column was published in the North
Shore News on
May 23, 2001)
Court and jail not the answer to every crime
By Leo Knight
crime running rampant -- well, unless you listen to Statistics
Canada -- what West Vancouver police did not need was a one-man
32-year-old man named Avery Mah, it seems, stole everything that
wasn't nailed down, and even a few things that were.
fact on the day he was released from the West Van police
station, he even absconded with their monogrammed garbage can
from the front of the building.
first came to police attention a month ago when they raided his
home and found a truckload of stolen property. Strange stuff
found squeegees by the dozen, numbers from the front of houses,
even the doormats and garden gnomes from the yards of hundreds
of homes. They also found a raft of Paladin Security lawn signs.
strange case and bizarre find by West Van police garnered
considerable media attention. At the time, police felt Mah had
confined his allegedly illegal activities to area homes. But,
one shop owner, after seeing Mah on the BCTV News Hour, called
in to say he recognized Mah as the guy who stole the handset for
his cordless phone.
searching Mah's house remembered seeing a base-less cordless
they tracked things back, it began to appear as though Mah was
more than a little active in commercial premises as well.
search warrant was again conducted on the Mah residence on May
11. West Van police needed a five-ton truck to cart away the
suspected stolen swag.
from clocks on walls to little calculators on counters was
even seized framed photographs of models from a Richmond photo
strange case to be sure.
it would seem than Mah's bizarre peccadilloes would require the
involvement of something other than the tender mercies of the
justice system, such as it is. Mah's father, the wealthy
restaurateur Eugene Mah, seemingly also recognized the problem,
hiring high-profile lawyer Bill Smart as his counsel. Yes,
that's the same Bill Smart who is involved in the prosecution of
former Premier, Glen Clark.
even with the most able counsel offered by Mr. Smart, it seems
to me the system is ill-equipped to deal with this case.
alleged offences, albeit criminal in nature, are really of the
nuisance variety. The garden-variety, garden gnome theft, so to
speak. The sort of stuff the neighbourhood kids might do as a
was, I am assured by police, not motivated by profit. He wasn't
fencing the pickets.
what does the system do with such an individual?
was placed on the usual conditions after his first court
appearance, but that doesn't seem to have altered the equation
very much. Any sort of conditional sentence will have little
effect, likewise probation, even with regular supervision.
the police can't simply walk away and let the activity continue
the justice system, which becomes the dumping ground for so many
who slip through society's cracks, has no answer for this type
of case. While I would not presuppose to judge Avery Mah, it
does seem clear that this is no ordinary theft case.
sense would tell us that here is a young man who needs some kind
of help, the sort of help not to be found behind prison walls or
within the parameters of a court's authority.
Mental Health Act only allows for committal if the individual
presents a danger to himself or others. Even separating garden
gnomes from their adoptive families could not be stretched into
a danger. So, what to do?
OK, but how do you enforce the order? And what about the
neighbourhood gnomes in the interim?
West Vancouver police are just as perplexed in the strange case of Avery Mah.