Some Thoughts On The Dooley Verdict
By Richard van Abbe
April 19, 2002

If a city can be said to sigh, Toronto heaved a big one on Thursday. Finally, after three days of awful suspense, relief.

The jurors marched in, sat down, and did what they were supposed to do, what we needed them to do. They found Tony and Marcia Dooley guilty of murder in the death of Tony's seven-year-old son, Randal.

And what a relief it was. During the jury's three days of deliberations, it had become possible to imagine that the good citizens on the panel might, somehow, let the monstrous Dooleys off the hook. That would have been unthinkable.

The nightmarish testimony at the trial showed that the Dooleys took turns inflicting on the slight, reputedly sweet-natured kid a torrent of assaults that left him in the space of one year malnourished, sickly, incontinent and, finally, on Sept. 25, 1998, dead.

Besides the brain damage that was the immediate cause of death, the autopsy revealed other injuries, including 13 broken ribs and a lacerated liver. A tooth was found in Randal's stomach. He weighed 40 pounds -- probably because in the last weeks of his pitiless life he was unable to hold down food, a transgression for which, of course, he was punished.

So the wretched Dooleys are bundled off to the prison cells they have so richly earned. They are out of our sight, justice has been served, and tonight Toronto sleeps soundly once again.

But it's the sleep of the self-satisfied. The slumber of the self-righteous.

Because despite the judgment of the jury and the stern condemnation of the community, the Dooleys are not really so different from the rest of us.

We are a people, after all, who believe that it is within a parent's rights to inflict pain on a child whenever and wherever the parent deems it advisable, as long as the parent can say it is for the purpose of "correction."

We believe this so strongly that we have enshrined it into law, codified our determination to retain the right to hurt our children in something called Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada.

The fact is that we believe it would have been all right if the Dooleys had just hurt Randal a little. The reason they're going to prison is that their concept of little was different from ours.

But make no mistake. The Dooleys thought that what they were doing to little Randal was disciplining him. When Tony Dooley whipped the boy so hard and long one day in the August before his death that the leather belt he used actually shredded, that Randal had to start school late that year to give the bruises and welts time to heal so they wouldn't be noticed, he thought he was correcting him.

As so many other parents do. As the law empowers them to do.

Most parents don't kill their kids. The Dooleys went too far.

But like the Dooleys, our society believes that children do not deserve the same protections against assault, against the deliberate infliction of pain, that the rest of us take for granted.

And that gives aid and comfort to those dolts who believe that threats and blows are essential elements of child-rearing.

So, while Toronto sleeps the sleep of the justly avenged tonight we can be certain that there is a child somewhere nearby who inhabits the same nightmare world in which Randal Dooley lived before his body succumbed to the merciless discipline of his tormentors.

And like the Dooleys, that child's tormentors are also comforted by the knowledge that when they hurt that child, when they make him or her cry, they have the law on their side.

I haven't seen the cells in which the Dooleys will, I hope, spend the rest of their unnatural lives, but I do know this:

Those cells aren't nearly big enough to hold all those who bear responsibility for Randal's death.

Sleep well, little guy. It would be good to be able to tell you that you're the last kid in Canada who will ever be disciplined to death, but now's the time for tears, not lies.

(c) 2002 Richard van Abbe
All rights reserved


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