“There’s not going to be a riot.”
Those were the words of Police Chief Jim Chu a few hours before the puck dropped at Rogers Arena Wednesday night.
He spoke to the Courier after a Vancouver Police Board meeting at the Cambie Street police station, where the board had discussed policing the Vancouver Canucks playoff run.
“Whether win or lose, we’ll get through it,” the chief added.
Then it was city manager Penny Ballem’s turn.
Standing near the intersection of Richards and Georgia, wearing a Canucks jersey and connected to her cellphone via earphones, she downplayed the possibility of a riot.
At the time, the Boston Bruins were up 3-0 and crowds of dejected fans were heading up Georgia Street past Ballem. They were leaving the so-called fan zones where tens of thousands watched the game on huge screens positioned around the CBC building and Vancouver Public Library.
Are you concerned the 1994 Stanley Cup riot will repeat itself?
“This city has matured so much since then,” Ballem said of the riot that occurred after the Canucks lost to the New York Rangers in another Game 7. “We’ve really learned a lot and I think there’s a very different sense of how important it is not to do that. This is a big crowd and there’re a lot of people downtown. We’re being very careful but I don’t think anyone thinks there’s going to be anything like that.”
Added Ballem: “Already you see people are not thrilled that we’re losing but they’re not all losing it themselves.”
So what happened?
Chu, Ballem and city officials will be attempting to answer that question as downtown storekeepers count their losses from the heavy looting and motorists sort out why their vehicles were flipped over and set ablaze.
The financial damage is expected to be in the millions of dollars.
Mayor Gregor Robertson, who attended the game, issued a statement last night.
“As mayor, I have never been as disappointed and outraged as I am tonight,” Robertson said. “What we saw on our streets was an absolute disgrace. Thousands of people were scared and threatened, including many young families, by the reckless, violent actions of people who were intent on breaking the law. Senior city staff including police and fire, met for three hours [Wednesday night] at the city’s E-Comm 9-1-1 Centre to review the events that took place and identify immediate next steps. Our focus is ensuring the safety of all of our citizens and allowing people to get back to their daily lives.”
Added Robertson: “We also need to find out what went wrong and how we can prevent it from happening again. In the coming days, tough questions will need to be asked.”
The riot is believed to have started outside the Canada Post building on Georgia Street where two cars were set ablaze. Around the same time, witnesses told the Courier a man had fallen from one of the viaducts.
Riot police slowly moved down Georgia near the CBC building to disperse what was a young, unruly crowd that tossed boards from broken barricades and other objects at police.
Many wrapped T-shirts around their faces to conceal their identities and taunted officers, who spoke to the crowd from a loudspeaker inside a van to urge revelers to disperse. Police used batons to push some of the defiant ones from the plaza at Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
As police cleared the plaza with police dogs, the mob moved into a parking lot adjacent to the theatre, where several young men and women trashed two marked police cars before setting them ablaze.
There were hoots and hollers of euphoria from onlookers, a dozen of whom climbed atop a billboard to watch the scene. Many filmed the destruction before police moved in with the threat of deploying “chemical agents.”
A few blocks away, several cars were flipped over in a parking lot off Richards Street, including a Hummer that was set ablaze. People stopped to have friends take photographs of them in front of the burning vehicle while a man wearing a Luongo jersey, his young son at his side, shouted at them.
“What the hell is wrong with you people? Is this something you’re proud of?”
Firefighters arrived soon after they had extinguished car fires along Seymour Street next to The Bay department store. Around the corner on Dunsmuir Street, a man covered in blood was pacing inside the entrance to the Granville SkyTrain station.
A police officer in the station suddenly grabbed a fire extinguisher and sprinted over to Granville Street where rowdy drunks had just flipped a glass truck on its side. It was about 10:30 p.m. at the time.
The sound of broken glass was constant, with several stores along the 600-block of Granville Street, including Yedina, a women’s clothing store, being looted. Black smoke spewed from alleys and streets.
At 10:45 p.m., police on horseback chased looters down Granville Street as officers on foot and armed with batons made several arrests. Then another car was flipped over in the 500-block of Howe Street to shouts.
