mob rule

There is a belief that anonymity is hurting youth justice more than it helps. We're not so sure.

There is a belief that anonymity is hurting youth justice more than it helps.

We’re not so sure.

This weekend, a couple of young people set fire to the Canada Games Centre, crippling the community facility.

Society is barred from identifying the kids. Police can’t give even the haziest details – not even the age or sex of the fire starters.

After being charged with arson, they have been discretely handed back to their parents.

And life goes on.

The cleanup and repair has begun, and, sometime in the future, skaters will, once again, lace up their skates.

Sometime farther down the line, there will be a trial.

Now, there are plenty of people in this community who want these kids publicly identified right now.

They want them to pay, in common parlance, “big time.”

They want the youth and parents shamed.

They want revenge – something ranging from a public caning, in the angriest, most irrational minds, to forcing the perps to publicly apologize and spend their summer scrubbing the soot from the concrete rink.

And there are plenty who would agree with some moderate penalty.

But our justice system doesn’t work that way. And that’s a good thing.

In doing so, it soothes the mob anger.

Don’t kid yourself, if people knew who these kids were, the situation would change quickly, depending on who they were.

Would it be just? Probably not.

The hostility would lessen if they were sympathetic characters. And it would worsen, if they weren’t.

And who would this serve?

Should the penalty be more severe if the kids were known vagrants from a broken home? Or if they were decorated athletes with wealthy parents?

In the face of the anonymity clause, a lot of people are making assumptions. They should, in the face of this ignorance, question their assumptions.

For example, there are many who believe the parents should be held accountable. That these parents were negligent. Were they? Maybe, but maybe not. Maybe they were devoted, responsible people with a couple of addled teens. Society simply doesn’t know at the moment.

So the smug folk among us should think carefully.

Do they know where their kids are all the time?

Are their hormone-crazed teens always rational?

Do they ever make stupid mistakes? Do they sometimes experiment in reckless ways? Could these things ever go wrong, with tragic consequences?

They may be miscreants. But they may also be otherwise decent kids.

Both sorts will, for example, occasionally set bonfires in dry woods. Both will, sometimes, drink and drive. Because the drink usually obliterates rational thought.

Identifying these kids would satisfy the community – their curiosity and anger. But would it improve justice?

It’s a tough call. But, it seems to pander more to the mob than to the rational among us. And, if that’s the case, our vote tilts towards anonymity.

This is not to make excuses for the pair who played with fire and torched our wonderful communal facility.

It’s hard to imagine how that happened. Like most, we’re intensely curious.

But the coming trial will get to the bottom of the event.

In prosecuting the arson, lawyers and judges will consider the provable facts, who these kids are and what they’ve done in the past.

They will consider hundreds of years of similar incidents, and decide, rationally, exactly where this one fits. They will decide how the kids will be dealt with.

In the haze of anonymity and without facts of any kind, the mob mind simplifies the event – it was destructive and there should be retribution.

This is understandable. But there’s a big difference between giving in to blind rage and ceding responsibility for justice to people with cooler, rational minds.

After all, the mob may want a caning. But how does this crime compare to a sexual assault? Or a drunk driver killing a family of five?

Or a similar event that killed 30 in an apartment fire?

In meting out justice, society must consider the past. It must consider events in a wider context.

People often assume they are above reproach. Parents are often the most blind when it comes to their kids.

Until the cop shows up at your door.

When that happens, you’ll appreciate the Youth Criminal Justice Act anonymity provisions.

You’ll appreciate the justice system.

In short, you’ll be thankful it’s the cop, not the mob at the door.