Hockey riot: Could it happen again?

Three reports released this month on the Stanley Cup riot don't hold one agency or politician accountable for the mayhem, nor do they guarantee a riot won't erupt this hockey season

The Vancouver Canucks will make the playoffs again this season.

Who says?

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Glenn Wong.

Whos Glenn Wong?

Hes a Canucks fan and a member of the Vancouver Police Board, the governing body of the Vancouver Police Department.

Wong made the prediction Tuesday at a special police board meeting at the Cambie Street station, where the VPD released its internal review of the June 15 Stanley Cup riot.

I know the Canucks will be in the playoffs next year and I know theyre going to have a good run and we could have a similar situation [where the team is in the final], Wong said in a room that included Police Chief Jim Chu and Mayor Gregor Robertson, the chairperson of the police board.

But, he cautioned, dont look solely to the police to prevent another riot. Wong isnt predicting a riot next spring but the odds of one not happening arent great: four riots erupted in Canadian cities since 2006 during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

I dont think we can, nor should we rely on the police, continued Wong, the boards budget watchdog. Its not a thousand or 10,000 police that we have on hand.

The debate over the past week since three separate riot reviews were released is who should be responsible for ensuring a riot doesnt occur this season.

An independent review by John Furlong and Douglas Keefe released Sept. 1 concluded the police, the city, TransLink, transit police, the provincial government, the Canucks organization and the National Hockey League could have done a better job preparing for the final game that saw crowds swell to 155,000 downtown.

All three reviews stopped short of blaming any agency, bureaucrat or politician for the riot, although NPA mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton has repeatedly accused the mayor for allowing it to happen.

Those responsible for the riot, Furlong told reporters last week, were the thugs and villains and people who cheered them on.

Its those people, says Wong, who have to be punished and take personal ownership and responsibility for their actions. Those who want to return downtown next spring to celebrate a Canucks playoff run better think differently about their behaviour, he warned.

Its a comment that puts a lot of faith in a segment of the population that, fuelled by the right amount of alcohol in a large, frenzied crowd, can cause major destruction.

So as the police, the city and other agencies work to implement recommendationsas they did following the 1994 Stanley Cup riotto avoid another dark night in Vancouvers history, the question still lingers:

Could it happen again?

Its a question Chu answered after leaving Tuesday mornings police board meeting.

He pointed to the 1994 Stanley Cup riot review, which concluded that riots, in Chus words, were wildly unpredictable.

Even if you follow every single recommendation in that 94 report, which we did, theres no guarantee a riot wont occur again, he told reporters. Riots occur throughout the world, even in totalitarian regimes where police outnumber the rioters.

Thats not how Chu was talking on the afternoon of June 15a few hours before the puck dropped at Rogers Arenawhen he told the Courier after a police board meeting there wouldnt be a riot.

City manager Penny Ballem took the same line during the game, when the Courier interviewed her on Georgia Street as the Boston Bruins appeared on their way to victory.

Vancouver, she said, had matured since 1994 and pointed to the well-behaved crowds that flocked into downtown during the 2010 Winter Olympics, albeit under the watch of $1 billion worth of security.

The city, in its internal review, acknowledged it didnt see the riot coming, although a presentation Tuesday afternoon at city hall by deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston showed an unprecedented 2,000 liquor pour-outs recorded in Game 5.

A graph showed crowds increased from 40,000 people downtown for Game 1 to 85,000 for Game 5, both of which were home games. Game 7 was a home game and the hype for the final between the Canucks and Bruins reached a fever pitch.

It was an unseasonably warm day, which ensured people would not be dismayed by weather to watch the game on the large screens near the Vancouver Public Library.

Alcohol was flowing in the streets well before the opening face-off, with liquor sales across Metro Vancouver increasing by 68 per cent over the same day the previous year.

Sales at a North Vancouver liquor store near the SeaBus soared by 166 per cent. A Burnaby liquor store near the Brentwood SkyTrain station recorded sales 121 per cent higher over the previous year.

Reviews of the riot from the VPD, the city and the independent examination by Furlong and Keefe point to alcohol as the major contributing factor to the mayhem.

Alcohol consumption and binge drinking are significant problems in society and on June 15 they were like gasoline on a fire, said Furlong and Keefe in their report.

At least 15 vehicles, including two police cruisers, were set ablaze and 60 businesses were damaged on a night of looting and destruction. A total of 22 officers were injured, including one who suffered a concussion and required 20 stitches.

