Vancouver Falls to Crazy Canucks “Fans” in Riots

by Elizabeth G.

Both Monday and last night, I was downtown for the Canucks games 6 & 7.  Monday night, it was wonderful. The crowd was large and loud, but happy, polite and still totally Canadian.  You know, that stereotypical overly-polite Canadian that I’ve come to love downtown.  Over the past two years, I’ve been to lots of events downtown with tons of people, drunk and sober, and always felt totally safe.  Unless you live under a rock, I don’t need to tell you what happened last night.  And I’m not going to go over every minute of where we were, and what we saw, and what happened.  There are plenty of stories on the TV and radio if you want to hear what happened to people.

What I’m more interested in is what went wrong.  During Game 6, security was screening everyone going in and out of the gated alcohol-free areas.  There was none of that last night, and I’m not quite sure why.  I was fully prepared to have my purse searched and to be patted down again.  I think it was a large part of why Monday was so peaceful, and I don’t know if maybe they just thought 100,000 people was just too many to maintain and search.  But more than ever, on Game 7, with 100,000 people expected, higher security and vigilance was necessary.

I also saw far fewer police present than on Monday.  I spent most of the game in the Canada Post plaza (where the first car was flipped and burned after the game) and really only saw police in small groups on the corners.  They were not patrolling the crowd, they were not keeping the emergency lanes clear in the middle of the street, and they just did not feel as “present” as during Game 6.  Maybe VPD was hoping there would be a win.  But I don’t think there would have been any less violence from a win.  I think there would have been more.

With 10 minutes left in the 3rd period, I got the hell out of there.  I knew by then there was going to be a loss, and it was going to start getting rough in the crowd.  Yet no riot police showed up until after the first car and a fire truck had been flipped.  (How many people do you think it takes to flip a fire truck?  40? 50?)  Why weren’t more police present by the middle of the 3rd period when we were down 4 – 0?  Did they possibly think that the Canucks would come back and it would be peaceful happiness?  I think there may have been a lack of foresight there.

Lots of people are putting some heavy blame on the Vancouver Police Department.  But from what I saw, the cops that were there were doing a wonderful job. There just weren’t enough of them.  How many cops do you think it takes to take down one drunk, violent man armed with a metal pipe?  More than one.  To control and subdue a crowd, you need to have MORE cops than rioters.  If you have fewer, the best you can hope for is containment.  Even with tear gas, batons and concussive grenades, mobs are strong, violent and swift.

I knew there was a possibility of a repeat of the 1994 riots, but I didn’t really think there would be anything more than a few isolated incidents.  When we saw that first car on fire on the news, I didn’t even think it could be a car.  I was positive it was just one of the huge trash cans stuffed with paper lit on fire.  I figured we’d just wait out the SkyTrain crowds in the safety of a Yaletown bar, but 10 minutes into the cup presentation it was pretty clear there was going to be a full on riot.  But I’ve always been warned that Canucks fans are nutso.  In fact, they seem to be pretty proud of it.  I’ve seen trucks plastered in bumper and window stickers that warn “Beware the Fans.”  When my team wasn’t anywhere near playing the Canucks, I was warned that it was probably not a good idea to have a Red Wings car flag, or t-shirt, or even really talk about being a Red Wings fan if there were lots of Canucks fans around because it would make me a target for harassment, or worse.  I’ve never been warned about being a fan of another team in any other city.  I’ve never been warned about supporting my team, and I’ve never been afraid to put a sticker on my car during the Playoffs.

I would like to see the players, the Canucks team, come out and make a statement.  Canucks fans are wonderful and loyal despite years of Playoff disappointments.  But when you have 150-200 “fans” destroying the city, it hurts the team.  The Canucks played a good series.  Okay, so their performance in Games 6 and 7 were pretty dismal.  But I don’t think it would be inappropriate for them to come out and say “We love our fans, but we’re disappointed in those who decided to wreck the city.  We’re proud to be a part of Vancouver, and proud to have fans that peacefully supported us downtown during the first 6 games.”

In the end, it’s disappointing.  Being downtown with all those hockey fans was so cool, so wonderful.  People were high-fiving and hugging strangers in celebration after goals, sharing food and drink, smiling and joking with one another for most of the series.  Vancouver has always been a great place to host a gathering, to get together with people and have a good time with strangers.  I thought it was just amazing that the city would shut down the city centre and put up huge TV screens so the whole city could come together to support their team.  And it’s just tragic to think that this may impact city gatherings to come.  When I heard that fans were being pretty much banned from gathering downtown in Boston, I felt pretty bad for them missing out on such an awesome communal hockeyfest.  Wouldn’t it have been great for them to be able to come together and support their team, and celebrate, and have a great time?  Probably. But they also got to miss out on the fear, rioting and brutality we saw in Vancouver.  Maybe even in a great city like Vancouver, when you get that many people together, there will just always be problems.  A crowd that large is just too big to control.  We were all worried about the size of it, and there were certainly talks of not opening up the city for the playoffs.  But the temptation to experience the rush of being in a crowd full of ecstatic fans and to witness hockey history was too great, and optimism and hope overwhelmed the little voices in everyone’s head that said “this just isn’t a good idea.”