'It was really cathartic': Alex McKinnon revisits Montreal tragedy 30 years later | CBC Radio

2022-01-21 1:51:00 AM

As many Montrealers will remember, Paul McKinnon was killed by a police cruiser in 1990. Thirty years later, Paul's brother, Alex McKinnon, unearths his childhood grief in the new podcast Sorry About The Kid. | @cbcpodcasts

As many Montrealers will remember, Paul McKinnon was killed by a police cruiser in 1990. Thirty years later, Paul's brother, Alex McKinnon, unearths his childhood grief in the new podcast Sorry About The Kid. | cbcpodcasts

In 1990, 14-year-old Paul McKinnon was hit and killed by a speeding police cruiser. Thirty years later, Paul’s brother, Alex McKinnon, revisits the accident and its aftermath in Sorry About The Kid. He talks about what the making of the podcast taught him about grief, his brother and himself.

taught him about his brother, and himself. Here is part of that conversation.A couple of years after Paul died, I started going to the same high school as he'd gone to and for basically 5 years, I was confronted with his legacy daily – pictures of him in the hallway, teachers he'd had, friends of his, etc. And when I'd leave the school and go to catch my bus home, I'd wait at the stop right in front of where he'd been killed. Every day, I saw that intersection. Saw where the cop had hit him.

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Alex McKinnon spoke to CBC Podcasts about what the making of Sorry About The Kid taught him about his brother, and himself. Here is part of that conversation. Why did you decide now was the right moment to tell this story, 30 years after Paul's death? It was really something I needed to do for myself more than anything. A couple of years after Paul died, I started going to the same high school as he'd gone to and for basically 5 years, I was confronted with his legacy daily – pictures of him in the hallway, teachers he'd had, friends of his, etc. And when I'd leave the school and go to catch my bus home, I'd wait at the stop right in front of where he'd been killed.

Every day, I saw that intersection. Saw where the cop had hit him. In 2010, my girlfriend and I moved to Los Angeles. We spent about 8 years there, got married and had our first kid. While I was still thinking of Paul a lot, his memory wasn't confronting me in the same way.

When we came back to Montreal, though, all those reminders of Paul and the pain his death had caused me and my family – they were all still there. So I just decided that I needed to flip the script. I needed to get to know Paul in a different way. I needed to remember how he was in life and not just in death. In 1990, 14-year-old Paul McKinnon was hit and killed by a speeding police cruiser, shocking Montreal.

Alex McKinnon remembers everything about the day of the accident. But his brother, alive? Those memories are gone.Listen to Sorry About The Kid: https://t.co/bGAtlPjTJ5 pic.twitter.

com/UYz1974BVV — @cbcpodcasts What role did making this podcast play in your own grieving process? It was huge. I was 10 when he died and it's a really strange age to experience such a trauma. It's old enough to have a sense of what you lost but still too young to know how to really express it. And the fact that it was all so sudden and public, that he was killed in front of hundreds of people and that his death was covered so extensively in the news and then the years of legal hearings and trials… All these distractions made it easier to get by in a lot of ways, but at the same time, made it almost impossible to kind of just sit and accept all those emotions. But making the podcast, and talking with so many people who knew him, who loved him, who could tell me about the things they remember and miss most about him, it was really cathartic.

I don't think there's any other medium that would have afforded me this opportunity to finally process it all. Can you talk a bit about the role your therapist played in the making of Sorry About The Kid? How did she get involved with the project? So many things that happened in the making of the podcast were really serendipitous, like oddly so, and running into Yvonne was one of those. Yvonne saw Paul die. She was waiting at the red light as he crossed in front of her and was hit by the cop car. And she was called as a witness at several of the court hearings and trials, but I don't think I ever spoke to her.

One day, my wife Caity and I were at a Leonard Cohen exhibit in Montreal just as I was starting work on the podcast. I know [Yvonne's] son – I actually know all her kids – they're all great, but I saw her son Tom at this exhibit and we chatted a bit. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Yvonne looking at me very intently. A little later, she came up to me and said something like, "I'm not sure if you remember me, but I was a witness at your brother's trial and seeing your parents go through what they were going through, it changed my life." She told me she became a grief counselor afterwards, with a focus on childhood grief, and actually made it her life's work.

It was a really touching and intense moment. A couple of weeks later, I reached out to her and asked if she'd sit for an interview. She agreed right away. (Illustration by Mathilde Corbeil.) Was there anything you learned about your brother Paul while making this podcast that surprised you? No, not really.

I mean, I knew what kind of a person he was in a lot of ways. I knew that he was kind of a natural leader, that he had a knack for defusing situations that were getting weird or, I don't know, aggressive. I'd heard stories – like when a kid wanted to fight him, he kind of just laughed. Not in a demeaning way, just in a way that made everyone, including the kid with the balled-up fist, feel like, 'yeah, no, that's just stupid.' I knew he was funny and joyful and reluctantly tolerant of me.

I just didn't remember any of it myself. It's kind of like when you have a picture hanging in some random place in your parents house. You probably remember the bookends of that picture for a while, like what happened before and after the shot was taken, but eventually, you don't. You just remember the picture. That's kind of how I felt about Paul almost right after he died.

And so what surprised me most was, eventually, a lot of those pictures started to become reanimated in a way. And I started to add to them, remembering things I'd never even known I'd forgotten. In a strange way it allowed me to almost get to know Paul all over again and that was really surprising. There's no right or wrong way to grieve, there's just the way you grieve, and that's the right way for you. How do you personally feel about Serge Markovic, the police officer who caused the fatal accident, now? It's really a tough question to answer because everything about what he did the day he killed Paul was unintentional.

Reckless and stupid and obviously dangerous, yes, but he didn't set out to kill Paul, so it makes it hard to really hate him just for what he did. I can imagine it's probably been really hard for him to go through life knowing that he killed someone. Now, [the way] he was so callous and terrible in court after that? I mean, that says a lot more about the man, I think. And that makes it much more difficult to forgive him. And I want to, I really do.

I've reached out a number of times over the last few years to extend an olive branch, but he, for whatever reason, does not want to accept it. But I have much more animosity towards the police themselves. I find that as a body, they are ill-trained, arrogant and aggressive. We did everything we could to include them in the podcast – not just Markovic or Paul Andre Guindon, the cop in the passenger seat that day. We reached out to the police force and the Brotherhood (union).

Each of them either refused to participate or said they didn't want to comment. There's this attitude that permeates all levels of the department that is so counter-productive. They could be so much better but it's like they refuse to be and it's both baffling and infuriating. Are there any misconceptions that people have about the grief of losing a child or sibling? What would you want to tell them? There's no right or wrong way to grieve, there's just the way you grieve, and that's the right way for you. Everyone processes it differently.

But I do think that sometimes people watching someone grieve are kind of scared to—I don't know—acknowledge it. And my advice to them is don't be. Just show up. Be there. Go to the funeral, even if you didn't know them that well.

Ask questions about them. Laugh at the stupid things they did. It helps. All anyone who's lost someone wants is to feel love and to feel like their loved one mattered. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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