The problem with vigilantes is they are, at best, counter-productive. At worst, they end up hurting innocent people. The actions of those who distributed pamphlets warning the Crescents neighbourhood of the presence of a convicted pedophile while understandable are the actions of a vigilante. As such, they should be condemned.
Certainly, the counter-argument can be made that the actions of Walter Rodney Birch were worse. Supreme Court Justice P. Rogers described his crime of sexually assaulting a pre-teenage girl on numerous occasions over the course of three years as “vile” and “odious.” We think he understates the case. Mr. Birch deserves, and gets, none of our sympathy. We can also understand the desire of the pamphleteers to keep their neighbourhood safe.
Nonetheless, we can’t think of any examples of two wrongs making a right. In this case, there was originally one victim. Now there are potentially many.
“Whoever did this just wants this guy dead,” said a neighbour of Mr. Birch’s. That’s likely true. Mr. Birch is simply a lesser constellation in the parallel universe occupied by pedophiles and child killers like Clifford Olson, and as such should be reviled. But he doesn’t deserve to die, and he definitely doesn’t deserve to die at the hands of a bunch of hooligans who may or may not have all the facts of the case.
More importantly, the actions of the pamphleteers are despicable because of what they have done to the neighbourhood. This form of vigilanteism is to justice what a shotgun is to target shooting.
“This is ruining my life,” said one neighbour, who didn’t want to be named didn’t even want to be quoted because he feared it would make the situation worse. He has endured three days of finger-pointing, name-calling and drive-by gawkers, all because he is close to the same age as Mr. Birch and lives in the same four-plex. He found himself outside in the darkness one night this week with a baseball bat, fearing for his safety and the safety of his two kids.
That, ultimately, is what vigilante justice creates. A climate of fear and loathing on the streets it purports to defend.
We agree with Justice Rogers, who admitted he didn’t think the sentence Mr. Birch received was stiff enough. But the answer isn’t to take justice into our own hands. It is to work to change those parts of the justice system we dislike.
It may not get us the blood we demand. But neither will we risk spilling the blood of those we seek to protect.