Hergott: Is bystander inaction a crime?

Hergott: Is bystander inaction a crime?

Lawyer Paul Hergott discusses a recent racist tirade and the lack of action by those watching

“This man got up and started to swear at me calling me a whore and a slut telling me he will kill me and all Muslims in a mix of Arabic and some other language I wasn’t understanding…He raised his hand and began saying he was going to kill me…He was using horrific words as he was aggressively making actions when he tried to grab my head and shove it to his crotch”.

This horrific scene played out on a Vancouver Skytrain on Dec. 4, 2017. The victim: an 18-year-old Muslim woman wearing a hijab. She shared these events on Facebook.

“I watched as others watched the man verbally assault me when out of nowhere he strikes me across the face. And everyone watched as he did so. Everyone stayed seated and did not utter a word…”

Then 21-year-old Jake Taylor, a Nelson raised rugby player, stepped up. He pushed the guy away and stayed in front of her until the man got off the train.

A 46-year-old man “of no fixed address” was later arrested.

Related: Man charged with assault after Muslim teen assaulted on SkyTrain

Towards whom do you feel more anger?

The attacker? Not making excuses here, but at least his homelessness and conduct point to mental health challenges.

Or those who did nothing while watching the scene unfold? No-one tapped the yellow alert strip, called or texted authorities, or even opened their mouths in objection.

Our laws do not require bystanders to intervene. It is only our moral code that might compel us into action.

But our moral code obviously isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to stop bullies on the playground any more than on public transit and elsewhere.

Perhaps our laws should change. American law professor Amos Guiora, a child of Holocaust survivors, thinks so. He wrote a book arguing that bystander inaction should be considered a crime.

But his proposed law would not require bystanders to put themselves in physical danger. Simply to alert authorities.

He makes a compelling point that such a law is an urgent necessity, particularly in cases of sexual assault, where even minimal intervention can make such a huge difference, but so many make the horrible choice of “looking away”.

We can improve on our laws. All it takes is the political will to do so.

If you think that Canada should join dozens of other countries including France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Brazil, make your voice known to your local Member of Parliament.

Next week I intend to write about how the civil law handles situations where physical bystander intervention results in injury. The rugby player in this case intervened in a very sensible, measured way that did not cause injury to the abuser.

But what if things had been different? Does a bystander who physically intervenes face the risk of an injury lawsuit?

Just Posted

(Dave Ogilvie/Contributed)
Injured mountain biker rescued in West Kelowna

The mountain biker reportedly has a hip injury about 1 km up the Smith Creek Road trail

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed Eli Beauregard facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Asia Youngman (right) is pictured shooting another short film she wrote and directed titled Hatha. (Luba Popovic)
Peachland set to star in fantasy thriller film about N’xaxaitk’w — a.k.a. the Ogopogo

The film will follow an Indigenous teen as she navigates peer pressure, bullying and identity

Fruit farmers in the Okanagan and Creston valleys are in desperate need of cherry harvesters amid COVID-19 work shortages. (Photo: Unsplash/Abigail Miller)
‘Desperate’ need for workers at Okanagan cherry farms

Fruit farmers are worried they’ll have to abandon crops due to COVID-19 work shortages

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Jeanette Megens
KCR: Volunteering is sharing your story

Kelowna Community Resources shares stories of its volunteers in a weekly column

The Pierre family, an Indigenous family, once lived in what is now downtown Summerland. Today, Pierre Drive is named in honour of the family. (Photo courtesy of the Summerland Museum)
Pierre family played role in Summerland’s history

Downtown Summerland was once Penticton Indian Reserve #3

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Jaimee Peters photo of a Willow Midwives helping with a birth. Willow closed its doors March 31 because of a shortage of midwives. (Contributed)
South Okanagan’s only midwifery to re-open this summer

Willow Community Midwives was forced to close because of a shortage of midwives

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

Most Read