Nine months after the riot, and with downtown businesses reporting they aren’t ready for another large public gathering, the city of Vancouver has reversed its pledge not to let the rioters dictate future events by decentralizing Stanley Cup playoff celebrations and sprinkling them across the city.
Mayor Gregor Robertson outlined a broad plan during a news conference at City Hall on Tuesday. He was joined by John Furlong, co-author of a report on the June 15 riot that left millions of dollars in damage, and deputy police chief Doug LePard.
The plan, which will be rolled out if the hometown Canucks advance to the third and fourth rounds of the playoffs, would be to hold small, family-oriented events in neighbourhoods outside the downtown core, at community centres and block parties.
People who venture downtown would have to find room at private indoor venues, such as bars and restaurants. There will be no giant outdoor television screens, the likes of which drew 150,000-plus people when the Canucks lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final to the Boston Bruins. Those downtown can expect a greater crackdown on public drinking.
“I believe that this year’s plan strikes the right balance to encourage Canuck fans to celebrate responsibly and to support local businesses,” the mayor told reporters.
The mayor’s comments were a far cry from his statements last September, when he said he was unwilling to cancel large public events.
He said at the time: “People want to come downtown to celebrate, want to watch the game together. I think we just have to reshape how we do that, look at better ways of organizing live sites, ensuring that the security and the policing is all in place proactively, looking at next best practices for setting this up in the downtown and ensuring that what happened on June 15 does not happen again.”
When asked on Tuesday if the city had ceded its streets to the rioters, the mayor said no.
“You look at our situation versus Boston, which has had very significant trouble with riots and violence in their streets and they shut their downtown completely and board up the windows. We’re not going there. Our downtown is open,” he said.
The mayor was asked numerous times to clarify details of the plan – such as what venues might be used, or what exact form the celebrations would take. The city has budgeted $100,000 for the events.
Mr. Furlong passionately leapt to the mayor’s defence. “There is a plan. … The biggest thing about this plan is it decentralizes the activity,” he said.
Mr. Furlong, along with co-author Douglas Keefe, released his riot report last August. “The streets should not be surrendered to thugs and villains,” it said.
When asked if that was the case with this plan, if the streets were being surrendered, Mr. Furlong didn’t answer directly. He said people who misbehave this time around won’t be able to hide as easily because the crowd won’t be anywhere near as large.
He said people have become smitten with the idea of coming downtown, but only because that’s where the action is.
“I don’t think we should dismiss the possibility that if, for example, there’s an event planned for the Dunbar Community Centre, people that live within a kilometre of that will want to take their children and family together to celebrate,” he said.
The mayor said he doesn’t anticipate a repeat of the riot, a comment seconded by Mr. LePard. He said the police investigation has served as enough of a deterrent. Police have recommended charges against 150 people. The Crown has charged 75. One person has been sentenced.
Mr. LePard said departments from around the Lower Mainland, plus the transit police, will be active when it comes to liquor interdiction – alcohol was identified as one of two major problems the night of the riot, along with crowd size. Mr. LePard said officers are able, where there are reasonable grounds, to search people.
He said police agencies will keep the province’s liquor control branch informed if it wants to close stores.