Breakdown of Society Evident in Vancouver Stabbing Where Bystanders Did Nothing: Experts

Breakdown of Society Evident in Vancouver Stabbing Where Bystanders Did Nothing: Experts
A woman pauses at a makeshift memorial for Paul Stanley Schmidt, 37, in downtown Vancouver on March 29, 2023. (The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck)
Tara MacIsaac
When Paul Stanley Schmidt was stabbed to death in front of his 3-year-old daughter while standing outside a downtown Vancouver Starbucks on March 26, nobody stepped in to help. An onlooker sipped his coffee, while two bystanders filmed, one of them a TikToker who took a selfie video next to the dying man’s body.

David Haskell, an associate professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Wilfrid Laurier University, told The Epoch Times that this reaction is different from the so-called “bystander effect,” where individuals in a crowd freeze up because they think someone else will help the person in trouble, or because the situation is ambiguous and they’re not sure what to do.

“One of the things we might be seeing is what has been called the loss of ’social capital,'” he said.
Social capital is a term in sociology that refers to the connectedness between people in society that allows it to function effectively. Haskell said the loss of social capital may be due to a breakdown of families, a loss of faith, or a weakened sense of community and trust. 

“We'll call it the breakdown in social cohesion in society,” he said. “Certainly, we are at a point in the history of the west where we’ve never seen such a significant breakdown in social cohesion.”

Eric Kaufmann, a Vancouver native and politics professor at the University of London, also cites the loss of social capital as playing a role. 
“I think it’s indicative of this breakdown of society that we’re seeing across the West, but worse in North America, and worse especially on the West Coast,” Kaufmann told The Epoch Times.
Schmidt, 37, went with his fiancée and daughter to the Starbucks coffee shop on the evening of March 26. While waiting outside on the patio as his fiancée went inside to order, Schmidt asked a man not to vape near his daughter, the victim’s family told media. After a brief altercation, the man produced a knife and stabbed him.
Inderdeep Singh Gosal, 32, has been charged with second-degree murder. Police say it doesn’t appear the victim and suspect knew each other. The circumstances leading up to the murder are under investigation and police are looking for more witnesses.
Video recordings of the incident were posted on social media in the days following, but police and the victim’s family have asked that they be removed. 
Although a bystander did eventually flag down an officer on patrol, the victim’s mother, Kathy Schmidt, told City News, “I’m just incredibly surprised that nobody from inside Starbucks called for help, nobody outside called for help. It wasn’t until he was in dire straits.”
After facing backlash for a lack of empathy or taking action to help, the TikToker—a young man named Alex Bodger—posted a video explaining his reaction.
He was uncomfortable and shocked, he said, and added that he’s sorry. But, ultimately, he said, “It doesn’t faze me too much because ... I'll just say, human life to me—the way I look at it, if I don’t know you, it’s meaningless.”


Certain characteristics of West Coast cities—from Los Angeles to Seattle to Vancouver—make them especially susceptible to a loss of social capital, Kauffman says.
More drifters—people who are less rooted—end up in these cities, partly because of the climate, he said. Also evident is “a sort of strain of progressivism that is more anarchist, more individualist, or expressive individualist,” Kauffman said. Expressive individualism places one’s inner desires and wishes above externally imposed mores or authority.
He gave the examples of policies that arise from this ideology: providing drugs to users, having lax rules around setting up camps in cities, releasing repeat offenders, and defunding the police.
“All these sorts of ideas contribute to a less ordered environment and contribute to increases in crime rates,” he said.
Violent crime in Vancouver was up 12 percent in 2022 from the average for 2017–19, according to the Vancouver Police Department, with “serious assaults” up 30 percent. In the downtown district where Schmidt was killed, violent crime rose about 22 percent over the same period.

Family Structure

Kaufmann also cites the breakdown of the family structure as a factor, with an increase in divorce and people choosing single living.
People don’t have their neighbours over for dinner anymore, and they’re not part of community organizations meeting face-to-face, he said.
Smartphones have further separated people from face-to-face community, and the anonymity of urban life adds to this disconnectedness, he said.
Bodger’s comments exemplify this disconnect, Kauffman said. “Everybody’s just maybe in their own bubble and there are no common bonds.”

‘In It Together’

Haskell cites additional factors, including a loss of religious beliefs and the principles that come with it.
“To the extent that society becomes irreligious, secular, or agnostic or atheist, there really is—the data is clear—there is a movement away from selflessness,” he said.
Haskell cited studies showing Christians contribute more to charity and community organizations, and that more atheist countries, such as Sweden, have lower levels of altruism.
What’s missing is a sense that we’re “in it together,” Philip Salzman, professor emeritus of anthropology at McGill University, said in an interview.
When people witness something like a stabbing, it’s natural to hesitate or be uncertain about what to do to some degree, Salzman said. But it should be “balanced by a sense that they owe a fellow community member something, that they’re part of something larger, they’re in it together. That ‘in it together’ seems to have disappeared.”
Salzman cited a poll published in March, commissioned by the Wall Street Journal, that showed the extent to which patriotism, religious faith, and having children have fallen as priorities for Americans.
“Canadian cities have long been following American ones into anomie and disorder,” he said.
Cities full of homelessness, drug-use, and violence on public transit make it hard to feel a sense of community and belonging, Salzman said, adding that talk of systemic racism and the like lead to a self-loathing that makes patriotism difficult.

“There’s kind of a general sense of disengagement.”