Reacting to the riots in the UK and Vancouver

by Rebecca Connop Price

RIOTS were a huge talking point last summer. Although we saw inspirational images of people rising up against tyranny in Africa and the Middle East, we also saw – in Vancouver and England – people perpetrating mindless acts of vandalism and violence for no discernible reason. In the aftermath of those horrible riots, I think it’s interesting to compare Vancouver’s response with that of the UK.

Consider this: The first rioters from Vancouver’s Stanley Cup disorder are only beginning to hear what they will face as punishment. Ryan Dickinson, from Surrey, B.C., was the first to be sentenced, eight months after the riots. He was given a 16-month jail sentence for among other things, throwing a newspaper box at a car. But some people are speculating that many of the other rioters will get off lightly.

From what has been written about prosecutions in Canada and the UK, it does appear that treatment of rioters and alleged rioters has been very different. In the UK, many of the perpetrators were dealt with in magistrates’ courts only hours or days after the violence and disorder of August last year. The wounds after the riots were still very raw.

“It was only meant to be a joke – a wind up.” The words of Jamie Counsel, a 25-year-old from Roath, Cardiff, who was locked up for four years for inciting riots in Cardiff and Swansea – even though the riots never happened. He is interviewed in a Sunday Times Magazine piece which is, sadly, behind a paywall.

Award-winning journalist David James Smith visited Jamie at HMP Parc in Bridgend. Jamie’s crime was to set up a Facebook group called “Bring the riots to Cardiff” which was later changed to “Bring the riots to Swansea”. He included a date, time and location in the group – but crucially, he never turned up, and there were never any riots. Jamie’s sentencing in November was, according to the judge, meant to be a warning to others that using social media to incite riots would not be tolerated.

Smith also interviewed 18-year-old Ricky Gemmell, from Levenshulme, Manchester, who was sentenced to 16 weeks in custody for using “threatening and abusive words or behaviour” towards a police officer. According to Ricky, he was trying to leave the area when he was blocked by police officers. He said one officer called him a cunt and pushed him. After getting angry and calling the officer a “dickhead”, Ricky says he was arrested and thrown into the back of a police van.

Ricky believes he was the first person to be arrested in Manchester, at 7.45pm, and the first person to be sentenced the following morning. One of the best quotes from the interview was Ricky saying: “I was put on a wing with a rapist and a couple of murderers. I thought, ‘that’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?” (It should be noted, however, that the Manchester Evening News reported the prosecution in the case said Ricky had been “confrontational” and had told officers “I’d smash you if you took your uniform off”).

Looking at these cases in particular, it does seem that some people were treated, as Ricky says, rather “harshly”. I will be watching the court cases in Vancouver with interest to see if there are any cases similar to the English ones, or whether the passage of time will lead to more considered punishments, or indeed, if some people will “get off lightly” as Province columnist Michael Smyth fears.

The England riots, were, by all accounts, much bigger, as these Guardian facts point out. In total, nearly 3,000 were arrested. In Vancouver, 101 were arrested on the night of June 15-16, with more arrested later. The latest reports say there have been 125 arrests. However, police continue to look at photographic evidence, and more arrests could be on the way.

Still, looking at those stats, it’s surprising that all the English cases were dealt with much more quickly.

This piece first appeared at rebeccaconnopprice.com

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