A week after the Stanley Cup game seven loss and the riot that followed, Vancouverites are thinking less about how our boys in blue were thumped by the Bruins and more about how our cityscape was bruised by the rioters.  In terms of our pride as a city, the game pulled the rug out from under us, but the riot flat out beat us senseless, prompting the inevitable soul-searching and finger-pointing that happens when any group is shocked by the depravity of some of its members.

The most interesting thing about the past week (and to think, it’s only been a week) was not the violence itself, the response from the police or city officials or the identities of the rioters.  Far and away, it has been the role of social media and, particularly, how the prevalence of cameras (primarily on cellphones) mixed with the unrestrained ability for anyone to reproduce pictures and videos at little or no cost has produced severe, and often legal, consequences for anyone mixed up in the riot.  (Paradoxically, as Kent-Daniel Glowinsky pointed out in yesterday’s Vancouver Sun, in the age of Facebook often the most damning evidence is offered up by the law-breakers themselves, foolishly unaware that they are signing their own criminal confessions.)

The most prominent example of those that have been crucified by social media is Nathan Kotylak (Globe and Mail), the 17 year-old water polo star from Maple Ridge who was caught on camera during the riot trying to blow up a police car.  Kotylak has apologized profusely.  The implications for him and his family have been dire: they have had to leave their home because of threats, and his father – a surgeon – has had his professional reputation tarnished.  Kotylak is just finished grade 12 at Meadowridge High School, though he did not attend his graduation ceremony (the Province).  He was suspended from Canada’s junior water polo squad and it’s unlikely his school has taken any steps in response.

Another student spotlighted by the media is Camille Cacnio (the Ubyssey), a biology student at the University of British Columbia.  She has not gone to the same extent as Kotylak to publicize her apology and regret (though, arguably, the crime she committed was not as obscene and she may simply have not been as appealing to news agencies), but similar issues will be plaguing her, perhaps even more so because of the racial element in much of the online chatter about her.  UBC officials have said pretty definitely that since the riot did not happen at UBC and there was no material connection to UBC, they will not be getting involved.

Employers (Vancouver Sun) have an important decision to make about how to treat employees involved with the riot.  A person who commits a crime should not necessarily be fired from their job unless there is some significant connection between the crime and the job or unless that sort of thing is covered by their employment agreement.  The decision for education institutions is far more complex: should they take any steps against students who participated in the riot?

There are a couple of factors to consider:

  1. Teenagers vs. Adult.  High schools should approach the riot differently than universities should.  Nowadays, a teenagers caught committing a crime during a highly publicized event will likely be getting it from all sides: their family and friends will probably be furious with them and feel the effects themselves; the riot will probably show whenever their name is googled for the next decade or so (unless they happen to do something even more noteworthy, good or bad);  they will have to explain themselves and apologize at interviews, etc. until they are old enough to have their own kids in high school… the list goes on.  University students will probably go through the same, with even greater concern for their professional opportunities, but the chatter will likely affect teenagers in a more acute way because their identities and self-esteem may be more brittle.  High schools are probably best served by using the riot as an educational opportunity, and they should keep in mind that the reactions (or over-reactions, as the case may be) to a crime can be more damaging than the crime itself.  Of course, if they think it’s appropriate to take disciplinary steps against a student, they should keep in mind the legal implications of doing that.
  2. The Campus Connection.  UBC officials hit the nail on the head by emphasizing that offenders are being pursued, students and non-students alike, and since there appears to be no material campus connection there is nothing that the university itself should do.  Educational institutions are not parents.  A student has many identities, and in this case the fact that a rioter also took classes at a certain school may be incidental to what happened.   Schools and universities are concerned, but it’s not their problem any more than it is the problem of other local institutions and businesses.   Students can get arrested or have criminal records, but as long as it is unrelated to their role as a student there is generally no need for the school to intervene.   The question may get more complex if unique facts are involved, such as if university property located downtown (I am thinking of buildings belonging to UBC or Simon Fraser University) was damaged during the riot by students of those universities or if one student hurt another, and so on.

Teachers or professors rioting is a whole other ballgame, and in that case the factors to consider are more employment-related than anything else.

There are many lessons, legal and otherwise, that we can all take from the riot depending on our roles in society and our connection to the city.  Above all, it’s not only about the law.  What will prevent the next riot from happening, and accomplish the most to address the fallout from this one, will come from our internal sense of community or parental obligations and how they should be applied in these and similar circumstances.

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