in the NHL — appeared in the very first report (McClintock, 1995a). Smith was not only reconstructed as "hockey legend" (despite his brief time in the NHL) but he was often portrayed as virtually super-human. Several accounts vividly described the 54-year-old Smith as remarkably robust, healthy, and in peak physical condition. One report noted that "Smith worked hard to preserve his body because he wanted to live a long time. His doctor said he had the body of a 30-year-old" (Toronto Star, 1995, p. A1). His super-human status was also confirmed in a Toronto Sun editorial (Benzie, 1995) that mentioned Smith's extreme non-violence and the fact that he had never been angry — even when playing hockey! This "ex-NHL'er-cum-sportcaster" was continuously juxtaposed with the "unemployed ex-scallop fisherman." Because of this "double-narrative" that structured the crime report, the details of Arenburg's life took a little longer to emerge in the record of the event, some three or four days afterwards. In the interim, we learned about the NHL teams on which Smith played, as well as the details of his subsequent career as a sportscaster. Yet when Arenburg's story emerged, it remained conspicuously scant.

The coverage of Smith's funeral was rife with detail that further established his "legacy." Celebrities, political leaders and other notables, as well as Smith's family and friends, and members of the community attended the event. The accounts included the typical laudatory comments of testimonials in which Smith was transformed into a "hometown hero" and "local icon" (Benzie, 1995). Not only was Smith's innocence constantly reiterated in this context but the roots of his "mythologization" were securely planted. This constructed version of his story already contained the seeds of commemoration, as public appeals to name a local arena after Smith began to surface (Bourrie, 1995). Amongst all the funeral coverage, however, the theme of generosity was most pervasive. This theme took two forms in the stories, as a reference to Smith's voluminous charity work and an emphasis on the donation of his organs to others (e.g. Bourrie, 1995). The attention given to his organ donation was particularly evocative. It established Smith as a person who was dedicated to saving lives even after death: "in all, seven people have received Smith's organs, a reflection of the generosity he showed in life" (McClintock, 1995c, p. 5). This point mirrored the rhetoric used by Kainz in her subsequent advocacy campaign for mental health reform in which she asserted that "Brian's Law will save lives and prevent other tragedies" (Government of Ontario, 2000a).

Narrative Transition: The Trial and Inquest (1997)

The media interest in the case waned after the funeral coverage and only scattered shorter reports appeared over the next two years. However, a longer investigative report entitled "Schizophrenia" appeared in the Ottawa Sun a year after the incident and acted as a transitional piece bridging the temporal phases of the narrative (Leroux, 1996). Although this story focused on schizophrenia in general, it also contained an encapsulated version of the "double-narrative" in a framed box titled: "Recent violent crimes in which schizophrenia has played a role":

August 1995: Jeffrey Arenburg is charged after CJOH sportscaster Brian Smith is gunned down outside the station. Arenburg is undergoing assessment at the Royal Ottawa Hospital. Family members said he told them he was suffering from schizophrenia and that he had "heard voices" for years, although he was never officially diagnosed. In 1992, after punching a Nova Scotia radio station manager, he was ordered to get treatment, but never received any. The Smith case goes to trial in February. (Leroux, 1996)

Yet despite the passing reference to structural elements of the "tragedy" (specifically, the lack of community supports in the era of deinstitutionalization that increase risk for marginalization and vulnerability of those with mental health issues), the article concluded with the assertion that "[i]n the battle to better deal with schizophrenia, Saskatchewan may have the answer", that is, CTO legislation (Leroux, 1996). The appeal here was clearly that CTO use would increase treatment compliance (i.e., adherence to a medication regime) and this would help reduce criminalization. The story was constructed to support a reasonable resolution — a "balance" — and this was best ascribed to legislative initiative. The piece was remarkable because it made one of the first media connections between the Arenburg/Smith story and the need for mental health reform, especially CTO use. Here was clear evidence of the active role of narrative: how stories can "do things" (Garro & Mattingly, 2000b), and Leroux's article stated explicitly what "things" needed to be done. It exemplified the "problem/solution" structure and used narrative to direct the reader to its logical conclusion. Leroux first painted a detailed picture of his problematic: suffering, both individual and social. Then in a brief final section, he presented the CTO as the best possible resolution.

