Vancouver cops get well-deserved laurels from citizens after the hockey riot – photo: PNG
On Friday, Daniel Fontaine wrote that the "teflon mayor" was getting a free pass after successfully spinning Wednesday’s Vancouver riot as the work of a few louts who should be locked up. But what was true 24 hours after the riot is less true now. Quite a few members of the media and general public are starting to understand the facts of what happened, and what led up to the situation of having 100,000+ people descend into Vancouver’s downtown.
Some of local media’s most respected voices such as Vaughn Palmer, Keith Baldrey and Michael Smyth are saying things like "Robertson has a lot to answer for" when it comes to the lack of preparedness during the Game 7 party. Then there is business leader and CKNW commentator Bruce Allen, whose pull-no-punches views about Gregor Robertson were blasted over the airwaves on Friday’s Bill Good Show (clip):
How widely sentiments like Allen’s are held is unknown. But there is no doubting that the 2011 riot has become a political game changer.
Here’s why I think Gregor Robertson must be held politically accountable for what happened in downtown Vancouver last Wednesday evening.
- The huge downtown party was his decision and his only. Those who understand how Vancouver City Hall works, decisions are usually made by the eleven member city council. The choice to partner with the CBC, close off streets, hire giant video screens from the U.S. and to invite one and all was Mayor Robertson’s call. It was not a decision of council, and it was never brought to council for discussion.
- The political imperatives were all Vision’s. Coun. Andrea Reimer was thanked by Mayor Gregor in council for her part in organizing the fan zones. Reimer is the Vision council’s point person on "car free" events. On the "fun city" file, Coun. Heather Deal takes the lead. In a CBC interview the day of the riot, Deal assured the public that post-Olympics riots were a thing of the past. She stated, "We’re over 100,000 now. We know how to deal with 100,000. If it’s 120,000 we’ll deal with 120,000. If they’re cranky, we’ll deal with cranky.” Finally, there’s Geoff Meggs’ stated desire to get rid of the Georgia Street Viaduct. What better example of that concept than to shut down a major thoroughfare for a party? The Vancouver riot has put a wrinkle in more political agendas than at first blush.
- A critical lesson of the Olympics was not learned. Vancouver should have learned a painful lesson from a crowd control incident at the LiveCity site during the Olympics. At a concert featuring Alexisonfire a fence barricade in front of the stage collapsed, breaking the leg of a girl and injuring several others. That girl’s father is now suing the City of Vancouver. The attempt to fence in crowds on Georgia Street Wednesday night proved disastrous, with dozens crushed behind them. Did the exuberance over the Canucks’ success make the City forget the mistakes of just one year ago? Remember that the LiveCity sites were liquor-free and limited numbers allowed in. Not so in the fan zones.
- The lessons of the 1994 riot ignored. Vision Vancouver have cleaned house of senior management since taking office, leaving virtually no corporate memory going back more than a decade. The report done
bywith the help of Bob Whitelaw outlining over 100 recommendations on how to deal with big events relating to sport was not observed during the run-up to Game 7. Sources within City Hall indicate that a hard copy of the report was only sought out by staff the day after the riot.
- Vancouver police were "grossly understaffed" to suit the event. According to Vancouver Police union boss Tom Stamatakis: “If you want to manage a crowd like that effectively without having it turn into a riot, then we need probably 5,000 police officers.” It’s estimated that there were between 400 to 500 officers working on Wednesday night downtown.
- B.C. government officials warned of potential problems. Liquor officials two days before Game 7 issued a press release stating: "The general manager of the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch has determined there is again a real and serious threat to public safety that warrants the closure of 13 private and six public liquors stores located in downtown Vancouver." Why was the potential for trouble ignored?
The work on the frontlines by Vancouver’s PSU (Public Safety Unit, aka ‘riot squad’), as well as supporting security provided by RCMP was first rate. The work of our fire fighters, paramedics and emergency medical personnel given the swiftness and the scale of the riot was exemplary. The public recognizes this, and even days after the compliments of our police force are still coming in.
Under Chief Jim Chu a culture change has occurred which has our police conducting themselves in a much less aggressive stance. Instead of being modeled after military-esque American-style policing, Vancouver’s police have adopted a more sublime British-style of policing under Chu.
The question I have though is how much pressure was put on Chu by his bosses Robertson and Ballem to ensure Vancouver didn’t go back to being a "no fun city"? Statements by Chu and Ballem herself prior to the riot show them both in denial regarding the possibility of a riot.
There is no question in my mind that Vancouver’s police dealt with Wednesday’s riot in a manner that most Canadians expect. There weren’t tanks or water cannons. Innocents were not rolled over, though the account of the so-called "kiss" photo suggests that the girl on the ground got clipped by a police shield. Yes, there was an enormous amount of unforgiveable property damage and looting. But unlike 1994 there are no kids brain-damaged by rubber bullets, and importantly, no fatalities or serious injuries resulting from riot control.
No one I know thinks that saving cameras and cosmetics from a department store would be worth killing someone, nor should there be.
There have been innumerable articles written in recent days about the warning signs that existed prior to the riot. Stephen Quinn’s latest column in the Globe and Mail is one of the more enjoyable reads on this topic. Those were the warning signs that Mayor Gregor claims to have been blissfully unaware of.
The signals were all there if Robertson decided to open his eyes and view them, instead of going into denial. The police knew they were dealt a bad hand. The lessons of 1994 and the Olympics were ignored. And Vision saw themselves as the heroes of a new fun city where cars no longer matter.
Unlike other cities in the region who sought to hold much more modest family-oriented gatherings (like the one I advocated for here), Vancouver decided to hold Canada’s biggest house-wrecking party and invited everyone to come.
Vision can try to spin there way out of this, but the evidence is overwhelming that the buck will stop with Gregor. Those who attempt to defend Robertson are likely to be pulled down into the political quagmire that is clearly unfolding.
– Post by Mike Klassen. Mike is a city council candidate for the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association (NPA). If you’re an elected official or candidate seeking a nomination and want to write about urban issues, please send your 450-500 word submission to CityCaucus@gmail.com.