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Vancouver riots blamed on setup of live sites

A store front window damaged during the Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver, seen here June 23, 2011.

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

Live sites that drew an estimated 150,000 people to the downtown core created a "critical mass" that inevitably overwhelmed police at the start of the Stanley Cup riot last week, says the officer who was in charge of drafting the Vancouver Police Department's operational plan.

"Based on where the sites were … it would have been very difficult for them to prevent the riot. I really don't know how they could have," said Rick McKenna, an inspector who retired from the VPD in April, after preparing the initial plan for policing the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.

"I hate to use the term critical mass … but that's what you are creating [with the live sites] You are just adding to an already large crowd and it's just building," he said.

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Mr. McKenna's operational plan was presented to the Vancouver Police Board in late April, before any mention had been made of the live sites later set up first by the CBC and then the city. He said he didn't know what the VPD did to adjust for those sites, where big screens became a magnet for people from all over the Lower Mainland.

Mr. McKenna said he retired before the final plan for policing the playoffs was set, but had he been asked, he would have advised against the live sites, because they linked the large crowd that gathered in the Granville Street entertainment district, with the fans exiting Rogers Arena.

When those three streams converged after the game, police were overwhelmed and three hours of chaos followed.

"It is a lot easier to criticize after the event … but when you get that size of crowd, there aren't enough police officers in the Lower Mainland to control that," Mr. McKenna said in an interview with CTV and The Globe and Mail.

" Plus, you look at the area that [the live site is]in. One of the aspects of crowd management is that … to dissipate the crowd you push them. Where are you going to push them? Down Georgia Street? Push them towards The Bay?" he asked.

The riot began in the live site on Georgia Street, where more than 25,000 people jammed into several blocks facing a huge screen near the CBC building. When the Canucks lost, portable toilets were tipped over, security fences toppled, fights erupted and cars were burned.

Mr. McKenna said he thinks police handled the situation about as well as they could, given the huge number of people.

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"But again you run into that difficulty. You know you have that massive crowd outside the post office. … You push them west, you push them towards The Bay and London Drugs, which ended up having a massive amount of damage and looting done to them," he said.

Mr. McKenna said in the future the city should try to break up the crowd by having several places for people to gather.

"In my opinion that would be the perfect scenario. Spread out the crowds … have a screen in the southeast part of the city and the southwest part of the city. Give people other places to go. Spread out that mass so that you don't have that huge amount of people in a very small, contained area," he said.

Police officials have declined this week to comment on issues related to the riot, saying it is inappropriate because an inquiry has been called. But the department did issue a written statement Thursday dealing with a public debate over whether enough officers were deployed the night of the game seven riot.

"Realistically, there is no plausible number of police that could have been deployed that would have prevented this riot. Nor can anyone predict with 100 per cent certainty whether a riot will occur. Toronto had many more police, drawn from across the country, on the streets for the G20 and they still had a riot," the statement said.

"For those who stand outside the fray, the view is always crystal clear. But the fact still remains that the number of police on the street the night of June 15, 'correct' or not, quelled a violent crowd of 30,000 people in three hours without major injuries or a single complaint of excessive force or unlawful arrest," police stated.

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In a sidewalk press conference on Granville Street on Thursday, Mayor Gregor Robertson said he realizes there are many questions being asked about the riot, but he urged people to be patient and wait for the outcome on an inquiry.

"We have an independent review that the province, the city and the police board have set in motion. We expect that to begin very soon. And we need to answer all of these questions," he said. "The really key thing is that we let this review take its course."

Mr. Robertson said before the live sites were set up, there were discussions involving city, police and fire officials. And he rejected a suggestion that city manager Penny Ballem had called on police to "ratchet back" on spending for the playoffs.

"The city manager does not wade in to the police deployment or operational issues. That is not her jurisdiction. The police are wholly responsible for deciding how many officers they deploy," Mr. Robertson said.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

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