Robertson’s Riot report ignores critical issue of political accountability

Gregor Robertson in the headlights
Does this politician not bear any responsibility for what happend the night of the riot? Photo: Stephen Hui

On June 15th, Vancouver was turned into a virtual war zone. Our streets were torn up and cars were set ablaze as Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Fan Zone deteriorated into a massive riot. The whole event  terrorized some business owners and their staff and translated into a one billion dollar hit to our international reputation.

Fast forward a couple of months and we now have the "final" report on what happened and how it could have all been prevented. This is despite the fact not a single person has been charged with a riot related crime yet.

In the hours that followed the release of today’s report written by John Furlong and Douglas Keefe, the media began doing their job of dissecting each and every word. The civic politicians were kept busy too.

NPA mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton was first out of the gate telling the media Mayor Gregor Robertson had some explaining to do. After all, it was his idea to invite 150,000+ people downtown in a very confined area without a proper plan to manage the crowds.

Meanwhile in the west wing of City Hall, the Mayor’s office was busy spinning their version of events. They were telling anyone in the media willing to listen that this report was a vindication of Gregor Robertson. Their supporters were even blaring over Twitter that it was time to retire the term "Robertson’s Riot." In that regard, the Vancouver Sun reports:

Keefe and Furlong also examined Robertson’s role, and concluded the mayor “played no part in directing police planning or financial discussions."

The Mayor’s spinmeisters point to the fact that their boss did not interfere in the operations of the VPD in the lead up to and during that fateful night. Wow, was anyone actually under the impression the Mayor was ordering front line police to suit up into riot gear? Rather doubtful.

I can’t ever recall accusing Mayor Gregor of being in the VPD nerve centre that night issuing orders to the front line police (in fact he was actually inside Roger’s Arena watching the game). Quite the contrary. I took issue with the fact that he came up with the concept of the outdoor Fan Zone then distanced himself from the event after it all went terribly wrong.

It doesn’t surprise me for a moment that Furlong/Keefe didn’t lay the blame on any politicians for what happened during the riot. After all, that wasn’t their mandate. Their job was to find out what went wrong and make recommendations on how to prevent another riot from happening next spring when the Canucks are hopefully back in the playoffs.

What does surprise me is how few people care about the issue of political accountability regarding the riot. You do remember what political accountability is right? It’s the act of being responsible for the actions of the public service staff that report directly to you as a politician.

If our democratic system is to maintain any kind of credibility, it is incumbent upon us to hold our politicians accountable for the actions of the public service staff that report to them. If both Chief Jim Chu and City Manager Penny Ballem made critical errors, then the Mayor must hold them accountable. But then he too must bear some of the responsibility…something he and his handlers are simply loathe to do.

It’s not good enough for Mayor Gregor to say there were critical errors made by his staff and that because he was unaware of them happening…all is good. He should also stop naively saying the riot was simply "a learning experience" for him. I don’t think he realizes how insulting that is to the men and women who are permanently scarred as a result of what happened.

There are many questions regarding this riot that remain unanswered: 

  1. Why was there no adequate debate in council regarding the scope of the playoff events leading up to June 15th?
  2. Why has there been no public consultation when it comes to the City’s own riot reviews?
  3. What did City Manager Penny Ballem mean when she told council she wanted to "ratchet down" security budgets for the Fan Zones?
  4. Why did the Mayor initially blame the riot on a "small group of hooligans and thugs?"
  5. Why did the Mayor and his City Manager not review the ’94 Stanley Cup Riot Report in the lead up to Game 7?
  6. Why is the City refusing to respond to several key FOI requests related to the riot in a timely manner?

I could go on with a list of 100+ questions…but at this stage it all seems rather pointless given how the "final" riot reports are now being debated.

At the end of the day most voters may not give a hoot about the issue of political accountability. If so, that’s a real hit to our democratic system which requires politicians to be accountable for the actions of their staff. If they’re not…then just exactly who is ultimately running City Hall anyway?

