Vancouver’s mayor now says the police were understaffed in dealing with the Stanley Cup riots last month and that the chief of the Vancouver Police Department agrees.
Gregor Robertson made the point Monday in a statement to The Globe and Mail. Until Monday, the mayor had not been critical of police staffing in the aftermath of the riot.
“The Chief and I have had a number of discussions about the riot, and with the internal and external reviews under way, information from different agencies is being shared so that no stone is left unturned,” Mr. Robertson said in the statement, responding to a series of Globe and Mail questions.
“I believe the VPD had a well-resourced plan but in hindsight, both the chief and I agree that more officers were needed, given the number of people who joined the riot.”
Mr. Robertson went on to say he hoped the ongoing independent review into the riots will be “very helpful” in analyzing what happened and providing lessons for future events.
That review is being handled by John Furlong, the former VANOC co-chair, and Doug Keefe, a former Nova Scotia deputy attorney-general. They are working toward an Aug. 31 deadline.
The mayor said alcohol played a “key role” in the riot and he expected the review will also consider that issue. “The VPD and Transit police found a lot of people, especially young people, were coming downtown on transit already intoxicated. On top of that, bars and restaurants were serving people throughout the day.”
Mr. Robertson’s comments came as he told CKNW Radio on Monday that the police response wasn’t quick enough, and also said he finally knows how many officers the Vancouver Police Department deployed to deal with the worst riot in the city since the Stanley Cup riot of 1994.
Mr. Robertson told CKNW that Police Chief Jim Chu has now provided the staffing information, but that the figure won’t be released unless the authors of the independent review decide to do so.
Mr. Robertson praised the police, overall.
“I think they did a really good job of ensuring that public safety was paramount, and they deserve accolades.”
“In hindsight, now everyone seems a lot more clear that there were people who came down, maybe they weren’t going to start a riot, but they were going to get involved.” Mr. Robertson told radio host Bill Good.
“That kind of immediate response in the hours before [the riot] I don’t think was as quick as it should have been, to ramp up and assume it could get worse.”
The riot, which caused millions of dollars in damage to stores and businesses in downtown Vancouver, occurred June 15 after the Vancouver Canucks were defeated in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. A crowd estimated at about 150,000 was in the city core that night.
Mr. Robertson has previously said the chief had refused to provide the information despite the mayor’s request for the figures.
The mayor had said the lack of disclosure was consistent with the division of responsibilities between politicians and police, and that he had full confidence in the chief’s planning for a possible riot.
Asked about the point last month, the mayor told The Globe and Mail Chief Chu told him the numbers could not be provided for “operational reasons.”
ssssssIt remains unclear why Chief Chu decided now to provide the deployment numbers to the mayor
Mr. Robertson said the chief assured him the number of officers on the ground was comparable to what there was on the streets for the gold-medal hockey game at the 2010 Olympics – a point the mayor repeated in Monday’s statement.
Constable Lindsey Houghton, speaking for the Vancouver Police Department, said in an e-mailed statement that the force would not comment on the mayor’s remarks while the independent review is ongoing.
Mr. Keefe has described the issue around the number of police officers as a “small ball” matter, but said it may, in fact, be released in the report.
“If telling the story of the deployment requires the number to be put out there, I suppose we will do that,” he told reporters several weeks ago.
He said the number of officers is meaningless without the “whole context” of events around the riot, which saw about a hundred arrests amid looting, assaults and window-smashing in downtown Vancouver.
Suzanne Anton, a councillor from the opposition NPA party who is also the party’s candidate for mayor, said Mr. Robertson needs to take more responsibility for what happened.
“The mayor still has never said, ‘The buck stops here.’ He has failed to take full accountability,” she said. “He has demonstrated further how little a handle he had on what was going on.”