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Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson during a press conference in Vancouver June 23, 2011 where he endorsed business improvement association's `Vanlover' campaign encouraging people to support downtown businesses in wake of riot. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson during a press conference in Vancouver June 23, 2011 where he endorsed business improvement association's `Vanlover' campaign encouraging people to support downtown businesses in wake of riot. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Gary Mason

Don't ask, won't tell in Vancouver Add to ...

Something tells me that if the Vancouver Canucks make the Stanley Cup finals next year, Mayor Gregor Robertson won't be so utterly trusting in his police chief.

At least he's likely to ask a probing question or two about plans to control crowds in the tens of thousands should the home team once again be in a position to blow its chance to win the cup.

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If there was one thing that struck me in my recent interview with the mayor about the June 15 riot, it was the degree to which he placed an almost unquestioning faith in Chief Jim Chu.

Mr. Robertson is a young mayor who, in many respects, is still learning to run a big Canadian city. Certainly, nothing could have prepared him for the events of nearly two weeks ago. And so, to some extent, he did what many mayors with only two years on the job would have done - left policing matters to the police.

On one level that's fair enough. The police have the expertise. However, if and when things go wrong, the mayor bears ultimate responsibility. It is he - in this case - who is answerable to his citizens when a violent event causes major destruction to property.

Therefore, before a pivotal Game 7, especially given its historical context, you might have thought the mayor would have sat down with his police chief and had a chat.

"Take me through your plan," you imagine the mayor saying. "We could have more than 100,000 people downtown today. Tell me what you've got in the works if this thing starts to go sideways - starting with the number of officers you'll have on the ground."

Instead, Mr. Robertson admitted he "didn't know any of the details."

When the U.S. Navy's Seal team was planning to take down Osama bin Laden, President Barack Obama was briefed on every last detail. He didn't just assume his army guys would take care of it. And I'm sure that even though surgical strikes weren't his specialty, Mr. Obama had plenty of good questions.

Equally absurd would be the idea of the President not knowing how many of his troops were involved in a major military operation, especially one in which the number later became a matter of some contention.

I understand that plans to combat a riot are not the same as people heading off to war. But as far as the operation of a city goes, it's about as close as it gets to parallels. The VPD, and Chief Chu, did not have nearly enough officers on the street to handle potential problems created by thousands of drunk and unruly people. Everyone agrees on that fact now. But so far, the police chief has refused to divulge how many officers he did have out for Game 7 - even to the mayor.

This is absurd. Surely, the police chief has to answer to someone.

His decision to not disclose crucial information to a superior who is not only the mayor but the chair of the police board, is a brassy move. And one that puts the mayor in a difficult position.

I think the chief is lucky his boss is such an affable fellow. I can't imagine someone like, oh, I don't know, Toronto's Rob Ford, say, handling it the same way. I suspect Mr. Ford would have said: "If you don't tell me how many officers you had on the street, Jim, you can leave your badge on the table on your way out."

The chief's position looks even stranger given that the independent review of the riot will look at the officer count. (That review will soon be under way, with sources confirming that Doug Keefe, former deputy justice minister of Nova Scotia, will head the effort.) The number could well become public through that process. It certainly should. If that is the case, why is the chief refusing to tell the mayor?

Something tells me we may not have heard the last of this extraordinary situation.

So far, none of this appears to have hurt the mayor. His remarkable revelations on the weekend barely caused a stir in his sleepy hamlet. Suzanne Anton, the woman running against Mr. Robertson for mayor, didn't even seize on the fact the mayor admitted not knowing what the police plan was for dealing with a potential Game 7 riot. Or that he backed down when his police chief refused to give him information that he requested. The media showed no interest in the revelations either.

No wonder Mr. Robertson laughed when I asked him if the riot could be his Olympic Village, a reference to the controversy that virtually wiped out the Non-Partisan Association in the last election and which paved the way for his victory.

He knows it won't be.

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

 

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