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‘You got the wrong guy!’ My uncomfortable moment in the police spotlight Add to ...

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‘You think this is funny?”

The corporal from Truro Police Services was speaking to my wife, seeking to redirect her into a mood more appropriate for the charges he was investigating – the theft of election signs in the neighbourhood.

Tampering with election signs is a very serious offence, he said, and Dr. Livingston has to be held accountable. The election process is never to be taken as frivolous, and hooliganism cannot be allowed to supersede the will of the common people.

Marilyn knew her husband had not done anything of the sort. He isn’t interested in politics. In fact, he’s never even voted in the 44 years he’s lived in Canada because he isn’t a citizen.

My cynical view of government had matured years ago with the obsolete Senate and watching each party exposing the dirt of the other party. Why does anyone kick in campaign money and submit to so much ridicule to seek a government office, I wonder. Where else on Earth do so many lawyers swarm for perks and grants?

Marilyn knew I’d soon be home that morning from the Truro Tennis Club. I would be soaked with sweat and wanting to take off my clothes and soak in the old-time tub before settling in for a noon-time nap with the cat, MegAnne, riding on my belly to the rhythm of heaving snores.

After 40 years working as an optometrist, I retired three years ago. Since then, everything in my life has pointed to a life of worthy volunteer work. At the time of the Beijing Olympics, two Chinese students who were new to Truro became part of our family for the two years they were studying agricultural business in nearby Bible Hill.

I’d been talked into attacking the boot-campish Cambridge University CELTA course on teaching English to foreigners to earn a teaching post with China’s Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University, which has an exchange agreement with our home Nova Scotia Agricultural College.

I caught a ride home and was puzzled when I saw the police car in front of our home, along with an electrician’s van with both workers waiting inside.

“Where are the police right now?” I asked the electricians.

They pointed to my front door, and I went inside giving a family call signal, “doo-doo,” so my wife would know right away it was me. The policeman asked to talk to me in private. We went outside to get any chance of fresh air and a cool breeze.

By his face, I knew there was somehow going to be serious trouble in my life as I knew it. My three daughters always tease me about my fear of police and the power they hold over all of us. I had lived my life well, and this was obviously a turning point. I was scared. My daughters would have paid big money to see me cower as I awaited my sentencing.

“You have been reported as stealing election signs,” the officer said. I was being charged with violation of private property.


I stopped him sooner rather than later, since I knew there had been some great mistake.

“You have been tricked by someone,” I declared. “I am the most non-political person in town. I have never even voted!”

“Oh, I know what ... ” I chucked out another thought: Perhaps I’d been mistaken for the fattest, baldest and biggest man in town. You can start with me, I told him, but I think you are looking for another big fat bald guy.

I had this exact thing happen to me 20 years ago when the lights were left on all night at the tennis courts. “The big fat guy” was blamed. Eventually, the right guy was found out, and denied the key to the night lights forever after.

I didn’t laugh, but I blurted out: “If I really did get caught messing around with election signs, I would admit it!”

As soon as I heard myself say that, I knew I’d crossed some kind of line by trying to talk my way out of the summons.

“Last night was the autumn start up of watercolour class,” I said. It was from 6:15 to 9 p.m. “It is nearby, at the Marigold Arts Centre, so I walked home, and I never went outside the house again once I got home.”

The corporal listened and explained he was obligated to follow up on the charges.

Did this mean he kind of believed my story? He left his card and headed back to headquarters to write up his report.

How could I be in so much trouble, since I hadn’t done anything?

Suddenly, I thought of a plausible explanation for the misunderstanding. I sat down to write an e-mail to the authorities, outlining the probable scenario, which I hoped would save me:

At the end of art class the night before I had carried home the watercolour board with my still-wet painting – a seascape with lighthouse – in one hand, and all my brushes, paints, sketchpads and art magazines stuffed into a large shopping bag in the other.

Home was one big block away. It took me five minutes (I was tired after being so creative for three hours).

My friend Fred, who came by later to play cards, guessed right away who must have turned me in.

“If it was painted orange, it would have been the NDP,” he said. “If it was red it would have been the Liberals.” And a blue sky and ocean could only mean one party.

I feel it’s only fair that I warned my art class of the horror that may await them if they carry their wet paintings outdoors.

Doc Livingston lives in Truro, N.S.

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