Skip to main content

A man tries to burn a a plastic barricade during the riot in Vancouver June 15, 2011.John Lehmann/ The Globe and Mail

Police stepped away from the streets to change into their tactical gear at the start of the Stanley Cup riot, giving an initial free rein to vandals who had begun their rampage.

Tom Stamatakis, head of the Vancouver Police Union, said Friday in an interview that police needed to get their equipment and change clothing to effectively intervene in the burgeoning riot, since it is part of the "meet and greet" strategy to avoid displaying riot gear.

"That's all part of a strategy, in terms of deployment. It's a balance we have to strike," he said. "If we deployed at the highest level, all geared up with our riot gear … batons, tear gas, right at the outset, then we would be accused of overreacting and instigating the crowd.

Vancouver police have come under strong criticism for their restrained response in the early moments of the riot. Mr. Stamatakis said he would not second-guess anybody on when officers should change into riot gear. "The only people that can make that decision are people who are there at the time," he said.

"The most agonizing decision for people that are running the deployment on nights like that is, at what point do you have to [shift]the police response," added Mr. Stamatakis.

Earlier, Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu told reporters police failed to anticipate the size of the crowd of more than 100,000 people and apologized to those who tried to stop the hooligans smashing windows and stealing merchandise.

"I'm sorry we could not back you up and get to you earlier. We have training and protective gear and all of you did not," he said Friday during a news conference.

"We were just overwhelmed by the large number of people that were not anticipated," he later told reporters, referring to the crowd squeezed into the fan zone.

Chief Chu said police would have done many things differently if they had known how many people were going to be on the streets. He would have put more officers at the fan-zone on Georgia Street and tightened security along the fences, he said.

Private security officers, monitored by police, searched bags going into the fan zone. "Unfortunately they were overwhelmed, in terms of numbers of people that came down there, and they could not maintain the fence line. The people that designed the fence lines thought, here is the number of people we expect to have. They put the fences up and the people that came down exceeded what they would get," Chief Chu said.

He dismissed suggestions that the police did not have enough money in the budget to provide adequate policing. "The decision on how much to spend is my decision," he said. "We deploy based on risk," he added.

However, Chief Chu repeatedly refused to reveal how many officers were on duty Wednesday evening. He would not confirm the number of officers "for security reasons," he said.

RCMP spokesman Rob Vermeulen confirmed that 100 Mounties were provided at the outset of the evening and more officers were added throughout the evening. Mr. Stamatakis said he had not seen the operational plan for the evening, but he estimated at least 700 of the 1,300 officers in the force were on duty.

Vancouver is still calculating the cost of damages from three hours of rioting in downtown Vancouver Wednesday evening after the Boston Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-0 in the final game of the Stanley Cup. Rioters looted several upscale stores after smashing plate-glass windows. Several vehicles were set on fire.

Premier Christy Clark on Friday said there would be an independent review of the riot, but did not say what form such a review would take.

Ms. Clark also said the government was providing "resources to make sure that this investigation moves quickly and has all of the resources it needs." The province will ensure that ICBC makes its facial identification software available to the investigation, she added.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said he would like to see the review proceed as quickly as possible, especially with potentially large crowds in the street for the Grey Cup later this year.

So far, six people have turned themselves in and police have recommended charges of arson to property, mischief, unlawful assembly and participation in a riot against one of the men. Crown counsel is now reviewing the evidence to see if the charges will go to court.

Constable Jana McGuinness, a media relations officer for the Vancouver police, said investigators expect to find those who do not come to police voluntarily. "We will find you. We are being assisted in such an amazing way by the public and video images," she said.

Mr. Robertson said he'd heard that police had to take time to change into riot gear. "I think that reinforces that they were not anticipating this scale of trouble.… If there had been advance warning, I assumed they would be duly prepared. It really just went sideways quickly, based on who was there to cause trouble."

Vancouver Police statement