A renewal of media interest in the case erupted in 1997 with coverage of Arenburg's brief court appearance and the subsequent inquest. The first reports appeared in early May and tell of the insanity ruling — "not criminally responsible." The short accounts highlighted the fact that Arenburg had a history of refusing psychiatric treatment, despite the apparent wide knowledge of his symptomology. A criminal psychiatrist testified that "Arenburg repeatedly refused treatment against advice of psychiatrists in Ontario and Nova Scotia" (Toronto Star, 1997b, p. A25). The moralistic rendering of this "refusal of expert advice" was repeated often as further evidence of Arenburg's depravity. Thus, the coverage was framed in a new context of diagnosis:

Arenburg, a paranoid schizophrenic, fatally shot Smith, 54, Aug. 1, 1995 in the CJOH parking lot under the belief the killing would get him before a judge and jury who could shut off the voices he heard. Arenburg, 40, also thought the media were broadcasting his thoughts (Sherring, 1997, p. 35).

Free agency, at least as it is attributed to the "sane" populace, seemed unlikely to have been part of Arenburg's experience at the time, and yet the pejorative "refusal against" formulation was continually used. It was also at this point in the narrative that Kainz took on a new role, becoming not only a grieving widow but a political agent. This metamorphosis began with her simple assertion that "A wonderful life has been wasted... And Brian's life has been wasted because [Arenburg] wasn't treated" (Sherring, 1997, p. 35). Kainz initially advocated for the inquest in order to prevent Arenburg from "falling through the cracks." This process, no doubt, had personal therapeutic value for Kainz and others and employed "moral sentiment to mobilize support for social action" (Kleinman & Kleinman, 1997, p. 4). Yet the coverage was still peppered with details about Smith's generosity and charity involvement, and characterized Arenburg as a "mentally ill drifter" (Bourrie 1997).

The inquest results, released on November 26, 1997, represented the first overtly political response to the incident, as Elizabeth Witmer, Ontario's Minister of Health and Long-Term Care at the time, entered the narrative. Here is found the first incidence of the term "balance" — a key theme in subsequent government consultations over the proposed legislation. The inquest recommended a review of the Mental Health Act in order "to balance the right of individuals with the rights of the community when it comes to the mentally ill" (Toronto Star, 1997a, p. A12). However, the headline of the report perhaps said it all: "Force Mentally Ill to Get Help: Inquest." Despite the fact that the inquest stressed increased community supports and treatment options and better professional training for health care and law and justice workers, the report focused on the fact that Arenburg "denied having a mental disorder and refused to co-operate with psychiatrists" (Toronto Star, 1997a, p. A12). Although such a "lack of insight" is a frequent symptom of schizophrenia (O'Reilly et al, 2003), to the lay reader the line read as a moral pejorative.

Narrative Resolution: The Legislative Process (1999-2000)

Thus, the story was reframed in the narrative from one of senseless murder to that of the enduring legacy of a cultural hero. This reframing was more than a simple substitution, however, because it was not merely a conversion of subject, but the impetus for further transformation as well (E. Bruner, 1986). This new construction laid the foundation for the parliamentary deliberation on mental health reform that would eventually result in the enshrinement of "Brian's Law." The first reading of the new bill in the Ontario Legislature occurred on April 25, 2000 after a series of public consultations across the province. Witmer explained to the House that the legislation "will mean better treatment for people with serious mental illness and safer communities across the province" (LAO, 2000a, p. 2369). Echoing a theme that appeared much earlier and throughout the narrative, Witmer publicly offered her "respect and sympathy" to Kainz, who was in attendance, and declared that the proposed changes to the Mental Health Act "will save lives and prevent other tragedies" (LAO, 2000a, p. 2369). Witmer also acknowledged and offered condolences to a family in the visitor's gallery whose child was another "victim" of a person diagnosed with mental illness. With this the process of commemoration was formally inaugurated: "For Zachery and for Brian and for all the families and the individuals who have experienced the terrible effects of serious mental illness, we are introducing Brian's Law" (LAO, 2000a, p. 2369).

