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A Social Media Riot Made for TV

This wasn't '94. This was weirder, more violent, driven by a lust for digital attention.

By Mark Leiren-Young 16 Jun 2011 |

Mark Leiren-Young has written a series of stories about the Canucks 2011 run for the Stanley Cup, and will file one more. Find his articles here.

I was standing next to the firefighters on Georgia as they watched the car in front of Vancouver's main post office burn. Someone asked why they weren't stopping the fire and the most senior man there grimaced and replied that they had to wait for the police to give them the go-ahead. The problem was there was no way for them to get through the thousands of Tweeters, Facebookers and amateur photographers -- nevermind the yahoos stoking the fire or the hundreds of people surrounding the car and watching it like it was on TV.

Then the car exploded, just like a car in a movie -- too much like a car in a movie. Then it exploded again. And again. I called a friend who makes movies. He told me that in order for a car to actually explode it has to be burning for a very long time. This car was burning for a long time -- and it was burning kitty corner from the CBC building in full view of all the news shooters. If someone wanted to create a telegenic image for riot footage, they would have had a tough time choosing a better spot to do it and, according to a Facebook post I saw, that was exactly what someone did. "CTV News talked to a friend of the guy who lit the first truck. It was his truck. He planned to burn it if the Canucks lost."

My friend Georgia Miller said that when she was boarding the Skytrain at the Commercial station to go to the game she heard a guy in a Canucks jersey who looked to be 20 or so turn to another Canuck-clad pal and say, ‎"I swear, if the Canucks lose, I'm coming home with a new TV and some Gucci." Before the game she assumed he was kidding, after the game... it's hard not to think of The Bay.

I was inside Rogers Arena for the game and just after the Stanley Cup was handed to the Bruins I witnessed what I suspect will likely rank as the night's most tragic incident. I saw a group of people clustered by the window and they looked shaken. One of the arena workers turned to me and said someone had just fallen off the overpass, a crowd had gathered to look at the victim, there was a large pool of blood and he guesstimated the overpass as a 12-story drop. The paramedics were removing the body -- and at a fall from that altitude I'm pretty sure it was a body they were removing.

Keeping up with rioters with tweets and texts

As I type this, an online gossip site is reporting that according to Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook updates it was a Bruins fan who fell off the viaduct, which leaves me with an even sicker feeling in the pit of my stomach because I'm thinking falling off the viaduct would take a lot of effort, or a lot of alcohol. Other sites are saying it was a Canucks fan who landed in the plaza, not far from the Roger Neilsen statue. Whatever team the person was cheering for, CTV says ambulance services confirmed that someone fell or was pushed off the viaduct.

I knew there was something odd going on when I received a text from my girlfriend, Rayne, saying CBC Plaza was full and they were turning people away from the big screens. A few minutes later she sent another text -- security guards had taken down the barricades at Library Square and stopped searching people coming into the alcohol-free "Fanzone." She got out of the crowd between the second and third period when a few of the minors around her started pulling out mickeys from their unsearched backpacks.

According to one unconfirmed report on Facebook, the crew that set the car on fire at the post office -- in the same family safe Fanzone where everyone was checked every other night of the finals except this one -- told CTV they had several packsacks full of Molotov cocktails with them.

Rayne and I watched every away game in the finals at CBC Plaza and I was thoroughly impressed by the efficiency of the police, the bag searches to keep the event family friendly and the overall police presence.

But it looks like on the night it mattered most something went terribly wrong long before Roberto Luongo let in the first goal of the night.

I wrote a piece for The Tyee about how there was no chance of a repeat of the '94 riot because of the wonderful job the police had done throughout the playoffs. I repeated that belief on CBC's As It Happens. Apparently, I was even more off with that prediction than I was when I called the Canucks beating the Bruins in four. But what I also said on As It Happens was that there will always be stupid people looking to do stupid things and drunks being drunk. And clearly there were a lot of drunks looking to do stupid things last night.

But this was not a repeat of '94. This was something weirder, uglier and more twisted.

The '94 mob was a combination of drunken louts, an ill-prepared police force and both Murphy's Law and Murphy's riot squad. This time the police may have been prepared for louts, but they weren't prepared for people who had decided to riot because they wanted to commit some ultra-violence to show off on their Facebook profile.

Myth of the angry fan mob

The dozen or so news stories I've seen about this so far on websites for newspapers and TV stations almost all refer to "angry" and "disappointed" Canucks fans rioting. But if you actually look at the photos and videos illustrating these stories, none of the rioters looks remotely angry or disappointed -- for the most part they look drunk, happy and ready for their close-up.

Peter Mansbridge was reporting on The National that it appeared the Black Bloc may have been involved, but I'm not sold that organized anarchists had any more to do with this chaos than the score of the hockey game did.

Some people came downtown planning to make trouble as soon as game seven was over and win or lose those Molotov cocktails weren't going home unused.

One of last night's rioters gleefully updated their Facebook status to read: "Maced in the face, hit with a Batton, tear gassed twice, 6 broken fingers, blood everywhere, punched a fucken pig in the head with riot gear on knocked him to the ground, through the jersey on a burning cop car flipped some cars, burnt some smart cars, burnt some cop cars, I'm on the news.... One word.... History.... : ) :) : ) )"

I'd choose a different word -- idiots.

As I left downtown I walked along the beach at English Bay where groups of families and friends in Canucks jerseys were having picnics, and drowning their sorrows, staring out at a stunning Vancouver sunset. As I walked home, a few fans in jerseys saw my classic Kurtenbach-era sweater, high-fived me and said "next year."

These were the fans who looked disappointed.  [Tyee]

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