Opinion

No Fun City Hall

Why the wet blanket? Big screens, boisterous crowds didn't cause Stanley Cup Riot 2.0.

By Mark Leiren-Young 29 Mar 2012 | TheTyee.ca

Mark Leiren-Young is the writer and director of the widely praised The Green Chain. He's also a regular contributor to The Tyee; find his stories here. For more on Leiren-Young, visit his website.

After Stanley Cup Riot 2.0 Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson declared the Olympics city's new reputation as a place that knew how to celebrate would not be ruined by the few "bad seeds" who rioted after game seven.

"People want to come downtown to celebrate, want to watch the game together," he said.

Yesterday, the bad seeds won and Robertson announced that if the Canucks advance to the semi-finals again people can celebrate somewhere else -- and he set Vancouver back on the road to reclaiming the title humourist Ken Hegan gave it in 1991: "No Fun City."

If the Canucks can survive Daniel Sedin's concussion and make it back into the NHL semi-finals there will be no Olympic-style excitement in downtown Vancouver -- no big screen TVs, no roads blocked off for partying. Instead, the city will organize a collection of 23 "fun, responsible playoff celebrations" scattered throughout the community.

With their new playoff game plan Vancouver City Council is apologizing for a mistake they didn't make and instead of hosting a series of unforgettable downtown parties and trying to avoid a riot, the city will skip the big fan events, but still potentially play host to rioters.

Big screens and street parties did not cause a riot to break out. The big screens and street parties caused mass celebrations to break out.

A city finally alive

Before last year's playoffs the CBC Plaza had not only never looked so alive, I'm not sure it ever looked alive at all.

There were a lot of playoff games last summer and after every game except the final one -- win or lose -- downtown Vancouver was alive and exciting like, you know, a European city in the throes of a World Cup or Vancouver during the Olympics. Thanks in part to the well organized, well policed and well managed downtown events, the people of B.C. caught the most intense case of Stanley Cup fever in NHL history (name a more sustained public celebration -- I think only the Calgary Flames run against Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 even comes close). The city was electric for almost six weeks.

And a lot of that electricity was in those big screens.

Big screen TVs did not cause the riot.

Losing the hockey game did not cause the riot.

Too many idiots drinking too much alcohol who wanted something splashy to post on their Facebook profiles caused the riot.

The city being absurdly under-policed during game seven didn't help the cause. The police being unprepared, disorganized and unable to call for reinforcements when it was obvious long before the game was over that things were going sidewise didn't help either. Security guards not enforcing the same rules regarding public alcohol consumption and bag checks as they did for every other playoff game also didn't exactly help stave off the madness.

There were no big screens on Robson Street in 1994 when Vancouver's first Stanley Cup riot broke out. That night there were too many drunks in a bad mood, not enough police officers on-site, nevermind officers who knew how to handle crowds, and a riot squad that was hidden from the TV cameras when it should have been visible as a deterrent.

I got it wrong

But last year I was so sure that '94 was an anomaly, that the police and the city had learned, that the people running the city had actually, you know, read the report filed after that riot and knew the only law in operation that night appeared to be Murphy's.

Last year I was so impressed by the way the Vancouver police and the security people around the CBC Plaza handled crowds during every other game of the playoffs that I wrote a column in The Tyee saying there was no way there was going to be a re-run of the '94 madness.

I repeated this on CBC Radio's As It Happens the night before game seven. And as someone who watched almost every game of the third and fourth round either at CBC Plaza or from inside Rogers Arena, I believed what I wrote with all my heart -- until I got on the Skytrain to head downtown before game seven and, like everyone else in the city who wasn't in charge of deploying the riot squad, sensed something was very wrong with the vibe and win or lose things were going to get ugly.

Almost a year later I am still picking the bones and feathers from my teeth after eating all that crow. In case you're wondering... it does not taste like chicken.

The mood at the start of game seven was completely different than the mood at the start of game six when the Canucks could also have won it all. My brother, a school teacher, said there was so much coverage of the previous riot, so much build-up and hype around whether there would be a riot, that it was like media was telling kids they were supposed to start breaking windows if the Canucks made it to game seven.

