Cyber mob’s lust is a dangerous game

Cyber vigilantes, sickened celebrities, political opportunists . . . it did not take long for the post-Vancouver riot vacuum to fill with outrage and retribution of biblical proportions.

Cyber vigilantes, sickened celebrities, political opportunists . . . it did not take long for the post-Vancouver riot vacuum to fill with outrage and retribution of biblical proportions.

This week began with prosecutors and police meeting in Vancouver to talk about criminal charges flowing from the Stanley Cup riot. But at time of writing only about a half dozen people had been formally charged despite the fact that many others have turned themselves in to police and “name and blame” websites like identifyrioters.com have photo-IDed countless law breakers.

Most troubling in the riot’s aftermath has been the vengeful intensity of the cyber mob. A case in point is 17-year-old Nathan Kotylak, caught on camera attempting to light a police car on fire. The consequence of his mindless folly has been devastating for his mom and dad who were forced to flee their home after their street address appeared online and cyber threats started.

In a similar vein, a UBC student photographed leaving Black & Lee Tuxedos with loot has been convicted online by one of the university’s righteous donors who is threatening to end his largesse unless she is kicked out of school.

You won’t often find me on the same page with BC Civil Liberties Association spokesman David Eby, but I tend to agree with his assessment that the cyber mob’s lust to expose and punish rioters is a dangerous game.

“When there’s a consensus of public opinion and people are really angry, it’s a time when there’s a strong temptation to cut corners around the criminal justice system or take shortcuts because it seems easier,” he says.

However, Eby’s out of step with many cynical British Columbians when he says “vigilante justice is not preferable to allowing police to do their investigations.”

Sadly, in this context, few buy it — just as few took seriously Premier Christy Clark’s promise to pursue harsh punishments for the rioters. She has not a shred of authority to make good on her outrage and we all know it.

Even though the cops have been pouring over thousands of images of thugs kicking in windows, looting stores and torching police cruisers, we are already being prepared for judicial failure. We are hearing that despite all this evidence, Crown prosecutors are not confident that convictions are assured. Criminal lawyers have been warning the media that pictures and video may not be enough to secure convictions.

And, even if convictions follow in significant numbers, it is hard to put one’s finger on a shred of public confidence that the subsequent court-imposed jail sentences and other punishments will match the gravity of the crimes committed.

Offsetting the revenge of the cyber mob have been uplifting and energizing examples of spontaneous goodwill. Scores of volunteers flooded into the ravaged city core to help with the clean up. Hundreds of citizens, some in tears, wrote notes of encouragement on the “wailing wall” — the sheets of plywood covering broken windows at The Bay.

Vancouver entertainment icon Michael Buble financed a campaign to identify those responsible with advertisements in the city’s newspapers calling for people to identify the rioters.

These good works notwithstanding, we are still left with the depressingly inescapable realization that we have spawned a generation bereft of a sense of accountability. M

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