What Bothers Me Most About the Vancouver Riots

When it was obvious that Vancouver was losing and the boys were losing interest in the game Anthony and I made the decision to put them to bed. Quinlan (our 2.5 year old) was always going to go to bed at his usual time, but we thought we would let Aidan (our 6 year old) stay up and watch the end of the game and the handing out of the Stanley Cup.  I am so glad that we made that spur of the moment decision to put him to bed with an audiobook.

Dinner was cleared up and the boys were in bed, Anthony, Alex and I were watching the end of the game and it was obvious that in this game the Bruins were the better team.  We were disappointed, but it was a great run and the Canucks did a great job keeping themselves in the game. I was happy to see the way the Canucks and the Bruins congratulated each other, and while one team was ecstatic and the other was disappointed, there didn’t seem to be any potshots taken at each other. The Bruins got the chance to skate around with the Stanley Cup and the stands stayed full and fans of both the Canucks and the Bruins cheered. Then outside all hell broke loose.

To say that I am glad that we decided not to take the boys downtown Wednesday is an understatement. To say that I am glad that the boys did not see the fire and destruction on tv is an understatement. To say that I was appalled, disheartened and, I say it, fascinated by the images pouring over the tv may also be an understatement. Shock, dismay, fear, horror, anger, fascination, relief all were part of my emotional array. I will also cop to feeling a lot of judgement towards all those who took part in the riot and all those who stood by, took pictures, shouted cheers and generally didn’t get the hell out of the way so the police, fire and ambulance services could do their jobs.

There has been a lot of talk and writing about the role that social media and *smart* crowds had in both the ramping up of the riot and the path to justice for those who both started and continued the riot on our downtown Vancouver streets. Thousands of people made the lives of all our first responders much more difficult by staying and following  the gang of miscreants. Hundreds of people took the lead of the people with hammers bashing in windows of storefronts as a sign that they should go in and loot as much as they could. People stealing chips and make-up and purses. People getting caught up and helping to burn cars. Most of my thoughts and tweets about all this while watching it unfolding on  television were telling people to get out of the way and go home, and how the hell do I explain this to my 6 year old? (I was not the only one to wonder how to tell my children about the riot, and my friend Lexi has an excellent post here.)

Now a couple of days later, I have explained at least some of it to my 6 year old. I told him that there were a lot of people, bad people, who decided that this was a good time to be destructive and set fires. That these bad people decided that it would be fun to destroy property and make thing difficult for the police and unsafe for the other people around them. He asked questions and I answered them as best I could. One of the questions that hurt my heart the most was when Aidan asked “What if I do something that  is wrong and the police don’t like it?” This hit home because I am sure there are a huge number of parents who are asking themselves the same thing, What if it were/is my child that was in this situation? What would I do?  How do you, as a parent, stop something like this from happening with your children? I told Aidan that I really hoped he would never do something like this, and at 6  years old we left it at that for now. But we still have opened a dialogue into something I hoped we wouldn’t need to for several years at least.

Let me clear, I do think that the people who started the fires, breaking of windows and looting should be punished, but I think that some parts of social media are taking things too far and the whole thing is starting to feel like a virtual lynch mob. The public shaming of people who are not yet convicted, the emailing of people’s work places, the naming of minors, making sure people do not get scholarships, all of the name calling and publishing of addresses and phone numbers seems like the call for *justice* is going too far. There have been some very insightful blog posts about the Vancouver Human Search Engine and the dangers of crowd-sourced surveillance.  There have also been a number of facebook pages, tumblr accounts and blogs dedicated to outing and then shaming and punishing those people who have been named. The comments on these posts are what are really starting to scare me. A lot of anonymous people are outing people as people who are pictured in any number of cell phone pictures and video as well as all the media footage. Then people are using the information that these anonymous identifiers gave out and are trying to make these people’s lives a living hell. I am not saying that these people who committed the criminal acts of Wednesday night do not need to be punished. I just think that they should be punished by the legal system we have in place.

One of the reasons that I was (and am) so against having the Harper Conservatives in power as a full majority government is that their platform includes a number of changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. They want stiffen penalties for not only the youth, but also for adults. There is not a lot of chance for reparation or rehabilitation in the laws that the Conservatives intend to change. It is obvious that a lot of the looters that were stupid enough to run into stores and steal things and pose for facebook photos were under the age of 18. A lot of these people were probably drunk, or with a bunch of other teenagers and yes they made really bad choices. Yes I think that these people need to have some punishment. I don’t think that rushing to judgement without the courts, or even making sure that the people that have been outed anonymously are actually involved in the arson and vandalism is helpful to anyone in Vancouver.

