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...
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 CityCaucus.com 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.
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.