Overdose Death of BC Teen Exposes Gaps in Criminal Law

The province collectively mourned when a BC teen was recently found deceased in a Lower Mainland park. But the situation became that much more tragic when reports were released indicating that there is video of the teenager in the final moments before his passing.

What the video shows is that this was an entirely preventable death, and one that could have been stopped with better public engagement with the law.

I watched the video involving the young boy, and it was horrifying. The video starts with a kid who, the caption reads, has taken some “molly.” This is a term used to dress up MDMA and make it more palatable to children. Later in the video, the caption reads that the boy is “12 caps in” suggesting that he has taken twelve doses of the drug. A typical dose is one or two tablets. The video continues with one bystander suggesting he get some fluids, and another dismissing this indicating that the boy just drank a slurpee.

What follows are some haunting images: the boy with his eyes bugging out of his head, incapable of remembering his own name, and attempting to swim away on a concrete block. This is interspersed with other clips of the boy smoking an unknown drug and taking a bong hit. None of it is pretty.

More horrifying, however, than the images of a boy in drug-induced distress is the manner in which the people around him do little to nothing to assist him. Other than a question, which is quickly dismissed, about giving him some fluids, no one appears concerned for his well-being. He is mocked, goaded into taking more drugs, and heckled by the onlookers.

And later, he was found dead of an apparent overdose.

This death could have been prevented. And preventing future deaths requires using this case as an important learning opportunity and an opportunity to address the fact that our criminal justice system has not kept up to speed with the role that social media plays in causing and contributing to harm.

First, the RCMP should be investigating and pursuing charges against the filmmaker and everyone present at the scene. Those who were responsible for giving the boy drugs should be charged with trafficking offences. If the evidence reveals he was misled about what he was taking or how much of an impact the quantity would have on him, charges for administering a noxious substance should be considered.

Criminal negligence causing death charges must be seriously considered in this case. While the standard requires a person to demonstrate wanton disregard for the life of another, the video is very compelling evidence in that regard. Not only is the boy pressured into taking more drugs, mocked, and heckled, but no one steps up to say that this is wrong.

In this day of social media and the widespread tendency of teens and youth to film their interactions government should also be seriously considering whether to craft legislation to address the harms that social media can cause. Encouragement from followers in the form of likes or comments can be a motivation to push the envelope further.

There are well-documented instances of this. Look at Logan Paul, who filmed in a Japanese “suicide forest” and received backlash for his insensitivity. (https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/logan-paul-1-year-suicide-forest_n_5c2e9b92e4b05c88b70798f5) There is a mob mentality that takes over on social media, and that mob mentality, as this case demonstrates can be dangerous.

We have particular legislation in Canada prohibiting participating in a riot, or encouraging a riot. As the Vancouver hockey riot cases demonstrate, cases of participation can be considered even very minor conduct like filming or smiling, thereby encouraging the actions of others in the riot. The ethos behind that is to encourage people to step in and prevent further harm, rather than being lost in the herd mind.

Why Is it, then, that we do not have legislation to deal with the herd-thinking that social media creates? Are we so afraid of a constitutional challenge to freedom of expression that we allow teenagers to stand idly by and encourage the filming of a child’s last moments to be forever broadcast on the Internet?

Our law has been remarkably slow in adapting to new technology. While government has crafted pointless laws to address bogeymen in cannabis impaired driving, or unconstitutionally reverse disclosure obligations in sexual assault trials, we have done nothing to amend the Criminal Code to keep up with how social media is changing society.

That is shameful.

How is it that when the government legalized cannabis, there was a continual cry of “we have to protect the children” but they have not exhibited the same handwringing over a legitimate danger to the lives and safety of teenagers?

The Federal Government needs to seriously consider whether it is time to craft a series of offences related to the promotion of unlawful activity, the sharing and glorification of crimes involving children, or the broadcasting of material where a person is in distress. With carefully crafted exceptions for accredited media, matters of public interest, and a high mens rea standard, the government could create an effective law that has a chilling effect on cases like this.

But until they do, in order to chill the encouragement of harmful incidents on social media, the RCMP needs to step up, investigate, and gather so the Crown can prosecute as necessary in this case. This is important to send a message to other teens so that something like this, hopefully, never happens again.

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