Despite the Mayor’s best efforts at spin control today, I suspect the issue of Robertson’s Riot is likely to hang around until at least civic election day on November 19th.

However, if the initial media and public reaction is any indication, it would appear the Chief of Police is most likely the only public offical who will end up wearing the blame for an event initiated out of His Worship’s office. In my opinion, that would be a shame.


Vancouver council may not have debated the Fan Zones in any great detail prior to the riot. Nor did they express any great curiosity regarding what went wrong afterward.

But with two months now passed and $2 million tax dollars spent, the Mayor is finally committing to a "full and open discussion" regarding what went wrong. Cue the laugh track. If you want to read the City’s whitewash riot report that will be debated next Tuesday at council, you can click here and here.

If you want to read a full copy of the Furlong/Keefe report you can click here.

If you get a chance, please read Pete McMartin’s excellent column in the Vancouver Sun on this topic.

Note: I’ll have more to say in the coming days about some of the specific references in the Furlong/Keefe report regarding what the City did and did not do to prepare for the Fan Zone crowds.

Post by Daniel. You can follow us on Twitter @CityCaucus. Or you can "like" us at

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  • Ken Lawson

    We need a Regional Police Force and we cannot have these wing nuts re-elected, this is worst city hall since I have been here since 1967, the worst, I thought George Chow just got off the boat but he has been a engineer at BC Hydro for 30 years, he is right on one, the BC Hydro smart meters he says they will useless and we will even pay more, like the green programs at Olympic Village

  • victor

    Good for you Daniel, Thank you for your straightforward comments
    Here is my outrage (modified) to Globe and Mail’s Rod Mikelburgh (sp?) pandering column.
    It is common sense that if one asks the whole world to a party then one should take responsibility for the outcome of that event.
    It is not good enough for the Mayor to get off the hook so easily, despite Chief Chu and his department’s naiveté on what they should have known earlier was an event that was to have a horrible, yet expected outcome.
    I happen to know that the police and security personnel were worried about what might happen that night, because they had talked about it prior to Game 7. For Chu to say they had no idea there might be a riot is such a cop out. I have planned large events and one always plans for the worst. The right planner would not have allowed this mediocre work. Saying the right “words” is just not good enough.
    For the Mayor to hold up his hands and say ” not me, not me!” is quite disgusting and so totally irresponsible and childish.
    If regular citizens ask “a crowd” to a party and the event goes sour, then our society and legal system demand that this person (or organization) is responsible for the outcome and it is that person’s fault. Just ask a teenager who naively invites the world to his house for a party and his parents are faced with community outrage if all goes wrong. Someone is held accountable.
    Robertson’s attitude is an appalling show of “adults behaving badly”. What kind of path does it show to the “hooligans” (his words) who were involved in the riots. How does that encourage them to step up forward to declare their guilt, when the Mayor and his pals absolve themselves of any complicity so easily and glibly?
    No, Mayor Gregor…. this is not good enough.
    First, you would not discuss your proposal in Council as you were asked to do. You arrogantly felt you knew best. You brushed off Cllr Anton’s and others request for more information.
    You cannot run a dictatorship and then want to wash your hands of any involvement in the “invitation” and hope to absolve yourself of any guilt or shame.
    You cannot get off so lightly even when you have media folks like G & M opinion makers on your team.
    I despair! Thank goodness for November election coming soon.
    As Kookestcat says…. even the kids know “the Emperor wears no clothes!” So sad the Vancouver media do not understand this yet. Hopefully the voters do.

