Sensational case, lively lecture

Rob Tripp knows that all reporters have a bias, whether they admit it or not. He just wants them to write both sides of the story.

“I really, seriously believe that we need to be fair and balanced. I never use the word unbiased. Lots of people say, ‘I’m an unbiased journalist.’ We all have biases,” Tripp said. “I’m biased but at least I can be fair and balanced,” Tripp said.

Tripp is an investigative journalist at one of Canada’s more respected mid-sized dailies, the Kingston Whig-Standard.

He has been a crime writer for the Whig for 18 years. And he is arguably the country’s most authoritative reporter when it comes to a sensational case that made headlines across the country over the summer: the killing of four women whose bodies were found in a car at the bottom of the Rideau Canal.

He shared his expertise during a visit to East York on Wednesday — when he appeared as a guest lecturer at Centennial College’s Carlaw Avenue campus.

The four females who died, aged 13-50, were members of a Montreal family on a road trip through Kingston. When they went missing at the end of June, three surviving family members on the trip publicly speculated that one of the teenagers had taken the other victims out for a joyride.

After the car containing the bodies was found at the bottom of one of the locks along the Rideau Canal, police laid murder charges against the three: Mohammed Shafi, his wife Tooba Mohammed Yhaya and their son, Hamed Mohammed Shafi.

Kingston police have not called the deaths “honour killings,” but they have confirmed that relatives of both the victims and the accused have that suspicion.

Since the initial missing persons report, the Whig has led other media — both local and national — in coverage of the case, and Tripp has led the Whig’s efforts.

“Our job as journalists is to find the information no matter what route you have to take to get it,” he said. “If the police shut me out I [have] to find another way to get it and there’s almost always another way.”

For instance, he recalled, when he arrived at the Kingston Mills lock following the discovery of the submerged car, police were tight-lipped… so he walked to another lock — and found a man who happened to be the diver who found the bodies in the car.

“They say you make your own luck, but that was shit luck that day,” Tripp said. “First of all to bump into the guy, and the interview went on for quite some time without giving me much… until he finally said this tidbit: ‘Well, because I saw the bodies in the car.’”

He told the students attending his Wednesday talk that he thought one of the smartest things he did for the story was to leave the office and head to the actual scene, some eight-kilometres north of Kingston.

“I’ll tell you honestly that was also in my mind: ‘Maybe it’s just a stolen car. Do I really want to go out there?’” he said. Fortunately, he added, “the instinct always takes over.”

So he advised his listeners — most of them in the campus’ journalism program: “Get up. Go find out. Go there. Get there right now. Find out what the hell is going on. You’ll never find out the real story by sitting in the office, waiting for your phone to ring.… If you go there it’s miraculous what you will discover.”