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“My team lost – let’s destroy the city!” – How Vancouver’s crowd-sourced vigilante justice might end the deplorable Sports Riot

July 1, 2011

A few weeks ago, the Vancouver Canucks, until recently a perennial underachiever in the National Hockey League, came so close to the Stanley Cup that they could almost smell the Old Style residue. Fans of the ‘Nucks were, as you may have heard, not pleased with this occurrence. So your team tears through the league, led by some of the most dynamic young stars in hockey, all the way to the finals, only to lose – how do you react? By destroying your home the neighboring city, of course! Ironically[i], the actions of not-just-a-few rowdy miscreants may have ransacked more than one of the most beautiful cities in the Western Hemisphere (not to mention the Canadian west-coast’s image as a mellow, free-living paradise). The endgame from the ubiquitous camera-phones, low-cost hard-drive space, and the near-universal desire to capture live moments with said items may have ended the era of the post-game riot.

According to Peter Beaumont of Mark Kermode’s favorite newspaper, The Guardian, many perpetrators of senseless destruction have discovered that their antics have been captured by the camera eye, and posted on a multitude (or, as when spoken of hockey fans, a “mulletitude”) of social networking sites, including the “aggregator” Every new day results in a new group of yayhoos getting identified and publically humiliated, potentially doing to their employment prospects what they did to the downtown’s windows. Vision Vancouver’s exemplary team of public servants, particularly Mayor Gregor Robinson, have asked for assistance from the city’s residents in aiding law enforcement’s efforts to identify and apprehend the alleged bashers. As you would figure, this endeavour has not been without controversy. Several individuals, including a potential member of the Canadian Water Polo entry in the 2012 Olympics whom has become the target of campaigns aiming for his removal from any consideration for the squad, have basically been tried in the court of public opinion before any actual justice proceedings have commenced. Begging the question, are we sure these photographs and videos are an accurate depiction of what actually occurred?

In some examples, the answer is fairly obvious. When the rioters are basically staring into the cameras as they commit their ridiculosity, it doesn’t exactly take Lester Freamon and Jimmy McNulty to close the case. But what about more ambiguous visual evidence (and incorrectly-identified victims having their names plastered all over the internet)? “Mob justice” and “fact-checking” are rarely found in the same solar system, let alone the same sentence. How do we prevent the wrongly-accused from becoming collateral damage?

Viewing this incident through the lens of a culture so submissive to voluntary surveillance, we are faced by far more questions than answers. Here are a few items that need to be explored in more detail:

1. Canadians are obviously not as tuned-in to American culture as I once thought. While more the realm of the political then the celebrity, American elected officials have constantly reminded us that it is usually not a good idea to commit an act of idiocy when a camera is pointed at you. Who is stupid enough to break one law (stealing a newspaper box), smile at the camera-toting hordes, then break another law (throwing the box through the window, only to have it bounce back), taking one more gander at said horde, then repeating Step 2, until all glass is gone? This hoser.

2. Will a highly-public series of arrests emanating from these videos actually serve to place fear in the “minds” of potential perpetrators? I’d love to think so, but this is an era where people commit violent acts, then post the video for the world to see. Whomever invented Canada’s incarnation of the Fifth Amendment would be slapping their forehead in confusion if they heard about our willingness to basically say “WATCH ME AS I INCRIMINATE MYSELF!”

3. Where are the clear heads saying “Hey, maybe we should get outta here?” Outside of this example, it does not appear that the mess of out-of-town rowdies that converged in Vancouver believed it to be the tragically-hip thing to do.

[i] My definition of “irony” is inaccurate? Hey, I learned the term from Alanis Morissette, who is…Canadian! Isn’t that…

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