London, Ont. police turn to social media to find rioters
London, Ont. police expect to make more arrests after a mob of some 1,000 people torched a TV news van and pelted officers with bricks and beer bottles during a Saturday night riot.
Eleven people, seven of them Fanshawe College students, were arrested after a St. Patrick's Day party in the city's east end turned into what police are calling "the worst case of civil disobedience" in London's history.
Police said Sunday they are poring over videos, photos and witness accounts posted on social media to find more culprits.
Some of the rioters have bragged about their involvement on Facebook and Twitter.
"Im prob on the news for flipping that car," one Twitter user wrote about an hour after indicating he was "in the middle of a riot."
Police said the chaos broke out just before 10 p.m. Saturday on Fleming Drive, an area heavily populated by students and blocks away from Fanshawe College.
Crowds of revelers ignited a fire and stoked it with random objects as police attempted to break up the mob. Bricks, tire rims and wooden planks were hurled.
The mayor of London has pledged to punish the rowdy partiers who caused an estimated $100,000 worth of damage.
"You will pay in one way, shape or form," Mayor Joe Fontana said at a Sunday news conference.
"We can thank our lucky stars that nobody was killed," he said.
The college said it is taking the matter "very seriously" and will suspend the students who were arrested.
Video footage shows partygoers dancing near the blaze, throwing glass bottles and other items at police officers. At one point, a CTV News van was swarmed by rioters and set on fire.
"I was attacked by someone -- I don't know who it was – who tried to grab the camera off my shoulder," said CTV cameraman Chuck Dickson. He managed to escape without injury.
London Police Chief Brad Duncan has referred to the incident as the "worst case of civil disobedience that our community has ever been subjected to."
"Never in my 32 years as a police officer have I observed behaviours that escalated to the point where there was risk that individuals could seriously be hurt or quite frankly killed," he said.
About 50 police and 10 firefighters were driven back by throngs of revelers, District Fire Chief Jim Holmes told The Canadian Press. Authorities decided to delay moving in, to avoid making the situation worse.
Just after 11 p.m., officers told the crowd they were gathering unlawfully but the warning didn't seem to faze partygoers. Moments before, police with the Public Order Unit deployed smoke canisters in an effort to break up the riot.
Witnesses reported seeing several people with minor injuries such as cuts and bruises. A young woman was reportedly taken to hospital with burns.
Though police were instructed to wear helmets, several officers received minor injuries after being struck with flying debris, said Duncan. Seventeen police vehicles were also damaged.
"Students and residents in this area are under the illusion that they can engage in unlawful behaviour…and that they can reject the lawful authority of police," Duncan told reporters on Sunday.
He said London police had already ramped up their street presence for St. Patrick's Day but intend to be even more visible in the future. Duncan identified neighbourhoods near Richmond Row, Western University and Fanshawe College as areas where the police intend to increase their presence.
A pair of young women told CTV London they were watching the chaos unfold in real time over Facebook and decided to drive down to the scene to see it in person.
But while some boasted about the chaos, others took to the Internet to condemn the rioters and encourage anyone with information to approach police.
"We're pretty disappointed, pretty disgusted for all of London right now," Fanshawe College spokesperson Emily Marcoccia said Sunday.
She later told CTV News Channel that a big St. Patrick's Day crowd was expected in the area, so college administrators met with off-campus housing officials and the student union to discuss the festivities last week.
"We all planned as best as we could … but we've never seen anything quite like this in the past," she said.
While Fanshawe condemns the violence, Marcoccia said the riot is not representative of the college's entire student population.
"You can have fun without going to these extremes. There's no need for such violence," Oscar, a 20-year-old man visiting his friend at Fanshawe College, told CTV News London.
"This is probably the reason why older people think we're irresponsible," he said. "This kind of stuff gives us young kids a bad reputation."
With a report from CTV London's Bryan Bicknell