INTERVIEW

'The whole time he was saying, "Now you've really done it. Now I'm going to have to hurt you. I'm going to have to shoot you." '

April 3 2006
INTERVIEW

'The whole time he was saying, "Now you've really done it. Now I'm going to have to hurt you. I'm going to have to shoot you." '

April 3 2006

'The whole time he was saying, "Now you've really done it. Now I'm going to have to hurt you. I'm going to have to shoot you." '

INTERVIEW

ECONOMIST SHERRY COOPER TALKS TO LINDA FRUM

Last week, famed Canadian economist Sherry Cooper and her husband, businessman Peter Cooper, were the victims of a violent home invasion. At 4 a.m., asleep in bed in their Toronto home, they were confronted by two men wearing face masks and armed with a gun. Fortunately, the Coopers emerged from the robbery physically unharmed. But residents of Canada’s major, and increasingly violent, cities have learned a bitter lesson: those who sleep without the security of an alarm system court danger.

Q Sherry, thank you for talking about this. I know it’s very difficult. It’s brave of you to share your story. What happened?

It was an ordinary Sunday night until I was awakened by the sound of my husband shouting: “Who are you? What do you want?” I looked up and saw the silhouettes of two great big guys, pointing flashlights in our eyes. It was instantaneously clear that they were there to hurt us. My life then went into slow motion. And the next amount of time—the police estimate it to be 30 or 40 minutes—seemed like an eternity.

That moment of terror must be overpowering. It’s so overpowering that my mind was in shock and I felt nothing. I did not respond in the way I imagined I would in such a circumstance. I didn’t scream. I didn’t cry. My wits were totally about me. I knew that I was going to give them anything they asked for.

Were you projecting scenarios inyour mind as to how this was going to play out?

I had this complete certainty that we were going to be okay.

Where did that certainty come from?

God? My guardian angel? My dad? My dad died 15 years ago and I feel he watches over me. And my son. Somehow I got this message— and it really was like from above—that Peter and I were going to be fine. I hated it—I wanted it to be over. But I wasn’t fearful for my life or Peter’s.

From Peter’s point of view, it must have been so hard. It’s terrible for a man to see his wife in danger and not be able to help.

Absolutely. In a lot of ways it was harder on Peter than it was for me. He says now that the two images that play over and over in his mind were the initial image of seeing them and what could he have done differently. And the other was when they were taking my jewellery like it was garbage and throwing it into this dirty knapsack in handfuls and dumping pieces on the floor and it just obviously meant nothing to them. And he felt so terrible that I was watching it.

Jewellery is so personal, isn’t it?

I’ve been thinking a lot about jewellerywhy does it mean so much to me? There are obvious reasons: like they took my wedding ring, that we designed ourselves, and it can’t be replaced. And some of it my dad gave me as gifts growing up. Some were mementoes of special occasions. There were pieces that belonged to my grandmother and Peter’s mother—who passed away years ago. Peter

gave me one of his mother’s rings on our first Valentine’s Day—it’s gone. One that breaks my heart is this little turtle made of metal with these little green and black stones on it. My son gave it to me when he was eight years old. That was the first gift he actually went to the store with his own money and bought for me. He’s 25 now and he laughs that I still wear it. And it’s gone.

They tied you up inyour basement?

A They had bound our hands behind our backs with duct tape.

money. And he said, “Well, you’ll have to go down to my office.” They took both of us down there. As we came out of the bedroom we could see the stash of loot, the knapsack, our computers, our two BlackBerries, bottles of unopened perfume, clock radios, cameras, batteries, a smallish TV. They took us down to our basement and duct-taped Peter and me to a pillar. They taped him much more dramatically: not only around his body but around his neck and put

tape over his mouth.

He is very fit, Peter.

He ’s very fit and six foot tall. But they were

bigger. And I’m five foot two so I guess they weren’t too worried about me. At one point, I was able to squirm out of the tape. I thought

they were leaving. They’d made an incredible

amount of noise in the kitchen and then it got quiet. And I was going to push the panic

button on our alarm. The pad was right there. But then I got afraid because I couldn’t remember if it was a silent alarm or not, and I was afraid that if they heard it, they might come down and shoot us. So I was about to go back to the pillar when I heard them coming and I pretended to be tied up with my hands behind my back but they saw that I wasn’t. The bigger guy pulled me up the stairs. My feet were literally off the ground and the whole way he was saying, “Now you’ve really done it. Now I’m going to have to hurt you. I’m going to have to shoot you.” He threw me on the family-room floor. Thank goodness the other guy said: “Take her back downstairs. We’ve got to get out of here.” Did you have a nightgown on?

