Curse my computer for eating my first attempt at this post. Here we go again.
I know you’re going to probably think I obsess about this, but I like to follow a story to its end, and well, here’s the end of this one.
Remember our enemy of development, friend of the earth and lover of spray-paint? The guy who painted supposedly satirical messages on affordable housing buildings and bridges throughout the city? Well, it finally came time for his day in court, and what a strange day it was. He didn’t exactly get found not guilty as he had hoped. But he got the next bes thing. After pleading guilty to everything, he got an absolute discharge and no criminal record!
Yup. You read that right. Justice Norman Douglas, who I always thought was a sensible judge from what I’ve read in the newspaper, decided that Matthew Soltys was “one of the good guys.” After hearing from several character witnesses that told him stories of how Soltys addressed the UN’s conference on climate change, won a scholarship from Environment Canada, runs a radio show about the environment, teaches guitar and helps out with lots of local causes, virtually steals from the rich and gives to the poor, I guess he got the warm fuzzies for him. He gave him no criminal record on the promise that he will, so to speak, never ever ever do that again, Your Honour!
Ok, first off, one of the charges against him, to which he pled guilty, was breaking a promise to police that he would never ever ever carry spray-paint again, Officer. So what makes this any different? What makes the judge think he’s really learned his lesson this time? He doesn’t respect authority and obviously isn’t true to his word. So why give him that leeway? Sure, this time it was court and involved lawyers and lots of other crap and last time it was the police, but I think the principle is the same.
Soltys wrote a little opinion piece that got published in the same paper as the news of his non-convictions. In it, he tried to explain why he was out with the spray-paint after he was told not to have it on him. He claimed that it was because he had an attack of conscience and decided he should cover up his original work. Um, get real. You expect me to believe that? If you had an attack of conscience, wouldn’t you just come to the police or the city or whoever owned the buildings that you put your “satire” on and offer to pay the cleanup bill? Would you really put more grafiti on the same place and make it harder for the rightful owners of the property to clean up? Does that make any sense? Of course it doesn’t.
The thing that bothers me most about the judge’s decision to just let Soltys off is that no matter how much of a good guy he’s been, it doesn’t unhappen a crime! It’s not like you can earn a free crime with every ten good deeds you do. I can see the sales pitches now. “help ten old ladies across the street and you can rob a candy store, no questions asked!” Wouldn’t that be screwed up? If you’ve been really good and you do something bad, a judge can decide to be lenient with you. Instead of locking you in jail for a few days, he can just make you pay a fine and do some hours of community service. But you still! did! the crime! There should be consequences of that, you shouldn’t just be able to walk away. He can’t even claim that he did this out of desperation because he had no other way of expressing himself. Um, hello! He had the ear of the UN, a radio show, and he writes for a website! There is no excusable reason why he would feel compelled to write on a wall that wasn’t his own because he had no other choice.
I think a perfect punishment would have been to make him pay for the costs of cleaning up his grafiti. Then, he should have made Soltys do a little community service. He’s “one of the good guys”, remember? I’m sure he wouldn’t mind anyway. A perfect job would be to get him to clean up other “works of satire” from around city buildings. Soltys should find out how hard paint is to remove so he knows why it pissed people off when he did it and why they didn’t share his sense of humour. That’s the only way he’s going to learn, it seems.
I know there are a lot more serious crimes that get laughable sentences, and in the grand scheme of things, he didn’t hurt or kill anybody. But it’s the principle of it. It’s the fact that there were no real consequences. The judge just wrote it off and told him not to worry about it. The most he’ll say about this little brush with the law is, “Phew. I really dodged one there.” The lesson he’ll learn isn’t, “I was wrong.” It’s “Be more careful next time and you won’t get caught.” It’s not “Maybe I should use my voice in productive ways,” It’s “Hmmm. I know I can’t spray-paint. What about damaging construction equipment? Does that count? Maybe I should feed a few more homeless people first.”