A distinctly Canadian kind of fame

In Canada, people who have served time for a wrongful murder conviction become famous — very famous — and stay that way for years and decades. Steven Truscott, Donald Marshall Jr., David Milgaard, and Guy Paul Morin are arguably household names, better known than many celebrities (including most medal-winning Canadian Olympic athletes, award-winning musicians, etc.)

Truscott’s initial wrongful conviction took place 40 years ago, but if anything, he’s better known now than any time before. Three men with more recentky-overturned convictions — Robert Baltovich, Bill Mullins-Johnson, and James Driskell — are also getting on-going press coverage, TV documentaries, etc.

I had never thought anything unusual about this phenomenon, until the Mullins-Johnson article was suddenly deleted from Wikipedia, with no debate — the Wikipedia editor had assumed that a wrongful conviction was so obviously unnotable that no discussion was required, but when I objected, he did restore the article and start a proper RFD debate.

When Wikipedia has articles about minor, imaginary videogame characters, it seemed unimaginable to me at first that editors would try to delete an article about a real, famous person, but so far, there seems little support for keeping the article. Thinking about it, I suddenly realized that the wrongfully-convicted aren’t famous in the U.S. Sure, I could Google around and find a few names, but in the U.S., serving 10 years for a murder you didn’t commit does not automatically make you a household name — in fact, it might not even result in a national news story.

Perhaps there’s a strong feeling of discomfort around the issue in a country that still executes so many of its citizens. Or perhaps, because the wrongly-convicted often have prior criminal records, Americans don’t feel that their convictions were such a serious injustice. Many U.S. jurisdictions (all?) have very small limits on the compensation you can receive for a wrongful conviction, while in Canada, someone who has been in jail for years could receive well over $1M — a big news story in itself.

I have a conflict of interest with the RFD for the Bill Mullins-Johnson article because I was the original author (though many others have since contributed), but if the article is going to be deleted, I’d hate it to be simply from lack of debate. So, Wikipedia users, whether you agree or disagree with me, please visit the RFD page and have your say.

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2 Responses to A distinctly Canadian kind of fame

  1. Martin says:

    Interesting. From a certain angle, this looks like yet another story about the problems of i18n.

    I always felt that it is somewhat weird to have this strong separation between e.g. en.wikipedia.org and de.wikipedia.org (with different user databases etc). But this certainly puts that into a different perspective.

  2. david says:

    Martin: when I’m looking for data for OurAirports, I sometimes use the non-English Wikipedias, especially de.wikipedia.org (which is very good at organizing that kind of information).

    I do have good news, though: Wikipedia has recently unified their user databases, so you can enable your account for all the languages (though you still have a separate user and talk page for each one).

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