Does it make me feel better to read about a 17 year old high school student who allegedly set a police car on fire? Not really. Does it make me feel any better to not know if the people hiding behind anonymous actually have the correct person that the photo depicts? Not at all. In fact reading the comments on that post and others like make me sick to my stomach. Having people take a 17 year olds life and make sure it is fucked up beyond all measure makes me feel terrible. How is it helpful to write to the college that this person got into and telling them about the role they allegedly played in the riot? If this is not the person photographed they have no shot at getting a decent life back, they are ruind at 17 years old. Even if this is the kid who made a colossal mistake, shouldn’t we leave it up to the courts to decided if he should be tried as an adult and named? (I have not linked to the blog post naming this kid because I don’t know if this is the correct person pictured, and if he is then he is underage and I don’t want to be complicit in what I think is wrong.)

There is another case of someone turning themselves in and while initially I was happy about someone doing so, again I looked at the comments and I was sick to my stomach. People wanting this person to get life in prison, hurling insults and anger without even the possibility of any compassion.

I think that we need to be aware that our words and actions have consequences. The words and actions of those involved in the riots, the words and actions of those of us watching from a safe distance on tv, the actions and words of those who stayed and watched and recorded from way to close, they all have consequences. Maybe it is time to leave the investigating and punishing of the rioters to the police and the courts and be part of the positive words and actions. Be the people who helped clean up downtown, those who are telling and showing people what our Vancouver is really like. Be the positiveness that comes out of tragedy and loss. Be the people that I want to tell my children to emulate. Show some compassion and let those that feel remorse for what they did to make redress for what they have done.

6 comments to What Bothers Me Most About the Vancouver Riots

  • Gwen,

    I’ve been hesitating to blog about my thoughts on the human flesh surveillance system and so on, as I want to read as much as I can and feed from the refined and well-thought-out posts of people like Alex, Chris, Todd, you, and other fine folks including Jesse Hirsh and Mathew Ingram. But I really like the view you take – let’s begin the healing process. Right now.

    Much love, always.

  • Very kind words for very battered city. If we want to say that the crowd-sourced surveillance is going too far, I think we run the risk of trying to have it both ways. Sure, we shouldn’t brand kids for life, but that shouldn’t be the same as allowing them to feel no shame or consequences. We love to claim the moral high ground in this city, but at some point we have to keep our windows and heads from being kicked in.

  • Lovely post. I also have a young son, and allowed him to stay up to watch the end of the game, but hustled him off to bed as soon as it was over. He was sad, anyway, because the Bruins won. There were already rumblings of a riot at that time coming through my twitter stream, and I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I was pretty sure I didn’t want him to witness it.

    I still haven’t talked much to him about it. I’ve been trying to put it into focus, myself, actually. I did write this: http://www.rebeccacoleman.ca/2011/06/16/social-media/the-role-of-social-media-in-the-vancouver-riot/

    While I was writing it, I was thinking of the shaming websites I’d already seen popping up, but I was hesitant to link to them (someone ended up linking them in the comments section, anyway), and your blog post helped me to start to understand why. It smells a bit like vigilante justice, and that makes me uncomfortable.

    I don’t know who’s to blame. Certainly lots of unnamed parents have been taking a lot of flak. But how do we really know? Maybe those parents raised their boys right, but in that moment, probably fueled by alcohol, and definitley by testosterone, they made the wrong choices.

    No doubt we’ll be asking these questions for a long time yet to come.

  • Gwen, I never thought of it that way until now. In our home, we believe that children tattling on each other is not a good trait so why should we tattle on people that we can not be definite about. I must say that I did exclaim Hoorah! when people were named but it’s true, it should have been sent to the VPD and not on social media. We are always worried about bullying and posting of false information, why do we let our guard down now? I was also annoyed about the picture of the couple kissing and how the parents were commending their son for kissing his girlfriend in the time of crisis. My thoughts were, why they heck didn’t they leave, then the whole incident wouldn’t have happened!

    My husband was downtown at the game. We both gulped about hearing the number of people in the crowds that were downtown, we remember 1994 vividly, as we were both downtown at the time. Then, we high-tailed it out the chaos & to this day I do not like large crowds. This time, I texted him about the danger on Hamilton & W.Georgia, so I am grateful for twitter because that is where I saw it first. Again, chaos was avoided.

    Have I liked the FB pages outing the alleged accused, yes. I want people to be disciplined but it is NOT up to me to make that call.I may have to unlike it.

    I guess that we all make bad choices in our lives and that we have to live with the consequences. I have made a bad choice or two in my life, learning to deal with those consequences increased my sense of self, and my understanding of exactly what virtue of character is.

    I only hope that these individuals who displayed such bad judgement and behaviour, realize it as well. Caught or Not.

  • Michael

    I see it differently. I would like to see those who used “poor judgement” and set fire to police cars, broke The Bay’s windows, beat bystanders etc publicly named. I would never hire such a person. I don’t want one acting as an orderly for my mother in her care facility. I don’t want them representing me or my country on a water polo team. I come from a small town where anonymity and safety from repercussions for “poor decisions” did not exist. Fortunately, we are now more connected even in a large city.

  • Michael, I have a few questions for you. Do people change, do you believe they are capable of change? Do they grow, do we learn? Are you the same person we are at 20 or even 30?

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