Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, February 08, 2015

The Anomie of Disinterest

"It's very provocative, because for 16 minutes you see Mr. Hebrich on the platform with nobody that tries to provide help."
"Some people actually turn and look at what's happening, but nobody goes to give him help. People coming into the station do not know what happened and consequently, don't feel involved."
"If you're 19 minutes without CPR … it does not help your chances".
"As for the indifference of the passengers, it says a lot about citizen apathy in our society. There is not much positive to write about this operation."
"It's sort of a case where people expect their neighbours will do something. I think as a rule the Quebec society is a very caring society, so I think this is very pertinent in the sense that it makes us question 'what would I have done in a situation like this' because it could happen to anyone."
"I was hoping this [recommendation that the STM review its safety protocols] could serve as a sentinel event."
Montreal Coroner Jacques Ramsay
Bleeding out: Radil Hebrich, 59, was ignored by dozens of passengers as he horribly wounded on a Montreal subway platform in January 2014.

Imagine walking into a subway station and seeing before you the body of a man, partially lying over the yellow safety line, and he's bleeding copiously from a dreadful head wound. You wouldn't know, at first glance that he also wasn't breathing, but what would your reaction be other than to call for help, to rush over to the man, to try to do something to comfort him, to do what you could for another human being in mortal distress? At least, that's what you hope you would do. You're quite sure you wouldn't turn away.

You may be right, but then you weren't among the 40 people that the closed circuit cameras of the Societe de transport de Montreal (STM) picked up walking by that stricken man. And if the central control station on January 16, 2014, picked up those signals and could clearly see what was happening at the Langelier station, surely a response by emergency first-responders would be instant? Yes, if you consider sixteen minutes before ambulance attendants arrived, and another three before anyone began attempting to get him to breathe.

The video picked up that someone did approach the dying man. And went through his pockets. Did not, however, make an effort to determine whether he was breathing. Just riffled through his pockets. Looking for identification, one generous interpreter guessed. When he was finished with whatever he was doing, however, he look all the others simply walked off.

As the coroner said, likely everyone thought that someone else had taken action and help would soon arrive, so why get involved? In Quebec, people are accustomed to some level of government authority or another getting things done; no one need become necessarily involved. Part of the culture which goes a way to explaining why Quebecers don't respond generously to fund-raising for charitable causes; everyone feels they're the charity, waiting for those responsible to step in and aid them.

"At the end of the day, there are not many positive things to write about this rescue attempt. The indifference of the passengers says a lot about the apathy of citizens." A kind of resignation, a sigh of regret, a slight prick of anger at the outcome of an unfortunate event, ruled the coroner. Nor could he say with any degree of certainty that the man's life might have been saved had reaction been swifter. He had suffered a deep cut to the right side of his head along with multiple skull fractures. And then there was an "unstable" fracture of one of his vertebrae.

A sad end to an immigrant story. Of Algerian descent, Radil Hebrich, 59 when he died so  tragically, was a trained architect with an established practise in the city of Annaba in the 1990s. He moved to Quebec with his wife and their two children soon after the turn of the millennium. His professional accreditation wasn't recognized in Canada, as is common enough in the professions such as law and medicine and engineering, resulting in his inability to find work in his field of expertise.

He would have known, because immigration officers would have informed him when he made application to emigrate, that he would be required to study and write Canadian architectural exams to be properly accredited in Canada. It is difficult for many people to accept that their accreditation would have to match standards recognized elsewhere than where they obtained their professional degrees. Mr. Hebrich, it seems, succumbed to alcohol dependence and swiftly descended into homelessness.

"This is not something that really surprises us, at first length. Sometimes there are people who aren't in a particularly noticeable position. The situation in the metro is particularly like that, because we often see people lying on the ground", explained Bernard St-Jacques, a community organizer with a local homeless advocacy group, speaking of someone in distress whom others do not feel obliged to respond to, if appearances give the impression that they are vagrants.

"We think: 'OK, there must be someone coming. This situation makes no sense'. But that's not necessarily the case", said Mr. St-Jacques, speaking of "the bystander effect" relating to people being unresponsive in such situations in the belief that someone else is already attending to the matter and they needn't themselves make an effort.

Of course that does little to explain why it was that employees with the STM also seemed to lack any incentive for response in a situation clearing calling out for reaction. Three metro drivers simply passed him by, despite having seen a man in such a dreadful situation in their workplace. One stopped his train briefly to exit his cabin and approach, but not too close as to become involved before he stepped back into his cabin and the train sped off. It's assumed that one of the drivers called 911.

But it took 16 minutes before the arrival of paramedics. The man who had been struck violently in the head by a metro train as he lurched dangerously about on the platform, coming much, much too close to danger in the process as a result of extremely elevated blood alcohol levels, wasn't breathing. And it took another three minutes before someone from among the emergency responders attempted to breathe life back into him.
Montreal Subway

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