Rioters deserve tough sentences

We’ve waited three months for arrests and charges in the Stanley Cup riots following Vancouver Canucks’ loss in the NHL playoffs. To date, 70 rioters have turned themselves in, hoping for clemency.

We’ve waited three months for arrests and charges in the Stanley Cup riots following Vancouver Canucks’ loss in the NHL playoffs. To date,  70 rioters have turned themselves in, hoping for clemency.

The only justice handed out has been from employers firing involved staff members, or in the case of a Maple Ridge polo player, being suspended for two years by Water Polo Canada and denied Sports Canada funding.

We look to London where those involved in recent riots were charged and sentenced with the speed of army recruits receiving military haircuts. London has police cameras at every corner. No one has access to the cameras to substitute or edit their films altering evidence. In Vancouver’s riots, the police have 16,000 videos uploaded from citizens’ cameras and cell phones, all vulnerable to manipulation to modify evidence.

Most irritating to me as I reviewed riot photos posted on the VPD’s website is the look of exuberant glee on the faces of so many rioters as they destroyed property, stole whatever grabbed their fancy, and in some cases put stores out of business for months.

The 70 rioters who have confessed to their crimes likely chose to own up to a single behaviour with the lowest fine or jail time – looting rather than smashing in a bank window, jumping on a police car rather than stuffing a fiery rag into its gas tank.

It is this rush to judgment on a single charge, ignoring a rioter’s total involvement, that the Vancouver police seek to avoid. The police get one chance to charge these vandals; if they charge them on a lesser misconduct, then later learn they were involved in far more serious crimes, the police cannot go back.

The VPD recently submitted all 1,600 videos to National Digital Multimedia Evidence Processing Lab at the University of Indianapolis in Indiana, a specialized police lab where computers can analyze in two weeks what manpower would need two years to do.

The Indianapolis computers can enlarge photos, isolate and zoom in on faces, licence plates, or other identifying data, making identification that much more unassailable by a crafty defence lawyer.

Some rioters are shown in four poses on the VPD website involved in diverse criminal activity recognizable by, for instance, a distinctive logo embroidered on a shirt or jacket, a patterned bandana worn as a mask, a one-of-a-kind haircut, or unique shoes. Many rioters are photographed face on, making their identification foolproof.

By late October the VPD expects to have the results back and begin preparing charge information.

Once the VPD has identities nailed, we face the hurdle of hastening rioters into court. Already judges are throwing out serious criminal cases for taking far too long to come to trial.

The province is short of crown counsels who sort and prioritize cases to select only those with the most likely chance of a conviction, sheriffs to shunt prisoners and protect court rooms, and judges to hear the cases.

Assuming rioters are ever summoned to appear, we’ll be lucky if any of them face trial within two years, the acceptable wait for going to court. Consequently a majority of rioters could escape justice because our court system is underfunded and undermanned.

Immediately after the riots, Premier Christy Clark vowed to find funds and manpower to bolster our courts and hasten trials. So far we’ve seen nothing. And to think B.C. might have avoided this entire reputation wrecker had attorney-general Shirley Bond funded extra police before the seventh game as the mayor and police chief requested.


If and when any sentences come down I hope they  do much more than wipe the smirks of satisfaction off rioters’ faces.