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Why Vancouver isn't expecting the Grey Cup to bring more riots

The B.C. Lions huddle-up for a cheer during practice at B.C. Place in Vancouver November 23, 2011.

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

It was, simply put, anarchy in Vancouver. Thousands of people marauded through downtown streets, flipping vehicles, hurling bottles, ignoring overwhelmed police.

But it wasn't June's Stanley Cup riot, or even a similar spree of violence in 1994.

It was the Grey Cup riot of 1963.

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Long before championship hockey in Vancouver became synonymous, at least in some minds, with violence in the streets, football riots were the gravest concern. The city was host of five Grey Cups in the 1950s and 1960s, and scores of arrests were typical.

"Things really got out of hand in 1963, when the host city team was also in the football final," said a report into June's riot by John Furlong and Douglas Keefe. "'Hoodlums' overran the 700 block of Granville, harming bystanders with flying beer glasses and – more benignly – dancing in conga lines and lifting up a Morris Minor onto the sidewalk."

The Lions lost that game to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The B.C. team didn't reach the Canadian Football League final when the city again played host in 1966, although the result downtown was much the same. Rioters smashed windows and chanted "kill the fuzz," to which police responded by sending in more officers, and, eventually, the dogs.

The Grey Cup, however, has been a much more peaceful affair in its recent West Coast treks. Vancouver police said they were "pleasantly surprised" after the 2005 event because "there were relatively few problems."

In fact, Vancouver police – who have maintained there was no credible intelligence to predict June's riot – are so confident the wet fall weather and absence of outdoor video screens will prevent a repeat that the force will not place the riot squad near BC Place Stadium. Memories of the public shaming the Stanley Cup rioters endured when their photos were splashed across the web might also serve as a deterrent.

While some residents worry about a repeat of the riot five months ago that left millions of dollars in damage and more than 100 people injured, others are taking a longer view of history.

In November, 1994, months after the Canucks lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final and a riot ensued, the Lions won the Grey Cup without setting off any mayhem. Sunday's game will be played 17 years to the day that Lions kicker Lui Passaglia booted a 38-yard field goal to give his team the CFL title.

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"I do remember that we had the same kind of anxiety immediately after the 1994 riot because we were going to be hosting the Grey Cup," said Charles Gauthier, executive director of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association. "It ended up being fine. There were no major issues and it was all celebratory."

Scott Ackles, general manager of the 2011 Grey Cup Festival, said there's no comparison between his event and the Stanley Cup final. Grey Cup organizers have had two years to plan because the site of the CFL's title game is predetermined. Where and when the Stanley Cup final is played, however, depends on which two teams advance to the championship round. Because of the lead time they've been afforded, Mr. Ackles said Grey Cup organizers have detailed security and contingency plans, although he declined to provide details.

He said alcohol will be served indoors only, in licensed areas, and crews will tear the fan zones down by kickoff. The demographics are also different – the core CFL fan is 30 or older. The average age of those arrested during June's riot was 24.

"I don't anticipate that there will be any problems," Mr. Ackles said.

Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson also vowed this week that there would be no riot. The newly re-elected mayor invited his constituents downtown to take part in the football fun.

Sadhu Johnston, Vancouver's deputy manager, said the city frequently met with Grey Cup organizers and essentially served as a regulator by reviewing and approving plans. Mr. Johnston said the city has developed a formalized risk-assessment tool that measures factors such as how many people are at an event, what type of activities are underway, how much alcohol might be served, and crowd demographics.

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In September, a city spokesman said the Grey Cup had been deemed a moderate safety risk. When asked what the rating is now, Mr. Johnston said: "It hasn't changed a lot."

A spokeswoman for Vancouver Coastal Health said the authority doesn't anticipate a need for additional staffing, but can respond on-call if needed.

Transit police also stressed they'd be ready for any trouble and said liquor interdiction would be a priority.

One of the hardest-hit stores during the June riot was London Drugs – rioters worked for two hours to get through the extra-strength windows and metal bars, then ransacked the electronics and cosmetics departments.

Wynne Powell, London Drugs president and chief executive officer, said while he, too, doesn't expect trouble, the store will have a strong security presence.

Ed Roche, sales manager at 24 Hour Glass, spent June 15 stick handling his crews through the jammed downtown core. The company rightly anticipated rioting and called in extra plywood-toting staff.

But Mr. Roche won't be reading from the same playbook for the Grey Cup. He plans to watch the big game at home with his wife, and a riot will be the last thing on his mind.

"With the Stanley Cup game, we felt there was a definite possibility things would go sideways. We just wanted to be ready," Mr. Roche said, adding that the company made between $200,000 and $300,000 as a result of the June 15 violence.

"This being the Grey Cup, it's one game, it's not something that's been culminating for weeks and weeks. … We're just going to be ready to go on our normal basis. We're not going to have anybody extra on-call."

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