Let’s use restorative justice for Stanley Cup rioters

It's an image that was seared into our minds in the weeks following the June 15th Stanley Cup riot. A skinny kid, apparently from Richmond, with his raging warrior-like expression and incongruous designer eyewear and practically new souvenir Canucks t-shirt, and a hockey stick with a broken blade held overhead. Nothing said "spoiled, middle-class jerk" better than that photo.

For weeks last summer we tore ourselves apart wondering how it all happened. How did these young adults from our comfortable suburban neighbourhoods turn into such villians? How is it that so much madness exploded in those few hours, resulting in millions of dollars of damage, and our downtown looking like it had been under siege?

I remain convinced that the overriding reason for the riot happening was the political decision to hold the fan zones, but I'm not about to discuss that here. I'm disappointed that the City of Vancouver continues to press for costly, high risk outdoor parties. As I wrote earlier, I don't think taxpayers need to be on the hook for street parties, and if there should be any resources devoted to a celebration it should be a family-oriented event such as a parade.

On Thursday came yet another public relations stunt from the always media-conscious Vancouver Police Department. After digging up $14,000 from the Vancouver Police Foundation they launched a new poster campaign to try and track down more Stanley Cup rioters. I have a lot of respect for Chief Jim Chu, but pulling the wraps on another set of wanted posters to me is a reminder of how little has been accomplished on this file and how much money we keep wasting. Plastering the region with 70,000 wanted posters hardly does wonders for our self-image either.

There are two very strong sentiments about the June 15th Stanley Cup riot that reoccur with me:

  1. How expensive it all is for you and me, and;
  2. How we'll never learn from our mistakes by hunting down culprits and tying up our courts.

On point number one I don't even have the slightest guess what the policing and legal costs are to date for the riot. Can you imagine what the cost alone would have been to send all those VPD members to Indianapolis to review video materials, because I know I can't. Nine months after the riot and only a relative handful of charges and only a single conviction by a judge, with potentially dozens or hundreds to follow. The cost will be staggering, and for what?

On point number two, there isn't a politician in elected office in this province today who has stood up to suggest that we scrap this process for another one. I doubt there ever will be. But I think it's time we give serious consideration for restorative justice.

Nothing would have given me, or many others, greater satisfaction than to see the hundreds of brutes and show-offs rounded up within days of the riot. Lord knows that every single bad guy or gal who brought pain and suffering to employees and business owners got to kick up their heals and party all summer long. But as we found out more about the perpetrators we learned that many of them were kids with good grades and bright futures, and not many were menaces to society. They brought shame upon themselves and their families, and with the prospect of conviction they also would do serious harm to their own future prospects. Throwing them behind bars sounds like a fitting punishment until you start to add up the social and financial costs for the rest of us.

One of the first voices speaking up for restorative justice after the riot was Evelyn Zellerer, a Kwantlen Polytechnic PhD who was published – to their credit – by Georgia Straight the week following the riot. I confess I never saw her article, Restorative justice would help Vancouver heal after riot, during that intense time. But reading it now I completely agree with many of Zellerer's points (emphasis mine):

Declaring war on rioters is not effective or healthy.

There is another option, one that is more powerful: restorative justice. This is a different framework than criminal justice or vigilante justice. It starts from a different place and asks different questions. Instead of crime being a violation of the law and state, crime is a violation of people and relationships. Instead of requiring authorities to determine legal guilt and impose punishment, justice is a process whereby all parties involved (victims, offenders, community, professionals) come together to understand what truly happened and to collectively resolve how to deal with the aftermath, how to make things right to the greatest extent possible. The focus is on victim needs, offender responsibility, and community building.

I am haunted by the images of victims, like the man who tried to stop rioters only to be beaten unconscious. There are so many ripples of harm caused to innocent people, like those who were locked inside a downtown building while fires burned outside and those hiding in terror while looters ran rampant in the store. I cannot stand the thought of victims just going home, left to pick up the pieces with little or no support and no opportunity to tell their offenders directly what they need to say. I think they have a right to use their own voice in a justice process and to receive support for their healing.