  • Glissando Remmy

    The Thought Of The Night
    “Robertson’s Riot – from Hollyhockian ‘rubber-son-right'(def): street party for Vision Vancouver members dressed in Canucks jerseys, mostly of them under bad influence, and shouting slogans like ‘Please, not the trees!’…”
    That the author of Patriot Farts is incapable of assigning blame for the Riots comes to no surprise.
    The same way no Olympic official was found to be at fault for the Georgian Luger that died in a horrific crash prior to the beginning of the winter 2010 Olympic Games in Whistler… same here, nothing to do with the fast track, badly constructed course, a deadly rush to the finish in the name of yet again… call for celebrations, underfunded and outnumbered police force, relaxed ‘bring your own XXX six pack’ policies… all in the name of some winter sport.
    Who knew?
    Scavenger birds don’t fight each other!
    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • rf

    Here’s an analogy.
    West Van yuppie parent with a spoiled 15 year old son decides to have a 16th birthday party.
    She tells her son to invite 50 people. She hires 2 security guards just in case things get a little out of control.
    The party goes wildfire on Facebook. Suddenly there are 200 kids and another 25 thugs from the valley stuffing themselves into the house.
    Security tries to clear the house but the thugs start throwing bottles at them. The mob poors out and flips the neighbours cars, sets them on fire and throws rocks through their windows.
    Is it the security guards fault?
    Or is the idiot parent who decided to throw the party?
    I picture Gregor as the parent in the analogy. He decided that he could throw a big party. It went bad.
    So far, this guy hasn’t even gone and apologized to the neighbours. He’s too busy telling anyone that will listen that it was all those darn kids fault.
    I suspect the neighbours would think this parent is an idiot.

  • Some media got it – read Pete McMartin’s column in the Van Sun (Sept 2nd). In his usual way, he made some very good points.

  • James

    Rod Micklburg’s article is a total joke. He is so far left leaning it’s obvious he is a big vision supporter.
    I don’t know how the Globe editor didn’t choke when he published that garbage. He makes Frances Bula actually look objective. Even she wouldn’t write that kind of Vision ass kissing crap. She’d be laughed out of the news room.
    I bet you the mayor’s staff were doing high fives when they read their buddy Rod’s “unbiased” story. Or they cracked opened a bottle of bubbly and laughed at their voters – again.
    I’ve just cancelled my subscription. Although I was only getting it delivered on Saturdays.

  • Karen

    The media are going to let Robertson off the hook. We might as well just accept it and move on.
    Sure he may have initiated the party. Sure it all went wrong. But why should the mayor be responsible for any of this. He’s just the mayor.
    But he looks damn good on the front of GQ and that’s all that matters.

  • A. Kirk

    If there is no political accountability, why should there be legal accountability?
    Whether you are a rioter or the mayor, nobody wants to accept responsibility for what they did. Nobody!
    But if the top politician tries to avoid blame, why shouldn’t the young kids who burned Vancouver do the same? Just asking.

  • The Dude

    Another horrible performance for Hizz Dizzhonour on CKNW today.
    Finger pointing at everyone ele first, an almost begrudging mention of his own responsibility, then circle back to blaming everyone else except himself and an unprepared CoV.
    Hilariouss to hear Vaughn Palmer reading Mayor’s quotes 2 days before riot, on Bill Good this morning. Classic!
    The people are not fooled by this piece of crap review. It was on everyone’s lips around the water cooler today.

  • Mark

    – Why Was Chief Chu still shaking hands and kissing babies on Grandville when the Crap Hit the AC
    – Why was there not a group of PSU officers suited up ready to go in less than 40 min

  • Ned

    Perfect analogy man! That’s exactly what I would be saying. But what about the average Vision voter that probably doesn’t even speak English, and who knows, is told that NPA will eat their babies if they get back in office (I am thinking wishful messaging from Geoff Meggs of course)
    Glissando Remmy,
    thank you for reminding us that tragic incident:
    “That the author of Patriot Farts is incapable of assigning blame for the Riots comes to no surprise.
    The same way no Olympic official was found to be at fault for the Georgian Luger that died in a horrific crash prior to the beginning of the winter 2010 Olympic Games in Whistler”
    You were probably right to mention that ‘scavenger birds don’t fight each other’
    To add to that they also ‘flock together’
    Shame, shame, shame!

