When things go sideways within a big organization, a single individual often gets the blame. Supposedly acting outside the pack’s rules, the “lone wolf” suddenly becomes the “sacrificial goat.”
For example, in May of this year a former staffer at the Ministry of Transportation blew the whistle on the mass deletion of emails pertaining to the Highway of Tears — a stretch of road in northern B.C. where many young aboriginal women have been murdered or gone missing.
Tim Duncan told B.C.’s Privacy Commissioner that ministerial assistant George Gretes ordered the material to be deleted from Duncan’s computer. Forensic analysis determined the emails were removed intentionally, and Gretes was found to have lied to the Privacy Commission while under oath.
Duncan himself was accused of being a disgruntled former employee, he told the CBC in May.
“That’s been the line the B.C. Liberal government and their communications staff have been using against me for six months.”
The government preferred the public think of this as an outlier, in which the two former civil servants played the role of Thing One and Thing Two in a moment of Seussian confusion over a freedom of information request. In this authorized version, the Cat in the Hat was outside the loop.
Then came Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s report, Access Denied. In vindicating Tim Duncan, she ripped the lid off a culture of institutional forgetting in the Legislature worthy of a gothic dementia ward, complete with triple-deleted emails and Post-it notes.
“It is difficult to overstate the seriousness of the problems that my office discovered in the course of this investigation and the resulting effects on the integrity of the access to information process in our province,” Denham’s report notes.
Contravening Freedom of Information laws isn’t a glitch in the provincial government’s doings, it’s a feature.
Then there’s the lone wolf narrative attached to claims of vote suppression in the 2011 federal election.
In the days prior to the Conservative minority government win, Liberal supporters said they had been receiving nuisance calls from people who claimed to be Liberal Party workers. The callers contacted Jewish voters on the Sabbath, and woke up others in the middle of the night. Elections Canada then received complaints about ‘robocalls” — automated messages — that falsely informed voters of relocated polling stations.
A group of voters from six ridings challenged the 2011 election results in court. The verdict from the trial judge was damning: “I am satisfied that it has been established that misleading calls about the locations of polling stations were made to electors in ridings across the country and that the purpose of those calls was to suppress the votes of electors who had indicated their preference in response to earlier voter-identification calls.”
Voters from 261 of 308 ridings claimed nuisance calls, a feat pretty much an impossibility for one person to pull off alone. In response to the claims, the Conservatives threw a young party worker under the bus. They alleged Michael Sona had acted on his own as a “rogue activist” — a fancy term for lone wolf. He was arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned for nine months. The story pretty much ended there, as far as media curiousity about robocalls goes.
The lone gunman is a species of the genus lone wolf. Nov. 22 marks the 52nd anniversary of the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. The Warren Commission report identified Lee Harvey Oswald as the sole figure responsible for the killing, but here’s an interesting factoid that has since spiralled down the memory hole: the late-’70s House Select Committee on Assassination hearings in Washington rejected the lone gunman conclusion.
“You know, most Americans don’t know that that was the last official statement, the last official report, on the Kennedy assassination, not the Warren Report back in 1964. But that Congress reopened the investigation into John Kennedy’s assassination, and they did determine he was killed as the result of a conspiracy,” said author David Talbot in a recent interview with Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman.
“Conspire” means “to breathe together.” When it comes to respiration, that’s plenty different from the solitary wolf of childhood lore, who huffs and puffs and blows everything down.