Police actions questioned in wake of Vancouver riots
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Thursday, June 16, 2011 9:55PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 5:05AM EDT
Horror at the violence that erupted in Vancouver after the Canucks' defeat in the Stanley Cup final Wednesday night has turned to outrage over a perceived failure to prevent the mayhem.
Bob Whitelaw, who helped research the riot that broke out following the 1994 Stanley Cup final, said he watched Wednesday night's events unfold "in disbelief."
Whitelaw said police ignored many of the 100 recommendations in an early draft of a report that stemmed from the 1994 investigation.
"It would have been reduced," Whitelaw told CTV News Channel Thursday evening when asked if the violence would have been as severe. "We had six games with no problem at all, win or lose for Vancouver. It was a seventh game in ‘94 and the seventh game last night that the plans fell apart for whatever reason."
Vancouver police said they arrested more than 100 people in the Stanley Cup riot, but most were released within 24 hours.
The majority of those arrested were detained for breach of the peace or public intoxication.
Eight remain in custody for more serious charges including break-and-enter, theft, mischief and assault. Two people have been charged in a stabbing.
Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu said most of the people arrested were from outside of the city.
Earlier Thursday, Chu said authorities are determined to track down the "criminals, anarchists and thugs" who destroyed property and rioted in downtown streets after the game.
It took hours for police to bring the ferocious riots under control, as cars were overturned, store windows were smashed and smoke billowed from overturned vehicles that had been lit ablaze. Looters were seen stealing makeup, clothing and even a mannequin from major retailers that were targeted during the riots.
Chu said nine officers were injured during the riots, including one officer who needed 14 stitches after being hit by a brick. Another officer suffered a concussion. There were also officers who suffered "human bites," Chu said.
Police saw offenders carrying gasoline and fire extinguishers with them, suggesting that some of the people involved had come prepared to cause trouble.
Whitelaw said in his view, the violence was worse on Wednesday than it was in 1994, with more damage and "outright thievery."
According to Whitelaw, the overturning and torching of vehicles could have been prevented if police had removed all vehicles from the streets around the designated fan zones, which had been set up to allow spectators to watch the game.
But he also pointed out that police officers congregated in groups and appeared to be awaiting orders "while law breaking was occurring in their immediate vicinity."
"I was troubled by that, not just as a viewer but having participated in that study for so many months," Whitelaw said. "Once you start to let laws be broken -- broken windows, looting, damage to cars -- and let it go unchecked, it's a slippery slope and how do you recover?"
Whitelaw said the rioters likely caused at least $1 million in property damage, which will be "far outweighed by what I call the billion-dollar lost image that Vancouver is going to have to work at recovering over the next number of years."
Local hospital officials have confirmed that nearly 150 people needed treatment after the riots, though it is not clear if injured police officers were included in those figures.
Two of the injured parties admitted to hospital had been stabbed, while another male patient suffered head injuries and is now in critical condition.
As the riots raged on Wednesday night, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Roberston put the blame on "a small number of hooligans" who were looking for trouble.
"It's absolutely disgraceful and shameful and by no means represents the city of Vancouver," Robertson said.
On Twitter, Vancouver police said they would be releasing information on how members of the public can send in their pictures and videos of the riots to investigators.
Police struggled to control rioting
While the police had put many officers on the streets throughout the playoffs, they could not keep a lid on the rioting that ignited after the Canucks lost.
CTV's Atlantic Bureau Chief Todd Battis said the riots reportedly began with one fan lighting a on fire a stuffed animal looked like a bear -- apparently to represent the Boston Bruins who battled fiercely throughout the seven-game series.
"That led to a car being set on fire, a car that we're being told by at least one witness was brought down to deliberately be burned. And that really got things rolling," Battis reported Thursday.
With the chance to win a Stanley Cup gone, many Canucks fans could not understand why some people had decided to make the situation worse by taking part in riots.
"Tonight, what I've seen is a complete disgrace," said Beth Hope, a 28-year-old who moved to Vancouver two years ago from England.
Hope said she had tucked her Canucks jersey into her bag, after becoming "ashamed to be a fan" in the devolving atmosphere on the streets.
"It's insane, it's absolutely insane. What's the point? Our team lost -- why destroy our own city? I'm afraid."
Lifelong Canucks fan Chad McMillan was similarly disgusted with the rioting.
"This isn't what the Canucks are about," the 31-year-old said. "This isn't what their fans are about, this isn't what this city is about."
A black eye for Vancouver?
No matter what the mayor and other Vancouver residents said, the rioting drew attention all over the world.
Footage of fires burning on Vancouver streets were shown on CNN. On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, Australia's Sydney Morning Herald website showed photos from the riots.
Wai Young, the Conservative MP for Vancouver South, also made reference to the riots in Parliament during question period Thursday.
On Twitter, Young said "the violence is an embarrassment and absolute disgrace to our city."
Hedy Fry, the long-time Liberal MP for Vancouver Centre, said she believed the police handled the situation as best they could.
But she was a loss to describe the motivation of individuals that took pictures of themselves near flaming cars and stood by while looting raged.
"This is madness," Fry told CTV News Channel from Ottawa.
Robert Gordon, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, said there are at least two types of people who can be found in the midst of riot-type events: the main agitators and individuals who like to watch what they are doing.
For this second group, Gordon told CTV News Channel that their motivations appear mainly rooted "in the entertainment value of what's unfolding in the streets of Vancouver."
The Boston Bruins received a police escort when returning to the airport and they arrived in their hometown mid-morning on Thursday. They were greeted by several dozen fans who were eager to celebrate their win over Vancouver.
With files from The Canadian Press