'Criminals, anarchists, thugs' behind post-Cup riot
Published Thursday, June 16, 2011 5:42PM PDT Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 2:05AM PDT
Vancouver police say the wanton rioting and looting that broke out in the aftermath of the Canucks' Game 7 loss in the Stanley Cup final was caused by a small contingent of "criminals, anarchists and thugs."
Under intense public scrutiny and calls for his resignation, Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu told reporters that the crowd in the downtown core was too large for officers to act quickly, saying that troublemakers hid themselves among legitimate Canucks fans during the game.
"The objective when the riot breaks out is to deploy officers in strategic locations," he told a packed a press conference at police headquarters, adding that officers were placed purposefully to hold the line at busy downtown intersections and slowly gain ground when the violence erupted.
"If the officers just ran into hot spots the riot would have lasted a whole lot longer than three hours. [We] don't run around like a chicken with its head cut off."
The mayhem caused millions of dollars in damage and looting to downtown businesses.
Police arrested more than 100 people in the fray, but most were released within 24 hours.
Eighty-five of those arrests were detained for breach of the peace. Another eight people were held for public intoxication.
Only eight remain in custody for more serious charges including break-and-enter, theft, mischief and assault. Two people charged in a stabbing have already appeared in court.
From bad to worse
The problems started in the third period of the game, with several people throwing glass bottles at the giant screens in the downtown fan zones. Things went from bad to worse around 8 p.m. when several cars were lit on fire and a roving gang of young people started moving deftly through downtown streets, first smashing windows and, eventually, robbing the Bay, Sears, among other retail outlets.
Police say some of the rioters who lit cars on fire and looted stores also took part in the anarchist protests during last year's 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Chu said many of the rioters came downtown armed with masks, goggles and gasoline.
"You don't burn a car unless you come to the event with accelerants," he said.
In total, 15 cars were burned, including two Vancouver police cruisers.
Chu said nine officers were injured during the riots that quickly turned the downtown core into mayhem, including one who required 14 stitches after being struck trying to stop a looter at a sports store. Another suffered a concussion after being hit by a projectile.
"Some officers even suffered human bites," Chu said.
Local hospitals confirmed that nearly 150 were treated for injuries in the fray, but it's unclear if the injured police officers are included in the tally. Two victims suffered serious stab wounds. One man is listed in critical condition after jumping from the Dunsmuir viaduct, a main traffic artery adjacent to Rogers Arena. No foul play is suspected in the incident.
Chu said there were triple the amount of rioters than the 1994 Stanley Cup riot and the crowd was brought under control in half the time.
"In three hours the crowd was essentially dispersed and the crowd was going home by 11," Chu said, adding that the last report of looting came in to dispatchers at 10:55 p.m.
However, images captured from CTV's Chopper 9 showed people entering the Sears department store on Howe Street, many exiting with merchandise in their hands, until well past 11:30 p.m.
The situation downtown grew so dire that police blocked car traffic into the downtown core on the Granville and Cambie Street bridges. Many downtown streets were completely closed and commuter train service on the Canada Line was temporarily shut down to ensure more people wouldn't flood into the city centre.
What went wrong?
From the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs the VPD prided themselves on taking a "meet and greet" attitude with the hordes of hockey fans coming into downtown Vancouver to watch games in bars, or open air fan zones.
Downtown liquor stores were even shut down for Games 6 and 7 in an effort to curb public drunkenness, another preventative measured aimed at keeping the peace with the more than 100,000 people who descended onto downtown streets.
But the "keeping the peace" attitude of police quickly turned to focusing on riot tactics and crowd control when violence erupted on Wednesday night.
"For weeks we predicted this nightmare and hoped this shame would never come. But behind the scenes we were always preparing for this," Chu said.
Chu credited citizens for trying to stop the violence before things turned ugly. A group of people linked arms to create a barrier to help an injured person in the fan zone before officers could come in for the rescue. He said he personally witnessed many people forming human barriers between the looters and the stores whose fronts were smashed wide open.
Police say the makeup of the riot crowd is vastly different than that of those seen during last year's Olympics. While the people attending Olympic fan zones were made up of families and friendly tourists, he said, the people who stormed downtown Vancouver hell-bent on violence was simply a group of angry young men, many from out of town.
"The vast majority of people were not from Vancouver. They were from the suburbs, they were from the Interior," he said.
Asst. Chief Wade Pierlot of Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services said the force deployed many extra precautionary resources to the downtown core, a hard lesson learned after the riots 17 years ago.
Pierlot said fire crews were hampered because of the large crowds, and were unable to respond to blazes quickly because of the angry mobs. He said many firefighters were physically accosted and assaulted.
"The angry crowd we were exposed to, the way we were being treated was new to many of us. We had lots of beer bottles thrown at us and at our trucks," he said.
The fire service responded to 387 incidents throughout the night, including more than a dozen cars on fire and multiple dumpster fires.
An man who examined the 1994 riots in Vancouver says key recommendations went unheeded by local police.
Bob Whitelaw told CTV News that many of the 100 recommendations he claimed to have helped draft were blatantly disregarded.
(Editor's note: This story was edited on 21/06/11 to correct misleading information contained in an earlier version. Whitelaw was hired as a freelance writer to help draft an earlier version of the report into the 1994 riot, but that report was rejected by the B.C. Police Commission as below standard and an entirely new team of investigators was brought in to draft the final report, according to former commission chair David Edgar.)
Whitelaw believes the city gave itself a black eye in the riots, suffering "a "billion dollars worth of bad publicity."
"The police, in many ways, as they did in '94, seemed to be standing around, not taking any pro-action," he said.
Police are pleading for people to send in any videos and photos they have of rioters and looters to use as evidence against them. That information can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Investigators had received more than 120 tips and thousands of videos from the public by 5 a.m.
Chu admits that Vancouver's image has been tarnished, but he hopes that bringing the perpetrators to justice will change the negative image currently looming over the City of Glass.
"This will truly send a message to the world about what kind of a city we are," he said. "We will track down these criminals."