I also cannot stand the thought of all those who rioted having no consequences, ineffective sentences, or filling up our prisons where they will learn more about crime and violence. I want offenders to directly face their victims and their community, understand the full extent of their actions, make amends, and learn some things of value. And we need to find out what is going on in their world and what they need to be non-violent, healthy, contributing citizens. Like it or not, they are a part of our community too. Even if they go to prison, they will return. There is no enemy. It’s only us.

Let me set the record straight: restorative justice is not soft on crime. Think about if you hurt someone: what would be the hardest thing to do? I’m sure it would be to directly face those you harmed and sit alongside your family/peers/community in determining the consequences.

riot-keefe-furlongCreating citizens out of these kids – now there's a thought. The disregard for property and for our city was what was most upsetting about the riots. We forget that the victims still have pain, yet because of politics we never came to terms with what happened on June 15th. Unlike in 1994, the public wasn't given an opportunity to sound off about what happened. Go leave a comment on the Furlong/Keefe riot report website was the best advice we were given. Restorative justice starts to make sense when you read how the riot impacted business owner Francesco Caligiuri:

It's been six months since that sound flooded Caligiuri's family-owned Italian restaurant in downtown Vancouver. Half a year since he and his family used dining room tables to barricade themselves inside as a chaotic mass of jersey-clad Canucks fans hurled rocks, bottles, garbage, and anything else they could find at his restaurant.

The broken windows have long since been cleaned up, but someone — a hurried server, a clumsy customer — ends up dropping a dish at Da Gino Ristorante Italiano just about every day.

"It's always going to trigger that bad memory," says Caligiuri, sitting at a table near where he took cover the night the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup final in June.

"It's a wine glass, something that happens at a restaurant every day, or a plate breaks, and I'm like, 'What's happening?"'

Recently I came across an article published in UBC's alumni publication Trek that interviewed Professor Frank Tester on his views about restorative justice and the riot.

UBC social work professor Frank Tester favours restorative justice over the adversarial legal system, with its complex definitions and argumentative style. Not only would the riot’s massive scale clog the conventional court system for years, but any underlying issues would also go unaddressed. “We won’t have learned much. The rioters won’t have learned much – if anything,” says Tester. “Some young people could have their lives ruined by having a record. Then we will pick up the social costs for the decades they are unemployed and frustrated in their lives and relationships. What kind of justice is that?”

Offenders and the people impacted by their crime communicate directly, something Tester says can be a powerful and healing experience for victims. He stresses that the process does not let offenders off the hook; confronting the consequences of their actions and facing their victims is difficult and intense. “I have seen offenders break down and, for the first time in their lives, come to grips with their own history, behaviour and what they have done to others. This is anything but soft justice. It is a very tough experience to go through.” Offenders also have to make amends in a way deemed appropriate by the community. “The idea is to restore the person to his or her community,” says Tester. “The idea is to heal wounds, not leave them open and festering. The idea is to have people better understand their own behaviour and gain insight into the circumstances that contributed to it. Through restorative justice, people learn something.”

So what does the public think? Surely the public appetite is to be tough on crime, lock the buggers up and all that. But maybe not.

An online poll taken by News1130 last December although unscientific showed that the majority of survey respondents (58%) approved of restorative justice for dealing with the rioters. Perhaps the public is willing to listen to an idea that will have the best outcomes for the victims, like Blenz coffee shop franchisee Minnie Dun, who lost everything that night and has been rebuilding ever since.

During these increasingly tough economic times we need to be more creative with public money. Traditional justice for the rioters is pouring tax dollars down the drain while providing no solace for victims. What, dear reader, do you think?

– post by Mike

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About The Author

  • Patti Bacchus

    Actually, this politician in elected office did suggest a restorative justice approach. http://www.vancourier.com/Vancouver+School+Board+chair+notes+vulnerable+rioters/4977473/story.html

    • Like Zellerer’s piece I missed your comments during that first bewildering week. I particularly like this comment:

      “The painted faces and hockey itself—it’s aggressive, they celebrate the brawling on ice, it’s winning, it’s dominance. If kids are all watching a UFC game and cheering someone for bloodying up someone else’s face, how big a leap is that from cheering on someone smashing a window?”

      What do you think of City Hall’s insistence that we hold more downtown outdoor parties for young crowds during this year’s playoffs, Patti?

    • Thank you Patti for speaking publicly as a trustee in support of restorative justice! Like Mike, I also missed your piece with so much going on in the wake of the riots. I’m thrilled our voices are coming forth again as we continue to reflect and choose.

