This is probably the most amazing video footage taken just prior to and during riot
It’s been exactly a week now since Vancouverites watched in horror as their city went from a “fun city” to “riot city” is less than a few hours.
With a civic election on the horizon, the stakes are very high for both Mayor Gregor and Suzanne Anton, leader of the centre-right NPA opposition party. One wrong move now and it could well affect the final outcome.
Now that we have a moment to reflect upon what happened, I thought it would be of interest to our readers if I reviewed some of the facts as we currently know them. You might refer to what follows as Robertson’s Riot for Dummies.
- Vancouver’s City Manager has admitted she did not read any of the reports coming out of the 1994 Game 7 Stanley Cup riots. She told CKNW news "If I had to read every single report that was behind a lot of business we do I would never see the light of day." (NOTE: it took me all of about 70 minutes to review the report from top to bottom)
- Vanouver’s Mayor admitted that he too didn’t read nor was he briefed about the contents of the reports coming out of the ’94 riots.
- Although Vancouver council debated a report last April regarding security costs for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the decision to set up big screens, fan zones and invite 100,000 people downtown were all executive decisions made exclusively by the Mayor’s office. None of the details related to crowd control, parking restrictions, staff preparation etc…was ever debated at council or included in the staff report.
- It was clear in an April report that the VPD had no clue there would be a massive gathering taking place on Georgia St. only a few weeks later. The report states "given the success of the 2010 Olympics, we believe that people will again congregate in the Granville/Robson corridors."
- CKNW reports "the Vancouver Police watered down plans for policing the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, a month before the playoffs even began. According to minutes from a Vancouver Police Board finance committee meeting on March 2nd, and a March 16th board meeting, the department downplayed the need for officers in the play-offs. Specifically, Inspector Rick McKenna said the need would be less than in 2010, because of "decreased momentum" and the fact the celebrations were spreading out over the Lower Mainland. A budget more than 300-thousand dollars less than what the department requested in 2010 if the Canucks made it to the finals. The meetings were months before City Hall planned outdoor viewing parties, which drew more than a hundred thousand people for Game Seven."
- We don’t know the exact number of officers deployed during the riot, as both the Mayor and Chief of Police refuse to release this information. This is despite the fact the independent review order by the Province will likely reveal exactly how many police were actually on duty that night.
- Tom Stamatakis, the head of Vancouver’s Police Union, said there were not enough officers on the street that night. He claims it would take about 5000 police to manage the crowd that amassed on the night of Game 7. This is a far cry from the reported 400-500 personnel that were allegedly on the streets of downtown Vancouver.
- Police Chief Jim Chu claims he was never denied resources from City Hall for additional police, but he also told local CTV news that he could have used more police officers on the night of the riot.
- The Mayor and Police Chief initially blamed a small group of hoodlums and anarchists bent on creating chaos for the riot. It’s now evident this theory was not based on any real evidence. Many of the young people being arrested and posting online confessions are from upstanding middle-class families. They are hardly what most people would consider as anarchists.
- The Mayor said he was completely “surprised” by what happened after Game 7. This is despite the fact that the last time the Canucks made it that far into the playoffs there was a major riot.
- As early as Game 5 police were reporting more trouble within the crowds appearing downtown. By Game 6, the Solicitor General was asked by the VPD to limit liquor sales in order to reduce issues related to public intoxication and over-consumption.
- Although a report was brought before council last April regarding security plans for the playoffs, it did not include any details regarding Robertson’s CBC fan zones. The location and size of the venue as well as the decision to close off Georgia Street were decisions made directly out of the Mayor’s office.
- In contrast, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts chose to bring her concept of a special playoff live site to council for full debate and scrutiny. The site had a strict no alcohol policy and focused on families first. There were no major problems reported at this venue.
- Most of the downtown bars/restaurants which served liquor were already filled to capacity by noon. Therefore, there will little capacity for the downtown core to absorb an additional 100,000 people - with the exception of Robertson’s Georgia Street fan zone.
- Experts say Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final should always be treated very different from other playoff games. The dynamics of a guaranteed do or die situation is more likely to evoke emotions not seen in previous gatherings – win or lose.
- The Mayor says there were the same number of Vancouver Police officers on the streets as the gold medal men’s hockey game during the 2010 Olympic. What he fails to mention is that during the Olympics there were about 13,000 security personnel on Vancouver’s streets which came from a number of police forces from across Canada. It is estimated there were at most 400-500 VPD in the downtown core on June 15th.
- After days of facing intense media scrutiny, Robertson has finally accepted partial responsibility for what happened. But he also told the Vancouver Courier that the Vancouver Police and the Province of BC must also accept some of the blame.
- Chief Jim Chu has attempted to weaken the credibility of the 1994 BC Police Commission review into the 1994 riots by issuing a blistering attack letter focusing on Bob Whitelaw, one of the key individuals who worked on the report. Rather than spending time attacking Whitelaw, why don’t they just respond to his suggestions that the crowd control plan wasn’t adequate?
- Both Chief Jim Chu and City Manager Penny Ballem were quoted in the Vancouver Courier only hours before the riot as stating they had no concerns about a riot.
- A number of VPD officers have reported they were not called into duty on the evening of Robertson’s Riot. Many of them headed into the downtown core after they heard riots had broken out.