The theme of "balance" was paramount from the outset both in the rhetoric of "community safety and patient's rights" but also in framing the reform movement as a fundamentally non-partisan issue. Indeed, its supporters came from all sides of the House and many appeared genuinely concerned about this critical balance. Richard Patten, the Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) who led the public consultations, officially commended the naming of the bill, yet articulated the desire to "do the very best we can collectively in the interests of people in this province who suffer from mental illness" (LAO, 2000a, p. 2371). That is, despite the "legacy" of dangerousness enshrined in the legislation and dominating the political discourse, there were still clear signs of concern for the welfare of individuals and their families. Such opportunities for alternative interpretations of events tend to open up when story details do not necessarily fit neatly into the established narrative framework (Young, 1995). For instance, MPP Gilles Bisson rose during the first debate of the bill to tell the story of his sister who lived with schizophrenia and was nonetheless greatly supported by family, friends, and community (LAO, 2000b). This portrayal, among others, presented a much different story for the record and for the consideration of those in the House, and thus a different conclusion was reached: "What we really need is not a law to pick them off the streets, but quite frankly support services in the community to help them along when services are needed" (LAO, 2000b, p. 3437). Ultimately, however, Bisson's alternative narrative did not induce public or governmental mobilization, as did the double-narrative, which was continually referred to during this period in the legislature. Its quintessential manifestation came when MPP Brad Clark read an account from the Ottawa Citizen into the record that began: "Imagine the chill the morning after CJOH-TV sportscaster Brian Smith was shot by a deranged Jeffrey Arenburg in 1995" (LAO, 2000b, p. 3430). The "legacy" loomed large over the proceedings, and although the story was sometimes challenged, it was never subverted.

Furthermore, despite the emphasis on "governmental commitment" to the issue and non-partisanship, there was obvious political maneuvering. Yet even this inevitable occurrence was related to the overall narrative. On the eve of the bill's proclamation, Witmer's "historic day" of December 1, 2000 (LAO, 2000c), Liberal member Lyn McLeod accused the minister of political scheming. She criticized the government's intent to close the majority of provincial psychiatric hospitals despite the fact that there were already too few in-patient beds in the province and no evidence of the comprehensive community resources to which Witmer alluded (LAO, 2000c). McLeod's implication was that the minister was using the "tragic story" of Brian Smith to create a kind of buffer legislation that would appease the public but relieve the government of additional long-term financing of institutional care. Ambiguity of intent was again evident in a government press release that announced the enactment of the legislation in December 2000. The lead paragraph stated that the "new law enables community treatment orders for people with mental illness who pose a threat to themselves or others" (Government of Ontario, 2000b). However, the "Backgrounder" attached to the release ended with a slightly different tone, maintaining that the Act would "ensure people with serious mental illness get the care and treatment they need in a community-based mental health system" (Government of Ontario, 2000b).

The Legacy of a Story: The Institutionalized Memory of Mental Illness and Violence

The majority of the literature on commemoration focuses on the construction of national identities (Spillman, 1997), the shaping of public memory (Bodnar, 1992), and the reinforcement of power relations (Osborne, 2001). Yet commemoration occurs not just to mark historical events and personages but also to memorialize "victims." Memorials represent the intersection of public memory and personal grief and are both symbolic of private mourning and particularly powerful cultural meta-narratives (Jorgensen-Earp & Lanzilotti, 1998). The practice of commemoration has risen over the past two decades, and although not always state directed, the people and events chosen nonetheless reflect political agendas and social values (Osborne, 2001). Gillis (1994) defines a politics of commemoration, wherein commemoration is a social and political act arising from the public memory of an event or person that is often not a consensual process. Public memorializing is not simply about the past but also reflects present concerns and agendas, often conflicting ones (Browne, 1999). Furthermore, commemoration is only conferred upon "worthy" individuals, or respectable citizens (McCalman, 2004). Brian Smith's "worthiness" was established early on in this narrative, both in the construction of his own story, and that of his antithesis, Jeffrey Arenburg. The articulation of Smith's citizenship and socially laudable qualities made him an ultimate symbol of social stability and safety. This legislative commemoration serves similar purposes as memorialization that takes the form of a monument, as "an ideal medium for conveying the virtues of private and public life" (Pickering & Tyrrell, 2004, p. 17). The mental health reform movement that emerged ostensibly from the Smith inquest not only demonstrates how "messages [of commemoration] are meant to create and reinforce the appropriate mentality for a reformed society" (Pickering & Tyrell, 2004, p. 2), but how existing narrative versions of this "mentality" can in turn stimulate the commemorative process.

