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Spencer Kirkwood leaves Vancouver provincial court with his mother in January 2012, after a hearing regarding charges against him stemming from the Vancouver playoff riot in June 2011. (Jeff Vinnick for The Globe and Mail)
Spencer Kirkwood leaves Vancouver provincial court with his mother in January 2012, after a hearing regarding charges against him stemming from the Vancouver playoff riot in June 2011. (Jeff Vinnick for The Globe and Mail)

Stanley Cup rioter who claims he blacked out avoids jail time Add to ...

A young man who joined the mayhem of Vancouver’s Stanley Cup riot, only to later claim he was too intoxicated to remember what happened, received a conditional sentence Wednesday after the judge hearing his case concluded he was on the right path to turning his life around.

Spencer Kirkwood called 911 and turned himself into police after he discovered online video footage that showed him using a street barricade to smash a storefront window during the riot on June 15, 2011.

He told police he was so drunk he didn’t remember anything about what happened. His lawyer argued at trial his intoxication meant he couldn’t be found guilty of participating in a riot.

Unlike other cases in which accused rioters pleaded guilty, Mr. Kirkwood contested the charges, prompting the first trial related to the riot.

His lawyer told a sentencing hearing that Mr. Kirkwood became an alcoholic after he was violently attacked several years before the riot. He has since sought treatment for alcoholism and post-traumatic stress, the court heard.

Judge Conni Bagnall, who found Mr. Kirkwood guilty in April, appeared to accept the defence’s argument that Mr. Kirkwood was well on his way to putting his life back together and that a jail sentence would only disrupt that.

She sentenced Mr. Kirkwood, who was 25 at the time of the riot, to a 30-day conditional sentence that will require him to abstain from alcohol, followed by two years of probation with the same condition.

“You’re already doing what I want you to do and what your community wants you to do,” Judge Bagnall told Mr. Kirkwood, who spent much of his sentencing with his head bowed down and occasionally appearing to choke back tears.

“This will add incentive.”

The Crown had asked for a jail sentence of between 30 and 45 days.

Mr. Kirkwood wasn’t part of the massive crowds gathered downtown to watch the Vancouver Canucks play, and lose, against the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.

Instead, he was at a friend’s house in the Yaletown area of downtown Vancouver, a short walk away from the epicentre of the violence. When he heard about the riot, after a night of drinking, he decided to head down and check it out.

Mr. Kirkwood joined a crowd that was busy smashing the windows of a Telus outlet, according to video of the incident played at his trial.

Initially, he could be seen on the sidelines pumping his arms in the air with a broad smile on his face. Before long, he used a street barricade to take a turn smashing the window – first by himself, and then with the help of another rioter.

Mr. Kirkwood never denied it was him in the video, but his lawyer, Jonathan Waddington, argued his client’s intoxication meant he couldn’t have had the intent to participate in a riot.

Mr. Waddington told court Mr. Kirkwood’s substance abuse stems from an incident in 2007, when Kirkwood was severely beaten in a case of mistaken identity. Mr. Kirkwood was at home in Chilliwack when a group of assailants entered his apartment, apparently believing they would find drugs stashed inside, Mr. Waddington said.

They used kitchen shears to cut through his finger. They broke his ribs. They stomped on him until a bone above his eye was broken. He was knocked unconscious.

At some point during the assault, one of the attackers was talking to somebody on the telephone and learned the group had targeted the wrong apartment, Mr. Waddington said.

Some of the attackers were caught, but not all of them, said Mr. Waddington, and Mr. Kirkwood was left with anxiety and constant fear.

“What we have is an individual who was beaten – beaten badly, for no reason other than a mistaken apartment – dealing with that in a way that was inappropriate but in a way in which young men sometimes do: by drinking,” Mr. Waddington said.

“In a way, it is a mental-illness aspect that has pushed Mr. Kirkwood into this problem, but he’s being treated for that. He has insight into that.”

The Crown warned the judge that Mr. Kirkwood was unlikely to abide by his conditions.

Crown lawyer Patti Tomasson noted that Mr. Kirkwood was arrested in March of 2012 for driving with alcohol in his system, which violated one of his bail conditions. He was also convicted of breaching that condition.

Ms. Tomasson suggested the incident demonstrated that Mr. Kirkwood would not change his behaviour even if ordered to by the court.

The riot started in the final minutes of Game 7, when jersey-clad fans gathered at a massive outdoor viewing party set several vehicles on fire.

By the end of the night, the rioters damaged more than 100 businesses, set fire or vandalized dozens of cars, and caused an estimated $3.7-million in damage.

So far, the Crown has approved riot-related charges against 228 people, according to statistics provided by B.C.’s Criminal Justice Branch.

Of them, 147 have pleaded guilty and 97 have been handed sentences ranging from discharges to more than a year in jail.

Nine people are currently awaiting trial, including one whose case is headed to B.C. Supreme Court.

Crown prosecutors are still considering whether to lay charges in dozens of other cases.

 

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