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The Globe and Mail

Thugs get the last word on Vancouver's hockey party

Of all the statements made by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson in the wake of last June's Stanley Cup riot, it was his vow to not let the thugs and hooligans who had destroyed the city wreck the future fun of others that was the most naive.

Vancouver would continue to hold large-scale downtown celebrations for events such as the Stanley Cup, he insisted. It would not be held hostage by the alcohol-fuelled antics of a few hundred idiots.

It was a noble stand – but also one that was mostly bravado, a political statement as much as anything, intended to convey the message that the streets of the city would never be ceded to villains and drunken louts as long as Mr. Robertson was in charge.

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Now we know differently.

As the Stanley Cup playoffs get under way this week, they do so against a disquieting backdrop in Vancouver. The events that took place last year after Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final are still fresh in many people's minds. It was the city's second hockey-related riot in 17 years, and left a stain likely to be evident for generations. Meantime, there remains anger and frustration at the pace of the police investigation into it.

So far, the Integrated Riot Investigation Team has recommended charges against 175 suspected rioters. And, so far, the Crown has approved charges against 85. But dozens and dozens of those who took part in the riot probably will never see a courtroom because they were fortunate enough not to get caught on camera.

The city and police recently announced security and celebration plans for this year's playoffs. Not surprisingly, they took into account most of the recommendations made by John Furlong and Douglas Keefe in their report on the riot. The pair effectively said that any thought of allowing 100,000-plus people to congregate downtown under any circumstances similar to last June would be suicide.

And so, should the Vancouver Canucks have a playoff drive such as last year's, one that takes them to the Cup final, the plan is to hold small community events throughout the city. These would be ones of a few thousand people or so at community centres, where people could watch the games on large TV screens. They would be family-friendly affairs where alcohol consumption would not be encouraged.

Sounds like a blast, doesn't it?

It's a shame. The mass celebrations that turned the streets of downtown Vancouver into rivers of people during the 2010 Olympics were a point of pride not just for Vancouver but for the country. Later, the images of tens of thousands of fans peacefully jammed into those same streets to cheer on their hockey team made those who lived there even prouder.

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And it's just regrettable that the opportunity to do that again may be lost, if not forever, then for an awfully long time.

But that was going to be the case the very moment the city awoke on June 16 to see in the clear light of day the destruction the rioters had wrought.

No one, at least no one in a position of authority, was going to risk that happening again – at least any time soon. Certainly, the Vancouver police, who came under such heavy criticism for being unprepared for trouble, were never going to be in favour of rolling the dice on any type of mass gathering downtown.

That is, unless someone was going to approve the massive costs of putting several thousand police officers on the streets, instead of the several hundred that were so laughably outnumbered last summer. And in this age of austerity, no government is going to do that. Call them party poopers all you want.

No, should the Canucks make it to the Stanley Cup finals again this year, it will be a very different type of party. One largely shaped by thugs and hooligans who weren't supposed to have a say.

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