In the early hours of Saturday September 10th, UBCO experienced one of the most serious incidents in the school’s history when several young men—some students, some visitors—became embroiled in a fight outside International Mews that led to multiple stabbings. We can’t really talk about that event in detail because, as Head of Security Garry Appleton explains: “There is an active police investigation active against the individuals and we can’t comment while that is ongoing. The matter is not finished, it is before the courts, and it’s not fair for us to make a comment on that.”
That said, what we can address is the general state of safety and security, and look at the reactions to the stabbing by students, security, and the institution.
Overall, student reaction to the stabbing has been whatever the opposite of hysteria is.
“I think the media [made] it bigger than it needs to be,” one first-year student told us, “I see [police and security] patrolling and I feel fairly safe here.”
Meanwhile, patrol member Megan Edwards reported that she hadn’t noted any substantial increase in people using Safewalk in the days following the stabbing, and UBCSUO Services Coordinator Curtis Tse expressed that “students should feel safe, and continue to feel safe here.”
Numerous other interviews and conversations indicated the same thing: students have not reacted to the stabbing with terror or paranoia.
Assistant Professor of Sociology Chris Schneider was impressed that the student body had reacted so reasonably. “People have a concern of crime and a fear of crime,” he explained. “An event like this, let’s be clear, we should definitely be concerned about. [But when] you look at the majority of these types of crimes, they’re usually amongst people who know one another. In all likelihood, the victim and the perpetrator know each other. We should be concerned about it, but not fearful about it happening again.”
Those we talked to also seemed to feel that it was not necessary to worry about this sort of thing recurring; the people we interviewed all felt that the stabbing was an isolated incident. The fact that it happened on campus does not seem to have convinced anyone here that it is representative of campus.
The people we interviewed felt that the stabbing incident was something characteristic of Kelowna, if anything, rather than UBCO. It was something that had been brought here, not something that was born here. To the limited extent he was able to comment, Appleton echoed this sentiment, stating: “I’m comfortable telling you that was not a university-related incident; it was something that happened off campus, that certain individuals brought from there onto
However, there’s always the possibility that those outside the university community will react the opposite way, and tie the stabbings to the state of life at UBCO. When dramatic events like this are publicized, they become weighed more heavily in people’s minds (by virtue of their perceived awfulness) than they should be, given their likelihood. This is evident in public perceptions of things like traveling via airplane. The public’s understanding of many issues is usually tied disproportionately to what they hear about most (or loudest), rather than what actually occurs most.
In a similar way, as Schneider explained, the popular conception of “crime” centres around events like the stabbing -violence, drugs, etc.- rather than more pervasive criminal acts like white-collar crime. “Crime is a symbolically loaded term,” he said, “It means particular things to people. More often than not it means street crime, stabbings, assaults—people don’t think ‘oh, somebody dumped toxic waste into our drinking water’… that doesn’t mean crime to people. This event on campus ties into that existing narrative. [However] if we look at the crime data you should be more afraid of your friends and family doing something like this to you, rather than some random stranger in the street. But we are most afraid of that random stranger.”
“People have this window to crime through their television sets,” he said, “Media is a window into the criminal justice institution.”
Schneider went on to outline how people could act to actively minimize risk. “Routine Activities Theory says that we can increase or decrease the likelihood of us being victimized depending on where and when we are. [For example], the odds of something happening like this in broad daylight go down [compared to at night].”
“It does not mean that people should not drink but it’s about making informed choices. People tend to typically want to blame something. First it’s the kids—‘oh these young people today, they’re not civil’—when you look, youth are the last legally and most overtly marginalized group in the world.”
Indeed, on Castanet’s discussion thread for the stabbings, the debate quickly devolved into an issue of ‘kids today’, with many posters complaining that young people are either getting worse (with their Facebooks and their rap music and their video games and their skateboarding) or failing to learn from the mistakes of previous generations.
“Everyone says ‘whoa, they’re out of control, they’re stabbing’—but there’s a whole pile of empirical research that actually suggests otherwise. In [Lawrence Grossberg’s book] Caught in the Crossfire […] he basically dispels all the myths people believe about youth. You have all of this ‘young people are bad’ discourse, [and] ‘crime is all of these things, guns and drugs and stabbings’ and you put these things together and this sends a powerful message to people, and people are afraid.”
What ultimately appears to have ended the Castanet discussion was a poster actually bringing out statistics about youth crime. The source, StatsCan’s “Police-reported crime statistics, 2010”, had several relevant key points:
Crime in general is as low as it has been since the early 1970s.
Youth and young adults are the most likely demographic to commit crime.
Youth crime and violent crime decreased in both frequency and severity from 2009 to 2010, but youth violent crime severity was still higher than it had been in 2000.
