PUBLIC agencies release information and that invariably leads to questions. Perish the thought that these be anticipated and answered at the outset. The prevailing theory seems to be that the public cannot be trusted to analyze things and draw their own conclusions. And so we have spin, set-ups and, in the case of threats against a Thunder Bay school, as little initial information as is possible for a police force to release.

For nine weeks, frustration, speculation and rumours were all that 65 teachers, 760 students and their parents had to go on as 14 anonymous threats of violence at Hammarskjold High School were made. For nine weeks, police issued sparse press releases announcing each threat, which involved such things as guns and bombs, while the school was repeatedly evacuated.

Attempts to get answers proved fruitless as police repeated that investigation was ongoing. The school community — indeed the community at large — deserved more than that. Police could have shared more information while maintaining the integrity of their investigation. It happens all the time in other jurisdictions.

Then, on Wednesday, police announced the arrest of two people. Were they youths, adults, male, female, students . . . ? “No further information can be released at this time.” Thunder Bay would simply have to wait until the pair appeared in court.

That happened Thursday and was followed, finally, by a police news conference which laid out details of a difficult investigation. But surely, after all that time, the genders and ages of the accused, at least, was legitimate public information as soon as arrests were made.

Thunder Bay police are notorious for keeping things to themselves and it does not serve public confidence to wonder why.

Down at Queen’s Park, meanwhile, Ontario’s new Conservative government released its first budget. From what they’d said during the election, you’d have thought the Liberals had left the province in such a state that only the most heavy-handed measures would rescue us from economic peril.

What emerged instead was a relatively tame budget for Tories, one that exceeds spending in the last Liberal budget and puts off balance until 2024. Paying for budget items and whittling down the deficit will not start until mid-way through this term and beyond the next election.

The plan: delay public pain and divert it with bells and whistles. And so we have free dental service for low-income seniors, more child care, new licence plates (Tory blue) and allowance of tailgate parties at sporting events.

Premier Doug Ford’s obsession with booze is shocking, given the extreme effects of alcohol abuse. Do we really need to encourage sports fans to imbibe in parking lots before entering arenas and stadiums where they can buy more?

Researchers from the University of Minnesota asked fans leaving 13 baseball game and three football games to submit to blood alcohol tests. Their results show that, while the majority of fans had not had anything to drink, 40 per cent had elevated blood alcohol levels and another eight per cent were legally drunk. Are Canadian sports fans any different?

Alcohol abuse is rampant in our region. The Thunder Bay District Health Unit says that nearly half of adults age 19 and older report drinking in excess of the Low Risk Drinking Guidelines. One in three high school students in Northern Ontario report binge drinking at least once a month. The Northwestern Health Unit reports that 287 of every 10,000 people are hospitalized due to alcohol misuse.

Yet our buck-a-beer premier is allowing municipalities to legalize drinking in parks (it’s your call, council), letting licensed establishments start serving alcohol at 9 a.m. and permitting happy-hour advertising (your calls, bar managers), and allowing beer and wine in corner stores where lone, young employees will contend with late-night consequences.

The measures are meant to respect consumers by “trusting them to make responsible choices.” How’s that working so far?

Hospitals which must deal with alcohol abusers and victims will get two per cent more in the budget while the Ontario Hospital Association says they need 3.45 per cent just to maintain staffing. One way Ford intends cutting costs is reducing or eliminating overtime in the public service which is often understaffed, notably in hospitals.

DOWN in Washington, U.S. Attorney General William Barr this week delivered his second glowing assessment of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election that improbably put Donald Trump in power.

Barr appeared to act as Trump’s personal attorney Thursday, saying the president was frustrated and hurt by the investigation and repeating the Trump tweet “No collusion” several times. These are not the actions of the country’s independent lawyer.

To hear Barr tell it, Mueller found that no one in the Trump campaign or in the White House did anything wrong, period. Except that’s not what Mueller determined. That Barr chose to speak for Mueller, who was not present at the attorney general’s odd press conference Thursday, speaks to this difference of opinion.

To boil this two-year process down, Trump was not found guilty of obstruction of justice because a sitting president cannot be indicted. Were he a regular citizen, there was enough evidence to indict. Even at that Mueller did not exonerate Trump, a fact that Barr ignored. Mueller wrote that a more “thorough” FBI investigation may have uncovered Trump crimes.

If Trump is a saint, as he claims, and if there was no Trump involvement in Russian election meddling, why did his campaign manager hand a Russian agent attending the GOP convention a file containing an assessment of six key battleground states? Why did Trump refuse multiple requests for an interview with Mueller? Why did Trump fire FBI director James Comey who was heading the investigation, and try to fire Mueller, then order his lawyer to lie about it? And, most telling, why, when the Mueller probe was announced, did Trump utter these words: “It’s the end of my presidency.”

Like Thunder Bay high schoolers and Ontario citizens, Americans were handed an incomplete story by those elected or hired to serve their best interests. Trust is sacrificed for expediency and that is never a good thing.

Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.

(Originally published April 20, 2019)

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