Lows and Highs: Vigilante “Justice” for Sex Offenders and Potheads in Vancouver
Warning: This Blog contains Descriptions of Sexual Violence
On April 12th, 2018 at approximately 12:30 p.m. RCMP officers responded to a call about a disturbance taking place at a house in the Vancouver Island region of British Columbia. What they arrived to find was a 28-year-old man being forcibly restrained at the hands of three individuals. The details behind the story are rather bizarre. One of the women involved in the detention was the mother of a 13-year-old daughter. The woman, days earlier, had noticed explicit messages being sent to her daughter’s Instagram account. According to CTV, who interviewed the woman, she was very concerned and tried to deal with the situation by speaking to the police. However, her efforts yielded no police action. According to her “[The police] wouldn’t even look at [her] phone. They just said to block him and forget it.” She has claimed that she waited six weeks for the police to conduct some sort of investigation and identify the sender of the texts. It never happened.1
The woman took matters into her own hands, using her daughter’s Instagram account to pose as her daughter. She messaged the sender of the texts and invited him over to her house.2 Any reader can probably see where this is going. Feeling that the matter had to be stopped one way or another, the woman confronted the man when he arrived at her house and made his way to her daughter’s room. She punched him, and two men – the girl’s father and stepfather – physically restrained and hogtied him. What is more, the incident was live streamed by the woman to her Facebook account. In the video, the woman gives an expletive-laden account of her justification for the restraint: “He come to my house to meet my 13-year-old fucking daughter to fuck her… we fucking tackled him and zap strapped him and called the police.”3
Subsequently, the woman and the two men involved in the restraint were told by the police that they would be detained for assault. The RCMP have explained that the individuals are being investigated for assault and forcible confinement.4
Let us think about the woman’s actions for a moment. Ostensibly, she was extremely concerned and disturbed upon discovering a mysterious man messaging her daughter with explicit themes. Upon speaking to the police, she felt no validation. Perhaps she felt cornered into her actions in order to protect her daughter’s safety. Unfortunately for her, it was subsequently revealed that the police were already investigating the individual in question.
Nonetheless, vigilante actions like the ones undertaken by the woman are extremely problematic. In the case of Ontario (Community Safety and Correctional Services) v Ontario (Information and Privacy Commissioner), the Supreme Court considered the policy reasons behind keeping sex offender registry information confidential. It was held that part of the reason for that choice is that it would help prevent vigilantism.5 And vigilantism, it was held by the Supreme Court, could have the adverse effect of driving sex offenders “underground.”6
While the woman in the case at hand didn’t learn about the victim’s proclivity for illegal conduct with minors via exposed registry information, her actions have exposed a police investigation and, without any due process or opportunity for defence, cast suspicion and the eyes of the public on the victim.
At this point we might ask how appropriate it was for the police to disclose that the man had been under investigation. Likely, they felt pressure to justify not having made any appearance of seriously considering the woman’s complaints, given that the man allegedly ended up accepting an invitation from who he thought was a 13-year-old girl to meet up for sex. While investigation is distinct from sex offender registry information, exposing the nature of an investigation arguably could lead to further vigilante justice against the individual.
Another question that is raised regards the adequacy of police communication with the woman. While it may not have been appropriate to reveal to her the fact that the man was under investigation, some enhanced level of communication that her concern was serious or that it was being dealt with to the best of their abilities may have satisfied her concern enough to prevent her further actions. Of course, it is also possible that the police did not take her concerns seriously at all, although disclosing that the man had been under investigation in the months leading to the event was a sufficient enough intelligent strategic revelation to dispel this thought. Hopefully, they took her complaints seriously.
For a more lighthearted story of vigilante justice that also arises out of British Columbia, consider the following. In Vancouver’s Robson Square, the sale of illegal drugs has been somewhat of a hot topic. The police responded by promising to take action if the illegal sales became problematic by interfering with others’ enjoyment of the space. However, according to news sources, while the sales remain technically illegal, no apparent action is being taken.7
The sales are more or less made in an open “market.” Accordingly, vendors have attracted simple thieves of petty amounts of marijuana. CTV News has obtained one video of a young man, roughly 15 years in age who was grabbed and detained by marijuana vendors, accusing the young man of having stolen their product. One vendor says: “Oh buddy, don’t think you’re going anywhere buddy.” Another asks the young man, “Why would you steal?” The young man responds, “I just really wanted weed.” A bystander subsequently explains “Okay you’re going to get arrested for this buddy. You’re under citizen’s arrest right now.”8
The beauty of pothead logic is that it might, in comical fashion, fail to recognize the pure irony in the fact that the vendors are operating in open defiance of the law themselves by selling drugs in an area where they have no right to do so. I personally feel that this encapsulates the nature of “vigilante” justice quite well. The police are afforded, subject to the common law, the Criminal Code, the Charter, and a number of other Acts, the right to behave in ways that would otherwise be blatant criminal offences in order to foster a crime control purpose. Such actions might involve detaining someone in a public market, or hogtying a sex offender caught redhanded (hogtying might actually be going a bit overboard even for the police). But as soon as a private individual undertakes that conduct, they are acting in a way that society has not granted them authority to act. The problematic implications of such conduct are manifest, as we can see in the examples outlined above. The modern variations of vigilantism are a far cry from visions of a caped crusader ridding the metropolitan city from an existential threat. They lay bare the absurdity of vigilantism in the more common and modern sphere.
1 Balca, Dario. (2018, April 13). Parents Defend Vigilantism Against man Under Investigation for Luring. CTV News Vancouver. Retrieved from https://bc.ctvnews.ca/parents-defend-vigilantism-against-man-under-investigation-for-child-luring-1.3885016
5 Ontario (Community Safety and Correctional Services) v Ontario (Information and Privacy Commissioner), 2014 SCC.
7 McLaughlin, Ross and Hermiston, Sarah. (2019, January 17). Caught on Camera: Vigilante justice at Open Air Pot Market. CTV News Vancouver. Retrieved from https://bc.ctvnews.ca/caught-on-camera-vigilante-justice-at-open-air-pot-market-1.3762342.