Riot police struggle to calm violent crowd in Vancouver
Published Thursday, June 16, 2011 3:11AM EDT
A violent and unruly crowd overturned cars, set fires and looted stores throughout downtown Vancouver late Wednesday, after the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup final 4-0 to the Boston Bruins.
For hours after the game ended, mobs of people rampaged through the city as police struggled to restore order after Vancouver's run to the Stanley Cup ended in resounding defeat.
Several vehicles burned across the downtown core, including a BMW parked outside the Hudson's Bay store at Seymour and Georgia Streets, where looters took advantage of broken windows to grab handfuls of merchandise.
The store's awning burned as looters ran from the store carrying clothes, makeup and even bits of a mannequin. Looters also smashed windows and grabbed what they could from a nearby drugstore mere moments after it had closed for the day.
Canucks fan Chad McMillan was dismayed by the rioting.
"This isn't what their fans are about, this isn't what this city is about," he said.
As night fell, thousands of people remained on the streets despite repeated pleas from law enforcement for them to go home. Mounted units and reinforcements from the RCMP were called in to assist in efforts to disperse rioters. Bridges into the city were closed, but bus and train services were still operating to get people out of the city.
CTV British Columbia reported late Wednesday that St. Paul's Hospital on Burrard Street near Nelson had been put in full lockdown mode, meaning staff members were not permitted to leave.
The hospital had set up a triage unit outside and had treated about 100 people for tear gas and pepper spray related issues, according to CTV B.C.
A spokesperson for the hospital said doctors had treated at least a couple of stabbing victims, as well as patients with broken bones.
The violence began when a group of fans tied a stuffed bear to a pole and set it aflame, and it wasn't long before several people began climbing light poles, tipping over portable toilets, getting into fistfights and overturning vehicles.
The crowd spread out across the city's downtown core, setting several bonfires, including in an above-ground parking garage, and looting. Fans could be seen trying to jump over one bonfire, while others were grabbing burning rubbish and waving it over their heads.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson blamed a small number of "hooligans" for the violence, and vowed that they would be held accountable for their actions.
"It's absolutely disgraceful and shameful and by no means represents the city of Vancouver," Robertson told reporters around 10:30 p.m. local time. "We've had an extraordinary run in the playoffs here, great celebrations and what's happened tonight is despicable."
Rioters clashed with police in several locations throughout the downtown core, throwing bottles and garbage at officers clad in full riot gear.
Police responded by firing both tear gas and pepper spray in attempts to disperse the crowd, which had spent much of the day well-behaved until it became clear that the Canucks were going to be on the losing end of the big game.
Images from a news helicopter flying above Georgia Street in downtown Vancouver earlier Wednesday evening showed a silver car turned over on its hood, with fans jumping up and down on its underside. Moments later, the car was set ablaze, but firefighters quickly put out the inferno.
Not far away, angry fans tried to flip over a truck, while another car was seen resting on its hood at Nelson and Granville Streets.
Police were out in full force in an attempt to avoid the mayhem that broke out after Vancouver's loss to the New York Rangers in the 1994 Stanley Cup final, when a widespread riot gave the city a black eye.
But the heavy police presence failed to prevent violence Wednesday night. In addition to the fires, fights and looting, the crowd smashed store windows and caused other damage throughout the downtown, including at a BMO branch at Homer and West Georgia.
Other images showed some fans pushing and shoving moments before the end of the game.
Solicitor General Shirley Bond called the events "unbelievably embarrassing" for the city of Vancouver, and urged revellers who remained in the streets hours after the game ended to "stop treating this as a spectator sport."
Police had expected more than 100,000 fans to watch the game on giant television screens, which were set up in so-called "fan zones" for those unable to score a ticket.
As the final moments of the game counted down, spectators began throwing beer bottles and other projectiles at the screens.
CTV's Vancouver Bureau Chief Sarah Galashan, reporting from the fan zone near Georgia Street, said small fights began breaking out near the public library.
"The next thing we knew we turned around and there was some smoke," Galashan said. "I checked a little bit later, not very long, and the jumbo screen had been turned off. I believe the game might have been turned off before it actually had finished. From there the police started appearing in greater numbers."
Galashan later reported that police declared the fan zone a place of illegal assembly and had ordered the crowd to disperse or risk arrest.
Earlier in the evening, Vancouver Police Const. Lindsey Houghton said police had already made several arrests, and expected to continue detaining rioters.
"It's unfortunate that we've seen the core group of people at different parts of the downtown core decide to come and cause problems," Houghton told reporters. "It's really unfortunate for the people down here in Vancouver, the true fans of the Canucks who come and look to have a good time. We feel bad for the families and the people who are caught up in this because that's not something that anyone should have to deal with."
While the crowd had been relatively well-behaved early on despite filling the streets hours before game time, some fans took the celebrating a bit too far with the game barely underway. Before the second period began, Galashan tweeted a photo of two fans standing atop a street light. There were also reports that some fans were jumping fences to get inside the designated fan zones as the crowds swelled in size before the game.
Provincial officials had ordered downtown liquor stores to close at 4 p.m. local time, as they were required to do before Game 6 on Monday, in the hope of avoiding alcohol-fuelled rioting and looting.
In a statement released before the game, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson urged fans to celebrate responsibly.