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Riot report threatens Mayor Robertson with election looming

The day after riot night in Vancouver, Mayor Gregor Robertson stood amid the city's scarred streets and blamed the outbreak of hooliganism on "atrocious behaviour by people who came downtown to commit criminal acts."

Now the public is about to hear whether Mr. Robertson himself should bear some of the blame for the worst riot in Vancouver's history.

A hotly anticipated, independent report on the June riot is to be released early Thursday afternoon, and the findings of co-chairs Doug Keefe and John Furlong could have a major impact on whether Mr. Robertson remains in the mayor's chair for another three years.

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"He may take a hit [from the review]" political analyst Patrick Smith of Simon Fraser University said Wednesday.

Prof. Smith pointed out that, with municipal elections fewer than three months away, people are paying much more attention to issues that could sway their votes.

"Assuming there is some criticism [in the report] the timing is not ideal for the mayor," he said. "It's harder to manage, so the cost of a negative report is higher than it otherwise might be."

Few will be waiting for the report with more eagerness than Mr. Robertson's opponents in the rival NPA party, which has been seeking to label the three-hour outbreak of looting, burning and assault as "Robertson's Riot" almost from the moment the flames died out.

The NPA, particularly mayoral candidate Councillor Suzanne Anton, has blamed Mr. Robertson for encouraging people to come downtown to watch the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals without adequate preparation and safety measures.

"I'm sure [Ms. Anton]is waiting to pounce," said SFU criminologist Rob Gordon. "And I'm sure the mayor has been nervous [about this report]for several months. He invited the crowds in, and the crowd volume exceeded capacity."

However, Prof. Gordon added his hope that the report will also address the need for a single police force in the Lower Mainland, which might have done a more effective job heading off the riot.

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"It's a pity the riot review doesn't extend out to other mayors, who have restricted any move to regional policing," he said.

Mr. Keefe, former deputy attorney-general of Nova Scotia, and ex-VANOC chief John Furlong were appointed by the provincial government in late June to review what led up to the riot and recommend how to guard against similar violence in the future at large outdoor events.

Both Mr. Robertson and Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu have admitted being caught off guard by the rioting that erupted the moment the Canucks' seventh-game loss was over.

Recent municipal polling by Justason Market Intelligence has found little impact from the riot on Mr. Robertson's public support.

"I've been surprised at the extent NPA attacks on him over the riot haven't stuck," said firm principal Barb Justason. "People don't see it as a top issue of concern."

But that could change if he or the city is singled out for criticism in Thursday's report, she said, noting that the percentage of those who "strongly disapprove" of Mr. Robertson has gone up, even though his overall support level has remained stable.

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"That to me is a sign of things to come in terms of his political vulnerability," she said.

Ms. Anton said she will be unrelenting in her criticism of Mr. Robertson for his handling of the riot, no matter what the review says.

"There was a complete and utter failure of the mayor to come to council with a report on plans [for downtown gatherings to watch the Canucks]" she said. "There was no budget, no council decision, no chance to examine staff about it. None of those things happened."

Meanwhile, this week's posting by police of 40 pictures of suspected rioters is already yielding results, according to the VPD.

Spokeswoman Constable Jana McGuinness said police now have names for eight of the suspects, have 140 new tips, and have gathered some key evidence in their ongoing investigation of the riot.

"We are just overwhelmed with the outpouring of support," she said.

With a report from Sunny Dhillon

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