Police the drunks

Olympic boss John Furlong and former Nova Scotia deputy minister of justice Doug Keefe compiled a report to figure out what went wrong and that report was very careful not to assign any blame except to the Facebooking thugs, halftwit tweeters, YouTubing yahoos and iPhone exhibitionists who did the looting, punching and smashing. But if you skip the part where the cause of the riot is reduced to "shit happens" and read appendix K, an independent review of police protocols that night indicate that Murphy's law was once again in effect.

Hosting a celebration wasn't a mistake -- but not paying the price to police that celebration was.

Governments prepare budgets for snow removal each year based on average snowfalls. Some years it snows more than expected and that means either risking people's safety or adapting to the weather and spending more money on ploughs and salt regardless of what the budget says. The city of Vancouver prepared a police budget never anticipating hockey in July, but hell froze over and that meant they should have found more money for dealing with the unexpected storm. Instead, a game which was a much, much, much-squared bigger deal to most people in Vancouver than the Olympic gold medal men's hockey game had only a fraction of the resources for policing.

But the city of Vancouver shouldn't shoulder all that blame either, and if they do decide to revisit this proposal and throw some proper parties again Gregor also shouldn't be picking up the whole tab.

When B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced she was prepared to pay for a victory parade, but not for extra policing, that was a whole lot like announcing she'd be happy to attend your birthday party -- but only if she can eat all your cake and unwrap all your presents. If the provincial government can't find the money to help fund extra policing for what is clearly a provincial celebration, then she should be told that if there is a parade there's no space for her on any of the floats.

And you know who else should be getting a piece of any policing bills -- and a piece of the cleaning bills from last year?

The taxpayers from every municipality in the Lower Mainland that any of the YouHooligans who were arrested for rioting call home. Yeah, I'm talking to you Surrey and New West and Coquitlam and Burnaby and Langley and pretty much everywhere else within commuting distance of a Skytrain line.

And, hey, maybe the Canucks can be convinced to kick in a few bucks because as they're saying in their new PSA "we're in this together."

Bad seeds waiting to sprout again

Most people will celebrate responsibly, and last year the vast majority celebrated responsibly -- even the night that all hell broke loose. But those bad seeds, they're still out there.

The city can arrange for block parties on every block in the Lower Mainland, but unless police shut down Skytrain and close all the bridges Vancouver is now double dog daring idiots and troublemakers to show up downtown (you do know there were street parties in Surrey last year too?) while telling real fans and their families to stay close to home because downtown is no longer a safe place to play and we can’t be trusted to hold another great party there like we did every night of the Olympics.

"Everyone was talking about watching [the Cup final] downtown on big screens. Now they have the opportunity to do it closer to home," said Furlong, like this was a good thing.

Dear John, everyone was talking about watching the Cup final downtown because each game until the final one was a true community event and everyone I know who went downtown to watch a game -- including people who went with their kids -- had a fantastic time except for the people who were there for that last game. This new proposal is like Halloween plans that replace door to door trick or treating with sanitized parties in the local mall. Not only are the proposed scattered celebrations unlikely to generate anywhere near the same excitement we saw last year, I suspect most kids and adults are a lot more likely to stay home.

I also suspect people are going to show up downtown to party whether there are big screens are not, no matter where carefully managed celebrations are set up -- because that's what happens in cities during major sporting events -- and that it would be better to prepare to manage that and enjoy the ride. No one invited the people of Toronto to Yonge Street the nights the Jays won their World Series championships. People just showed up, the same way people flooded to Calgary's Red Mile, the same way that if Winnipeg magically made the finals 100,000 people would appear at Portage and Main.

My friend Kennedy Goodkey, who took his year-old daughter to watch several games downtown last year said he feels the city was in a no-win situation and really had no choice but to do this. He says that if there are games to watch, his family will watch them wherever big screens are set up.

No Fun City 2.0?

I think this new plan is a mistake and a real loss for the people of Vancouver. I think the fun-loving current mayor has been forced to channel Philip Owen -- the party-pooping former mayor who decided the city couldn't handle public fireworks on New Year's Eve 2000 to celebrate the end of the millennium like, you know, every other place on the planet.

I think this plan sets the stage for No Fun City 2.0.

But as wrong-headed as I think this crowd control proposal is, I really hope we get to see it in action because the only way we'll ever know if it works is if the Canucks are playing another game where they've got a chance to win the Stanley Cup.  [Tyee]

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