    • Thought of The Evening

      ” Patti, now let’s say that again, cutting out the arrogance, and not in the third person, without grandstanding in office, and humbler… cause you didn’t paint the Sistine Chapel, invented Insulin, or caught Kony, dear… LOL! ‘Actually, I suggested a restorative justice approach, just like many others, as well’ aaand… (insert link)! ‘

      See? It didn’t hurt your new acquired Vision Ego, not one bit.


      Not an orphan anymore!

      On the “restorative justice”… WTF?
      I didn’t expect the “justice” system to come up with anything less but a joke but… diffusing responsibilities, dissolving guilt, and paying backwards sounds more like a new form of psycho-therapy, what do I know, right?
      Good to be a shrink!

      Basically, some people are in favor of victimizing, the victims… twice.
      For the sake of their skewed rhetoric. Wow!

      If you wanted ‘forgiveness’ as an end deliverable, I have just the thing, it’s called “Join a choir, stay in school, get a job!”

      Maybe that’s how Ballem, Robertson and Chu got away with it, they first applied “restorative justice” on their own incompetence.
      News are good, they are all feeling much better now!

      We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

      • Higgins

        Glissy my man… you never fail to amaze me with your astuteness. I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy! 🙂
        That, was golden! You perfectly put in words what Mike Klassen… couldn’t, ahem, as he is the impartial webmaster you know… ha, ha.
        Patti Bacchus… touche!

        I accolade what others have said: RJ works on small groups, at individual levels… maybe, however I am not buying it yet, but for large groups of delinquents like Robertson’s Riot one? Not a chance !

    • Ned

      “Actually, this politician in elected office did suggest a restorative justice approach. ”
      Ouch, girl, you have some attitude there!
      Glissando, gave you the right suggestion, for the future!
      And to the topic: “restorative justice” = euphemism for “we are to lazy and bored to deliver the ‘real justice”

  • Thank you so much Mike for adding your voice and contributing common sense, reason and insight! Yes the costs are absolutely enormous, in more ways than one. I too am disappointed in our politicians and authorities who would not consider an alternative to retribution.

    I was delighted you mentioned my article, thanks! My follow-up thoughts after Ryan’s sentencing (also published by Georgia Straight):

  • Jim Fraser

    Without stiff collateral punishment your proposal is insufficient, both for the satisfaction of the victims society in general, and for deterrence. “Restorative Justice” sounds great, but try to program it. It bogs down in discussions about rights and theories, and emerges with a sympathetic lack of bite. Witness the restorative justice fiasco in Britain last year in which part of the process was to compel a young car thief to apologize in writing. The letter the victim received castigated him for being “f*$&# stupid” for leaving his car in a place where auto theft was common, and included a frank admission by the offender that he wasn’t sorry at all and didn’t know why he had to write a dumb letter to a dumb car owner. Etc.. In order to make any impression, we have to make the offender feel like doing it again would be a very bad idea. The kid in the photo is having a ball, and without deterrent punishment he wouldn’t mind doing it again — he would just avoid the cameras next time.

    • I defer to your experience in the legal system, Jim. And I agree with you that in Canada RJ has the potential to turn into a farce. Of course, those who were not first time offenders would get a hard look from traditional justice. But I can’t defend the massive legal costs associated with the riot that will only benefit those in the system, lawyers, police, etc.

      Let’s have a real discussion about what RJ looks like before we rule it out.

  • As someone who works in the field of restorative justice, I have seen, first-hand, the healing potential of the process… those who cause harm are meaningfully held accountable and victims voices are heard. The Furlong report includes recommendations for restorative justice yet we have yet to see any cases proceed this way. Thank you for the thoughtful article, Mr. Klassen.

  • I think it makes sense for restorative justice to be a component of the justice process concerning the riots (and in general) but within a traditional framework. Why not pursue justice in the usual way but include as part of a rioter’s sentencing (along with prison) that they’re to participate in these types of group sessions with those victims who might want this? I don’t feel that victims having a voice and criminals learning the full impact of their actions need to be exclusive of a prison sentence.

