Quebec, a fine place for psychopaths

QUEBEC. A LITTLE after Christmas. And when the ice storm broke, Marie-Claire had been awake for four days and nights, writing for her life. Sleeplessness and terror lent a glittering, fragmented urgency to her words, because Benny was standing over her and she knew that, as soon as she stopped typing, he would kill her.

Beat her to death, probably; that's what he would do. Punch her and kick her, probably rape her a few times, one way or another, because a man has to have his fun, wouldn't you say? And in Quebec, the law has its priorities right. Publish your web-site in English and you'll never see daylight again; but a woman? You want to flog, pummel, torture and sodomise a woman at will? Oui, d'accord, comme vous voulez, m'sieur.

Benny was a big man. She described him as a saturnine god with dark impenetrable eyes, and when they first met he gave her a look which just melted her, made her little and helpless ... which was fine with Marie-Claire because she kind of liked the notion of a dominant, masterful man; love, protection and desire taken to their logical extreme.

Benny didn't see it like that. Benny saw her as someone to objectify, to use, to blame. He was clever enough to play into her desires. Then it started. The broken bottles, the hands at the throat, the hunting knives, the violations, face down in the snow, screaming. People like Marie-Claire don't scream blue murder. They don't scream, "Stop! Stop it!" People like Marie-Claire scream, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I love you, I'm sorry. " And Benny thrives on those screams.

By the time she started to realise that Benny was ... damaged, frozen, splintered, fucked, it was too late to walk away. It wasn't just her three kids to think of. It was that he'd follow her and kill her, or maybe kill himself. And in any case she was addicted. Benny was subtler than heroin. When he beat her it must be because she was bad; when he wasn't beating her, the relief was so great that she felt warm, safe, loved. In a cold place the temporary absence of violence could make her feel warm.

I know a lot about Marie-Claire but I don't know where she lives. Rural Quebec, somewhere. Endless roads, following the riverbank then veering off into nothingness past little townships strung along the roadside, tar-paper rest-stops with flat-eyed men eating chowder and silent women slowly losing their looks in the desolation of rural gritstone asensuality. Twenty miles from town, and no neighbours to hear her screams. "Sorry, I'm sorry, I love you, I'm sorry."

If the ice storm had broken a day or two sooner, Marie-Claire would probably now be dead, because the telephone lines went down and it was the telephone lines that saved her. In desperation she had begun to trawl the Internet for people who might help, advise, understand, tell her what to do. Her initial approaches were hesitant and disguised, and she was pounced upon by a pack of masturbators who (up in their bedrooms, with purse-lipped wives or beetle-browed mothers prowling outside) attempted to incorporate her, by e-mail, into their lonely sadomasochistic fantasies. Then, by sheer luck, she stumbled upon Karen, a woman I know in America. Karen has had her troubles; but strong and good- hearted people, under prolonged unhappiness, become more, not less, compassionate. Karen set out to help, and for several days corresponded with Marie-Claire almost non-stop.

Then the ice storm broke and so did Marie-Claire. She couldn't take it any more. Called the police, made her children call the police, screamed, did what it took to be taken seriously.

And then she found what manner of place Quebec is, and how its public servants attend to their task of promoting the security of the people they serve. Because Marie-Claire had made two mistakes. She was a woman, and she was distressed. She was taken to a psychiatric hospital, forcibly injected with powerful anti-psychotics, stripped and locked in a padded cell with a reinforced glass wall, so that her humiliation was visible not just to passers-by but to her children. She wasn't even allowed to relieve her bladder in privacy; instead these "doctors", led by God knows what twisted impulse into a trade whose overmastering motive should be compassion, allowed her to befoul herself and lie exposed in her own ordure. This was in Quebec, a few weeks ago.

Then she was taken before another doctor. "Shut up!" she remembers him shouting. "If you don't shut up I have the power to keep you here for life." This was in Quebec, a few weeks ago.

Finally, after 11 days, one doctor, a man who knew what his profession was for, listened to her, cancelled the inappropriate drugs, released her.

Benny was waiting for her. "Call the police and you're dead," he said. Marie-Claire called the police anyway. "Oh yeah," they said, "You just got out the psych ward, right? Quit wasting our time. Hope your kids ain't with you ... we could have them removed." She asked for a restraining order against Benny, a man with assault-and-battery convictions, in breach of parole, a man who, made to attend a men's viol- ence group, so frightened his therapist that he came to visit Marie-Claire to warn her. The request was turned down. The man who turned it down said he had given his reasons in writing to the officer concerned, Monsieur Crottin. She rang Officer Crottin. He said he had had no such letter and if he had he wouldn't tell her what it said and if she didn't stop annoying him he'd assume her psychological condition was deteriorating and have her kids taken into care ...

Everything's documented. All her phone calls recorded. All the names have been changed. Except Quebec. This is in Quebec, now.

The most perilous time for people like Marie-Claire is after they've pulled the plug, but before action against the abuser has been taken. Benny is still there, biding his time. Nothing has happened except the contemptuous belittlement of the victim. So we know where we stand. All you abusers, all you rapists and sociopaths and woman-haters and inadequates, just pack up, head on out to Quebec, and have yourselves a ball. It's a hell of a nice place, if you don't mind the stink. !

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