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Did Vigilantes Attack a Canadian Man Because He Killed a Two-Year-Old with His Car?

Last month men dressed in what looked like SWAT uniforms abducted and beat Edmonton's Richard Suter. They also cut off his thumb.
Mack Lamoureux
Toronto, CA
February 2, 2015, 7:44pm

Photo via Flickr user Secretive Ireland

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

On the evening of January 22, Richard Suter was picked up from his Edmonton home by three men pretending to be Edmonton police officers. In an interview with the Edmonton Journal's Andrea Ross, the 64-year-old said the men, dressed in what looked like SWAT uniforms, showed up at his door and told him to come with them.

When Suter asked why they were there they told him, "You know what this is about. We've been told to bring you in." The men led him to a pickup truck, handcuffed him, and put a bag over his head. Several hours later he was left near a farmer's field, wearing just his boots and bathrobe, alive, but badly beaten and now missing a thumb.

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Suter was eventually found by a passing motorist. His thumb was not.

But this wasn't the first time that his name has graced the front page of an Edmonton newspaper. Suter is awaiting trial for a May 19, 2013, incident in which his SUV slammed into the patio of a Ric's Grill restaurant on the south side of Edmonton, resulting in the death of two-year-old Geo Mounsef. It's alleged that he was drunk behind the wheel, and it's speculated that Suter put his vehicle into drive instead of reverse when he slammed into the eatery's patio.

He's charged with impaired operation causing death, refusing to provide a breath sample, and two counts of impaired operation causing bodily harm.

In a post pinned to the Facebook group Justice for Geo's wall, Geo's mother Sage Morin recounts what happened.

"A blue SUV which had originally appeared to be slowly parking suddenly floored his acceleration driving through my entire family, pinning my 2 year old son against a concrete wall," the post reads. "The driver stumbled out of his vehicle, too drunk to even stand, too much of an animal to even say sorry."

The case struck a chord with Edmontonians, and a large group rallied behind the deceased boy. Emotions came to a boiling point when Suter was granted bail. Mounsef's mother stormed out of the courthouse, and the deceased boy's father screamed at Suter while their supporters crowded around the building.

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For a while all seemed quiet on the Suter front, but that changed on a cold Thursday evening in late January when he was abducted and assaulted by the three men.

Suter told the Journal he believes the act was not random and that the men were "professional criminals." That said, Suter does not understand the rationale behind the action, if it was indeed planned.

"It's got to be some kind of vengeance or something, if it had something to do with the accident," Suter said in an interview with Edmonton's Global News. "There's no intimidation purpose. I'm the one that's standing trial, so who would intimidate me? I don't know; that doesn't make sense…. I have no reason to believe that I've done anything else."

VICE reached out to Temitope Oriola, a criminologist and recipient of the Governor General of Canada Academic Gold Medal, and had him analyze the public facts of the case. Oriola said the incident appears to be "a case of vigilante justice that is, in the absence of any contradictory evidence, likely connected to Geo Mounsef's death."

According to Oriola, there are several determinants that may spark vigilante justice, but in the end it boils down to a lack of trust in the justice system. "Essentially this is about the cosigned relationship of trust, between people and agents of law enforcement," he said.

If this was indeed vigilante justice, the men may have been upset at how long the case is taking to work its way through the courts or Suter's being granted bail—or the men could be assuming that he'll get a lenient sentence and are preemptively punishing him

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Sage Morin has since posted on the same Facebook group condemning the violence Suter experienced.

"Justice For Geo will not come in the form of violence. Our family remains hopeful and entrusting of the legal system to bring Justice For Geo," Morin wrote. "It is utterly heartbreaking to have our Baby Geo's memory associated with this horrible act of violence."

Oriola notes that while Morin has expressed outrage at and condemned these actions, the crime does not necessarily have to have a direct tie to the family to be a case of vigilante justice.

"It is not unusual that vigilante justice is executed by persons who have no direct stakes in the matter at hand," said Oriola. "They need only be subjectively connected with the victim—at least in their heads—for such actions to take place.

"They rarely seek the consent of victims or their families before action," he added.

Edmonton police have denounced vigilante justice before. When a story broke in 2013 about the hacktivist collective Anonymous posting the information of people allegedly luring underage girls online, ALERT's Integrated Child Exploitation Unit head Bob Andrews said, "Allegations alone are not enough to lay a charge."

Oriola said that while vigilante justice is common in countries where citizens don't have any respect for or trust in the legal system, these cases are exceedingly rare in a developed country like Canada.

"People may want swift action, or what they perceive as justice, without considering the implications for law and order," Oriola said. "Vigilantism is no guarantee of justice; it is not justice. The notion that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty must be upheld."

It is unclear, as of now, what will come from Suter's abduction. The three men involved are still at large. When contacted for a statement, Scott Pattison of the Edmonton Police Service's media relations unit said that due to the ongoing investigation he was unable to discuss the matter.

Suter is set to stand trial for Mousef's death in October.

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