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One year after riot, reporter revisits strange interlude with Canadian forces that night

On June 14, 1994, Vancouver police and RCMP riot squads gathered for what became the Riot on Robson at the Canadian Forces' Beatty Street Drill Hall.

On June 15, 2011, when the Vancouver Canucks hosted Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final at Rogers Arena, a blue Canucks' flag was hung from the rafters and more than 300 soldiers and guests watched the game on TV and drank beer in the 110-year-old heritage building.

Members of the British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught's Own) hoped their private party would go unnoticed, even while the riot approached the doorstep of 620 Beatty Street. That changed when this curious reporter knocked on the green door, spotted uniformed personnel drinking beer from cups, and tweeted:

"Canadian Army having a party in Beatty Armory as city riots! In 94, that's where VPD and RCMP mustered."

"Amazing! Beer drinking soldiers shut door in my face at armory. They're drinking beer inside."

I'm a typical Canadian who enjoys a cold one and, under everyday circumstances, I wouldn't begrudge anyone from doing the same. Those who are trained and sent by our government into a war zone to make peace are certainly entitled to sip a wobbly pop. On this chaotic night, when downtown was plunged into a burning state of booze-and-testosterone-fueled anarchy, I reasonably wondered why those in uniform would stand idly by.

According to internal Canadian Forces email obtained via Access to Information, an unidentified person at Maritime Forces Pacific noticed my tweets and forwarded them to comrades with the subject "NEW PROBLEM!!!!"

Canadian Forces personnel in B.C. hurried to cobble together an explanation.

An email from Lt. Col. Bruce Kadonoff to Capt. Chris Poulton, the 39 Canadian Brigade Group public affairs officer, at 12:41 a.m. June 16 said 320 people attended the viewing party, including 50 to 75 off-duty members, a duty officer, duty non-commissioned officer and half-dozen duty troopers and corporals. The remainder were civilians.

"The event was for serving members, their families, and friends as well as the extended Regimental family (bands, association members). Everyone signed in, IDs were checked so I can tell you exactly who was there if req." Kadonoff wrote. "We have opened the DH for all Stanley Cup Final games. A big screen is set up and the game projected. The reporter requested admittance after the game was over. There was no reason to admit him.

"Similar events were held during the Olympics. The Gold Medal Game in particular was similarly attended. It was put together to give all members of the extended Regimental family and their friends and families a place to watch the games.

"Everyone was disappointed with the result of the game but there were most certainly not drunks streaming out of the Drill Hall to light cars on fire. Everyone was simply keen to get home safely.

"These were friends and family events. There were a total of two issues involving drunks over the entire 7 games."

"He demanded to know why the military wasn't doing anything to stop the riots. He peered through the window on the door, claimed to spy soldiers drinking and then admitted to document his observation with a cell phone picture. I can state categorically that no uniformed soldiers were drinking. Beer was served at the event, sold under the auspices of our established liquor licence. There were no significant incidents of drunkenness. The bar was closed at the end of the game.

"For games 1 through 6, the building was cleared approx 30 min after the game. For tonight's game, I directed that the bar was to be closed as usual but that attendees were welcome to remain in the DH until they felt it safe to depart.

"All is now quiet. No damage done to building. Some police cars parked near the bldg were damaged by jackasses. Riot got within a block, one of the fires on the news was about a half block from the building."

The documents misidentified the media outlet I represented (I was an accredited correspondent for the New York Times and displayed my Stanley Cup final pass to the officer at the door). I did not ask to enter, but instead demanded to interview any official who could explain the party and the Canadian Forces' non-response to the riot.

I did witness uniformed personnel holding and sipping from beer cups, but my iPhone photographs were too blurry to publish. A uniformed soldier at the door bluntly told me that they couldn't get involved unless tasked by the federal government. I never got an answer about why nobody saw fit to volunteer as a first aid medic while civil unrest erupted right across the street. Surely, there must have have been injured citizens and first responders requiring attention.

In an 11:21 p.m. email memo, Lt. Col. Paul Ursich wrote: "Any requests for support from the CF including armouries, vehicles, personnel, equipment or any other CF assets are to be routed through the Provincial government to the Federal government. I anticipate the possibility of informal requests for support from VPD or other emergency services in Vancouver this evening. Units are not authorized to provide ALEA (Assistance to Law Enforcement) without direction. The only excepts are for life and limb situations and this is not the case in Vancouver tonight. If you do receive any informal requests for support, please advise via these means."

As for the historic Drill Hall, it made it through the riot relatively unscathed.

A June 16 email at 9:05 a.m., subject DH post Game 7, from Chief Warrant Officer Mark Arden to Kadonoff, said: "(Drill hall) looks good this morning, no damage from last night apparent. Parade Square needs another mopping and the chin up bars need to be pressure washed (foot fungus). One garbage run should take care of the garbage over flow."

"I need to report a bit of new damage," wrote McLeod at 10:34 a.m. on June 16. "It looks like someone put another small hole in the wall in the men's washroom off the DH floor. This was duly noticed during regular rounds, but in all the drama last night, I regret I do not remember at exactly what time this was brought to my attention."

Hints of what was to come did not go unnoticed before the fateful championship game on June 15, 2011. At 1:54 p.m., Adjutant Capt. Jennifer Hillman wrote: "Things are absolutely crazy down here already. I'm thinking about hopping a SkyTrain considerably earlier than 4 p.m. and am letting my staff do the same. I probably will see you first, but in case I don't, is there anything you think you will need?"

Responded McLeod at 2:19 p.m.: "Haha, I'm cabbing down. I wouldn't mind getting a key to the Dungeon 'just in case', but otherwise, we should be ok."

Vancouver journalist Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to The Tyee.

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