Back on Georgia Street, several security guards wearing hardhats stood in front of Hawksworth Restaurant at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia while across the street hundreds of people danced on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Someone had set up a music machine while the dancing crowd chanted, “Let’s go riot!” Around the corner, windows were smashed at Sears and at Chapters at Robson and Howe.
Further up Howe at Smithe, a McDonald’s manager, Aleesha, was attempting to get a dozen employees safely out of the downtown core. She spoke to the Courier over the sound of more breaking glass and explosions.
“It’s a disgrace, it’s stupid,” she said. “Why would we do this over the Canucks? There’s no point to it. I just want to get my people home.”
At Davie and Granville, waiters from the Tsui Hang Village Seafood Restaurant stood in front of the corner building to prevent damage to the business.
“It’s terrible,” said Leo, one of the waiters who stood at the restaurant’s front entrance. “I don’t understand it.”
At about 11:30 p.m., Mike Haines, a Kamloops firefighter, wearing a Kesler jersey, was in the intersection at Davie and Granville trying to find friends via his cellphone.
“I’m trying to avoid the problems and connect with the people I came down with,” he said as a helicopter clattered overhead. “It’s not working very well, I don’t know the city very well. I’ve got to say it’s a sad thing. This makes us all look like asses, but there’s bad people everywhere you go. It’s a shame and nobody wanted to see this.”
Before the riot started, the talk on the street was about the game, which the Canucks ended up losing 4-0 in a much-hyped Game 7 showdown.
“I hate to say it but it’s Boston’s Cup,” said Christine Higney as she left Rogers Arena after the third goal. “I’ve always loved Vancouver, it was a once in a lifetime chance for me. I was hoping for a win but Boston deserved it.”
Higney, wearing former Canuck captain Trevor Linden’s jersey, spent $700 on a plane ticket to fly to Vancouver from Fort McMurrary, Alta. She spent $1,800 on a ticket to the game.
Dan Dere from White Rock also left the game early. A season ticket holder since 1991, he was disappointed in a team that he said had no secondary scoring in the series.
“It was a pathetic performance in the second period,” said Dere as others filing out behind him called for Canuck goalie Roberto Luongo to be traded. “Those first three goals weren’t Luongo’s fault. I mean c’mon, it’s a Game 7. Don’t they have any guts or fortitude?”
Then Dere and others filing out of the arena heard what turned out to be cars exploding outside the Canada Post building.
Police didn’t have final estimates of the number of people on the street but called in 100 RCMP and additional officers from neighbouring municipal detachments. Abbotsford police also joined in once the mayhem escalated.
Before the game started, fire and police officials turned back hundreds of people from entering into the fan zones for safety reasons. The mood of the largely young crowd, some fueled by alcohol, was unsettling for the Davidson family of North Vancouver.
“It’s not safe, so we’re going home,” said Tamara Davidson, who briefly lost her 11-year-old son in the crowd. “There’s not enough crowd control. It’s not like the Olympics.”
City manager Penny Ballem agreed the crowd wasn’t like previous nights, where families were able to sit on the streets and watch the game on the screens.
“We know that we’ve done everything possible to make this a place for families to feel comfortable,” Ballem said. “Tonight, there’s not a lot we can do to prevent the numbers of people that want to come… Would I bring my little kids down here tonight? No, but the other night everyone was sitting. I mean it was remarkable.”
Policing costs for the Canucks playoff run and additional expenses related to setting up the fan zones was estimated to run more than $1 million. That will certainly increase with costs associated to the riot. Police will release the final tab when all costs are tabulated.
At the police board meeting earlier in the day, Deputy Chief Warren Lemcke said the vast majority of people police had contact with during the series were from outside Vancouver.
Board member Glenn Wong advised the mayor, who is chairperson of the police board, to get the provincial government to share the tab. Robertson was already rejected by Premier Christy Clark.
“The premier has been definitive on that level—it’s unfortunate,” he told the Courier after the meeting. “Our case is that it’s a provincially significant celebration much like the Olympics. It speaks to the bigger problem of cities not having the sources of revenue that are appropriate for our duties and responsibilities. We have to keep the streets safe and clean. In this case, it creates a budget challenge.”