Robertson's Riot review: Part 2 - better planning was key to prevent chaos

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


Gregor Robertson talks fan zones to media last May. Video: Jeff Lee/Vancouver Sun

In my previous post I explored how the City’s internal review process for Robertson’s Riot is severely flawed and, worse, completely unaccountable. Unlike the independent review being conducted by John Furlong and Doug Keefe, the City’s is undertaking a more secretive behind-closed-doors approach.

I previously indicated I would provide Furlong and Keefe with some "free advice" regarding what could have been done differently to help prevent the riot. So here are some of my observations...

The Venue:

As many of you remember, Mike Klassen and I were promoting that the Canucks open up Rogers Arena for the away games during the playoffs. Unlike the massive 150,000 person outdoor venue the Mayor set up, this venue has many more advantages.

  • With a capacity of around 17,000 people, there was a way to limit the crowd attending the event.
  • The venue was ticketed with proceeds going to charity.
  • The venue would only be open for away games, hence it would have been used solely for patrons of Game 7.
  • The venue has a liquor license and is required to adhere to strict provincial liquor laws regarding over service.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that an indoor venue for away games was far superior to a free for all outdoor venue on Georgia Street.


After started promoting the concept of an indoor celebration venue, the Mayor started musing publicly that he was going to make an announcement regarding an outdoor location. Since taking office Gregor and his 'car-free' lieutenant Andrea Reimer have been all about closing off streets to traffic. The Canucks playoffs were an opportunity to prove the concept, and to score some political points in the process. Furthermore, it was clear that he did not want to be upstaged by his biggest critics, as we had done during the 2010 Games with our Where to Be for Free guide.

It you look back at all the media interviews during those days before the NHL semi-finals, the Mayor didn’t seem to know exactly where this was going to be until just before the announcement. He kept stalling, only saying that City staff were “working on it.” Eventually it was announced that 700-block Hamilton – the so-called CBC Fan Zone – would be launched and policed by the City.

As a result, it was next to impossible for that staff to develop a robust communication plan in consultation with other cities in the region. In fact, despite spending over $600,000 for servicing the actual venue, there wasn’t a dime spent on pro-active advertising in the lead up to Game 7. Looking back, it’s clear the City should have playing lead on a communications strategy that made people aware of events taking place in their own communities.

Family Focus:

One of the reason’s the 2010 Olympic Games were such a big success has to do with the fact that most of the venues were "family-friendly". It’s been proven that having a good mix of kids, parents, young people & seniors in large crowds helps to diffuse any potential trouble.

If you attended the Mayor’s Fan Zone, you could see from the beginning that the crowd was dominated by teens & twenty-somethings. There were a smattering of kids and parents, but the crowd was overwhelmingly made up of young males – many of whom were intoxicated. See the impressive high resolution image of Game 7 featured on this page to really appreciate the make-up of the crowd.

Once Mayor Gregor made the decision to throw a big party downtown, he should have asked City staff to make sure that the Fan Zone was a buzz of activity that included entertainment for people of all ages – just as the recommendations from the 1994 internal review outlined.

For example, why didn’t they set up dozens of special busker zones throughout the site and welcome all of Vancouver’s best to perform? Not only would it have provided the buskers with the opportunity to make some good money, it would have addressed one of the key recommendations from the 1994 riot report. Unfortunately, besides a single face painting table on 700-block Hamilton Street, there was little to do other than to stand around and watch hockey.

Game 7 was "Special":

If City management had read the 1994 riot reports, they would have known that a Stanley Cup Game 7 is very different from all others. If the team loses this game, they don’t have a chance to recover.

Although it might have been very unpopular and may have temporarily branded Robertson as the “No Fun Mayor,” serious consideration should have been given to canceling the final fan zone on June 15th – opting for a post-playoffs celebration instead, just like the City of Boston did (Robertson mocked Boston for lack of public celebrations on Twitter). Given our previous experience with a Game 7, the City should have known that something could go wrong – win or lose.

It appears the Mayor rolled the dice and naively persuaded himself that people had learned to behave themselves after the Olympics. That obviously wasn’t the case.

Police on Staff:

It is now reported that more than half of the Vancouver Police force were not called for active duty that night. Unfortunately we can’t confirm exactly how many cops were on the beat that night as the Mayor will not provide us with that information. However, we do know that not every officer was deployed.

It is truly hard to understand, other than for budget reasons, why not every sworn police officer was not working in Vancouver that night. It’s also been reported that other municipal police forces were not called in time to get their members downtown in time to assist the Vancouver Police Department. If that’s true, we need to know why.

Once again, if we could rewind the clock, it’s clear that organizing this large of an outdoor venue without the full cooperation of the larger municipalities in Metro is ill-advised.

In Part 3 of this series, we'll analyze how transit, liquor and parking restrictions also played a key role in fueling the mayhem for Robertson's Riot.

- Post by Daniel. You can follow us on Twitter @CityCaucus. Or you can "like" us on Facebook at


That wasn't just an impressive image, it was downright scary.
And people kept wondering why I didn't go anywhere near downtown.

The only outcome I can hope for in this review is the knowledge that NOBODY will be naive enough to think it isn't possible again.

According to the VO on Furlong's appointment to oversea the RIOT review:
(note, zero mentioned on Ballem running the 'internal' review)

...'And behind the scenes, sources say, Mayor Gregor Robertson was struggling to be included in Olympic ceremonies and share the stage with Gordon Campbell.....'

"And people kept wondering why I didn't go anywhere near downtown."

LOL chris(ofm) :-)

Game 3 was enough of an eye opener for me and my family. I took my 8 yr. old grandson downtown to watch game #3 @ Canada place. The crowd was mostly well behaved @ Canada Pl. However we went for a walk after the game to Granville & Robson. There were already enough indications of civil disobedience for me at that point. Drunks pushing over paper boxes on Granville just north of Robson, while the city's finest sat and observed.

I'm an expert on crowd dynamics, but the signs were there in plain view for anyone to see. I also put a post up on a hockey forum 2 days before about the chance of a riot after game 7, I was not mistaken. I'm not in law enforcement or an elected official, however I was a lot more intuitive then they were on a particular day in June.

Shame on the talking heads for trying to spin this into anything other then a sincere apology to all affected by this exceptional short-sighted level of response.

Now we get the Kangaroo report from Ms. Ballem (who was herself fooled by the dynamics of mob mentality). This report will be a waste of money and the green VV hacks should save the paper and cancel this useless report before it gets printed and finds it's way into the landfill!

That frightening photo tells me the police did not have a chance in hell of managing that crowd. It should have NEVER been allowed to be boxed in the way it was and it should have NEVER been allowed to get that big. Stop the buses if you have to - they have done it before.

Had anyone other than the Mayor come to the city with such a plan they would have been told a big fat NO WAY.

Isn't it interesting that the Pride Parade can draw such a huge crowd (regardless of whose figures you choose to believe)to the downtown core with absolutely no problems.

Sunday afternoon, with something to see and do and no high stakes outcome. Different event entirely.

I looked at the photo again. Do you actually think people half way back in that crowd could see the screen? Postage stamp perhaps?

Love the last paragraph:

The annual procurement report to council on April 5 said the city spent $2,271,031 on 32 no-bid contracts in 2010, including 16 deemed “urgent and highly specialized” worth $526,175 and one for $15,000 that was considered so confidential that it was censored from the report.'

Vancouver city hall conceals ‘fan zone’ contracts
Thousands rioted downtown after Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals

Check out!

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