For Kainz, this process was no doubt deeply personal. It is evident that, as J. Bruner writes, "the self-telling of life narratives achieve the power to structure perceptual experience, to organize memory, to segment and purpose-build the very 'events' of a life" (1987, p. 15). Kainz ultimately articulated her crusade for CTOs and mental health reform as fulfilling a deathbed pledge to Smith: "I feel as if a promise I made to Brian while he lay dying has been fulfilled...I think what this jury has come up with is what went wrong and how to fix it. I think it's important for the government to take hold of these recommendations now and implement them" (Toronto Star, 1997a, p. A12). Thus, the temporal sequence of the original story was modified through her subsequent tellings and re-tellings. The repetition transformed the story into a narrative that greatly influenced the resulting political discourse and policy change. This "deathbed pledge" marks the crucial juncture between story and action and is thus a point on which to focus critical awareness. As Kleinman et al remind us, attention to transitional moments in a developing narrative allows us to consider how "[p]rior to forging new policies or lubricating creaky policy discourses...we need first to examine the most basic relationships between language and pain, image and suffering" (1997, p. x-xi).

The link between mental illness and dangerousness has been widely debated but remains contentious and inconclusive (Arboleda-Flórez et al, 1996). However, two points can be made regarding this relation. First, although there is no consensus of a clear correlation between a diagnosis of mental illness and violence, there does seem to be good evidence of the increased vulnerability of such people to experience violence themselves (Hiday et al, 1999). Secondly, research on portrayals of mental illness in the news media indicates that coverage disproportionately focuses on dangerousness and criminality, leading to negative public perceptions as well as the continued stigmatization (Wahl, 2003). Clearly, the association of dangerousness with mental illness is a key element of media discourse shaping such public policy "solutions." Media depictions can draw public responses from appropriate community mental health supports, and towards public safety legislation (Olstead, 2002). Thus, the allusion to violence in "Brian's Law" may have profound effects. The naming of the law insinuates that individuals put on CTOs are not only potentially violent, but ultimately capable of murder (O'Reilly, 2004). This action fixes the victim/perpetrator relationship in law as a function of mental illness. Persons put on CTOs are thus reminded of the dangers of "their kind," which could both negatively impact their own self-perception and contribute to wider stigmatization. This observation does not imply that Arenburg did not pose a danger to others at the time of the incident but that the commemoration extrapolates this association to others with similar diagnoses. Thus, not only does this story comprise a 'double-narrative' but it also bequeaths a 'double-legacy,' for it emphasizes the value of one life through commemoration and stigmatizes the other through the association of mental illness and violence. All this belies the logic behind the CTO legislation, which is ostensibly to reduce criminalization and increase treatment compliance and personal safety. Instead, it risks further alienating people from mental health supports and increasing marginalization and stigma. Nonetheless, "public safety" was the dominant theme in the political discourse and a dubious conception of citizen protection came at the expense of the already socially marginalized.

