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Chu's critics raise valid points on how riots were handled

If there was any doubt about the heat being felt in the offices of the Vancouver mayor and his chief of police over the Stanley Cup riot, it was answered Tuesday.

In an extraordinary memo to his staff, VPD Chief Jim Chu decried the criticism being levelled at the police in the aftermath of the violence and destruction that took place last Wednesday. And he went to uncommon lengths in an attempt to destroy the credibility of one his harshest post-riot critics.

The questions that the chief raises about the input Bob Whitelaw had into a report into the 1994 Stanley Cup riot are interesting, and certainly worth noting. But more than anything they demonstrate the deep frustration he is feeling amid the fallout from last week's events.

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There is now a very real political dimension to the post-riot discussion.

It's why aides in Mayor Gregor Robertson's office and council members of his Vision Vancouver party were so quick to disseminate Chief Chu's memo to reporters and commentators.

Mr. Robertson is also desperate to change the narrative of the riot story, which in recent days has focused on his role in it all. In particular, whether he did all he could to ensure there were enough officers available to police a crowd of more than 100,000 if things went sideways.

As seems obvious now, the police and the mayor should have known there was always a potential for huge problems with a crowd that size in a Game 7 setting.

Now, it should be repeated again here, quite loudly, that no one has questioned or disparaged the work of the police officers who were on the ground when the riot erupted. They did a stunning job of containing the damage, especially given the ugly odds they faced.

The police resisted all temptations to go in and start breaking heads, when that is exactly what some people now say they should have done. In fact, it's precisely that response that created many of the problems in '94. The police officers handled the situation they were confronted with last week as best they could.

The point is, they should never have been put in that position in the first place. There seems to be wide agreement now that there should have been far more police downtown than there were. The fact that Chief Chu has repeatedly refused to disclose the number he did have on the ground is telling. He says that's for security reasons.

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No it's not. It's for face-saving reasons.

It's completely legitimate to ask the mayor if he had discussions with the chief about the safety of those downtown heading into a pivotal Game 7 situation, especially given the city's history.

"Do you have all the resources you need, Chief?" you would hope the mayor asked. "Money should not be a factor in your considerations."

Remember, too, that when the police were putting together their operational budget for policing downtown during the playoffs, there was no live site in the picture at the time. That added tens of thousands of people to the security mix.

In fact, after the Round 3 series against San Jose, the chief indicated that the $600,000 budgeted for policing the playoffs wasn't going to be enough. "We've alerted city council there is a budget issue that's looming for us," he told reporters.

It's fair to ask if there was any conversation between the chief and the mayor's office about how the police were going to handle all these thousands of extra people. Obviously, it was going to mean extra police power. Who was going to pay for it? And was there any thought given to splitting up the main live site so there wasn't such a concentration of people in one place, adding to the volatility?

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I understand that there are politicians, specifically Non-Partisan Association mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton and candidates running under the NPA banner in the November elections, who are trying to capitalize on this riot. But that doesn't mean there aren't justifiable questions to be asked here.

And it doesn't mean, as Chief Chu suggested in his memo, that the media are out of step with members of the public who have been lauding the work of the police on the ground last Wednesday. It means the media are doing their job, and trying to get to the root of how the police found themselves so badly outnumbered.

The chief can attack Mr. Whitelaw's credibility if he wants. But it doesn't change the fact that he and others made some observations and criticisms that were completely valid.

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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Gary Mason began his journalism career in British Columbia in 1981, working as a summer intern for Canadian Press. More

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