"A billion dollars worth of bad publicity for the City," says '94 riot investigator – video
The damage to our reputation from last night's riot in the opinion of the man who investigated the 1994 Stanley Cup riot is almost too high to count. "What happened last night is a million dollars plus of damage, but a billion dollars worth of bad publicity for the City of Vancouver," said Bob Whitelaw in an interview with CTV.
Whitelaw says that his 1994 report on the last Stanley Cup riot had over 100 recommendations, and several important ones – such as not allowing cars to park on downtown streets near the crowds – were ignored.
For weeks now we've watched Canucks celebrations take place downtown. Lacking true city squares, we improvised by shutting down streets, opening up plazas and community centres across Metro Vancouver to create a collective experience. We desperately wanted to recapture the spirit of our successful 2010 Games, while cheering on our Vancouver Canucks.
Just two days ago I said that I hoped "good sense" would prevail after Game 7. It was wishful thinking on my part. After Game Five on Saturday and throughout yesterday there were increasing signs that things would not end well last night. Based upon our history, you could say that the 2011 Stanley Cup riot was sure to happen.
Make no mistake – politics was a big factor in these celebrations. Especially in Vancouver, where the label "no fun" has become the proverbial albatross hanging around the necks of successive city councils. Vancouver was willing to spend like drunken sailors with no plan on how to pay the bill other than digging into contingency funds. While bars and restaurants did booming business and senior governments collected millions in sales & liquor taxes, Vancouver taxpayers have been stuck with the bill for policing and clean-up every night.
Were the signs of looming trouble ignored? Anecdotally, I received reports of drunk youths shotgunning beers and getting liquored up downtown in anticipation of Game 7. On Twitter and Facebook we heard reports of boasting about the riot about to take place in downtown. These warnings were all in plain view.
In Boston they did the wise thing by closing their downtown to open celebrations last night. In Vancouver we concentrated over 100,000 people within a few blocks. I roamed the streets before and after the riot with Councillor Suzanne Anton. We visited Canada Place, where a smaller crowd sat calmly. Police on the scene told us that the Canada Place fan zone was "spontaneous" for Game 7 and there had been no planning for it.
At Georgia and Hamilton it was another site altogether. Crowds were initially joyful, but I sensed a tension. Young people hopped over barricades as the mag and bag check security guards and VPD members looked overwhelmed. There was nothing they could do after the puck dropped to keep people from adding to the crush.
I've been to dozens of concerts over the years and dived into more than a few mosh pits. I know what a crush of people feels like, and I couldn't wait to get out of the Georgia Street fan zone. It was simply too crowded, and the participants too inebriated and rowdy for me to feel safe.
From there Anton and I walked over to the Stadium Skytrain station. We could both see waves of people flooding out of the stations, as trains rolled up 90 seconds apart. Out of the cars poured young people in droves, ready to party. I tweeted this about 10 minutes after the puck dropped:
Waves of folks, many drunk, loading off Skytrain into downtown. See parents taking kids home. Li'l scary.
Everyone seems to be scrambling for a reason as to why the riots happened. I say that this is what happens when you mix Game Seven and Canucks fans. It happened in 1994 and it happened again. Like it or not the mix of hockey and aggressive behaviour is a part of our culture. This is how many people like to get their kicks.
Look at this outrageous video of young men and women trashing two $100,000 police vehicles. That guy saying "light that bitch" (set it on fire) should go to jail. That teen girl wailing on the car should go to jail. That girl sitting atop of the car should go to jail. This isn't fun, this is spitting in the face of our civil society. The courts will be tied up for years and the costs will be unbelievably high if we are to achieve real justice.
Are Vancouverites able to gather together in large numbers for celebrations? Yes of course. The 2010 Games showed that with proper planning and adequate security we can bring large numbers of people – old and young – into our downtown core. Our annual Celebration of Light fireworks brings 300,000 people into the city, but thankfully spread out along beaches and high vantage points, not just within a few square blocks.
Before I left Georgia and Hamilton last night I saw food cart trucks being slowly ushered out of the fan zone. You could tell then that something was up. Thank goodness they got out early as several of those small business operators would have been destroyed.
I returned after 11pm with Councillor Anton (read her statement regarding the riot) and we walked the streets, meeting with police and thanking them for their service. I believe the VPD, with the support of fire fighters and frontline health workers did the very best job they could with the tools given to them.
The scenes of shattered glass and destroyed businesses left me momentarily choking up. I couldn't believe how devastating the destruction had been. EVERY window at The Bay at street level was smashed. Doors were pulled off their hinges. Store after store along Granville had been looted – completely empty apart from a few empty boxes.
Each one of those stores supports families, and employs several people who will not be going back to work today. If shopkeepers are properly insured, they might recoup the cost of damages months from now. Meanwhile their customers will have to look elsewhere as summer tourist season passes them by. For the shopkeepers and their employees, my heart goes out to you.
This is a tragedy for our city. Why weren't we prepared for it? Why didn't we heed the recommendations of the 1994 Stanley Cup riot report? Why did our transit and transportation systems keep people flooding into the downtown when it was clear the crowds were too large?
There are several factors being discussed relating to transit and the fan zones. However, we must verify all the details and have a full independent review of the cause of why this happened. For this report, I believe that:
- it must incorporate all stakeholders, including police, fire and City of Vancouver (Engineering, Mayor's office staff, etc.) and transit officials.
- it should ask what role did the fan zones play?
- city council should unanimously agree to who conducts the independent review before they are appointed
- an interim report should come out as soon as possible to help restore the City's reputation
We've not only lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in property, and created a multi-million dollar problem we must now pay for, we've done unprecedented damage to the reputation of our city and province. We've got no choice but to clean up the mess, find out who did the damage, and prosecute the hundreds to the fullest extent of the law.
This must never happen again.
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Click here to see a slideshow of images taken before and after the riot. Click the image to "show info" to read the image description. To read the best analysis so far of what happened yesterday, read Mike Howell's latest from the Vancouver Courier. I also highly recommend you read both Gary Mason and Jeff Lee's take on what happened.
Stay tuned to CityCaucus.com for more analysis of the Stanley Cup riot in the days to come.
- Post by Mike Klassen. Mike is a city council candidate for the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association (NPA). If you're an elected official or candidate seeking a nomination and want to write about urban issues, please send your 450-500 word submission to CityCaucus@gmail.com.