The recent horrific homicide-and-dismemberment case in Montreal and the shooting incident at Toronto's Eaton Centre that left one dead and six others wounded have provided some unfortunate but valuable lessons in how not to respond to tragedy.
Labatt Breweries of Canada led the pack of insensitive reactions by threatening to sue the Montreal Gazette if it didn't remove from its website a picture of the alleged killer, Luka Rocco Magnotta, holding a bottle of Labatt's Blue because, Labatt complained, it was damaging to the brand.
Naturally, this made lots of people run to look at the picture and mock Labatt ruthlessly on the Internet.
It's difficult not to conclude that Labatt got exactly what it deserved. A good rule of thumb is that if a brutal murder has been committed, it's best not to start a conversation immediately about how the situation might affect your brand identity.
In fact, it's a good idea not to talk about your brand at all. Ever. Talking about your brand is about as cool as a man talking about his own haircut.
Try to think of your company as wandering through a party in an elegant, low-cut dress: Your brand is your company's décolletage. You know your décolletage is there, and you basically hope it's working for you, but the minute you start commenting on it, plumping it, glancing at it nervously or messing with it in any way in public, the effect is entirely ruined.
Do it when there is a body in the room and it is all you will be remembered for.
Displaying a similar level of tone-deafness, Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews leaped to explain that his highly contentious Bill C-30, which would give police unprecedented access to records of what Canadians view on the Internet, surely would have aided the police in both identifying and locating the suspect. This despite the fact that the suspect for some time all but begged to be identified as a killer in public forums, and was reported to authorities for these activities – no spying required.
It takes a particular kind of mind to see a grotesque killing as an opportunity to promote a pet piece of legislation. But Mr. Toews wasn't alone in his bald attempt. Julian Fantino, Associate Minister of National Defence, was quick to claim that the shooting at the Eaton Centre proved the need for tougher prison sentences because that's what is needed to "get the attention" of would-be killers.
Of course, the new sentencing guidelines are already in place. So Mr. Fantino would seem to be suggesting that longer prison sentences have failed as a deterrent. Does he imagine that would-be criminals sit down at their desks and carefully plot out their next moves on a spreadsheet, doing a lengthy cost-benefit analysis of armed liquor-store robbery versus enrolling in that pastry-chef course they've always dreamed of, and perhaps opting for a little light shoplifting as a compromise?
If only preventing crime were that easy. The vast majority of criminals either think they won't get caught, don't think at all or, as is likely the case with Mr. Magnotta, relish the drama of it all.
Perhaps Mr. Toews and Mr. Fantino should have held a joint press conference. After all, with both these pieces of legislation in place, the police would be able simply to put a watch on everyone they found Googling "minimum sentence for … ," and there'd be no crime at all any more.
This might provide some clearly much-needed peace of mind to world-weary NDP MP Yvon Godin, who apparently views killing and dismemberment as the unhappy but predictable outcome of electing a Conservative government.
"It could be just one crazy person that did it, but at the same time we have lots of people unhappy in our country, the way the country is going," he said in response to initial reports of the crime – yet another reminder that, when terrible things happen, acceptable responses include holding our loved ones a little closer, fearing for those outside the scope of our care, and saying nothing at all.
Herbert Morrison, a journalist sent to file a radio report on the arrival of the Hindenburg, famously cried out upon witnessing the ensuing disaster, "Oh, the humanity!"
Notably, he did this without adding, "Of course, I've always felt that rail is the superior form of transportation."