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The Globe and Mail

The Stanley Cup riot through a Good Samaritan’s eyes

Robert MacKay, right, and an unidentified woman arrive at Provincial Court in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday February 4, 2014. The trial of four men accused of assaulting MacKay during the Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver has heard that as soon as cars were set ablaze and store windows were smashed, there was little police could do to stop people from swarming into the downtown core.


When the Vancouver Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup final nearly three years ago, Robert MacKay was disappointed, but he still wanted to walk through downtown Vancouver to take in what he thought would be celebrations of a near win.

Instead, he found himself caught in the violence that swept through several downtown blocks. He was pummelled by a mob as he tried to stop looters from targeting the Bay department store.

"I was punched. I was kicked. I was taken down to the ground," Mr. MacKay, a 39-year-old chef, testified Tuesday at the trial of four alleged rioters.

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A group of 15 people punched and kicked Mr. MacKay and pepper sprayed him on the night of June 15, 2011.

Ioannis Kangles, Michael MacDonald, Carlos Barahona Villeda and David Leonati are charged with assault and taking part in a riot. They have pleaded not guilty.

Mr. MacKay, who was hailed as a hero by police for his efforts to fend off the looters, told court he headed to downtown Vancouver that day with plans to watch Game 7.

Rather than try to fight for a spot in front of the CBC building, where a massive crowd of fans gathered to watch the game on outdoor screens, he decided to enjoy the match and a couple of beers with his girlfriend and some friends at a nearby hotel, he recalled.

After the Canucks lost, Mr. MacKay and his girlfriend went back outside, where they stood at a local intersection and gaped at the chaos.

Masses of people were moving along the streets, kicking over newspaper boxes and destroying property, Mr. MacKay said. Black smoke was billowing above a crowd near the CBC.

"It was almost embarrassing," he said. "People just lost their minds."

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Mr. MacKay said he also saw smoke coming out of a parkade across from the Bay, which is a few blocks away from the CBC, so he told his girlfriend to stay put while he investigated.

Outside the Bay, a group of people were trying to break the store's windows, he said.

One person would walk toward a window and give it a kick or try to smash it with something, he testified, and if the glass didn't break, another person would do the same.

There were no police around at the time, he said, but a man wearing a Canucks jersey stood between the storefront and the angry crowd.

"I jumped in and tried to give him a hand, I tried to help him," Mr. MacKay said. "I just thought I was doing the right thing."

When a store window broke, the crowd seemed to go wild, yelling and hooting, he said.

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"That's when someone tried to break into the store," he said. "When I saw that happen, I tried to prevent it by [putting him in] a bear hug and moving him off to the side."

That's when Mr. MacKay saw someone lunge at him with what he thought was a window frame, he told the court.

Mr. MacKay said he dodged it, picked up a pole and tried to use it to move the crowd back. But the move left his back exposed, and that's when he felt the punches and kicks that knocked him to the ground, he said.

"I tried to cover my face and my head, like in the fetal position," he said. "And I took blows to my ribs, to the back of my head … and then I was pepper sprayed once on the ground."

Eventually, two people hauled him off the ground and away from the mob.

With the help of police, Mr. MacKay was able to find his girlfriend and the pair began to make their way out of the downtown.

He said he took one last look before walking across Granville Street bridge, which leads out of downtown over False Creek. A helicopter was circling above, police were blocking off bridges, and smoke was billowing from the city, he recalled.

"It was an ugly sight," Mr. MacKay said. "It looked like a war zone."

As he spoke, three of the accused listened quietly, sitting side by side in the court gallery. Mr. Leonati, who was taken into custody the night before for breaching his bail conditions, sat next to a court sheriff.

Two other men charged in Mr. MacKay's attack were convicted last May.

The riot caused millions of dollars in damage as cars were burned, windows smashed, and stores looted.

To date, a total of 290 people have been charged in connection with the riot, according to statistics on the Vancouver Police Department's website.

Dozens of people have already pleaded guilty and received their sentences, ranging from discharges to jail terms of a year or more.

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