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March 8, 2005 - The Edmonton Journal (CN AB)

RCMP Slayings Should Not Be Exploited

Officers Deserve Better

By Paula Simons, The Edmonton Journal

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Jim Roszko was a child molester. He was a thief. He was obsessed with guns. He was a paranoid, who believed the world was out to get him.

He was also growing some marijuana plants in a Quonset hut on his farm near Rochfort Bridge.

Ever since Roszko shot and killed four RCMP officers last week, politicians and pundits have been using those murders as a platform to debate Canada's drug laws. RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan and Premier Ralph Klein were all very eager to connect the murders to the need for tougher laws against marijuana grow operations.

The tragedy also prompted calls for the liberalization of Canada's drug laws, with people like Treasury Board president Reg Alcock arguing that legalizing marijuana would destroy the profit motive that makes drug trafficking so attractive to criminal gangs.

Not a Time for Politics

All fascinating and important public policy arguments, to be sure. But they have precious little to do with the ticking time bomb that was Jim Roszko. We do a terrible injustice to the memories of RCMP Constables Peter Schiemann, Brock Myrol, Leo Johnston and Tony Gordon if we let people hijack their lives and deaths to score political points.

There are important policy questions to be answered here, chief among which is, how did a man with a violent criminal record, prohibited by court order from owning any firearms, end up with a high-powered rapid-fire rifle? But please, let's stop the tortured efforts to exploit this massacre as an excuse to debate the merits of the gun registry, too.

The bitter truth is that Jim Roszko was an angry, dangerous man who had terrified his neighbours in Rochfort Bridge and Sangudo and Mayerthorpe for decades.

He had a particular hatred for RCMP officers, whom he stalked and harassed. He had targeted all kinds of authority figures over the years: school trustees, vets, bailiffs, election enumerators. When he didn't use a gun, he employed other weapons, from attack dogs to homemade spike belts.

He didn't shoot these four police officers to protect his drug business. Nor did he shoot them to save himself from jail; he had already fled the property.

Instead, he returned, ambushed and executed these four young Mounties in cold blood. They were on his land, and he hated them for it.

Roszko wasn't a gangster. He was the quintessential loner. Nor was he running an elaborate "grow-op," which Commissioner Zaccardelli belatedly acknowledged Monday.

Missed Truck Payments

When RCMP first arrived at his farm last week, they weren't looking for drugs at all.

They were escorting two understandably nervous bailiffs, who had a civil warrant to seize a 2005 Ford F350 truck, worth some $48,000, on which Roszko had failed to make payments. The bailiffs had been run off earlier in the day by Roszko's Rottweilers.

When they arrived, the RCMP found 20 mature pot plants, about 100 little sprouts and a barrel of marijuana leaves. Later, after they got their search warrant, they found about 280 plants, all told.

Officers also found signs of a "chop shop," several presumably stolen vehicles cut up for parts.

As well, police spotted a brand new generator unit, which matched the description of a $30,000 generator stolen two weeks earlier from a Trident Exploration drill site north of Highway 18.

Yet we're not hearing anybody calling on Ottawa to toughen our laws against people who default on their car loans or people who steal electric generators.

It's just been easier for people to try to turn this tragedy into a debate about drugs and organized crime. Tell the story that way and it makes "sense." If we pretend this is a morality tale about grow-ops and decriminalizing marijuana, our politicians can all run around sounding like they have solutions.

But these murders make no sense, because Roszko's actions weren't rational. And there is no tidy policy solution to the eternal problem of random evil.

In recent days, the media have used all kinds of ugly words to describe Roszko: psycho, loopy, wing nut, nutbar. Roszko, though, was never diagnosed with a specific mental illness.

We do know that he was a pedophile with a serious anger management problem and obvious signs of paranoia. It seems he had a troubled family life. Maybe talk therapy and anti-psychotic drugs would have made some difference to his behaviour.

Maybe if some chemical imbalance or organic brain injury or profound childhood trauma shaped his personality, and his actions, he too is a victim who deserves some of our compassion.

Or perhaps, James Michael Roszko was just a lonely, self-pitying bully with a grudge against the world, a rage-aholic with a twisted moral compass, unable to accept responsibility for a lifetime of bad choices.

Either way, neither our mental health system nor our justice system seemed able to handle him. Frightening though he was, there never seemed to be enough evidence, enough provocation, to jail him for a serious length of time or treat whatever demons possessed him.

And so, on a morning in March, Jim Roszko's hatred finally exploded, destroying him, and four fresh, dedicated RCMP officers, sworn to protect our peace.

Let's not allow people to exploit their deaths to advance political agendas. Let's tell the story true.

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