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:
- How expensive it all is for you and me, and;
- 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.
Creating 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