This is an essay I wrote for my Advocacy class in school. We were told to pick a topic that meant something to us. I had just finished binge watching Daredevil Season 1, and the topic of vigilante justice is one of the focal points of the series.
We all know the story, an individual commits a crime and a vigilante shows up to save the day before disappearing off into the night. Real life is not like this. There are no superheroes to swoop in at the eleventh hour and win the hearts of the crowd with their heroics. Whether it’s Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America or even Superman, heroes have been around to save the day in comic books for countless decades. Sadly this is not the case for the world we live in. We have to trust that the justice system works and we have to be complacent with its verdict.
Vigilante justice is becoming more commonplace and ever growing issue in the Canadian Justice system. Webster’s dictionary defines a vigilante as a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily when the processes of law is seen as inadequate. So what happens when the verdict delivered is not the favoured opinion? Do you take the law into your own hands and become a vigilante? Individuals are taking the law into their own hands more often. From cases like Rehtaeh Parsons, where the victim’s mother has specifically requested vigilantes to stand down, to cases of convicted pedophiles being run out of town by angry citizens. Parents viciously motivated to keep them out of their cities and towns.
Vigilantism can also be productive in isolated cases; however, we cannot put faith in the hope that the vigilantes would adhere to the modern definition of justice. Vigilantism is in itself, a crime. It’s a removal of a person’s rights under the guise of the public well-being. This is a legal dispute that has been around since the introduction of the Hammurabi Code in ancient Babylon. Most vigilante cases occur within the realm of socially acceptable punishment, i.e. posters being put up to run a pedophile out of town. There are some isolated cases within the last few years that have showcased a personal brand of justice. There was a case in Montreal in May of 2013, a young man was beaten by a group of drunks who were out after a night at a bar. The victim’s mother stabbed one of the attackers in the upper body before the police intervened. This lends more to the classical brand of vigilantism wherein vengeance is the primary motive.
The parallel comics draw to our own world is that the cops refuse to stop vigilantes, because they’re doing what they could only hope of doing. The police in the comics understand that while the system works most of the time and that there are certain cases where vigilantism is necessary. Some laws used to state you could reply with deadly force if you witnessed a violent crime, these laws have since been amended for one reason; simply put, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
Sometimes, vigilante justice can be beneficial if you work within the realms of the law. Media is peppered with vigilantes who work within the law. For example, Batman, the DC Comics superhero who is famous for his own brand of justice. While he has a strict no killing policy, he does utilize fear and pestering to the point of harassment as an effective interrogation tool; there are many real cases of this type of vigilantism across the country. In Hamilton, Ontario some local mothers banded together to drive a convicted pedophile and rapist out of town. In the summer of 2014 Keith Constantin, the offender in question, was released after five years in prison for the crimes of sexually assaulting a seven year old boy and a forty five year old blind woman. He first moved to the Gage Park area of Hamilton, Ontario. But he was soon met with a horde of angry mothers who forced him out of their community. They used a variety of tools to force Constantin out. The most effective was the printed photos of him posted along with descriptions of his crimes on every pole in the town.
After Gage Park he moved to Stoney Creek where he was met with a similar show of hostility. A local mother, Sarah, took it upon herself to create a Facebook page that had posters similar to the ones distributed in Gage Park and an online petition, “Stop the government from allowing him to live in our city” which quickly gathered over 2,000 signatures. Eventually the stress and pressure from these ‘vigilante’ groups became too much for Constantin to handle, he broke his curfew and is now back in police custody.
In 2011 a young girl named Rehtaeh Parsons, of Nova Scotia, was sexually assaulted by four young boys at a party. The boys had taken pictures of her during the attack, which were then distributed around her school. Rehtaeh became the victim of cyber bullying and emotional & psychological bullying by from her peers. As a result form the shame, Rehtaeh attempted to take her own life. In April of 2013 she was taken off life support, three days after her failed suicide. Her mother released a statement saying that she does not want any harm to come to the boys accused; she wanted to let the justice system do its job. This is evidence that in this case a certain degree of vigilantism could be beneficial to discourage further attacks like Rehtaeh.
Vigilante justice is a topic that many would consider to be a slippery slope. It does prove to be an effective method of dealing with criminals; however, there needs to be limitations set so as not to encourage violent frontier style justice. All across this country, from Montreal to Hamilton to Halifax, vigilantes are stepping up when the justice system has failed. Vigilantes are created of necessity, nothing more.