- Police were stationed at the major downtown SkyTrain stations earlier in the day and witnessed thousands of drunken youth heading into the downtown core. One must assume Transit Police also witnessed unruly behavior and the makeup of the crowd that headed downtown late in the afternoon.
- A video surfaces whereby City Manager Penny Ballem talks about her feelings regarding Stanely Cup playoff police budgets. The video is from a May 31st council meeting. Ballem states: "We have no intention of spending more than that unless we have a riot (smiles). Which I certainly hope we won't. My sense is council, I don't have a number to give you at this point. We are all working very hard to be responsible. I can give you reassurance that we are being extremely careful in what we commit to. We are trying to negotiate levered partnerships and the report that the VPD had brought forward here for information basically signaled to council that we anticipate that we are going to have to spend upwards of that range of money. My direction is that I don't think that we should have to spend that and we are trying to ratchet that back."
- NEW: Effective June 24th, both Penny Ballem and Chief of Police Jim Chu refuse to do any more media interviews regarding the riot. However, the Mayor sat down with Gary Mason from the Globe and Mail for a one hour interview. Robertson tells Mason “I didn’t know any details. That’s how the system is set up. … I have full confidence in the chief and the chief is responsible for that plan.” The Mayor goes on to say “I agree. I think collectively we underestimated the potential for trouble from the policing needs for Game 7, for the capacity of the live site, which got swamped that afternoon. I think the response on dealing with alcohol downtown that day, obviously there were some real issues there. There are a number of elements that clearly were not, where we were not prepared for what happened … we made mistakes in not preparing for that to happen. Therefore it got out of hand.” As for whether Robertson should accept any of the blame...he states “I do take responsibility … but that said, we do have to focus on those who committed criminal acts in terms of culpability.”
Now that we’ve reviewed the facts we know so far related to Robertson’s Riot, I think it’s also worth reviewing a few of the more interesting sections from the ’94 BC Police Commission (BCPC) Stanley Cup Riot Report. In terms of police staffing during big sporting events they state:
We also note that crowd control literature suggests that police are better served by overestimating the number of officers they will require, rather than underestimating. Cost implications make this a difficult decision, but the department should be encouraged by its budget managers to err on the side of prevention.
As we all know, Mayor Robertson’s CBC Fan Zone went from a small gathering at the broadcaster’s outdoor plaza to something much more uncontrollable. He eventually closed off Georgia Street and rented large TV screens from the United States in order to accommodate up to 100,000 in a very confined area. Interestingly the BCPC report states:
We do note that the Report of the Special Inquiry Into the Disturbances Following the Montreal Canadiens’ Stanley Cup Victory suggested that Montreal prohibit big television screen showing of such games in the downtown area.
The sentiment was expressed that the gathering of a large crowd in the downtown core, with glass store fronts and no open areas, is something our city should not encourage.
It was abundantly clear to me when I was downtown in the early afternoon on June 15th that the core of Vancouver was about to explode. On my way toward the SkyTrain in the underground Granville Station I encountered hundreds of drunken youth who shouted obscenities at me as they headed toward Robertson’s fan zone. I won’t repeat what they said, but it was clear to me the makeup of the crowd at Game 7 was nothing like early on in the series.
In fact, I noted the following in a couple of tweets I sent out early in the afternoon just prior to Game 7:
Tweet 1: Taking SkyTrain out of dwntn & just encountered thousands of young #Canucks fans heading to fan zones screaming "we want the cup"
Tweet 2: Young guy shouts on SkyTrain before leaving "be warned, there are going to be 1994 riots all over again. It's coming!" What an idiot
As for the role of alcohol might have played in Robertson’s Riot, it’s pretty clear that helped fuel the mayhem. Unsurprisingly, this is not dissimilar to what happened back in ’94. The BCPC report states:
“Many bars were full by noon”
I’ve had numerous friends tell me that locating a seat at a downtown establishment that served liquor on June 15th was next to impossible. The drinking started early, and by 5 pm thousands of drunken patrons clearly made their way onto the streets – despite the early liquor store closures.
It’s pretty clear that Mayor Gregor is absolutely terrified that he may wear some of the blame for the riots as he heads into what could end up being a close civic election.
However, regardless of what he thinks, our democratic system is fundamentally based on the principle of political accountability. Although he may not have been calling all of the shots when it comes to how the event was policed or executed, he needs to be held accountable for all the public service staff that report to him. The buck stops with the Mayor.
There is already enough evidence in the public domain to clearly indicate the Mayor and his senior team did not do their homework when it came to planning for the uniqueness of a Game 7 event. I’m pretty confident the independent review will also lead the public to that conclusion when details are released later this fall.
It is worth noting that the results of this independent review will likely come out just prior to the Coroner’s Inquest into the Pandora Street tragedy. It has been hinted that the City didn’t do enough to prevent the death of three individual who died tragically last Christmas at a flophouse in East Vancouver. Clearly the Mayor and his Vision crew are going to face a number of potential landmines as they try secure another majority mandate in November.
It would serve Robertson well over the coming months to focus less on backyard chickens and growing wheat on front lawns, and more on ensuring that citizens feel safe on Vancouver’s streets. Even then, I’m not sure his mishandling of this file will be forgotten by voters upset their city has received yet another unnecessary black eye.
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