On Wednesday, Crown Counsel handed down 61 charges against 25 suspected rioters—among them UBC students Jensen White and Alexander Peepre.
Peepre, a 20-year-old political science student, is to date the only person charged with assault in connection with the riots. Cameron Brown, a photographer who was at the riots, claimed that Peepre struck him from behind as he tried to put out a trash can fire. Brown said he required three stitches as a result, and nearly $3000 worth of camera equipment was destroyed.
“I tried to get some clear shots of people that were causing the damage because I knew right away that that would be the best way to identify them afterward and send them off to the police,” said Brown. “The only way I know exactly what happened is from the video tape that I saw. Apparently [Peepre] sucker punched me, then ran away.”
Peepre declined comment.
An assault conviction carries a maximum sentence of ten years, but BC Civil Liberties Association executive director David Eby said it is unlikely that the Crown will recommend it.
“For first offences and particularly for people who are in university, the sentences are not going to approach the maximum,” said Eby. “They’re going to be on the much lower end, simply because having a criminal record for someone with a post-secondary education is going to be a pretty major punishment, that’s very much going to limit their employment opportunities.”
White is the only non-Canadian to be charged. Hailing from Seattle, White is studying science at UBC on a student visa and is charged with mischief and participating in a riot. Eby said the Crown will almost certainly revoke White’s visa if he is convicted, in lieu of sentencing.
“Usually the Crown will say, ‘We will suspend these [charges], but we will also end your student visa, and you’ve got to leave Canada immediately and not come back.’”
White could not be reached for comment.
Another UBC student, Camille Cacnio, publicly apologized for rioting last June, amid cries that the university take additional disciplinary actions against students who were involved. But the university said that it will leave the matter to the courts.
“While the university believes all persons involved should be called upon to account for their behaviour, it does not believe the student discipline system at the university is the appropriate forum to do so,” explained Randy Schmidt, associate director of UBC Public Affairs. “The system of student discipline at the university is meant to address offences specifically committed against members and property of the university community.”
The university also said that students who have their visas revoked as a result of a criminal conviction are outside of their jurisdiction.
Eby said the publicity around the crimes and the trial has led many to wrongly equate these charges with convictions.
“A lot of people were very upset about what happened, and understandably, but the people who have been charged are still entitled to a fair trial and although their names have been released publicly because they’ve been charged, employers and schools and other should keep in mind that these people have not yet been convicted.
“Until they are, they should be given the benefit of the doubt because they are presumed innocent in our system.”