Dr. Patricia Daly, the chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, wasnt surprised by the reviews findings related to alcohol. Daly told council Tuesday the health agency warned the city and police before Game 7 about a spike in drinking during the playoffs. She said data collected at local hospitals showed a surge in alcohol use.

We did see, throughout the playoffs, there were greater number of visits for alcohol intoxication for injuries and assaults, she said, pointing as far back to the Canucks semi-final games against the San Jose Sharks. We knew, as the playoffs continued, that we were seeing this effect and we let the city and police know that this was occurring.

Of the 53 recommendations proposed in the report by Furlong and Keefe, 10 dealt with alcohol. They included:

TransLink should develop a plan that includes police from the region to seize alcohol in and around its transit system.

The Minister of Public Safety should examine whether additional powers are needed for police to randomly or routinely search people for alcohol.

The provincial government should step up a public education program to bring a greater profile to the dangers of alcohol abuse, binge drinking, underage drinking and public intoxication.

The VPDs review goes further to recommend airport-style screening at transit stations during special events and to increase liquor fines. As Daly pointed out, booze is a bigger and more expensive problem for society than illegal drugs.

But while reviews have focused on alcohol, the wisdom of hosting a large public event in downtown remains an issue for the mayor and police chief.

A technical report by two Ottawa police officers revealed that senior VPD officers were opposed to the citys so-called live sites or fan zones.

That was reflected in a recommendation reached by the VPD in its review. The department called for a ban on large scale events with festival seating/standing that concentrate crowds of young peopleparticularly the young hooligan demographicwho have a propensity for public drinking in a small area.

The recommendation is in contrast to the mayors willingness to continue holding large-scale events downtown and conclusions by Furlong and Keefe that people should be able to congregate downtown in harmony without the need for police on every corner.

Since the riot, the city saw thousands attend the Pride Parade and Celebration of Light without any major incidents, although police were assisted by the RCMPs tactical troop for the first time and transit police helped seize booze from SkyTrain passengers.

Chu doesnt want to see Vancouver return to its no-fun city label and clarified hes not opposed to large public gatherings at venues such as B.C. Place Stadium, which was undergoing a renovation during the Canucks playoff run.

If its Game 7 next year, one great option is to open up B.C. Place and have people screened when they go in so that theyre in a controlled environment rather than on a city street where people just come and go, he said.

With the ability of the SkyTrain to transport thousands of people into downtown every few minutes, Chu said capacity on a street becomes a problem.

When you attract a certain demographic, thats when the radar has to go on and you have to say look, Given the number of people that were attracted to this particular event, were going to think twice about whether we want to have it, the chief said.

More than 75 recommendations are detailed in each of the three reviews, with several overlapping each other.

Many call for a regional approach to hosting a large-scale event in Vancouver, with coordination from other police departments, municipalities, TransLink, transit police, the provincial government, the Canucks organization and the NHL.

But before that happens, the citys deputy manager Sadhu Johnston made it clear Tuesday the city would prefer not to be the host of such an event.

We dont see ourselves as hosting activations of this magnitude in the future and its not really our role, he told council, noting the Celebration of Light and the upcoming Grey Cup have their own organizing committees.

Johnston said the city has had preliminary talks with the Canucks and the NHL about being involved in hosting a public celebration should the Canucks make the playoffs.

In 1994, when the Canucks went on a playoff run that took them to Game 7 in New York City against the Rangers, there were no live sites or television screens downtown.

Yet, a riot still erupted.

So are they inevitable?

It was a question the mayor took on after councils Tuesday meeting and acknowledged that riots occurred in Edmonton in 2006 and in Montreal in 2008 and 2010 after those cities teams were either eliminated from the playoffs or lost in the Stanley Cup Final.

There is a pattern of riots occurring with major sporting events throughout the world that we need to interrupt in Vancouver, Robertson said.

Vancouver is capable of rising above that, as we did during the Olympics. We need to take steps here, fully cognizant that a riot could well happen again. That needs to motivate us to ensure we take action on the recommendations urgently and we have everything in place before the Canucks are in the next Stanley Cup Final.

For the mayor, that includes the police wrapping up its wide-ranging investigation into the riot, which still hasnt resulted in a charge. So far, the citys tab for setting up the live sites and costs associated to the riot has reached $1.9 million. That doesnt include the ongoing costs of the investigation, which the provincial government is expected to pay.

The response of the justice system will be very important in ensuring people dont participate in a future riot or incite a future riot, he added.

The Canucks main training camp begins next week. The teams first home game is Oct. 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins (minus Sidney Crosby.) The playoffs begin in April. Thats in eight months and counting.

mhowell@vancourier.com

Twitter: @Howellings

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