Documenting Brenda Martin

The saga of Brenda Martin has finally drawn to a close, for now. Imprisoned in Mexico for over two years in deplorable conditions, found guilty only in the last week of her imprisonment, she was transferred to a Canadian village prison, then quickly paroled. In an interview, she said she’d like to start her catering business again. I doubt Mexican food is on the menu.

Death by docs

There were two documents that destroyed Martin. The first was the indictment written by the prosecution, alleging she was guilty of money laundering. The second was the written verdict from the judge who found her guilty. Martin has claimed that portions of the second document were simply “cut and pasted” from the first. This is what’s known as “single-source justice”.

In addition to these two, there was other documentation that prolonged the agony after she was found guilty. The first was all the paperwork that had to be completed by Corrections Canada to arrange her transfer to a Canadian prison. This may have delayed her release a week. (Couldn’t they have transferred her and then filled out the forms?) Once in a Canadian prison, under much better conditions, more documentation had to be completed to arrange her parole. Still, as documentation deadlines go, these projects were completed relatively quickly.

I’m not opinionated – just always right

There was a huge variety of opinions on this case, ranging from “she’s innocent, let her out,” to “she’s guilty, let her rot.” It seems likely that she was an innocent victim, who, at worst, showed poor judgment remaining in a foreign country that has a notorious justice system, after her boss was convicted of a major crime, and without a work permit. However, the hard truth is that none of us outside observers know for certain if she was guilty or not. We don’t have all the information, only selected bits of it.

Ignorance ≠ bliss

Ignorance of the facts is one of the main causes of poor documentation. How often do we document something, or rely on others to supply us information for our docs, without investigating and testing it for ourselves? Thinking you know something is not the same as actually knowing it. Trusting is ideal; verification is the real deal.

Squeaky Gonzales

One point many people raised is that Martin was one of hundreds of Canadians trapped in foreign jails. Why did she get special treatment? Simply, it was her pure, visceral, and extremely emotional pleas for help that ensured she would be speedily rescued. The squeaky wheel gets liberated, and the squeaky workers get their way.

All companies have limited time, money, and resources. The job that gets done, including documentation, is the one where the “squeakers” push it though. The best documentation is created by the squeaky writers – the ones that push, plead, prod, persuade, probe, and pester until they get the tools and time they need to do their job and the answers they need to create great documentation.

A brief word on briefs

I’ve a feeling we’ll be seeing more “Brenda Martin” documentation soon, specifically the legal brief her lawyer will file if she decides to sue the Canadian government for failing to help her sooner. She may also decide to appeal her conviction to the necessary legal body, although it’s not entirely clear who that would be. Is there a World Court of Appeal?

If she does make either of these legal challenges, it raises an obvious question: what’s the point? She’s out of prison now, so why expend time, energy, and money to sue the government or clear her name?

Of the two legal challenges, clearing her name might be the more justifiable. She is a convicted criminal. If she truly is innocent, you could see why she would want the conviction expunged from her record. Convicted criminals have a tough time getting a job, however, most potential employers and clients would be quite sympathetic toward her. It’s doubtful the “criminal” lable would have any real effect.

As for suing the Canadian government because they didn’t help her sooner, this could easily turn public opinion against her (there was already a “Brenda backlash” while her case was dragging on) as people simply perceive her as a gold-digger. I’m sure she could make plenty of money documenting her story into a book, which of course she could sell the movie rights to. It’ll be a great CBC movie of the week.

Justify my docs

Just as it’s fair game to ask what the ultimate purpose of these legal actions is, it’s also fair game to be continually asking what the ultimate purpose of your documentation is. If you cannot justify the presence of certain text or sections in your document, then you must change or remove them. And if you cannot justify the entire document, it must be thrown on the scrapheap of all dead documents.

Ultimately, we and our work are all judged. This is especially true during a job interview. Are you ready to face the court?

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