Prime Time Crime


(Prime Time Crime July 16, 2008)


Vigilantism at Its Finest


   By Sandra Martins-Toner

With Canadians faith in the Justice System at an all time low, we can only surmise the pending doom that lurks around the corner. We are currently seeing a growing trend of those ready to arm themselves to try and keep themselves and their families safe. I was recently contacted by a member of F.A.C.T. who did just this.

To protect his identity I will refer to him as Jay, as we are awaiting the pending charges to be imposed. Jay was a victim of a violent assault by Youths who swarmed him in 2006.  Jay was beaten so badly with a car antenna that his fillings fell out of his teeth. He suffered numerous injuries from the attack leaving him unable to work and support his family. The emotional and physical abuse this assault caused him and his family have left them terribly scarred and terrified.

We worked with the family through the entire court and trial proceedings hoping for the best, but preparing them for the worst. Five people were charged. One youth, who cannot be named because he was 17 at the time, was sentenced to six months in prison for assault causing bodily harm. Another person pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing, while three youths were acquitted. The family, disillusioned by the Criminal Justice System suffered in silence.

This family has since turned their home into a fortress in hopes of protecting themselves. They have installed surveillance cameras to monitor the outside of their home, and have armed themselves with bear spray.  Then on July 10, 2008 everything came crashing in around them. Jay heard a commotion down the street and noticed a vehicle with its headlights turned off and sparks coming out from underneath it.  Some youths had decided to drive down the street crashing into the garbage cans only to have one lodged underneath the vehicle. Jay jumped into his truck and drove over to try and get the license plate number and also made a note of the house they stopped at to report the incident.

Jay returned home only to see on his surveillance monitor that these exact same youths were vandalizing his vehicle, not even an hour since their last act of vandalism. Jay grabbed a machete and a can of bear spray and confronted the youths in his driveway. The youths fled and Jay took after them in his truck following them to the exact house they were stopped at earlier. 10 youths came out of the house and came at him, and at that moment he unleashed his can of Bear Spray at the youths. When the police arrived Jay was called the aggressor and may be charged with assault with a weapon.

Was he wrong to do this? What would you have done in this situation? We also have to take into account the failure on the criminal courts part to punish these individuals in Jay’s first assault, and the fact that he has no faith in the system from the police to the Crown Prosecutors. I have had a chance to do my own poll on this case, and have found that 95% of those that responded stated that they supported Jay, and felt he should be cut some slack for his actions. They also stated that had they been placed in this same situation they to would have taken matters into their own hands.

Could this be a sign of things to come? Have we reached a point as Canadian citizens that we are ready to lobby for the right to use firearms in our home to protect our families? Will we begin to carry side arms on the streets in case we are attacked? I have had the chance to speak to a retired Detective for the Vancouver Police who states that this is the only way one can protect them self from being another statistic. He also stated that the rights of the victim ALWAYS come ahead of the criminal, but this is not the position taken by the courts of British Columbia.

You have to ask why? Just who does the court represent, and, why?  How can we have faith in our courts to put those who commit such horrific crimes behind bars, when all we currently see is the release of these chronic offenders back into our streets and communities?

These are all things I have asked myself since learning about this matter? The law states that a person can defend themselves from assault or imminent attack, and use as much force as is reasonably necessary to do this. Would Jay’s use of bear spray, against multiple attackers in an assault not meet this standard?  Police officers routinely deploy the same level (or greater) of force for the same reason.  Should private citizens be expected to willingly submit to becoming victims?

In response to recent assaults on citizens in or near Skytrain stations, a Translink spokesperson stated that the public must take responsibility for their own safety, that the transit authority cannot be expected to protect them in all situations. This is in fact, exactly what is happening. Many people, youth in particular, have now armed themselves out of fear for their safety. Police are reporting record numbers of weapons being seized from students in schools. Their stated reason for carrying these weapons – fear for personal safety.

We, as citizens long ago agreed to surrender the responsibility for punishing wrongdoers to the lawful authorities. It’s a “social contract”, to quote a friend of mine. They (the government) agree to enforce laws and punish offenders; we (the public) agree not to form lynch mobs and mete out “street justice”. The problem we now face is the social contract has been broken. The general public has lost confidence in the government to do its job, and the mobs are starting to form.

Cases like Jay’s cannot be seen as just one man going the route of the vigilante, it should be a warning that members of society feel powerless and desperate for protection, and are doing what they can to achieve this. Law makers and Judges should take heed, until the system is seen to be effective again; citizens will continue to arm themselves. We need our Government and Judiciary to do its job so that this isn’t necessary.

Sandra Martins-Toner is the founder and executive Director of F.A.C.T. and can be contacted at


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2008