  • Max

    The Courier has a rather interesting article which includes:
    Bordeleau and Ford interviewed senior VPD officers who told them they raised concerns about risks to public safety linked to a large, open venue with a capacity for tens of thousands of hockey fans in one location.
    “Senior police planners advised city officials to situate any live site outside the downtown core and away from the Granville entertainment district, traditionally a magnet for crowds, alcohol and excessive partying,” the officers’ report said. “Supporters argued that measures to limit the size of crowds would strengthen the security planning and reduce the risk of unrest.”
    Read more:

  • Julia

    Re: Courier Article
    Wowie Zowie. I never imagined the rank and file of the VPD would have such courage to speak up. Good on them.

  • Max

    I am guessing they are not taking too kindly to being thrown under the bus by the Mayor et al.

  • Higgins

    Excellent post Daniel!
    facts need to be presented truth needs to come out. Someone said that the cops were outnumbered and ridiculed. Yes, by Penny Ballem… Mayor Robertson’s Right Hand (include in here the other freeloader Sadhu Johnston the Deputy too) and by Mayor gregor himself.
    This report is another slap in the face of democracy, unfortunately another soft cover up of the great corporation and of the Selected chosen ones, yes men and all.
    What a despicable display. WTF? Why do we need politicians? For THIS?
    I think not. I am fed up. Someone needs to get charged, someone needs to pay and go to prison. Enogh of Cortes kayaking in False Creek.
    Victor, Max, Glissando, Ken, James, Gerry, Karen, A Kirk, The Dude, Mark, Ned, Julia…I am with guys!

  • chris (one of many)

    I wouldn’t have wanted to be ANY officer working that night on the front line.
    I’d have been scared out of my wits.
    Protect the public (even when the public was the problem)

  • chris (one of many)

    Don’t invite the entire lower mainland downtown, EVER again.

  • R.Isaak

    Is Vancouver in Australia? This inquiry sure seems like it. All hail bouncy Mayor Moonbeam. The only creatures fooled by this report live in Australia and have kids in pouches.

  • Barry

    And don’t forget,when Chu was a Sgt in the VPD that he was told in a promotion interview that he would never make Staff Sgt. Guess he sure showed those guys doing the interview.

  • T. Martin

    Present political parties Vision Vancouver and BC Liberals probably the most corrupt civic/ provincial governments in recent history. Period.
    The report is a disgusting piece of servility, ass kissing and whitewashing.
    I am actually disgusted at the lack of accountability coming from the $$$ million dollars people from inside city hall. Furlong is a propped up white man and Robertson a puppet, christy is another liar that have everything to hide. So… Wake up people!

  • Miguel

    Mayor Robertson is incapable of accepting responsibility for ANYTHING. EVER. Same goes for Chief Chu. It’s an embarassment that we don’t have actual MEN running this city.

  • Everyman

    I must say the mayor always comes across as extremely rude when addressing Councillor Anton. Sure, she’s going for the jugular with that friendly smile, but it won’t stand him in good stead to come across as a complete jerk when addressing her. It’s like watching someone pick on your mom.

  • Ned

    Robertson does not come across as a big jerk… He is a big jerk. the biggest jerk Joel Solomon and his party of Cortes/ Renewal/ Tides ‘investors’ could buy. IMO they need to be ‘nationalized’ And FAST!

  • Julia

    It’s tough to ask the ‘kids’ to own their actions and choices when the ‘adults’ don’t model the same behaviour.

  • Kate

    hey I’ve tried a “toothbrush mustache” here on Gregor’s picture (use a non permanent marker right on your computer screen) The resemblance … is uncanny!

  • R.Isaak

    Just found this article this morning.;_ylt=AlMbOUvvHyDLqEyB6CPlgpNShgM6?slug=prov-ca-5383523
    One reporter actually understands taxes and who actually pays them. Good read.