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Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu addresses a news conference in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, Oct. 31, 2011. (Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press)
Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu addresses a news conference in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, Oct. 31, 2011. (Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press)

Hero of riot pleased with police's intent to charge 20 more suspects Add to ...

Vancouver police have recommended charges against 20 more suspected rioters, including a young man linked to the swarming of a man who made the mistake of trying to talk some sense into the angry mob.

The police department held a news conference to announce the 52 counts against 20 people. The force has now recommended 215 charges against 80 alleged rioters. In B.C., police must forward their recommendations to the Crown for approval. Prosecutors have laid 69 charges against 27 suspected rioters so far.

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In one of the cases announced on Monday, police allege a 19-year-old Surrey man was among a group of rioters who attacked Robert Mackay outside the Bay after he tried to talk the alleged rioters out of smashing windows and looting.

His cry for peace didn’t work. Video of the incident, which was uploaded to YouTube and has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, shows the man being swarmed, then punched, kicked and pepper sprayed. Two men came to his rescue and he escaped the attack with bruised ribs.

Upon hearing charges had been recommended against at least one of the men linked to the assault – police haven’t released details on all 80 case files – Mr. Mackay said the news was certainly welcome.

“I’m pleased. It’s not like I was anxiously waiting for this moment,” he said. “I’m really happy for the police that they’ve been able to filter through all the evidence that they had.”

Vancouver police have been much criticized for their handling of the investigation. The first major batch of recommendations wasn’t forwarded to the Crown until Oct. 31. More than six months after the riot, no one has been convicted of participating in the incident that left millions of dollars in damage and injured more than 160 people.

Mr. Mackay has heard the criticisms of police. He doesn’t agree with them.

“As long as the end result is a positive one, it shows that all the work they’ve done hasn’t gone to waste,” he said.

Once footage of the attack on Mr. Mackay surfaced, Heritage Minister James Moore tweeted “Canada needs more people with his character and courage.” The local hockey team agreed – Mr. Mackay dropped the puck during a ceremonial faceoff at a Canucks game in October.

Mr. Mackay said it hasn’t been too difficult moving past the June 15 event.

“I think there’s so many positives that happened after that night,” he said. “I don’t think too much about what happened. I think more about the reconnection with old friends, and complete strangers who have come up to thank me, or sent me letters. It’s been completely overwhelming. You see a lot of good in people when tragedy happens like that.”

Of the 20 people, 16 are male and four are female. The average age is 19 and six of the accused are juveniles. All of the 20 are accused, at minimum, of participating in a riot.

A 17-year-old female from Surrey is accused of punching a police officer, then spitting in the officer’s face. She allegedly bit a second officer who came in to assist.

A 24-year-old man from Blaine, Wash., is accused of looting from a store. The man’s escape from justice may have been hampered by the fact he had his surname printed on the back of the hockey jersey he was wearing, police say.

Inspector Les Yeo, who’s leading Vancouver police’s riot investigation, said more charge recommendations are just around the corner.

Insp. Yeo has said 500 to 700 people would be charged. On Monday, he appeared uncertain whether that target will be met.

“We will still strive to do as many as we can. Whether we hit 500 or not, that’s going to be dependent on a lot of factors,” he said, adding that police will need help from the public. To that end, the force will soon launch an initiative to draw more people to its website.

Insp. Yeo earlier said it “could take a year or two years to investigate [the riot]fully.” He clarified his remarks and said that timeframe included not just the police investigation, but also the court process.

The first batch of alleged rioters began appearing in court last week. Their cases continue. None have been convicted.

Legal experts have expressed concern about what impact the flood of riot cases will have on the overloaded provincial court system. Dozens of cases have been thrown out in B.C. this year.

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