Does this politician not bear any responsibility for what happend the night of the riot? Photo: Stephen Hui
On June 15th, Vancouver was turned into a virtual war zone. Our streets were torn up and cars were set ablaze as Mayor Gregor Robertson's Fan Zone deteriorated into a massive riot. The whole event terrorized some business owners and their staff and translated into a one billion dollar hit to our international reputation.
Fast forward a couple of months and we now have the "final" report on what happened and how it could have all been prevented. This is despite the fact not a single person has been charged with a riot related crime yet.
In the hours that followed the release of today's report written by John Furlong and Douglas Keefe, the media began doing their job of dissecting each and every word. The civic politicians were kept busy too.
NPA mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton was first out of the gate telling the media Mayor Gregor Robertson had some explaining to do. After all, it was his idea to invite 150,000+ people downtown in a very confined area without a proper plan to manage the crowds.
Meanwhile in the west wing of City Hall, the Mayor's office was busy spinning their version of events. They were telling anyone in the media willing to listen that this report was a vindication of Gregor Robertson. Their supporters were even blaring over Twitter that it was time to retire the term "Robertson's Riot." In that regard, the Vancouver Sun reports:
Keefe and Furlong also examined Robertson’s role, and concluded the mayor “played no part in directing police planning or financial discussions."
The Mayor's spinmeisters point to the fact that their boss did not interfere in the operations of the VPD in the lead up to and during that fateful night. Wow, was anyone actually under the impression the Mayor was ordering front line police to suit up into riot gear? Rather doubtful.
I can't ever recall accusing Mayor Gregor of being in the VPD nerve centre that night issuing orders to the front line police (in fact he was actually inside Roger's Arena watching the game). Quite the contrary. I took issue with the fact that he came up with the concept of the outdoor Fan Zone then distanced himself from the event after it all went terribly wrong.
It doesn't surprise me for a moment that Furlong/Keefe didn't lay the blame on any politicians for what happened during the riot. After all, that wasn't their mandate. Their job was to find out what went wrong and make recommendations on how to prevent another riot from happening next spring when the Canucks are hopefully back in the playoffs.
What does surprise me is how few people care about the issue of political accountability regarding the riot. You do remember what political accountability is right? It's the act of being responsible for the actions of the public service staff that report directly to you as a politician.
If our democratic system is to maintain any kind of credibility, it is incumbent upon us to hold our politicians accountable for the actions of the public service staff that report to them. If both Chief Jim Chu and City Manager Penny Ballem made critical errors, then the Mayor must hold them accountable. But then he too must bear some of the responsibility...something he and his handlers are simply loathe to do.
It's not good enough for Mayor Gregor to say there were critical errors made by his staff and that because he was unaware of them happening...all is good. He should also stop naively saying the riot was simply "a learning experience" for him. I don't think he realizes how insulting that is to the men and women who are permanently scarred as a result of what happened.
There are many questions regarding this riot that remain unanswered:
- Why was there no adequate debate in council regarding the scope of the playoff events leading up to June 15th?
- Why has there been no public consultation when it comes to the City's own riot reviews?
- What did City Manager Penny Ballem mean when she told council she wanted to "ratchet down" security budgets for the Fan Zones?
- Why did the Mayor initially blame the riot on a "small group of hooligans and thugs?"
- Why did the Mayor and his City Manager not review the '94 Stanley Cup Riot Report in the lead up to Game 7?
- Why is the City refusing to respond to several key FOI requests related to the riot in a timely manner?
I could go on with a list of 100+ questions...but at this stage it all seems rather pointless given how the "final" riot reports are now being debated.
At the end of the day most voters may not give a hoot about the issue of political accountability. If so, that's a real hit to our democratic system which requires politicians to be accountable for the actions of their staff. If they're not...then just exactly who is ultimately running City Hall anyway?
Despite the Mayor's best efforts at spin control today, I suspect the issue of Robertson's Riot is likely to hang around until at least civic election day on November 19th.
However, if the initial media and public reaction is any indication, it would appear the Chief of Police is most likely the only public offical who will end up wearing the blame for an event initiated out of His Worship's office. In my opinion, that would be a shame.
Vancouver council may not have debated the Fan Zones in any great detail prior to the riot. Nor did they express any great curiosity regarding what went wrong afterward.
But with two months now passed and $2 million tax dollars spent, the Mayor is finally committing to a "full and open discussion" regarding what went wrong. Cue the laugh track. If you want to read the City's whitewash riot report that will be debated next Tuesday at council, you can click here and here.
If you want to read a full copy of the Furlong/Keefe report you can click here.
If you get a chance, please read Pete McMartin's excellent column in the Vancouver Sun on this topic.
Note: I'll have more to say in the coming days about some of the specific references in the Furlong/Keefe report regarding what the City did and did not do to prepare for the Fan Zone crowds.