The most overused word in our office this year was "dumpsterfire," and with good reason. I suspect every year feels somewhat unique in its ability to make you question humanity but 2015 has more than its share of fucked up-ness. But we made it our collective duty to look directly into the abyss and still file stories (mostly) on time in order to gain a better understanding of even the most bizarre and disturbing and (occasionally uplifting) situations. Thankfully we are able to quantify which stories found an audience—so without too much more of a preamble, here are the most read stories that came out of VICE Canada this year.
We asked the writers of these stories to remind us how it all went down and what happened after the story was filed.
Hilary Beaumont, VICE News Staff Reporter
The past couple years have seen story after story of women and girls viciously harassed online, with inevitably devastating effects, and the Rehtaeh Parsons story is one of the most horrifying examples of how an alleged sexual assault and subsequent slut-shaming gutted the life of a girl and her city—my hometown of Halifax. This article in particular, though, was ultimately about redemption and whether it was possible for one of Parsons' harassers to achieve it.
The man in question admitted to penetrating Parsons while she appeared to vomit, flashing a thumbs-up to a cellphone camera as he did so. He then texted the photo, sparking a chain reaction that spread the photo amongst Parsons' peers, leading to the girl's attempted suicide and death when her parents removed her from life support. Justice Gregory Lenehan grilled the young man in court, saying he used Parsons as "no more than a prop for his enjoyment" but ultimately sentenced him to 12 months of probation, a light sentence due in part to the harassment the harasser himself had faced.
That sentence pulled me in two directions: while I believe in redemption, especially in the case of 20-year-old offenders who apologize for their actions, I wasn't convinced that he, and some overly sympathetic media outlets, fully understood the weight of what he did, at a time in which that understanding is vital to the ongoing conversation about sexual assault and harassment. "Humans make mistakes," he said in the courtroom that day. "I will not live with the guilt of someone passing away, but I will live with the guilt of the photo."
Sarah Ratchford, Contributor
After a young woman was oh-so-predictably shamed for what seemed to be quite typical Calgary Stampede behaviour—namely, getting hammered and banging two dudes at once in public—I knew I couldn't let it slide without interviewing her and giving her a chance to say her piece. The only reason people found out in the first place is that some jackass videotaped the whole thing and put it on the internet, and I didn't think she deserved the backlash from, presumably, the underlaid masses. The woman took the incident and ran with it, using it as an opportunity to make cash as a dancer. The most striking thing, for me, about the reporting of this story was how few rape threats came my way. Just three, as I recall.
Drew Brown, Contributor
Alberta has been continuously losing its goddamned mind for seven months now but, my god, what a spectacular election. A man might live to the end of his days and never see another like it. By the end of April, I had a feeling she was gonna go and go she fuckin' did. Then half the country read this and I started getting emails from octogenarians mad that "The Vice" was letting a "foul-mouthed street criminal" cover provincial politics. Which is fair enough. But you travel back to March 2015 and try wrapping your head around "Alberta's New Democratic Government" without reaching for an expletive and see how far you get. Mostly though I just wanted to write about Bible Bill.
4. The Berenst(E)ain Bears Conspiracy Theory That Has Convinced the Internet There Are Parallel Universes
Mack Lamoureux, Contributor
Have you ever received pictures of people posing with their childhood books? I have. I've received an uncomfortable number thanks to this article. Seriously, the sheer amount of pictures of Berenstain Bears books I got was insane. If I recall my favourite one correctly, it featured a big ol' pile of books being proudly shown off by a middle aged man with no shirt on. I've also recieved people emailing me with "proof" of separate universes and emails just cursing at me for not going deep enough into the rabbit hole of the Bears Conspiracy Theory. To be fair, I traced that shit back to a dreadlock forum. I think I went deep enough. Franky, I don't know exactly what made this article pop off. I guess it's a combination of the internet, nostalgia, and conspiracy theories or something that had people go ape shit over this article. Nevertheless, long live the Berensteinites.
Our most sincere apologies to Trent for not making the list.
Justin Ling, Parliamentary Correspondent
When I first said that maybe—maybe—this b-rate shlockfest of an advertising campaign would be ineffective in turning the Canadian public against Justin Trudeau, they laughed at me. They laughed. Who's laughing now, Canadian public? It is me. I'm still laughing. Going back and watching this ad now is like thinking back to when your Atheist Vegan Crossfit friend first mentioned that new Sam Harris book/gym/nutrition bar to you. It occurs to you that you could have helped your friend, if only you'd stopped them earlier. Well, this column was me trying to warn the Conservative Party that is going down a bad path: a path of hokey gimmick ads. They didn't listen.
Josh Visser, Managing Editor (ft. Justin Ling)
Sadly, I remember waking up early the day I wrote this and thinking I feel great, as if the people who go to bed sober at 10PM and get up at 6AM are on to something. I'm sure history will judge this story as somewhat prescient/full of shit, but the morning Trudeau announced his cabinet feels even more bizarre in retrospect. Commentators breathlessly waxed on about the CVs of various cabinet ministers (admittedly, some of them are pretty impressive) and Twitter was overwhelmingly positive, while non-politico friends watched the swearing-in and told me they felt emotional. I could not let that stand, considering the last time I heard anyone say "emotional"positively around politics was November 2008 and even the most ardent Barack Obama supporter lost those butterflies years ago.
I just wanted to remind everyone that politicians are human and we will eventually turn on them and deny ever supporting them in the first place. (It's all very biblical, really.) Justin Ling helped a little, but he was doing real journalism at the time covering the cabinet swearing-in, so good for him.
Slava Pastuk, Noisey Canada Editor
Earlier this year, after regrettably deciding that I'd take up poppers again, I decided to do with this regrettable decision what I do with every poor decision I've ever made: write about it for VICE. I've written about a lot of my regrettable choices over the years, but this is the first one I decided to pen under an alias. Why? Because it's a fucking stupid idea for 25-year-old me to take up the same life-threatening hobby that almost shredded my 19-year-old lungs, and I didn't want to be publicly shamed. Am I a pussy? Definitely. But, have I quit poppers since then?? Almost totally!
Mack Lamoureux, Contributor
For a man who doesn't really like strip clubs, I spent an absurd amount of time at strip clubs for stories this year. If you ever want to feel awkward make your way to your nearest nudie bar with a notebook and start taking notes. Trust me, you'll get some looks. This article stands out to me because of how raw the interview with the subject was parrelled with the absurdity of Albertan strip club culture. She was completely open about all the shitty things that arose from her shaming and how she was dealing with it. Slut shaming and things of that nature are important to face head on, and I can't thank her enough for giving me a honest glimpse into her life while she grappled some serious issues.
Manisha Krishnan, VICE.com Staff Writer
When you hear the term "pedophile hunter," you automatically conjure up the image of a hero, which is exactly what Justin Payne, the subject of this story, presents himself as. Payne has a clothing line bearing his face and slogan "Bring the Payne," and has launched a makeshift reality show called "Realities [sic] New Payne In The Ass" featuring videos of himself confronting would-be child molesters, each of which garners thousands of likes on Facebook. But when I got to know him, he was really nothing like his online persona. He's an introverted loner who has pretty dark views of the world. His obsession with calling out people he suspects are sexually attracted to children has taken over his life, to the point where he told me he can't date women because he can't focus on anything else. "I'm sick to my stomach most of the time," he said. Despite having dedicated himself to this cause for more than a year and a half, not a single one of Payne's encounters has led to an arrest. So it's hard not to wonder who he's really helping.