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Vancouver police preparing to charge hundreds in Stanley Cup riots

Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu in Vancouver June 16, 2011.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The Vancouver Police Department has identified hundreds of people who looted stores and torched cars during the riot that swept the city's downtown on June 15, the final night of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But it will take time for charges to be laid against those involved, in part because police want to ensure rioters aren't prematurely charged with a minor offence and then later found to have been involved in more serious crimes.

"We will be charging hundreds of people," Vancouver police chief Jim Chu told reporters after the public portion of a police board meeting on Wednesday.

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"But if we rush to justice that could mean incomplete cases in terms of the complete involvement of that individual being presented to the courts. We don't want that - we want the full picture presented to the judges so that the appropriate sentences are meted out."

To date, 37 people - 30 men and seven women - have turned themselves in, with charges pending further investigation, the VPD said in an update.

With the help of thousands of photos and videos sent to police by members of the public, riot investigators have so far identified 202 incidents, with each involving from one to 300 suspects.

Most of the people who have turned themselves in to date do not have criminal records, Chief Chu said.

Some of the crimes being investigated are participating in a riot, assault, break and enter, weapons possession and arson.

During the board meeting, board members - including Mayor Gregor Robertson - expressed their support for Chief Chu and the officers who were on duty the night of the riot, saying police were able to shut it down over three hours and showed restraint in tough conditions.

In the days and weeks following the riot, both Mr. Robertson and Chief Chu came under fire over their role in planning for crowds of excited sports fans streaming in to the downtown core and how police responded to early signs of trouble. An estimated 150,000 people were in the downtown core on the night of the riot, many of them packed into city-approved, public-viewing sites.

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Many critics said there were too few police on duty the night of the riot. Mr. Robertson has said in hindsight that both he and Chief Chu agree more officers were needed, but said the figure would not be released unless the authors of an independent review decide to do so.

That review, headed by former Nova Scotia deputy attorney general Doug Keefe and John Furlong, former VANOC co-chair, is expected to file its report by Aug. 31.

The riot resulted in millions of dollars worth of damage to downtown businesses and dozens of people have filed workers' compensation claims for physical and psychological injuries related to the riot.

Chief Chu said on Wednesday he had already met with the external review team and has another meeting scheduled with crowd-control experts from the Ottawa police force that are part of the review. Mr. Robertson said he had not yet met with the review team.

As he has on previous occasions since the riot, Mr. Robertson said the city would continue to support large public gatherings, including the three-night fireworks event known as the Celebration of Light that kicks off July 30.

"I'm confident in the chief and the VPD and the rest of the region supporting [us]that we're going to have a safe event," Mr. Robertson said.

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In an appearance before the police board, NPA councillor and mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton said the riot resulted in an "international black eye" for the city and made several suggestions, including a regional police unit focused on security planning for large special events.

To date, there has been one complaint filed with the B.C. Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner relating to police conduct during the riot, a tally that Chief Chu said reflects the training and restraint exercised by officers on duty the night of the riot.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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