Some recent cases have resurrected the weighty issue of vigilantism. Although an offender may very well “get what he deserves,” we need to carefully think through the potential dangers of supporting vigilantism.
Let’s look at a couple cases: A 51-year-old man enters a Chinatown store in Toronto for the second time that same day. A clerk, the store manager and owner team up to apprehend him, allegedly punching, kicking, and tying him up before stuffing him into a waiting van as police arrived. The apprehenders were the ones charged, although the courts have yet to determine whether this was actually a case of vigilantism or a zealous citizens’ arrest.
In Oklahoma City, two teens hold up a pharmacy. The surveillance camera shows the pharmacist shooting one of them in the head and chasing away the other. As the teen struggles on the floor, he is finished off with five more bullets. There has been an outpouring of support for the pharmacist.
Support for vigilantism cannot be ignored. It represents an outcry that people are at the end of their tether with criminals terrorizing their communities.
But there is a danger when we become emotionally driven to support acts where angry citizens become police, judge, jury and executioner in one. It becomes an undermining of our judicial system and even a greater affront to our civilized democracy. We regress to the archaic and anarchic Wild West system of justice where vigilante groups filled a gap of an organized system. Some of these groups even proved to be as nefarious as the criminals themselves.
There is no shortcut to a justice system that we may deem ineffectual. It will continue to be a work-in-progress. But there is some good news for those who want tougher crime legislation: Ottawa has introduced a bill to repeal the “faint hope” clause. If passed, the legislation would mean that anyone convicted of first- or second-degree murder would no longer be able to apply for early parole.