A proud tradition of royal "awe and delight"

This summer’s visit to Prince Edward Island by Prince William and Kate Middleton isn’t the first to send Islanders into a royal tizzy. Dr. Ed MacDonald says PEI has had its fair share of royal visits, and “on each occasion, Islanders reacted with suitable awe and delight.”

MacDonald is an Associate Professor of History at UPEI. He says it’s no surprise Islanders are fans of the royals — we’re named after Queen Victoria’s father.

“The first official visit to PEI was by a royal. In 1860, Queen Victoria's eldest son, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, later to be Edward VII came to PEI as part of a visit to British North America,” says MacDonald. “We were so flattered we renamed the reorganized Central Academy as Prince of Wales College and, around the same time, the community variously known as Stumptown, Hill's Town, and Cascumpeque, renamed itself Alberton.”

The next official visit from a royal was when Canada's Governor-General, the Marquis of Lorne, came to PEI in 1879. His wife was HRM the Princess Louise, Victoria's daughter. MacDonald notes “she would later lose her ear in an unfortunate sleighing accident in Ottawa…”

After that, we didn't have an official royal visit again until George V's eldest son, Edward, Prince of Wales, made a brief visit during a cross-Canada tour in 1919.

“Film of this visit is among the earliest existing film footage of PEI,” says MacDonald. “Yes, he's the one who became Edward VIII, married Wallis-Simpson, and abdicated — and who comes across very badly in The King's Speech.”

MacDonald says George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured PEI in 1939 on a cross-country tour meant to stir up Canadians' patriotism as war approached. Tens of thousands of Islanders stood in pouring rain in order to catch a glimpse of their king.

“After that, royal visits became much more common and harder to document. Queen Elizabeth has been here on a number of occasions, including 1964, on the centenary of the Charlottetown Conference, and again in 1973, on our provincial centennial.”

Photo: an engraving from the Illustrated London News depicting the Prince of Wales visit to PEI in 1860, taken from The Island Magazine.

 

A stun gun incident becomes a stun gun problem

“It’s not that there weren’t stun gun victims in the news before Robert Dziekanski,” says Dr. Charles Adeyanju, “but many were drug users, or from a marginalized groups such as aboriginal people. The media just didn’t portray these people in the same sympathetic light as they did Mr. Dziekanski.”

Adeyanju is an assistant professor of Sociology and Anthropology at UPEI. His research includes the media’s portrayal of race, as well as stun gun use by Canadian police.

“Dziekanski’s story resonated for a number of reasons,” explains Adeyanju. “First, because of the video, which was shocking. But he also had a compelling story. Here was a man coming to Canada to meet his single mother and begin a new life. It’s easy to paint him as an innocent victim.”

Adeyanju has studied media reports of stun gun incidents from the years leading up to Dziekanski’s death, and after.

“It’s difficult, because the number of people in Canada who died after a stun gun shock is statistically low, especially when you look at the relatively huge numbers in the United States,” says Adeyanju, “but it is interesting to note how science was used to seemingly cover up any wrong-doing on the part of the police, or even to cite the stun gun as the cause of death.”

Adeyanju says the deaths were often blamed on other causes, such as excited delirium. It’s a condition that includes symptoms of violent behaviour, insensitivity to pain, and even superhuman strength.

“The stories of stun gun deaths were easy to ignore so long as the victim wasn’t a sympathetic character, and there was a reasonable alternate theory for the cause of death,” says Adeyanju. “Dziekanski’s story was difficult to ignore. Before the prominent media stories, Canada had a stun gun incident. Only after was it considered a problem.”

Adeyanju and his collaborators, Dr. Tope Oriola of the University of Alberta, and Dr. Nicole Neverson of Ryerson University, are planning a more empirical study on stun gun use, by seeking the perspectives of law enforcement, civil liberty groups such as Amnesty International, and the families of stun gun victims.

Photo used by Creative Commons agreement.