bullying has no place

Consider a typical high school boys’ locker room after gym class. Imagine a student being swarmed by 13 of his schoolmates because he’s gay or Muslim or aboriginal, being taunted slapped and kicked with increasing intensity until two boys in the group harm him.

Would an apology from these two offenders and a donation to a charity be enough to satisfy the outrage this event would generate? Would the victim feel vindicated for his experience?

I doubt it.

Yet that’s exactly what happened to an unfortunate young man in Calgary. The attackers surrounded and assaulted him in keeping with a Facebook group entitled, “Kick a Ginger Day” on Nov. 20, spawned by the animated television show South Park and its references to redheaded people as evil and soulless “Gingers.”

It happened at St. Francis High School and resulted in the suspension of all 13 attackers. Two of the boys were charged with assault and both pleaded guilty last week, but according to Judge Lynn Cook-Stanhope, the two young men deserved a sentence more appropriate for jaywalking than assault. She gave them absolute discharges for their actions.

Her reasoning? South Park made them do it.

In absolving the two boys of the guilt they bore for their crime, she remarked, “That [South Park] has the ability to sway young, suggestible minds in subtle ways to the point, as it has in this case, where young persons were encouraged to commit criminal offences, is now without doubt.”

The judge indicated, although the victim is still dealing with the after-effects of the attack, both teenagers had apologized to him, had done community service and one had made a donation to a youth club, sufficient to release them from their guilt.

Although she admitted they had committed a crime and the victim is still traumatized by it, they were absolved of their ultimate responsibility for their actions and spared a criminal record.

This isn’t about peer pressure or violence on television, but consequences of criminal action. According to the Criminal Code of Canada, a person commits assault when he even threatens harm to another person by a gesture. There is no splitting hairs here. These two youths committed a crime, and should now have a record. This wasn’t a jab in the ribs by a friendly peer. It was outright assault. Redheads are not the traditional icon as a victim of discrimination or hate crimes, but they are an identifiable group.

Now that this judge has determined the boys’ actions are a result of South Park and Facebook, will these two entities be liable? Will future cases of youth violence now have a backdoor because of the influence of television or social networking? Has she further complicated the debate of the media’s effect (or lack of) on children? Will this open more opportunities for attacks on redheads this November?

Satire and vulgarity aside, South Park appeals to a small portion of our society, one that is either mature enough to dismiss its negative message, or gullible enough to feed on it. As far as I’m concerned, the trial may have well been an episode in the show.

Dee-Ann Schwanke doesn’t have red hair, but bakes awesome ginger snaps.

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