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VPD advice on liquor-store closings not heeded before Game 7

A Vancouver Canucks fan confronts the police during riots in Vancouver, June 15, 2011.

Mike Carlson/ Reuters/Mike Carlson/ Reuters

The Vancouver police department wanted to delay notification of liquor-store closings leading up to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, but the province's liquor-control branch made the announcement anyway to minimize the disruption on business.

The province of B.C. released three documents Wednesday related to the June 15 riot that left millions of dollars in damages. One of the freedom of information documents contained a series of e-mails between staff at the Ministry of Public Safety and the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch, which is part of the ministry's portfolio.

On June 12, the liquor branch's general manager wrote that the less that was communicated publicly about impending store closings, the better. However, on June 14, the same employee wrote that the branch was taking a different approach, overriding the police force's request.

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"While the VPD were interested in delaying notification until tomorrow, we have already lost the element of surprise as I expect the stores and the public are expecting a further closure," Karen Ayers wrote in the e-mail. "I felt that it was reasonable to give the stores as much notice as possible given the impact on employees, scheduling, etc."

The liquor branch issued a news release June 14 advising that stores would close at 4 p.m. the next day.

A report into the riot by John Furlong and Douglas Keefe highlighted how little effect the closings had, as thousands of people who'd heard about the early shutdown purchased their alcohol ahead of time.

"At the top of the list of facts pointing at the problem is that the sale of alcohol from stores operated by the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch on June 15 was extremely high: 68 per cent higher than for the same Wednesday the previous June," the report said. "The six downtown stores recorded even higher sales – 98 per cent more than in 2010."

B.C. Public Safety Minister Shirley Bond and Ms. Ayers did not respond to interview requests. Shortly after The Globe and Mail inquired about the document, it was removed from the government website.

Vancouver police declined comment on the e-mails. When asked if the information was a partial vindication for the force, a spokeswoman referred comment to the province. The department has been much criticized for its response to the riot, particularly for the number of officers it had on the street.

One of the June 14 e-mails from Ms. Ayers about the decision to announce liquor-store closings was sent to police chief Jim Chu and deputy chief Doug LePard. The document does not contain a response to that e-mail to police, though a companion page to the e-mail is redacted.

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In an e-mail the afternoon of June 15, Ms. Ayers provided some rationale for her decision but hinted that there could be trouble.

"I think that everyone was expecting the closures – that's certainly the response that staff who delivered the letters [concerning early closings]received from the stores. It does present more of a challenge for the police, as those coming into the core will be more motivated to BYOB [bring your own beer]" she wrote.

After Mr. Furlong and Mr. Keefe's report was released, Chief Chu told reporters the force had no credible intelligence a riot would occur.

However, an e-mail written by Ms. Ayers before Game 6 suggested otherwise. The e-mail mentioned a conference call both she and Deputy Chief LePard took part in that detailed "escalating problems, intoxication, violence and pre-riotous behaviour."

Mr. Furlong and Mr. Keefe's report contained a post-riot survey filled out by emergency-response workers. The survey said some respondents thought "closing down the liquor stores did not make a difference as they should have been closed all day."

An independent technical review by the Ottawa police force, which is also included in the report, detailed the difference between closing liquor stores down before Game 6 and closing them down before Game 7.

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"The Game 6 strategy to close the liquor stores early – without advising the public in advance – was an effective measure to curtail access to alcohol. Unfortunately, event participants anticipated the early closure for Game 7 and made alternate arrangements, effectively negating the impact of the liquor store closures," the report said.

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