Strange case of Russell Williams

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Oct 19 18:28:29 UTC 2010

  There is nothing here that's particularly intellectually challenging,
just a couple of observations related to reporting on a Canadian
criminal case.

Several aspects of the stories are odd, not just the case itself. To
summarize the case, one of the top Canadian career military pilots and
the head of the largest airbase in Canada yesterday pleaded guilty to a
large number of charges, including two murders. The bizarre details of
the case suggest the making of a serial killer, although, luckily, the
streak was aborted at two.

But enough about the case proper. I wanted to mention a couple of
things. First, when I heard the first report of the plea yesterday, it
was from a BBC news clip on NPR, and, among other things, the reporter
mentioned that charges against Williams included "sex acts with women's
undergarments". This seems to be a strange phrasing as I do not recall
ever having seen a formal proscription against the practice (perhaps
things are different in Canada). More detailed reports don't mention
such specific charges, but do suggest that the man burglarized a number
of homes, looking for lingerie, then either wore the garments or used it
in his "acts", while still at the home, or simply stole them as
trophies. So "sex acts with women's undergarments" appears to have
simply referred to unlawful appropriation of objects with the lurid
description of subsequent use simply being a verbal bonus, unrelated to
the actual charges.

Second, a report in the Ottawa Citizen (also in the Vancouver Sun and
likely other Canadian newspapers in the same chain) used "claw back" in
the text.
> The military has told The Ottawa Citizen that it may claw back the
> money he's been paid since Feb. 7, but his pension, reportedly around
> $60,000 a year, is off limits.

"Claw back" is a fairly common financial regulation and tax term, but I
don't recall seeing it used in other context. A particularly catchy
regulatory phrase is "claw-back provision":
> A claw-back provision stipulates that the principal initially foregone
> during the restructuring process will be repaid if the company’s
> future profits exceed a certain level.
> California is a notable exception to this. It employs a “claw-back”
> provision, entitling the state to tax any gain on property that occurs
> in California, regardless of where the property is eventually sold.
> A clawback provision is contractual language that used in writing
> performance-based compensation contracts. It allows a company to take
> back such compensation if future events show that some or all of the
> compensation was excessive according to the intended terms of the
> contract. Thus, if a bonus is earned through chicanery and a
> deliberate misstatement of financial results, that bonus may be taken
> away.

The "clawback provision" one is most likely to have heard about in the
news is in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

The OED /does/ have an entry for claw-back.

> 2. [Substantival use of vbl. phr. to claw back (CLAW v. 2a).]
> Retrieval, recovery (of an allowance by additional taxation, etc.).
> 1969 Daily Tel. 16 Apr. 24/4 It is..necessary to adjust the claw-back
> for 1969-70 so as to reflect the fact that the 3s extra on family
> allowances..will be paid for a full year in 1969-70. 1970 Sunday Times
> 31 May 12 Labour's latest big increase in family allowances was
> accompanied by what is nastily called ‘claw-back’, which means that
> those rich enough to pay income tax at the standard rate or above have
> the amount of the increase clawed back from them by taxation.

There is also an entry for the verb, which is what appears in the
Canadian texts.

> 2. a. To seize, grip, clutch, or pull with claws. Also fig., /*to claw
> back*/, to regain gradually or with great effort; to take back (an
> allowance by additional taxation, etc.); /*to claw down*/, to pull
> down, to defeat; to shoot down (an aeroplane, etc.).
> [...] 1953 Economist 21 Feb. 499/1 The Government would also make sure
> that..such tax relief was clawed back from surtax payers. 1957 Ibid.
> 30 Nov. 804/2 The Commercial Bank is engaged on a nationalist
> enterprise{em}clawing back from the Sassenachs, control of one of
> Scotland's banks. [...] 1959 Observer 21 June 26/8 Relaxing round the
> last bend and clawing back a one-yard deficit in a prolonged battle up
> the long home straight. 1970 Daily Tel. 30 May 16 This is a special
> deduction which was introduced by the Finance Act 1968 to enable the
> Inland Revenue to ‘claw back’ the 10s a week increase in the
> allowance. 1971 Times 23 Jan. 18/5 The Labour Chancellor should have
> increased family allowances..and ‘clawed’ it back from richer tax payers.

[I deleted all the examples that do not involve "claw back"]

All but one example in both entries refer to taxation and all are
confined to a fairly narrow period (and all are clearly British).
Perhaps it needs updating.

Furthermore, the use of "claw back" hear appears to me somewhat
different from the others mentioned, although it is perhaps even more
literal. There is no real "ill-gotten gain" here, except for the salary
that the man collected between the day of his arrest and the day of the
guilty plea. This appears to be more blunt usage than the "nasty"
suggestion of the tax code or the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, although, in all
cases, the phrase refers to recovery of funds under some pretext or other.


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