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News

Tomorrow's Riot Report: Who Gets Burned?

On the hot seat: Canucks, Premier Clark, Chief Chu, Mayor Robertson. And maybe John Furlong.

By Bob Mackin 31 Aug 2011 | TheTyee.ca

Bob Mackin is a veteran reporter who covered the Beijing and Vancouver Olympics, and is a regular contributor to The Tyee. Find his previous Tyee stories here.

Two weeks after the first Stanley Cup riot in 1994, Vancouver city hall began a four-month process to find out why it happened and how to prevent a repeat. There were even public hearings for citizens of the shocked city to vent their frustrations and offer Mayor Philip Owen's barely year-old council a vision for a way forward.

Two-and-a-half months after history repeated itself on a grander, uglier scale this year, not one person has been charged for smashing windows, looting stores or burning cars. When the Canucks choked, the city was plunged into a night of booze-fueled chaos and calamity.

So much for the attempt to replicate the street-party atmosphere of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

What followed has been a campaign to control communications and manage the message.

Will it be more of the same on Sept. 1 when an independent report commissioned by the provincial government is to be released? Is the rush to release it before Labour Day weekend intended to bury the bad news at a time when most citizens would rather not be thinking hockey or riots?

All the players who have been part of the post-riot equation share the letter-C in common. Will their performance Sept. 1 onward receive a higher letter grade from the public and the media?

Canucks

Rogers Arena was the biggest bar in the city on June 15. Based on communications with the province's Liquor Control and Licensing Branch, Canucks Sports and Entertainment had been preparing since February to be pouring while the team was scoring through mid-June.

There was a noticeable increase in empty seats as the third period of the lacklustre game seven began. Gate 8 alongside the Georgia Viaduct would have fed fans directly into the melee. Were any of them already over-served alcohol and did they join the brewing violence?

The day after, CSE blamed "misguided individuals" and claimed they weren't true fans. But most people on the streets at dusk on June 15 were wearing merchandise emblazoned with Canucks' logos.

"I'm concerned about anything that reflects poorly on us and the city that we represent. We're going to do our best to do our part in making sure this never happens again," general manager Mike Gillis said June 17. "It was a limited number of people that got out of control, it's not reflective of our fan base. I hope they're punishable to the full extent of the law."

The stakes are high for the Canucks. Any restrictions on Rogers Arena's ability to sell booze would hit the bottom line, especially when it is entering a new season with its new suds supplier Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Christy Clark

June 15 was the 94th day since Christy Clark was sworn-in as premier and she was hell-bent on getting a photo with the Stanley Cup. She was supplied tickets to game seven by the Canucks, whose owner Francesco Aquilini donated to her campaign. Her agenda for the day included a planned, live post-game interview on CBC Radio and an interview on CBC TV outside the Canucks' locker room. When her team lost and the going got tough, Clark got going home.

Clark neither ordered nor was given a briefing note on the riot. Briefing notes are dime-a-dozen in government and the ramifications of the riot for the provincial government were substantial.

The government she heads regulates liquor and policing and provided emergency ambulance services on the night. The headquarters of BC Hydro and the Robson Square provincial complex were within riot-affected areas. The provincial reputation took a worldwide blow from the biggest post-Olympic news event.

Clark instead went on a tough-talking media blitz as part of her ongoing campaign to prepare for an election. "We are going to punish the bad guys and honour the heroes" was the key message in a script for a June 17 appearance at the looted London Drugs.

Cambie

Cambie is the street where the mayor and police chief both have offices and both are worried about their jobs. Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu probably fears the old adage that sewage always flows downhill.

Chu has appeared as the weakest link of the entire equation. He boldly claimed there would be no riot. Then the disgrace happened. He refused to disclose how many police were on the streets June 15 and has since tried to deflect criticism for the slow progress of charges recommended to Crown counsel.

His boss, mayor and police board chairman Gregor Robertson, has been the most-secretive, because he has the most to lose of all. His foe in the Nov. 19 civic election, NPA's Suzanne Anton, labelled it "Robertson's riot."

Robertson came to power and boldly promised transparency and accountability in his Dec. 8, 2008 swearing-in speech. "I will not let you down on making city hall more open and accountable," he stated.

Instead, every Freedom of Information request filed by this reporter for records ranging from contracts for fan zone porta-potties and fan zone planning committee minutes to the mayor's June 15 emails has been delayed. Will any information be disclosed before the election?

Robertson was intent on recreating the Olympic experience, but did the fan zone involve any similar multidepartmental planning? Or was this an event directed by Robertson and city manager Penny Ballem?

Chairmen

A retired judge had been expected to lead the review of the riot. Ted Hughes was the go-to guy for the inquiry into APEC 1997. Tom Braidwood was tapped to examine the fatal tasering of Robert Dziekanski. Those were commissions of inquiry and they had the power to compel people to offer information. The riot review was not going to be an investigation of police misconduct.

The decision to import former Nova Scotia deputy attorney general Doug Keefe was not questioned. But the decision to pair him with John Furlong was.

Furlong, who was chief executive of the Vancouver Olympics, is under extreme pressure to deliver a report that is objective.

CBC was a partner with the City of Vancouver in the fan zone where trouble erupted June 15, and it's also the network that aired a searing Fifth Estate documentary that questioned Furlong's handling of the death of Olympic luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.

Rogers Arena was the most important sports venue for VANOC. The site of Sidney Crosby's golden goal was the biggest revenue generating venue. The Aquilinis were key sponsors. Olympic sponsor Molson's suds were enjoyed by many on June 15, inside and outside the arena.

Furlong did nothing to hide his love of the Canucks. He was spotted wearing a Canucks' jersey on Hockey Night in Canada in Chicago on April 24, a road trip arranged by CSE.

Furlong had other engagements this summer that kept him away from the riot review. He traveled to Durban, South Africa to present the final report of VANOC to the International Olympic Committee on July 7. He went golfing in the RBC Canadian Open pro-am at Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club on July 20.

He didn't, however, have additional IOC work. When the coordination commission for PyeongChang 2018 was named on Aug. 5, the list didn't include Furlong or any of his VANOC cohorts. The advisory and checkup panel traditionally includes the top executive of the previously completed Games.  [Tyee]

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