    While it seems that crimes can be constructively discussed and learned from by criminal and victim alike, I don’t think we should get too new-agey about restorative justice. People in general can easily imagine that having to face someone they’ve committed a crime against and having dialogue with them about it would be really difficult rather than being “soft justice” but frankly this is because most people in general are nice. We would also in general find it really difficult to smash through a department store or beat good samaritans or set police cars on fire. It’s this very care for the effects of the harm that we might cause to others that keeps the vast majority of people from committing crimes, but our justice system is typically dealing with those people for whom these pangs of conscience least apply, thus their criminal behaviour. I won’t presume that this frame of mind is entirely their fault or unrelated to their upbringing and surroundings etc I’m just pointing out the lower likelihood of this working on criminals as a whole.

    As devastating as it would be to be the victim of rioters, it would again be very painful for a victim to think that a person caught for this crime (against the odds) was only compelled to participate in a kind of group therapy they might not even care about instead of actually being punished. Why not try both potential solutions together?

  • GB

    Years ago I was a member of a municipal Youth Services Board that employed the RJ concept with much success. However, I’m not sure how it would work with such a large group as with the Stanley Cup rioters. Maybe that could have been on offer for those who came forward?

    I also think there were a range of offenders. Those who came downtown, already drunk, armed with bricks, are in a different category for me than those who got caught up in the melee as with the young ‘jerk’ in the photo. And those who beat the man who tried to stop the vandalism are deserving of a higher level of charges. One size does not fit all.

  • Mira

    Restorative Justice does not work on “mass crime” it’s like saying you want to make all the bad guys turn good by writing apology letters. It doesn’t work and the people in charge of managing this mess know it, but the money OR billing per hour, and the exposure is too good to pass. Funny.
    Just like Patti Bacchus’s little note above referencing to herself as an elected politician in office… no comments to that LOL!

  • Pretty obvious Bacchus was referencing a line from Klassen’s article (if you actually read the article). The hypocrisy of castigating someone for referring to themselves in the third person–which makes sense in context of the original article and the remark, from behind a made-up name designed to obscure one’s identity however, is good for a LOL.

    • Thought of The Night

      “From the Modesty Vault of Chris Keam… comes the newest pearls.”

      Ok, so?
      If a woman needs to say she’s a Lady… she’s not!
      If a man needs to say he’s a Gentleman… he’s not!

      Mike, myself and many others, missed Bacchus’s “recommendation” because in all fairness, not too many are reading her glorious “writings”!

      And just between me, you and Sigmund Freud we all want to have a write-out armistice.

      “Actually, this Writer in a selected mood did suggest a restorative pedaling approach”
      (see how silly it sounds?)



      “Glissando Remmy // Oct 20, 2011 at 11:27 am
      Oh, Chris #109
      I see a Ballad for the Copenhagen Biker coming…
      I can’t get past the title though, and I’m in a hurry, help me out, pedal with me…

      And Here:


      Glissando Remmy // Feb 8, 2012 at 12:53 pm
      “However, I have to remind you one thing.
      I’m not attending a popularity contest.
      I am not in competition with others for name recognition.
      I do not pursue monetary compensation.
      I am not trying to take over a piece of the market place pie.
      I am not shamelessly aiming for photo-ops, TV flashes, or ink in the papers. (the likes of Robertson and gang)

      You are picking sabres or pistols with me all over the blogosphere, CK.
      So give it a break!
      This would be my last duel…!


      We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • Max

    When you have folks like Harsha Waila from No One is llegal telling folks that property crime is ‘nothing’, no doubt you are going to have some that take it to heart.

    Here is a bit of an eye-opener for those that want to learn how interwined certain groups, including political, are (note Libby Davies sitting in on this rant)


  • KS

    Great article by Mr. Klassen. These university students already suffered a lot by losing their jobs and getting their videos and photos posted every where .
    Restorative soft justice is the way to go.Lots and lots of community work and some monetary compensations to make up for the damage is the way to go in my opinion. We should not be ruining their lives by throwing them in jail. We need our youth to shine for the sake of Vancouver’s bright future.
    I also agree with GB at the same time. People who came prepared definitely deserve a higher level of charges.

  • Shannon Lee Mannion

    And where do we go with what happened in London, ON on the weekend when St. Patrick Day festivities got out-of-hand? Eleven people were arrested.

    • Good question. Looks like the same situation. Drunk youth. Politicians threatening retribution. They should set up and RJ process right away.