By Jason Menard
It was a night of tears in London, Ontario.
There were tears of joy, of course, as the London Knights claimed the Ontario Hockey League title and earned a berth in the Memorial Cup. But, more poignantly, there were tears of sorrow as just across Dundas Street a jury convicted a man of the murder of Victoria Stafford.
It was a night where the names of new heroes were etched into the Forest City’s history books — names like Austin Watson, Michael Houser, and Olli Maatta will be forever linked to the city’s championship legacy. And it was a night to remember the name of Tori Stafford — an innocent girl whose life was tragically snuffed out too young. A girl who was subjected to horrors that no adult should consider.
And it’s a night where one man’s name should finally be forgotten. Too often we remember the perpetrators of crime, not the victims. That shouldn’t happen and we have an obligation to Tori to ensure that her name does not get overwhelmed by the debauchery of the crime.
Local radio station AM 980 tweeted that a cheer went out in the courtroom when the jury returned its verdict — finding the accused guilty on all counts. Not 10 minutes later, another cheer rose up from the 9,000-strong throng at the John Labatt Centre.
I stood on the ice as the Knights’ players, revelling in the adoration of the crowd, paraded the championship trophy around the arena. I felt the chill in my feet. Moments later, I felt a chill in my heart as I stood outside the courthouse, watching as a crowd of media gathered on the steps — their lights illuminating the night sky as someone addressed the masses.
The sombre mood outside the courthouse was broken from time to time by the din of revellers spiling out into the street. Walking back to my car, I passed fans heading into bars, cheering and hollering, dancing to the beat of street percussionists outside of the arena.
And all I could think about was the family. A dark moment of alleged closure played out against a soundtrack of joy and revelry.
To the players on the ice, it was a moment of celebration and a time of promise. Talking to Houser and Maatta, they expressed their joy over winning the OHL title. Maatta joked about how he made the right decision coming to the Forest City from his native Finland this year.
Only metres away, there were no jokes to be told. There were no smiles to be shared. And there were no reasons to cheer.
A man has been convicted of horrendous crimes and he’ll likely never see the light of day. Sadly, while that may bring some measure of closure to the family, it won’t bring Tori back.
It was a night of tears. Tears of joy and tears of sorrow. It was also a night for perspective. In no way does this diminish the accomplishments of the London Knights. And perhaps a Memorial Cup run will help the city heal. At times like this, we need reasons to celebrate the good in life. But on a night like this, it’s hard to find a reason to cheer.
And as for my perspective? The first thing I did when I got home was go upstairs and kiss my sleeping 10-year-old daughter on the head.
On a night like tonight, that just seemed much more important.