Five and a half months after the worst rampage of violence in B.C. history, charges have been laid against the first wave of suspects linked to the fighting, looting and arson of the Stanley Cup riot.
The Crown has approved 61 charges against 25 alleged rioters. Each of the 25 suspects was charged with participating in a riot, and had at least one additional count tacked on – from assault, to break and enter, to arson, to mischief. One young man was charged with six counts.
The Crown’s announcement came one month after Vancouver police recommended charges against 60 people and forwarded those files to the Criminal Justice Branch, with the promise of hundreds more to come. In B.C., unlike other provinces, police cannot directly lay charges and must send their recommendations to Crown for approval.
The length of time it took the Crown to approve charges in less than half of the 60 files raises questions on how quickly it can process the remaining 35, let alone the “next batch” Vancouver police have vowed to send in “the coming days and weeks.”
Neil MacKenzie, spokesman for the Criminal Justice Branch, wouldn’t comment on what effect the riot cases will have on an already overloaded court system.
“Our approach from the outset has been that we’ll commit whatever resources are needed to deal with the files effectively. I guess we’ll see as the matters progress and when further files come in, whether more resources need to be applied from the Crown side,” he said in an interview.
Mr. MacKenzie couldn’t say when the suspects will appear in court. He also wouldn’t provide a timeline on when charges will be laid in connection with the remaining 35 files.
“We’re continuing the process of looking at the available evidence on the additional suspects that have been forwarded,” he said. “I can’t get into specifics of the evidence or the process of analysis but we’re continuing to work with police just to ensure that we can effectively prosecute once charges are approved.”
Inspector Les Yeo, who is heading up Vancouver police’s riot investigation, said the charges mean the force is “another step closer to holding suspected rioters accountable for their actions on June 15.”
“We are very encouraged by the approval of these 61 charges and we will continue to work closely with the special prosecution team as even more charges are expected in the coming days and weeks,” Insp. Yeo wrote in a statement.
Dozens of court cases have been abandoned in B.C. this year because of lengthy delays. Some lawyers have expressed concern about what impact adding hundreds of riot cases to the docket will have.
Insp. Yeo previously said 500 to 700 rioters would be charged in all.
Oct. 31 wasn’t the first time police sent riot files to the Crown. Days after the incident, the force forwarded eight files to the Criminal Justice Branch. The Crown sent them back to police, arguing they were incomplete.
None of the 60 files forwarded to Crown in October were sent back to police, the force said.
Most of the people charged Wednesday are in their late teens or early 20s. One, at 17 years old, is a young offender, while the oldest suspect is 33. Nine of the suspects are from Surrey, while eight are from Vancouver. One is from Seattle.
Twenty-year-old Kristjan Johanson of Surrey has the most charges against him. He faces one count of participating in a riot, two of breaking and entering and three of mischief.
One individual, 18-year-old Karanvir Singh Saran, has already been prosecuted and received an absolute discharge after pleading guilty to being in possession of stolen property. But that case was investigated by the RCMP and was not considered as part of the Vancouver police caseload.
Vancouver police have been widely criticized for the length of time their investigation has taken. The force recently said the investigation could span another two years.
With a report from Matthew Black