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Killed 4 a Tweet: the Don Dunphy story
Don Dunphy was a prolific tweeter. He called himself a "crucified injured worker" on his Twitter profile. This hyperbolic metaphor would turn out to be tragically prophetic.
Easter Sunday April 5, 2015 Don's daughter Meghan 27 took him for a buffet brunch. Don went back to his small home in Mount Carmel Newfoundland in the early afternoon. Less than an hour later Meghan got a call from Don's neighbors telling her to get over to his house. When she got there it was surrounded by yellow tape, emergency vehicles and police. She approached an officer and identified herself as Don's daughter.
"Your father's dead," he said bluntly.
It started on Good Friday, 2 days earlier. Don saw this tweet from Sandy Collins a NL (Newfoundland-Labrador) cabinet minister.
Don responded with a series of tweets that basically called out the Premier and his government for ignoring the plight of poor people and injured workers.
Read tweets from bottom to top.
Read in order they read:
"put on sunglasses & take out the ear plugs u might hear ppl crying for help
but why would u care after putting in hard time getting that poor mans MHA pension, I hope
there is a God I think I see him work on two garbage MHAs who laughed at poor ppl
He got them before they got to enjoy the pension they didn't deserve
I won't mention names this time, 2 prick dead MHAs might have good family members I may hurt"
According to the official story so far, this final tweet was interpreted as a threat either to the Premier and/or his family or to the families of some unnamed "dead" MHAs. (Members House of Assembly NL).
A clearer and less inflammatory reading would be that he wouldn't name the members for fear of hurting (the feelings or reputation) of their families.
The official story continues that a member of the Premier's staff, either PR or social media, alerted the Premier's security detail (RNC, Royal Newfoundland Constabulary-provincial police) that Don Dunphy had posted a threat on Twitter.
One member of the detail went armed and alone to Dunphy's house on Easter Sunday--just two days later. According to the RCMP, Dunphy invited him inside. And 15 minutes later Dunphy was dead, shot by the officer. RCMP said that "the demeanor of the meeting had suddenly changed" that Dunphy had pointed a loaded rifle at the RNC officer.
Since that time very little of substance has been made public. The Premier of NL, Paul Davis, himself a former officer in the RNC made two statements that he quickly backed away from: he said he'd phoned the officer involved to "offer his support" and he said he'd be directing the investigation. He quickly disavowed the latter statement when it was pointed out that, as premier, he couldn't legally do that.
The local RCMP were given the task of investigating. This despite already telling the press as fact that Dunphy had pointed "a loaded rifle at the officer." As the RNC officer was the only surviving witness the RCMP statement was speculation, not evidence.
For this and other reasons Meghan Dunphy, through her lawyer, Erin Breen, requested an outside police department be brought in to handle the investigation. That appeal was ignored.
Although the officer has still not been named, an email he wrote the following week to "inform his colleagues" about the incident was purportedly leaked to the public.
The email was long on attitude but short on detail. It suggested, with no evidence, that Dunphy had mental issues. The officer said he wished that he could have intervened earlier in Dunphy's life. And he said he "I cannot regret my actions." His words and attitude suggested that Don Dunphy, being mentally unstable, lost control and posed a lethal threat to him.
Was the email leaked or was this an attempt to get in front of the story and lay in the background to an intended narrative? The answer to this and almost everything else about this story remains behind a still impenetrable wall of silence.
People who knew Don Dunphy and especially his daughter, Meghan, aren't buying that he was mentally disturbed.
They say yes, he was angry about what he considered to be the shabby treatment he and other injured workers received from the government and the agencies that were supposed to take care of them. He was an activist to the extent he was capable to be.
Trish Dodd of the Newfoundland Labrador Injured Workers Association says Don, "wasn't violent, just outspoken." (as reported by CBC)
He was well liked in his tiny community as attested by the turnout of dozens of people at an evening candlelight vigil for him. And there was an even larger turnout at a benefit to raise money for Meghan's expenses.
More than 600 hundred signed the memorial book at Don's funeral.
Now after 6 months, there is still no word as to when it may wrap. It could be later this fall before their investigation will be complete. This would include, critically, whether there will be charges against the officer or not. Until then Meghan and the public are left in a state of uncertainty with little to inspire confidence that we will be given a full accounting of what happened in those deadly 15 minutes.
Meghan may have a significant piece of the puzzle herself but she is withholding comment until the RCMP report has been made public. If there are criminal charges against the officer she would likely be called as a witness. In such case she believes it's important that what she has to say be said first in court.
