(This column was published in the North Shore News on May 23, 2001)


Court and jail not the answer to every crime

By Leo Knight

WITH crime running rampant -- well, unless you listen to Statistics Canada -- what West Vancouver police did not need was a one-man crime wave.  


A 32-year-old man named Avery Mah, it seems, stole everything that wasn't nailed down, and even a few things that were.  


In fact on the day he was released from the West Van police station, he even absconded with their monogrammed garbage can from the front of the building.  


Mah first came to police attention a month ago when they raided his home and found a truckload of stolen property. Strange stuff too.  


They found squeegees by the dozen, numbers from the front of houses, even the doormats and garden gnomes from the yards of hundreds of homes. They also found a raft of Paladin Security lawn signs.  


The strange case and bizarre find by West Van police garnered considerable media attention. At the time, police felt Mah had confined his allegedly illegal activities to area homes. But, one shop owner, after seeing Mah on the BCTV News Hour, called in to say he recognized Mah as the guy who stole the handset for his cordless phone.  


Police searching Mah's house remembered seeing a base-less cordless phone.  


As they tracked things back, it began to appear as though Mah was more than a little active in commercial premises as well.  


A search warrant was again conducted on the Mah residence on May 11. West Van police needed a five-ton truck to cart away the suspected stolen swag.  


Everything from clocks on walls to little calculators on counters was recovered.  


Police even seized framed photographs of models from a Richmond photo agency.  


A strange case to be sure.  


Clearly, it would seem than Mah's bizarre peccadilloes would require the involvement of something other than the tender mercies of the justice system, such as it is. Mah's father, the wealthy restaurateur Eugene Mah, seemingly also recognized the problem, hiring high-profile lawyer Bill Smart as his counsel. Yes, that's the same Bill Smart who is involved in the prosecution of former Premier, Glen Clark.  


But even with the most able counsel offered by Mr. Smart, it seems to me the system is ill-equipped to deal with this case.  


Mah's alleged offences, albeit criminal in nature, are really of the nuisance variety. The garden-variety, garden gnome theft, so to speak. The sort of stuff the neighbourhood kids might do as a prank.  


Mah was, I am assured by police, not motivated by profit. He wasn't fencing the pickets.  


So, what does the system do with such an individual?  


He was placed on the usual conditions after his first court appearance, but that doesn't seem to have altered the equation very much. Any sort of conditional sentence will have little effect, likewise probation, even with regular supervision.  


Equally, the police can't simply walk away and let the activity continue unabated.  


Unfortunately, the justice system, which becomes the dumping ground for so many who slip through society's cracks, has no answer for this type of case. While I would not presuppose to judge Avery Mah, it does seem clear that this is no ordinary theft case.  


Common sense would tell us that here is a young man who needs some kind of help, the sort of help not to be found behind prison walls or within the parameters of a court's authority.  


The Mental Health Act only allows for committal if the individual presents a danger to himself or others. Even separating garden gnomes from their adoptive families could not be stretched into a danger. So, what to do?  


Counselling? OK, but how do you enforce the order? And what about the neighbourhood gnomes in the interim?  


West Vancouver police are just as perplexed in the strange case of Avery Mah.





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