The future is in our past -
Wrongfully convicted Donald (Junior) Marshall died last week of complications from a 2003 double lung transplant. His death deeply saddened me. My first thought was, "Now you can rest in peace Donald Marshall."
The comments on a national news website were not so kind. It seems many people are still convinced that Junior was the "author of his own misfortunes and the miscarriage of justice was more apparent than real," a comment made by the presiding judge of the Appeal Court when he acquitted Marshall of murder.
As the story goes, Nova Scotia aboriginal Donald Marshall met Afro-Canadian Sandy Seale, both 16, in a park where they were hailed by Roy Ebsary, a man who was later described as having a "fetish for knives" and Jimmy MacNeil, who asked the young men for cigarettes.
During the meeting, Ebsary pulled a knife and stabbed Sandy, who died the next day. Ebsary admitted that he had stabbed Seale. However, the story that Ebsary told of the encounter led the police to focus on Marshall and the system set out to prove that Donald Marshall was guilty.
Marshall was incarcerated for 11 years before witnesses came forward to confirm that another man had stabbed Seale. Marshall had been denied parole because he wouldn't admit guilt.
To add insult to injury, Marshall, who spent half the time in jail as David Milgaard, another wrongfully convicted Canadian, received $200,000 and a monthly stipend from the government, whereas Milgaard was handed 10 million. This seemed to confirm that the government was still treating Aboriginals, at best, like children.
Ebsary was eventually convicted of Sandy Seale's murder and spent a year in jail to the dismay of many Canadians. Ebsary's sentence was in stark contrast to the life sentence given Marshall for the same crime.
On Google there are 38,100,000 pages with the name Donald Marshall. Not all uncover Junior Marshall's story but many do, and they tell the compelling story of a young man tangled up in the mercies and vagaries of fate.
Google turns up 3,220 pages for the name of Donald's nemesis, Roy Ebsary, but nowhere in those pages can be found more than a few words about the man who can never be separated from Marshall. Who was Roy Ebsary that the police were willing to overlook him and focus on Marshall?
One website describes Roy Ebsary, as "an offensive little troll of a man who had the look of a scrawny, demented Col. Saunders." Another said he was "an eccentric and volatile old man with a fetish for knives."
Those descriptions of Ebsary are merely someone's perception of a man who kept quiet while another man languished in jail for his crime. They tell nothing of the man and his life.
Maybe a clue about Ebsary, the man, comes from a comment that he was "an infantryman well versed in hand-to-hand combat." If my long-term memory serves me correctly, Ebsary was a veteran of the Second World War. There is no mention of that today. It is quite clear that Ebsary has his own compelling story, and no story of Marshall should be narrated without juxtaposing the story of Ebsary. It troubles me that there is no account of Ebsary's life to be found.
On that faithful night, three unequal human beings met. Sandy Seale, an Afro-Canadian, and Donald Marshall, an aboriginal, met with Roy Ebsary, a white veteran, ... Who knows what demons Ebsary was appeasing throughout his lifetime? Stress, in his day, was considered a weakness.
It would be interesting to know what the people of Nova Scotia thought about men like Ebsary. We have a good idea of what they thought about aboriginals. Does Ebsary's story contribute to the fact that, while the people of Nova Scotia had no trouble convicting Marshall for murder, they were cautious about doing the same for the elderly white Ebsary? But we brought Africans to America as slaves; we dominated the natives and destroyed their way of life; just as we sent our own to fight in wars...
Ebsary's first trial resulted in a hung jury. The second trial resulted in guilty of manslaughter, and the appeal court upheld that verdict. Ebsary's sentence was reduced on appeal, from three years to one year. Did the jury take into account that Ebsary was a veteran of a conflict, or did his sentence simply reflect the fact that he was white?
There's more we need to know about our own attitudes vis-À-vis justice when it comes to war and peace. There seems to be a marked difference in the way we view others whom we perceive as different, such as the aboriginals, and those we honour for their actions in war.
The crowning comment on the national news site, when referring to Marshall, was, "He doesn't look like an Indian." Put that alongside the description of Ebsary as "an offensive little troll of a man," and nothing more needs to be said. The various prejudices are open and transparent. A Black and an Indian met a White Vet...