Meanwhile Meghan has reported that on a recent visit to her father's house in early June, which the police have returned to her possession, she found a bullet on the living room floor. She handed it over to the RCMP who inexplicably stated it, "had no evidentiary value."
So Meghan waits for the results of the police investigation.
If however there are no charges or censure of the officer, Meghan says will go public with what she believes is information that will contradict the narrative that her father was culpable in his own death.
Meghan is determined to show people the kind of man her dad was without sugar-coating his story. In 1990 Don was a truck driver earning good money; he had a wife and 3-year-old daughter, Meghan. His wife had diabetes which lead to a fatal heart attack. From that point on Don Dunphy raised his daughter as best he could as a single dad.
That job was made infinitely harder when Don suffered a serious and long lasting injury. A co-worker driving a yard vehicle did not see Don behind his truck and crushed him between his vehicle and Don's, resulting in serious internal injuries.
Don had to give up work but not the job of being a dad. Judging from what Meghan says and the kind of young woman she is, he did a good job. Meghan says he was by no means perfect: he was opinionated, given to salty language and capable of anger about his situation. She says they had a bantering kind of relationship that included disagreements and poking fun at each other but there was always a strong bond of love and affection.
Testament to this are the years since Meghan graduated from school with her dad by her side. Meghan lived close to Don. She helped him however she could, buying clothes as presents and taking him for medical appointments. Theirs was a close and mutually caring relationship.. Although he could have moved in with Meghan, Don wanted to keep his home. It desperately needed repairs he could ill afford but he had plans and hopes to do them anyway.
CBC reporter David Cochrane in a report said Don lived a "sad and tragic life" but that would true if you only looked at his material well-being. He had love and respect from his daughter and his community. He was a fighter who never gave up whether it was the struggle of a single parent or of an injured worker.
As a worker who'd sustained a serious injury that left him in chronic pain and unable to work steadily, Don was angry at a system he felt let him and others down. He could be called a social media activist but even those he fought against said he was never abusive or out of line.
Don used medical marijuana legally for his pain. He had a friendly relationship with the RCMP in his neighborhood. They would occasionally check on him to make sure he was OK in his small rural home. There was always a slight but real risk someone might decide to rip off the marijuana he grew for his personal use.
Don's story is a deeply personal and senseless tragedy to his daughter and friends. Beyond that it lies at the intersection of at least two important issues of our day. One is economic justice the other is life in and under the surveillance state. In a real sense Don was fatally impacted by both.
As an injured worker Don lived in poverty on the bottom economic rung of society. He was a victim of a broken pact made with workers. That deal said that if workers gave up their rights to sue for damages they would be taken care of by a system of compensation. But as far too many people know injured workers are denied and discounted at every turn. Some of them die waiting for promised and critical support.
That was the place Don was in. He took to the recent phenomenon of social media to make the case for himself and other injured workers. That brought him under scrutiny of the even more recently invigorated technological surveillance state.
Unless and until there is a full investigation of all the circumstances of Don's death we don't know the extent to which he was being watched. Maybe, as the government said, they only saw the one tweet they thought was threatening and that set the deadly train in motion. Or maybe that tweet was what Meghan Dunphy's lawyer Erin Breen meant when she said the tweet was a "red Herring."
Was Don Dunphy on their radar? Was the government looking for an excuse to intimidate Don to shut down his activism and shut him up. And just how did things go sideways when the cop confronted him?
Unfortunately there is little to inspire confidence in the investigation by local RCMP; they may be too easily influenced by the Newfoundland/Labrador government which employs them. And they have a close relationship with the RNC which doesn't enhance objectivity.
So many questions demand answers:
Was the Premier involved in the decision to send his security man to confront Don Dunphy?
What does the forensic evidence say about what happened Easter Sunday?
What are the policies, and what should they be, for responding to perceived threats on social media?
And very importantly, how does Bill C-51, the so-called anti-terrorist law, play into a scenario such as this? It is so broad that it's not hard to imagine many such missteps as governments confront what they misconstrue as threats from citizens?
The investigation, if it is still ongoing, has butted up against the Newfoundland/Labrador election set for Nov. 30. Or is the government holding back results that may negatively affect its election prospects?
This documentary has two goals: to answer as best it can the above questions. And to present a portrait of a man caught up in these forces who by his character, persistence and humanity could fairly be called a working class hero.
Trailer for Killed 4 a Tweet: the Dun Dunphy story.