Student letters to the editor

Stuff reports:

A police plea for the name of the writer of a letter threatening to unload an automatic assault rifle in Canterbury University’s library has been turned down by the institution’s students association.

The letter, written anonymously and published in the students association’s magazine on March 20, lists a series of gripes the author has about university life, including people who ride bikes on the footpath and students who wear camouflage. It then reads: “The above things are slowly transforming me from a Gandhi-like character to the kind of guy who is going to walk into James Hight [the library] one day with a fully loaded automatic assault rifle and unload my anger into you.”

The letter has also featured on the magazine’s website since March 20, but only came to the university’s attention when a student’s mother complained about it on Friday.

University Vice-Chancellor Rod Carr said he only became aware of it yesterday and referred the matter to police.

“This is a person who needs help,” he said. …

Despite police asking for the individual’s name, Carter said, the University of Canterbury Students Association () had declined to release it on privacy grounds. Since no offence had been committed, police were unable to seek a warrant to force the release of the name.

“We are looking at other options for getting in touch with this person,” Carter said. “We would like to speak with them, and hopefully satisfy ourselves that there is no need for concern. If they would like to come forward and contact us, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss the letter and the concerns it raises.”

Canta editor Hannah Herchenbach would not comment and forwarded all queries to UCSA president Erin Jackson.

Jackson did not respond to questions about why UCSA would not release the name to police. But she did say the last paragraph contained content that “could be interpreted to look like a non-specific threat”, but the “tone of the letter was largely hyperbolic”.

She said given the tenor of the letter, and UCSA’s previous dealings with and knowledge of the author, it was assessed there was no serious threat.

I’m with UCSA on this one. Those who are serious threats, don’t tend to write letters to Canta about it. The letter maybe somewhat bad taste, but so are the vast majority of letters to student newspapers. They range from the hilarious to the defamatory. The letter was an obvious rant, not a threat. There is a difference, and we don’t want to end up like the UK where a guy got arrested for tweeting how he’d blow up an airport because they made him miss a date with his girlfriend. You obviously don’t say such things while in the queue for security scanning or on an aircraft – but that is different from saying one can never ever ever joke about such stuff.

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