Vancouver needs a chance to take back its streets. Mayor Gregor Robertson and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark are right to say they will not cede the streets to the hooligans (or more aptly, the hooligans and the spectators). They will encourage a celebration at the Grey Cup next fall, which, as luck would have it, is in Vancouver.
On one level, that seems foolhardy or naive. Keeping the streets secure when 100,000 or more celebrants gather is an immense challenge. Vancouver police chief Jim Chu suggests it's not possible. And a party doesn't feel quite like a party if it's accompanied by a huge show of police force.
And yet there is something at stake for Vancouver, beyond its reputation, and for other cities, too. Cities need to create opportunities for good people, law-abiding people, to gather, to express themselves, to claim ownership of public spaces. It is those good people, more than any police force, who ultimately ensure a city is livable and at peace. At the moment, the streets do not belong to them.
It would be risky to try to take them back. It was only by chance that someone wasn't killed on Wednesday night. There were reportedly at least eight stabbings. A man who tried to defend a store from the mob was brutally kicked and beaten by several men. (Another man finally shielded the beaten man with his body.) Projectiles were thrown without regard for the safety of others. A video shown on the CBC showed a woman trying to stop a mob from torching a car. A man stepped in to protect the woman but another man struck the car with a large piece of sheeting, and the sheeting hit the man in the head.
This was a destruction party. It was mayhem for fun, mayhem as a spectator sport. Mr. Robertson was not nearly right when he blamed a small number of anarchists and criminals for the damage. If that was all it had been, the riot would not have been nearly so disturbing. Photographs and videos show clearly that large numbers of people found the spectacle of others, mostly young men, smashing windows, setting fires, even attacking firefighters, a great entertainment. There have been other riots after other sporting events in other cities (and in Vancouver, too, in 1994), but this one had a duration and intensity that set it apart.
This was elemental, almost Hobbesian - a demonstration that, even in Canada, life can quickly become nasty, brutish and short. Is that what Canada is?
But some men and women stood up to the mob. And the next day, Vancouverites flocked downtown to sweep up, to sign wallboards expressing their horror and sympathy. They need a fighting chance - in a figurative sense only, please - to show that their Vancouver, their Canada, is the real one.