POLITICS
02/16/2012 04:00 EST | Updated 04/16/2012 05:12 EDT

First person convicted in Stanley Cup riot sentenced to 17 months

VANCOUVER - The rioters who participated in the chaos that swept through downtown Vancouver after the Stanley Cup final last year should be punished not just for their own actions, but for the destruction wrought by the entire mob, a judge ruled Thursday as he sentenced the first person convicted in the riot to 17 months in jail.

Ryan Dickinson, 20, admitted to trashing an unnmarked police car and vandalzing a clothing store, but he claimed he was merely "caught up in the moment" and argued his crimes weren't as serious as other rioters who were on the streets that night.

But provincial court Judge Malcolm MacLean rejected that argument, concluding that even though Dickinson didn't assault anyone, set fires or loot stores, his actions nonetheless encouraged others to do so.

"A riot is a serious threat to civil order and the rule of law," MacLean told a packed courtroom, as Dickinson sat beside his lawyer wearing a red jail uniform.

"His behaviour would no doubt have the effect of encouraging and emboldening others to participate in the riot."

Dickinson pleaded guilty to participating in a riot, as well as breaching bail conditions from an unrelated assault charge. He admitted to using a road barricade and a newspaper box to damage an unmarked police car, and then later tossing a mannequin and a newspaper box at the window of a clothing store several blocks away.

The Crown labelled Dickinson an "instigator," casting him as a violent, angry young man who appeared to be enjoying himself, and asked for as much as 18 months in jail for the riot charge. The prosecutor pointed to his criminal record, which includes a violent assault from 2010, as another reason for a significant jail term.

Dickinson's defence lawyer asked for one year.

MacLean sentenced Dickinson to 16 months for participating in a riot and another month for breaching his bail conditions.

Dickinson has been in custody since December, and with credit for time served, he has 13 and a half months left in his sentence. He'll also be on probation for two years after his release.

A sentencing hearing earlier in the week featured several video clips and photographs that appeared to have been shot by bystanders. They depicted Dickinson trashing the police car, repeatedly smashing an orange newspaper box against an unmarked police car. Surveillance footage showed Dickinson at the clothing store.

MacLean said the video evidence made it clear that Dickinson was more than just someone who was swept up in the moment.

"Mr. Dickinson's participation was serious and involved a number of conscious and deliberate decisions on his part, starting with his decision to go downtown knowing it was a beach of his bail," MacLean said.

"The videos show someone with more than a momentary lapse of judgement. ... The video shows there were times that Mr. Dickinson could have walked away, but he did not."

Dickinson's lawyer said the young man was the product of a troubled upbringing in a broken home.

Dickinson wrote an apology to the court in which he said he was ashamed for his "very bad decisions that day."

MacLean said he believed Dickinson was "genuinely remorseful," and hoped his sentence would help rehabilitate him.

"Mr. Dickinson has also expressed the desire to turn his life around," the judge said.

"There is, of course, no guarantee, but hopefully Mr. Dickinson will receive the help he needs to fulfil that commitment."

While Dickinson is the first rioter to be sentenced, his stiff jail term may not foreshadow the sentences others might receive, as the police have acknowledged that many of their suspects have no prior criminal record.

Outside court, Crown spokesman Neil MacKenzie said the judge's decision on Dickinson's sentence may influence subsequent cases, but he stressed each offender is different.

"It obviously will be a factor, but as the judge noted in his reasons, each case is unique, each case you have to look at the particular circumstances of the accused,"

"I expect that going forward we will see some cases in which the behaviour was more serious and some cases where the behaviour was less serious."

So far, police have recommended charges against a total of 125 people, but Crown counsel has only approved charges against 52, including five who were added to that list on Thursday.

Meanwhile, B.C.'s privacy commissioner ruled Thursday that the province's insurance corporation cannot allow the Vancouver police to use its facial recognition software to identify rioters.

The Insurance Corp. of B.C. offered to allow investigators to use the technology last year to match photos from the riots with names, although the police force declined the offer.

Privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham says allowing the police to use the database without a court order would have violated the province's privacy laws.