When I got home from work, I prepared myself for the game, as millions of other Canadians did becuase this was the final big game to prove which team was number one. Hockey is, after all, Canada’s game; our favourite past time as most of us as kids played some form of it at one time or another. In anticipation, I made my dinner early and made sure that I was not going to not be disturbed while watching the game. I did, however, know that the momentum of the Vancouver Canucks was on a downwards roll, so everything was on this final game to decide who was going to take home the cup.
I also knew that Vancouver has a history of rioting after such events, for example, back in the 1994 Stanley Cup play-offs, when the Canucks lost to the New York Rangers, people turned into hooligans then and went on a rioting rampage through the streets causing millions of dollars in damages. But every city has had its share of riots in one form or another. What makes this so embarrassing is that Vancouver was just on the world stage hosting the Olympics, and that seemed to go fairly smoothly with just little hiccups from a few idiots. So what happened to our peaceful attitude?
Some say, from my Twitter stream, that it was from not enough police on the streets, to the police and the city totally under estimating the potential for such violence to occur. Either way, it did, and we now have a huge P.R. problem becuase of it. But could the police have gone further to at least contain last night’s situation?
I argue that, no, the Vancouver Police could not have gone to point that they could have totally stopped the violence and rioting that we seen last night. Controlling that many people would have required something on the order of what we seen in the G20 protests in Toronto several months back, and that would have being very unacceptable both in terms of Vancouver’s image, and the cost to the taxpayers.
What was intriguing was the use of social media that was given to the police, by the public, so that the police could start identifying and using these images, and videos, as evidence in order to prosecute the accused for their acts of hooliganism. So the age old question of private freedoms versus public rights popped up. The terminology that was used by my Twitter friends was the use social media as a form of surveillance in such cases as last night riots to lay charges by the police.
I am in full complete favour for the use of such media as a tool for laying criminal charges and the prosecution of such individuals by the police. My argument is two fold.
First, police already use such tools out in the public sphere for catching and bringing to justice people who are committing a crime. The courts are already equipped with the tools in the justice system to handle the difference between arbitrary issues and the weight that such evidence is placed against the accused. Photographic evidence is very difficult to use in the courts as it is. The photographer literally must be there as a whiteness if the image is in question, but then now you have a whiteness, which is the strongest form of evidence there it in Canadian Courts, testifying against the accused.
Second, as the use of cameras from smart phones and other devices become the mainstay of everyone around the world, so too does the way these tools are used by all parties in cases of criminal events like rioting. Perhaps the court of public opinion is the most serious for seeing the electronic eyes of these events. The the armchair philosopher who is tying to critically analyse these images, this is secondary to the pure entertainment value that the media gives them while these scenes are played repeatedly every hour of the day until the news losses its splendour. You do not go to a major event without your social media device. Protesters use them, police used them, and the value that we give them changes, from recording history making events, to tools for presenting your side of history, from your point of view. So now the question of surveillance rears its ugly head from the use of social media.
Like yourself witnessing a criminal event, the electronic eye’s gaze is also a party to the criminal event, and at a moral level, and under law in our Criminal Code, you do have an obligation to come forth and present what you have seen to the police and court of law. But people seem to have a fear of authoritarian governments, and the use of surveillance over the general public they seem to bring with them. (See the movie, or read the book, 1984 as an excellent example). I believe today that the conditions have being met in Canada that justifies the use of such tools for bringing to justice those who cause such damage during acts of great civil unrest. We have balance in our justice system, and a very strong media and public process system that polices the police.
I strongly request that anyone with images of rioters from last night come forward and share your eyes with the police so that justice can be served. For the few people to created such distasteful acts in our city is unacceptable. There is a moral judgement that each person must make, and it is between the public good versus the private rights that each Canadian holds dearly. I hope I have convinced you to make that choice and move forward with it.