Police should rethink their decision not to recommend any charges in the case of the unnamed man who urinated on the Komagata Maru memorial at a Coal Harbour park.
The incident—which occurred on December 2 during daylight hours and in front of witnesses, at least one of whom took pictures—provoked outrage from citizens, politicians of all stripes, and the South Asian community.
The man, whom police did not identify in a December 13 emailed news release quoted by various media outlets, was clearly visible in the widely disseminated photos and would, presumably, be readily recognizable.
Yet after police located and spoke to the man—and, according to Sgt. Randy Fincham, told him of the memorial installation’s “cultural significance” and how pissing on it “was inappropriate and insensitive”—they reached the conclusion that the requirements for a criminal charge were not there.
This is puzzling, to say the least.
The man’s behaviour and words to witnesses of South Asian descent, including at least one visitor from India, seemed obviously racist. There can be no doubt about that.
However, even if a charge of committing a hate crime seemed unsupportable to Crown prosecutors (and one could reasonably see wanting to preserve that rare charge for serious crimes involving extensive property damage or serious personal injury or death), there is still Vancouver’s 1989 Health By-Law No. 6580.
Under the provisions of that by-law’s clause 4.21, no one may spit, urinate, or defecate on “any public street, lane, or park”. A fine of up to $2,000 is provided for those who contravene said section.
Why did police or the Crown not proceed with such a relatively light punishment for such a hateful act?
Fincham said that three criteria had to be met for a charge to be laid and that “all three criteria had not been established”.
Did a “criminal offence take place”? Indisputably, observed by witnesses and photographed.
Was there a “substantial likelihood of a conviction”? Of course; see above.
Would it be “in the public interest” to lay a charge? It’s almost insulting to have to respond to that one, but let’s just answer that by asking if it would be in the public interest not to lay a charge? What should anyone, much less members of the South Asian community, think in such circumstances?
The first thought that might occur—and, indeed, undoubtedly has—to many people would be, “Who is that guy related to? A cop, a judge, or a politician?”
Or how about, “So it’s okay not only to piss in public, in daylight, and in front of witnesses, but it’s also okay to do so in as disrespectful and insulting a manner as possible and not expect any repercussions.”
Lock up your churches, people.
In 2009, a drunken British student urinated on a war memorial in Sheffield and outraged an entire country. In court, the judge told Philip Laing that he could be sent to jail but that he and his family had suffered enough because of the nationwide publicity and scorn. He sentenced Laing to 250 hours of community service.
Granted, Vancouver isn’t Sheffield, but we have provisions for punishment, and they have, without explanation, not been utilized.
Recently, a Victoria teen was convicted of distributing child pornography because she texted inappropriate photos of her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend.
That’s a perfect example of using laws to set an example and come down hard on behaviour that needs to be curtailed. The desired effect of basically freaking out an entire generation of social-media users was obtained, even if it was the legal equivalent of using a pile driver to push in a thumbtack.
Back in the 1970s, when Vancouverites flocked south of the border to Blaine, Washington, to drink on Sundays, drunken Canuck revellers were sometimes charged with indecent exposure if caught urinating in public while stumbling between watering holes.
That gave them records as sex offenders upon conviction, and they could be prevented from ever crossing the border again. The locals were outraged by their behaviour, demanded redress, and the problem was solved.
Really, is the type of behaviour exhibited by the unknown male at Coal Harbour any less deserving of public and legal opprobrium?
If there are extenuating circumstances in the Komagata Maru memorial incident—i.e., mental illness or any reason the man was unable to appreciate the seriousness of his actions—they should have been made public in order for justice (or due consideration of same) to be seen to be done.
Not seem to be done.