Vancouver riots: an assault on Vancouver values

Our view of the riot in Larwill Park: photo by Tom Huddock

We first noticed a few puffs of light-coloured smoke billowing gently up into the blue night sky a few blocks away from our home.

"That's near the post office," I said to Tom, my spouse.

Then the plume of smoke seemed to fade away and we breathed a quiet sigh of relief.

We'd just finished watching the Canucks lose to Boston in game seven of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Disconsolate, we turned the TV off right after the game, unable to watch the Bruins celebrating their win of the Cup after hopes had run so high.

But then we saw another, thicker column of black smoke rising up in the same area, and another to the north, and within minutes the 2011 Stanley Cup riot of 2011 was in full swing, resulting in 350 ambulance calls, injuries to hundreds of fans and twelve police officers, and more than one hundred arrests. St. Paul's Hospital treated so many casualties they declared a Code Orange emergency, the same designation they would use in case of an earthquake!

Welcome to the violent, nihilistic yobbo culture of overprivileged young males in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, fueled by a ludicrous sense of self-entitlement and seething with an inchoate rage over...over what exactly? Does it even matter?

If their vacuous, video-game-inspired craving for violence is really so unquenchable, couldn’t they join the army instead and ship themselves off to Afghanistan or Libya, where our military could use the help? Except that that would actually require courage, dedication and discipline.

As Rex Murphy put it on The National: "The damage was bad enough, but these vulgarians defecated on the reputation of the most beautiful city in the world. Everyone in this nation who loves hockey and who loves Canada despises these people."

What is impossible to understand is how these kids, afforded every opportunity, still feel entitled to riot in our spectacular city over a hockey game while youths in Syria, Libya, Bahrain, Tunisia and Egypt face bullets and tanks for just a glimmer of the open, democratic society these yahoos attacked so mindlessly that night.

This was no protest. This was an assault on our city, on our values and on our way of life.

We watched evil incarnate that night, leering at us through the banal grins of the young men dancing stupidly in those glittering nihilistic flames, a dance that shocked the world.

We have met the enemy, and it is us...

As the night progressed, we watched in horror as that violent mob moved steadily closer to our home, just one block away when they torched the two police cars across the street from us in Larwill Park, future home of the new Vancouver Art Gallery of all places!

It was a jarring experience watching those cars go up in flames on TV when we could see the very same image right outside our living room windows. Even with the windows and doors closed, we were choked from that toxic mix of black smoke, tear gas and pepper spray.

The people I know and admire in Vancouver are those who dedicate their lives to making the city better. They are volunteers at the cancer ward of Children's Hospital; they help people in the inner city get work; they pick up trash; they serve meals to the homeless; they create opportunities and a level playing field for those with physical and mental challenges; they devote their lives and countless volunteer hours to producing concerts and plays and art; they help raise awareness about bullying in schools; they raise money for the underprivileged; coach amateur sports; they take books to those confined to their homes and bring concerts to those shut within institutions and jails. 

They make this city work and they make this city great through their countless hours of selfless dedication and service.

Which is why what happened is so unforgivable, this trashing of something so rare and precious in such a dystopian world. And why those responsible should face the most severe penalties possible for their crimes that night.

In the aftermath, some are criticizing the police, as if they are in any way responsible.

But we saw the same confrontational tactics of the wannabes during the Olympics. If the police had responded to provocation and allowed themselves to be drawn into a pitched battle, it could have been worse. Instead, the police worked to defuse rather than confront those intent on destruction - one of the core recommendations after the '94 riot.

The result was they disbursed a riot three times the size of 1994 in half the time, with fewer injuries. Things could have gotten much worse that night and Chief Jim Chu should be praised, not pilloried, for the impressive bravery and professionalism of his force and their smart not brutal tactics, given the thin resources he had to work with.

Let’s bear in mind that windows and cars can be replaced. Human lives cannot. 

It is the Mayor’s job to ensure public safety and maintain order. He allowed huge public fan zones with more than 100,000 people in the downtown area. As chair of the police board, he should accept responsibility, ensure a vigorous public inquiry, and then take all measures necessary to ensure there’s never a repeat.

The only thing separating families in the International Village from those violent hordes that night was a thin blue line of extraordinarily brave police men and women who kept the riot contained with the sparse resources at their disposal, protecting the city's residential areas from harm. And they deserve our deepest thanks and appreciation for doing so.

Let's remember who caused this assault and thank those that protected us from worse.  And let's ensure our response is so forceful that no one will ever attempt anything like this in our city again.

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