There are also a number of very common public misconceptions about the Act that have been influenced at least in part by the mediated reports. For instance, it is not a first resort measure — as is often assumed — but a preventative one after repeated hospitalizations. Yet the emotional tenor of Kainz' "crusade" seems to shape not only conceptions of the content of the law, but of the events that led up to its enshrinement as well. This process of "emotion as memory," as Cappelletto points out, occurs when the "direct experience of a few produces local and historical knowledge which is shared by the entire group" (2003, p. 256). Therefore, this narrative construction not only reaches beyond the individual to the social memory but becomes institutionalized through the commemoration process. Yet this process is not inevitable in its unfolding. Indeed, not everyone's experience of suffering commands the same public attention (Sontag, 2003). Important questions must be explored in order to unravel the political, the moral and the social relations involved:

Who is responsible? Is it excusable? Was it inevitable? Is there some state of affairs which we have accepted up to now that ought to be challenged? All this with the understanding that moral indignation, like compassion, cannot dictate a course of action. (Sontag, 2003, p. 117)

This last caution is crucial in this particular case because although these questions were asked in the "double-narrative," we must also consider by whom they were answered and to what ends.

Double-Narrative Matters

Not only do we experience the world with a preconception of how events are supposed to go but interpretation of events is also constrained by available narrative conventions (E. Bruner, 1986). The narrative itself becomes a communication and the story provides the official message. Although stories can illuminate our understanding of others' experience (Garro & Mattingly, 2000a), they can also obstruct this process. Clearly, the "double-narrative" of Arenburg and Smith does the latter. A better understanding of the ways in which such obstructions occur may help us recognize such patterns when they occur and can serve as a substantial grounding for further research.

It is not my intention (or perhaps even possible) to "dig up the facts" of this case in order to disprove the story, the commemorative process, or the legitimacy of the legislation. Rather, I have made initial hypotheses in an attempt to untangle the complex elements of this particular narrative. The two narratives presented to the wider public work together to produce a logical outcome: Smith as the generous and vital "innocent victim," and Arenburg as the morally repugnant vagrant. The themes of balance (as crucial to the "problem" definition) and public safety (as political rhetoric) work to further contrast the two portrayals. As to the precise nature of such a process, I hesitate to speculate. Yet I continue to reflect upon the statement that seems to crystallize the entire narrative: "This law will be Brian's legacy... Brian's Law will save lives and prevent other tragedies" (Government of Ontario, 2000a). Indeed, this is more than the story of a legacy; it is the legacy of that story itself that demands consideration. An ethical imperative underlies this investigation. The privileging of narrative constructions can have a direct impact on the cultural and institutional politics of a society, and in turn, on lived (and often suffered) experience. Why do other instances of violence inflicted on people — like the death by exposure of people living without shelter and support — not generate media scrutiny, even though they occur with greater frequency? During the legislative debates, MPP Gary Stewart remarks "[h]ow unfortunate [it is] that there has to be a tragedy, there has to be a death, before something happens, before mental health reform is initiated" (LAO, 2000b, p. 3435). Thus, in considering such narratives, we must carefully attend to the notion that "any story one may tell about anything is better understood by considering other possible ways in which it can be told" (J. Bruner, 1987, p. 32). Stories are indeed meaning-making endeavours and they can in turn lead us to critically evaluate our assumptions, understandings and concerns. Such analyses can be instrumental in revealing the political and moral agency of narrative.


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  1. The nature and meaning of psychiatric disorders remains widely contested, especially by those so labelled. Clearly the term "mental illness" comes directly from the biomedical model rather than a critical perspective of psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. Although the terms "psychiatric survivor" or "mad person" are often used to represent the contentious nature of such terminology, I believe it is inappropriate in this particular study. A thorough discussion of terminology, however, is outside the limited scope of this article. Thus, I retain the usage of the term "mental illness" in order to illustrate how the concept is constructed in the discourse, and use the admittedly problematic term "person diagnosed with a mental illness" to refer to individuals. However, I also acknowledge the substantial suffering that has historically been inflicted on people who have been psychiatrized. Return to Text
  2. The concept of the "double-narrative" has been explored most notably in literary criticism, film studies, and narratology (Prince, 2003). A multiple narrative structure utilizes two or more characters' distinct stories to portray different points of view and discourses, and is also used in feminist theory and literature studies (Tuttle Hansen, 1985). My use of the term, however, focuses not so much on the idea of a story being told from multiple points of view but rather as the construction of "counter-plots" wherein the antagonist's story is in direct contrast to the protagonist's (Prince, 2003). Return to Text
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