The take-home message seems to be that while youth are still likelier to commit crimes than other age demographics, youth today commit less crime than they did ten years ago. That does not seem to provide any sort of substantial explanation for anything regarding the stabbing.
Because they knew each other, because there was some kind of existent problem, this very well could have happened in another place.” Schneider continued that placing restrictions and curfews on students on campus would not necessarily prevent these kind of incidents. However, he added that if this had happened downtown the university wouldn’t have experienced the kind of publicity problem that occurred.
He stressed that though we can point to myriad possible causes, but singling out any one (like the availability of knives) and restricting it will likely not correlate to a direct prevention of this kind of incident.
“The police in Vancouver, one of the basic things they blamed on the riot was alcohol in a small space. But we look to Las Vegas boulevard, people openly consume alcohol 24 hours a day, seven days a week […] when’s the last time there was a riot in Vegas? So for every one thing you could find another [counter-example].” Overall, Schneider iterated that the most important reaction is concern over the issue leading to a discussion around the associated issues.
“If you look at the sociological research literature, Emile Durkheim, for instance, talks about the idea that crime is a normal part of society. […] He suggests that when something like this happens it brings a particular issue (i.e. stabbing) to our attention, where we collectively decide that this is not an acceptable thing in our society and what this does is reinforces normative and moral boundaries, pertaining [in this instance] to crime.”
“We can use this as a learning lesson [...] for how to resolve conflict. The hope is that this will never happen again for that reason.” Overall, Schneider argued that changing attitudes, not rules, is the best way to prevent these incidents. He suggested that establishing things like annual start-of-year training around issues like conflict resolution could go a long way to accomplish that.
UBCO Head of Security Garry Appleton also felt that maintaining safety on campus requires teaching and training the campus population. “Safety and security from that avenue is not just strictly a one-person job” Appleton said. “It’s your duty, it’s my duty […] to look after our own personal security and safety.” Appleton explained that while campus security works to prevent dangerous situations, people are also responsible for working to keep themselves away from
“We have lots of programs in place,” he elaborated, “like personal safety programs. We do a lot of consultations. We do RA training as well, so that they have tools when dealing with students at night, or [so they] don’t put themselves in a bad position.”
“This campus is a huge place and we can’t be everywhere. We are an educational institute and we have to provide education and learning as well […] we have to give you life skills to help you make yourself better [and] we’re doing this all year long, for all different avenues, all
Appleton said that the value of this training is that in emergency situations people can revert to that training rather than simply panicking. “If something does get out of hand,” he went on, “then we have the provisions like the emergency phones. Not only do we have the proactive programs but we follow it with reactive security.”
Appleton explained that the dramatic changes in campus size and population have necessitated a change in security and related amenities that still has not solidified. “We’re a community of almost 10 000 during the day,” he said. “That’s one of the bigger communities in the Okanagan. We’re a square mile [in size] but we’re all kind of condensed into one area.”
“Every campus is unique,” Appleton began in regard to UBCO’s specific security needs, “We’re not an inter-urban school like the University of Winnipeg. That gives different demographics to security work. We tried to practice an envelope style of security, where you protect the outside of the envelope. We patrol roads, we take note of people coming in and out. We unlock the doors at six or seven in the morning and don’t lock them until midnight. That allows for a lot of freedom for the campus, where if we were downtown we wouldn’t be able to do that.”
Meanwhile, the relatively small size and population at UBCO allows security to integrate themselves and interact with the students and staff in ways that wouldn’t be possible in a larger university. The recent expansion of UBCO has also helped in that the majority of the security infrastructure is up-to-date and integrated.
The main elements of the campus’s physical security include strategically placed cameras, intrusion alarm systems in all buildings, and use of the Salto access key system rather than
“The campus isn’t entirely under surveillance,” Appleton assured, “Big Brother isn’t watching. It’s pretty basic security, but we’re pretty well secured here. We’re one of the best in Canada. The only reason we can do that is because of all of our new buildings. Arts and Science II, to put in all of the intrusion alarm systems was about an $8000 for wiring. To retrofit it, with all the conduits and stuff, would have cost about $200 000 just to wire it.”
Increased security can definitely be a notable financial burden. UBCSUO Financial Coordinator Kirk Chavarie explained that because of the campus’s increased population, UBC has recently mandated that third-party security be hired for many outdoor events.
“Through the BC law for bouncers, [our Well bouncers] are certified, but for outdoor events […] we have to get these third-party liquor licences. ICM is the organization that we have to go with, through the institution, because they use that for all their events, and the costs
Chavarie said that the SUO had no interest in contesting the instituton’s decision to set them up with ICM (International Crowd Management), as they do not want to risk jeopardizing their liquor licenses. “At the end of the day, though, it makes the space safer,” he concluded.