Last week, a 20-year-old man from Surrey received a month in jail for his part in the Stanley Cup riots, which took place just over a year ago, on June 15, 2011.
Many people are hoping this sets a precedent for future sentencing. It should. A one-month term for taking part in a riot, in which millions of dollars in property damage was done, police were assaulted or ignored, 150 were injured and the reputation of the Vancouver area was severely damaged, is light punishment.
However, it is very likely that many of those charged will not receive any punishment. Their cases may well be thrown out of court because of excessive delay, because of the severely plugged nature of the court system. If a case is delayed for 18 months or longer, through no fault of the defence, it is quite likely it will be thrown out when it finally comes to court.
This is completely unacceptable. While it says volumes about the state of the court system, something that few people pay attention to unless they are directly involved, it sends a very bad message to the rioters.
It tells them that they should do all they can to delay and drag things out until they are charged. Above all, they should not plead guilty. They can simply wait for the system to take its course, and almost automatically, many of them will get off scot-free.
The provincial government should set up a temporary court which can solely deal with cases involving the rioters. It should wait a few months until more of them are charged, and then deal with the cases, one by one, in a prompt and efficient manner. Everyone who is charged in connection with the riot should face trial, and do time if found guilty.
If such a temporary court is set up and it proves to work well, the province could then look at using it in some other situations — in places where the courts are plugged with cases, such as Surrey (where Langley cases are heard).
If rioters who did so much damage to the reputation of this enrire area are able to get off without any consequences, because of the backlog of cases in the court system, there is something seriously wrong with our criminal justice system.
No one should be able to get away with taking part in a riot. If they can, we are no longer a civilized society.
The province can do something about this, and it should. It must assert authority over lawlessness.