Posts tagged criminal law

Charges laid against apologetic UBC student in Stanley Cup riot

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The Globe and Mail reported this week that the Crown has approved charges (VPD) to be laid by the Vancouver Police Department against a UBC student, Camille Cacnio, who appeared from video footage and from an apparent confession to have participated in the Stanley Cup riot early this past summer. 

Cacnio was caught on camera during the riot and her misdeeds were profiled in many of the name n’ shame website and social media chatter that cropped up with vigilante vengeance shortly thereafter.   She ultimately responded by purportedly posting a half-apologetic, half-accusatory confession online. 

Cacnio is not the first University of British Columbia (UBC) student (The Ubyssey) to be charged in connection with the riot, and she will probably not be the last.  Despite getting some heat from donors and members of the public, UBC has been steadfast in affirming that it is not the university’s place to discipline students like Cacnio.  According to Randy Schmidt, associate director of UBC Public Affairs, as reported in The Ubyssey:

While the university believes all persons involved should be called upon to account for their behaviour, it does not believe the student discipline system at the university is the appropriate forum to do so… The system of student discipline at the university is meant to address offences specifically committed against members and property of the university community.

This is the correct approach, for many reasons.  Here is more information on this issue (University Affairs). 

Similar pressure was applied to UBC over the past couple of years in relation to Sasan Ansari (Vancouver Sun), a West Vancouver man who stabbed a friend to death outside the Hollyburn Country Club in November 2008.  The court considered Ansari to have committed the killing while in a “dissociative state”.  He was released on parole last January and returned to taking courses at the UBC law faculty this past September.

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How educational institutions should respond to the riot

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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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The power and perils of social media

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Everything we use or consume regularly has an incredibly powerful impact on our lives.  Some of these things we simply take for granted or see as essential, which lets them form part of the framework of daily living rather than be appreciated as accessories or novelties (e.g. coffee, email, cell–phones, etc.).  These things either have significance each time they sit in front of us or in our hands, as the case may be, but at the very least they impose a cumulative consequence on our bodies and our identities.  Quietly, they carry out a revolution.

We constantly remind ourselves of the advantages that come from these items.  Smartphones let us work from anywhere.  Coffee keeps us alert even though our kids took turns waking up their parents all night.  And so on.  But, occasionally, events occur that make us pause to consider their larger impact, including the harm they may be causing us. Email makes it easier to keep in touch with family, but have we lost something by speaking to them less?  Does facebook let us have more “friends” but fewer meaningful relationships that can be relied on to add substance to our lives?  Does the internet give us access to more information but make it more difficult to learn and retain new knowledge?  Does coffee make us more productive but less relaxed?  What exactly are we losing in exchange for what we’ve gained?

The rates of use of social media, like facebook, are astounding, particularly among children.  These sites have imposed a fundamentally unique social context to their upbringings, which is entirely different from what their parents and grandparents had to deal with.  Here are some of the hallmarks of this new reality:

  • Personal branding has become a major concern and, more significantly, requires a considerable logistical investment.  Your image isn’t confined to the clothes you wear on a given day, what you say in class or, generally, what you do.  How others see you is largely determined by how you appear on the virtual playground – that is, your status updates, your wall, etc. and the other personalized bells and whistles on social media sites.  These sites hand each child a megaphone to project themselves, and because of social pressures they can’t use it in a neutral way.
  • Images are everywhere and are easily reproduced and transmitted.  I remember the worst thing a friend could do was record a conversation without telling you and catch you saying embarrassing things.  Now at any moment anyone can take a picture of you and have a copy of it in front of hundreds of your classmates and friends in a matter of seconds.

It’s obvious that these raise social, and perhaps psychological, questions about the effects of these factors on children.  But they also raise legal questions.  Widespread social phenomona like this one can create a legal reality that should be addressed. 

What sparked this concern in me this week was news over the weekend about a gang rape in Pitt Meadows last Saturday night, photos of which were posted on facebook.  Here is an excerpt from a report by the Vancouver Sun:

[A] 16-year-old boy was arrested on Tuesday for photographing the assault and uploading the photos to Facebook. He is expected to face charges of distributing child pornography but those charges have not yet been laid. Photographs of the girl’s assault were shared on Facebook and are “spreading like wildfire” on the Internet according to police.

At a news conference in Maple Ridge on Friday, Lench said police have been in touch with Facebook about keeping the photos off its system and are also working with the Ministry of Education to prevent the spreading of the photos on school computers.

 Lench said police believe the message is getting out that possession of the photos is a crime — possession of child pornography — and parents are pressuring their kids to stop sending the photos around.

I am not arguing that facebook is the cause of gang rape or anything like that, but it is definitely a tool that has been used in this instance to facilitate a crime.  Here is another article in the Sun discussing the challenges being faced by police to prevent re-victimization by distribution of the photos. 
 
Janet Steffenhagen of the Vancouver Sun reported on her blog this morning that Vancouver trustee Mike Lombardi has urged schools to teach students about the proper use of social media:
One of the initial reactions of the educational community was to pretend social media doesn’t exist and ignore it,” Lombardi said. “Schools can’t do that any more.”
The issues surrounding this event should be studied from a legal perspective, not simply social or psychological ones, to determine what role, if any, can be played by the law.  Encouraging a policy on social media in schools, as Lombardi suggests, is one step forward, but we will need to continue to seek innovative measures to address this.
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