Mass street celebrations prompt warnings to hockey fans
VANCOUVER -- As the Vancouver Canucks face off against the Vegas Golden Knights for the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, officials are hoping post-game celebrations don't get out of hand.
On Friday, Surrey RCMP warned residents to revel in a COVID-19-safe way and avoid 72 Avenue at Scott Road, an intersection that typically draws large crowds.
The warning didn't stop fans from doing exactly that later that night when the Canucks beat last year's Stanley Cup champions 6-2 to clinch a first-round series win.
"What sort of disturbed me a bit was you didn't see a lot of people with masks on or following safe social distancing," said Jack Hundial, a Surrey city councillor.
There was a large police presence, but the crowd did not let up.
"Be safe and keep the rest of the community safe as well,” Hundial said. “We are still in the middle of the pandemic and I'd really discourage you from gathering in those large groups.”
Over in Abbotsford, another street celebration erupted. Unlike in Surrey, people were adhering to social distancing rules by staying inside their vehicles, but that didn't mean they all behaved.
"Please don't let your children hang out of the windows, keep your doors shut and also, this includes your sun roofs," said Abbotsford police Sgt. Judy Bird. "We don’t need you showing off, stunting and speeding; all those things that can lead to car accidents and we don’t want to put a damper on the celebrations."
Bird said roughly 300 people were in their vehicles parading along South Fraser Way.
While Surrey RCMP warned people to avoid the popular intersection, Abbotsford police are not asking people to do the same, since they’ve been staying inside their vehicles.
"We just want you to be responsible,” Bird said. “Keeping in mind that you are also entering a traffic jam voluntarily – you will not be able to go anywhere quickly.”
She said police handed out 15 tickets Friday night, for infractions including impaired driving, driving without consideration for others, not wearing a seatbelt, making unnecessary noise and driving without a licence.
Those who enjoyed the game from downtown bars celebrated from their seats.
Vancouver's BarWatch program, which helps curb violent and unsafe behaviour at bars and clubs, said there haven't been any concerns about reckless behaviour from patrons.
"We aren't making any special plans for the playoffs, but we do have a code of conduct for things like social distancing," said BarWatch chair Curtis Robinson.
Robinson said those who break physical distancing rules will first be given a warning before it gets escalated to them being kicked out of the establishment. Those who get aggressive with staff will then face a ban from any BarWatch establishment for up to a year.
"We all want the Canucks to do really well. What we don’t want to see is the madness of another out of control riot that damages property, injures people, and taxes the police and endangers their safety and lives," Robinson said.
He is hopeful that people have "learned their lesson" and municipalities are better prepared to handle a riot situation.
But Hundial doesn't foresee a threat of a riot, partly because of lower capacities due to the pandemic.
"I don't really think it's a danger at this point," Hundial said. "We don’t have a lot of the restaurant to house that crowd and then they all spill out into the streets."
The Canucks and Knights face off in Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round Sunday.
The last time the Canucks made it past the second round of the playoffs was in 2011.