The reality of justice – in the right but unable to act

I have learned that sometimes being in the right does not mean justice will prevail. I have also learned to accept this reality and move on.

male driver with road rage

Calgary is a city under construction today. Whole sections of land are under development at a time with gigantic earth-moving machines shaping the landscapes of neighborhoods that spring from bald prairie. Services are installed – water, sewage, power and streets – in a matter of days. The land is scraped and reshaped in what seems like hours by operators who deftly move their machines as if by thought. Then the houses go up at a rapid rate, with contractors moving from house to house at a furious rate. It is quite the sight to observe. Construction zones are like war-zones – enter at your own risk would be good advice.

Construction now and then

And so it was as well, when I first moved to Calgary some years ago. Armed with only a map that ended where development was a year before, I went into an outer area of the city on an errand. The place was humming with contractors in pick-up trucks. Whole streets were chockablock with trucks and machinery. I congratulated myself for finding the place and getting through more rapidly than I had expected. As I left the area, I was followed by an increasingly aggressive driver in a large pick-up truck. As I accelerated, my pursuer did as well to the point where he was literally sitting on my bumper along what was to become a major thoroughfare. Finally we came to a light and he stopped again literally on top of my bumper. I grabbed a pen and paper and captured his license plate number looking in my rear-view mirror. I did a quick check over my shoulder to confirm that I had read the license properly and then waited for the light to turn green.

The pursuit is on

And wait I did for what seemed an eternity. Noting my look backward, my pursuer was quick to get out of his pick-up and come to challenge me. Caught off guard, I could only speak the truth – “I have taken down your license plate number. You have been pursuing me and bumping me down this street, and I am going to report you to the police.” With that he reached in the window to grab me. Reflexively, I pressed the electric window and caught his arm in the window, not concerned for even a second that I may be hurting him. With his other arm, he reached in the sunroof. I reacted the same way and caught his other arm right at the hand in a vice grip. Both hands were wiggling and trying to grab me, and it was a surreal experience.

When the light changed, I did the only thing that made sense at the time. I eased out into the intersection with my pursuer tightly locked to my car. I took him to the center of the intersection at a slight trot and then let go of the hand in the sunroof and then the hand in the window. I floored it and took off down the main street. My pursuer didn’t hesitate at all – he ran back to his truck and started to chase me. I had a substantial lead and managed to get through lights that later held him back.

Police advice

As soon as I got home, I called the police. A short time later a male and female officer came around to see me. They took my story down in great detail, asking clarifying questions as we went along. They were complimentary about the level of detail that I had captured about both the vehicle and the driver in spite of the tension of the situation. Without hesitation, the female officer told me how we should proceed. She told me that I had a great case against the individual who had pursued me. He could be held fully responsible for the damage to my car and further charged for dangerous driving and endangerment. But she said that she did not recommend doing so – by pressing charges, the pursuer would learn both my name and address. While I was in the right, the reality was that the police could not keep me safe. I asked about a restraining order, something I am sure that I had learned about from TV. The female officer educated me about the value of a restraining order – it’s of no value in the face of a motivated pursuer.

I was surprised – here I was the person who had been repeatedly hit by the man in the pick-up, and yet I would not be able to gain any level of legal satisfaction. I would have to absorb the costs of the damage to my vehicle and forget about the other charges. All because the law could not protect me from what was fundamentally a dangerous, aggressive man.

Moving on

Through the years I have seen this situation play out multiple times. A person or company is in the right and conceptually could sue or take some action against another, but to do so would take too much time or too much money, and the matter is simply dropped. I have observed that punishment and reward are rarely delivered or received in the precise measure that is deserved. I have learned to accept this reality and move on. It’s not that I don’t care, but rather that I can’t care.

I have also learned that thinking through the negatives of my actions and what I say in advance is a must. By speaking out to my pursuer as I did, I put myself in danger, more than I actually was in at the time. Dangerous and reckless people are on the streets everywhere, and it was foolish to enrage him with the truth of my thoughts.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.