A Yes. A flannel one. My husband teases me that I never wear sexy nightgowns. I was very grateful to be in my longsleeve, full-length, “little girl” panda bear nightgown. But still, you feel so vulnerable.

Was there an age difference between the two guys?

I think the guy who told the other guy to leave me alone was younger. The big guy who pulled me up the stairs had a Jamaican accent. The other one didn’t. He had more of a street-slang Canadian accent. Anyway they did take me back downstairs. They asked us where the car keys were and we heard them drive away. It was all quiet. We got out of our tape and called the police right away.

It’s amazing you were able to stay so composed and brave.

In many ways I was every bit as surprised as anyone. Certainly Peter was surprised.

I know Peter is a great comfort to you in life, not only in this situation.

Peter is a rock. And for sure in this situation he was in charge. Any married couple, after a while, intuitively know what each of them is in charge of.

And this break-in was his department? This was most definitely his department. I’m looking around your office here, wondering how you continue on as normal when something so traumatic has happened to you.

I’m not continuing on as normal. I’m easily unfocused. I’m easily distracted. I can read pages and then realize that I have no clue what I just read and I’m not usually like that. The very first day it happened I came to work because I wanted to. I didn’t want to be in that house. And it just so happened that a paper I had written on the economic consequences of the bird flu was released that morning with a press release. So I came into the office having to return a dozen phone calls. And it was good because it forced me to talk about something else. It did take my mind off it and made me realize life goes on. We’re lucky be-

cause we’re both fine. I actually had a sense of euphoria the first couple of days because we were both just fine. But then it moved into fear. And it lingers now—a real continuum of fear and upset and sense of violation. And also I worry because I wonder if I was targeted as opposed to it being just a random hit.

It’s creepy to think someone might be watching you, studying you. Is this a house you are going to continue to live in?

Right now, honestly, I could sell it in a minute. I just can’t face the hassles of finding a new place and packing up.

I can imagine you longing for a condo high in the sky...

Right. With an armed guard and an elevator that only goes to our apartment.

But maybe that would represent a defeat.

Exactly. Because for nine years, every day, we have loved that house. But thanks to 30 or 40 minutes, we don’t love it. I am not going to react rashly. I certainly never want to see my car again.

They stole it, took it a short distance and then abandoned it somewhere?

And evidently, they trashed it. Because the police didn’t want me to see it.

There used to be an idea that burglars didn’t want to encounter the owners of the houses they robbed. But is that idea out of date?

Yes. They clearly came and got us. The police say it’s so we could show them where things were so they could get in and out faster.

You went to bed without your alarm on. Your jewellery was in a box on top of your dresser. Is it time for residents of Canada’s major cities to face the fact that such trust is just not possible anymore?

I put the alarm on now the minute I get in the door. We are beefing up our security. I don’t care what I have to do. I have to feel safe where I live or I’m not going to be able to function. I don’t want to go out on my own at night anymore. I don’t want to travel by myself anymore. And I always did. And now, I can’t tell you the number of women who have shared stories with me about being attacked on the street in downtown Toronto. I’m not talking about known-to-be-terrible neighbourhoods at 9 o’clock at night. I’m talking about Yonge and Adelaide. Now I want to walk in groups or have a man with me. And that’s a horrible thing. Because it’s very limiting. And I want a panic button that I can wear. I do.

What was their demeanour? Did they seem high? Crazed? Calm?

I felt they were nervous. There were times when I felt they might have been even more nervous than we were. I actually felt we were somewhat more in control than they were. They for sure had the

power. But the whole time I was thinking things like, “Oh my God, what a life you must lead. How can you do this? And how did you know we didn’t have a panic button by our beds?” I mean, what they did can’t be worth the risk. How could they possibly get enough stuff from us that it would be worth going to jail for a decade?

Let’s hope it woidd be a decade.

Well, it wouldn’t. I’ve discovered that.

Do you have any idea what their punishment would be?

I’ve been told 12 years, but they would serve about a third of it. And that, of course, is if they get caught. And if they are found guilty. And that would take years. And our memories won’t be so fresh by then. They could get off on a technicality.

'I don't want to go out on my own at night anymore. I don't want to travel by myself. And I always did.'

What would be a just punishment, in your opinion?

I have no feeling whatever toward those two people. I don’t hate them. I don’t feel anything. To me they were representative of a society that has big problems. There is a “have” and a “have not” aspect to this. However, I am also hard-nosed enough to know that if you want to, you can always better your circumstances. We all know examples of people who have come up from very dire childhood circumstances to be great successes. Underprivilege doesn’t give you a licence to hurt people or commit crimes. Canadians always looked to the States and felt proud we didn’t have those elements in our cities. Now we do. M