Twenty five years ago, 5,000 people gathered at a rally at Coquitlam’s Town Centre Stadium to protest what many believed were lax laws that failed to make young offenders accountable for their crimes.
The catalyst for this event was the shocking death of of 31-year-old Graham Niven, who was stomped to death by 18-year-old Stephen Stark and his 15-year-old accomplice, John Biniaris outside a convenience store in Coquitlam.
Today, you would be hard-pressed to get that many Tri-City residents out for a protest. After all, the economy is good, the community is relatively safe, crime is down and that kind of random attack is rare.
But beneath the current seemingly glossy picture are some realities that can’t be ignored.
Anxiety amongst youths is high; suicide is the leading cause of injury-related death among children and youth in B.C.; gangs continue to recruit young people; online sexual exploitation of youth is growing; bullying has not slowed and, in fact, many experts are saying it’s been exacerbated by social media.
Recent sensational crimes, such as the murders of Australian tourist Lucas Fowler, his U.S. girlfriend Chynna Deese, and Canadian botanist Leonard Dyck allegedly by two Port Alberni teens, have left many appalled about the state of young people while others decry the actions of those teens who watched and recorded the tragic overdose death of Langley teen Carson Crimeni.
Here in the Tri-Cities, we’ve seen young people die tragically from illicit drugs and the bullying of Amanda Todd lead to her suicide death.
It could be argued that the advent of the internet and social media has made us all too aware of the criminal acts of just a few, and while our outrage grows with each senseless act, we are often left with a sense of helplessness.
So what have we learned in the 25 years since Niven was killed for doing nothing more talking with the wrong young person?
As in everything, the world is what we make of it and we can focus on the negatives or we can focus on solutions. We can also say that for every single act of violence carried out by a young person, thousands more actions taken by Tri-Cities youth are being done to reduce stigma about mental health, improve the environment, and make the world a kinder place.
Back in 1994, The Tri-City News wrote in an editorial about Graham Niven's murder that his death should have meaning.
Honouring him requires more than an outrageous comment on social media, it requires a focused attention to finding solutions to ensuring our youth grow up healthy and safe, and morally and ethically strong.