And the Canadian Courtesy and Politeness Award Goes To….

Canadians are known for being courteous and polite. That may or may not be a true national characteristic, but there are worse things to be known for.

skylar-murphyWere there an award for courtesy and politeness, it would have to go to airport security officers in Edmonton, Alberta. We are only now learning that last September they discovered a pipe bomb in the camera bag of 18 year old Skylar Murphy, who was boarding a flight to Mexico for a family vacation. The officers politely told the young man “You can keep it”, and tried to give it back. Not to be “out-Canadianed”, Murphy politely replied that he didn’t really want the bomb. They could keep it. He then boarded the plane and went off to enjoy the family holiday. Four days later, someone thought to turn the bomb over to the Mounties.image

Predictably, when the story broke, the fecal matter struck the air circulation device. Politicians were shocked. A government minister helpfully pronounced “The safety of Canadians and the traveling public is our government’s top priority.” Doubters speculated that maybe that was further down the priority list, somewhere below degrading the environment, controlling the flow of all information, and maintaining a 35 metre buffer zone around the Prime Minister’s old friend the Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford. In any event, a terrified public weighed in with expressions of abject fear that the system that had protected them so well, at the bargain price of only a few billion dollars and their basic liberties, had now completely broken down.

Fortunately, Canada is also known for an independent judiciary. It took just one of our judges to put the matter into perspective. There was no suggestion in the evidence that young Murphy was not absolutely truthful when he explained that he and a friend had made the bomb, with gunpowder pinched from his policeman father’s ammo, intending to blow up a shed just for the adventure of it. He planned to photograph the event, but forgot and left the bomb in his camera bag. The judge gave him a blistering and well deserved lecture about what could have happened to him had he been caught with the device in Mexico, fined him a few hundred dollars, and barred him from possessing ammunition or explosives—for a year.gary-clement

Maybe this was a massive systemic security failure that should terrify everyone. Maybe, however, Murphy gave the explanation to the security officer, who believed it. Maybe there was no cause to scramble jets, open missile silos, lock Murphy away as a felon, and convene a committee to draft new anti-terrorism protocols. OK, I know there is no country that would go to those extremes. Right?

It is still not uncommon for Canadians to affix the maple leaf to their luggage when traveling. If Mr. Murphy had one on his camera bag, he should handle it with special reverence, eh?

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