Initially, I wasn’t going to join the throng, but after a few days of pondering I thought I’d weigh in on my insights.
They are not accusatory. I’m hoping they may help Vancouver save face a little and perhaps help plan better for next time. Hindsight of course is 20/20.
I was downtown for four of the final round games and in Surrey for two of them. Although, I’ll admit I didn’t stay in the fan zone in Surrey, I passed by it just before and just after the game. Admittedly it was much smaller, and didn’t have nearly the threat potential as downtown.
Mayor Gregor Robertson had it right. Having a fan zone was a better alternative to having thousands of fans wandering the streets during game time.
The initial set up of having three separate fan zones needed tweaking. The merchants along Granville were blocked that first Saturday. I loved it when they created the giant zone surrounding the Vancouver Public Library.
The police and security controlled the crowd as they came in bags were good-naturedly searched and there was enough of an incline to enable people to sit down and allow those behind to see. Cops were on patrol and even the older security guards were shown respect. When we won there were high fives and hugs all around. When we lost there were a lot of shrugs and ‘next game’s.
It was what you’d expect from a Canadian fan zone.
Game 7 was different. Thanks to the media, there was an expectation of a riot. Most of the kids you see in the pictures were barely walking in ’94. Had the ’94 riot been downplayed, the idea of rioting probably wouldn’t have entered their heads.
On the night of Game 7, my roommate arrived in the fan zone around 4pm. At that time bags were still being searched and the entry points were controlled by security. By the time I arrived at 5pm. There was no security and the gates had been removed. Word spread quickly to anyone still heading downtown… bring booze.
The next thing I noticed was that the large screen at the bottom of Georgia had been moved. Instead of being centered in the middle of the street had been set-up over to the side. It caused a lot of aggression within the crowd. Instead of the blind spot being over in the relatively small area of the library courtyard, it was almost the entire centre of Georgia Street which affected a lot more viewers.
People were pushing their their way through the already packed crowd trying to get to where they could see the screen. Some were very aggressive which only heightened the frustration in the folks they shoved aside.
Alcohol was everywhere. Very little of it was beer.
One of the groups in front of me was a bunch of university/college students. Well dressed, excited and eager for the game. They each had 2 bottles in their hands. One of ‘water’ and another of pop. It took me a minute to realize the water bottles were filled with vodka. By the 2nd period, the water bottles were finished and they were drinking out of pint bottles which latecomers had brought. One started guzzling out of a quart bottle. I was actually relieved when one of them started smoking pot. It seemed to calm them and the crowd around them (and yes probably me too).
Even before the puck dropped at the start of the game, I was hearing comments like, “I can’t wait to see the riot.” and “It’s going to be so cool.” Mostly from kids who would never on their own started a riot but were eager to watch one happen. I’ll bet if you asked them before the game if they would participate, they would have said no. We just want to watch. Never thinking for a second they’d fall victim to mob-mentality.
The only police presence I saw was the police checking open bottles as we left Granville Station and the cops directing traffic.
Let’s flash back to the big party on Granville that first Saturday. There were no check points either, but the cops were visible. They had rooftop cameras and strode through the crowd in groups of 8. There were several pour-outs and a few incidents but the crowd was well behaved. The police were visible, and by traveled in large groups they were sending a clear message. Do NOT start.
I have to ask why wasn’t this done for Game 7. Bigger crowds, should have meant a bigger preventative measure. I’m not naive enough to think that this would have prevented a riot. There were people who came downtown equipped to start chaos. The difference would have been that there would have been more separation between the fan zone and the riot zone.
Those 20-somethings I heard all excited about the riot would have gone home disappointed about the game. They would have been sober and if a riot broke out on the next block, they would likely have thought twice about joining in.
And I know, it’s easy for me to talk after the fact. I wasn’t involved in the prevention/ emergency measures decision making process and have no access to the manpower data that the VPD and the RCMP had to work with.
But, I do know the preventative measures that worked for the previous games were not carried through to Game 7.
My advice for next time is plan for the crowd.
There weren’t enough screens or speakers. Next time pay attention to the numbers. There were estimates of how many folks they were expecting so it follows if you’re expecting a bigger crowd don’t try to squeeze them into a space too small to accommodate. Next time block-off more streets, add more screens to make sure everyone can see. This will increase the enjoyment for the crowd, decrease their frustrations – and as a bonus it will also increase the number of entry and exit points to make for a smoother disbursement of the crowd when the event is finished.
Stick to the no alcohol policy. It worked. I love having a beer while watching a game. But If I’m going to a public place, I have no problem sacrificing the beer to be part of the crowd. From the size of the well behaved crowed during previous games, I wasn’t the only one with this attitude.
I am extremely proud of the way the real fans and Vancouverites gathered downtown to clean up a mess they didn’t make. I’m pleased that the media stopped calling the rioters ‘fans’ This is a very necessary distinction. And I hope that they report responsibly next time and not focus on the sensational riot but remind potential participants how devastating it was to Vancouver and the livelihoods of the people who reside here. How social media swooped in to help capture the looters and the sentences they faced.
I hope they remind the next group of young people that the goal isn’t to join in and have a bigger riot but to avoid having one all together.
And for the record, I’m probably more of a Canucks fan now than I was when the series started. Even though our boys didn’t play well enough to win the cup, they behaved like true sportsman. I’m very proud of them and their accomplishments.