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Margaret Wente

Canada’s really horrible week: goofs, goons and guilt Add to ...

So here’s one shot seen around the world: a Canucks fan in mirrored sunglasses waving a Canadian flag (unfortunately held upside down) as a torched truck burns behind him. The street is full of trash. He doesn’t look despondent. He looks defiant. You’ve gotta cringe.

“One of the worst episodes of rioting Canada has seen in decades,” wrote The New York Times. Ouch.

It seems like only yesterday when hockey supposedly brought out the best in us. When we beat the Americans at the Vancouver Olympics, we broke out into a national orgy of self-congratulation. We played clean and we won fair and square. We weren’t just winners. We were nice! Vancouver was the nicest city in the world, and Canada was the nicest country. For once, the world noticed, and applauded.

So what are we now? As Sports Illustrated’s Mark Rosenberg wrote, “All of North America now sees Vancouver as a city of chokers and jerks.”

We’d like to think that the happy, friendly crowds at the Olympics were the real, authentic us. We’d like to think the idiots who rioted were not. As Vancouver’s outraged mayor said, they were “a small bunch of hardened criminals.” Also, they were “anarchists,” hopefully from somewhere else.

We’d like to think the kind of hockey played at the Olympics was us, too – clean, fast and sportsmanlike. We’re not so proud of the kind of hockey played during the Stanley Cup finals. There was too much violence, too much ill will and too little self-command. Our guys, if you want to call them that, didn’t even lose well. Long before the ignominious collapse of the Canucks in Game 7, the whole affair had left a sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths. As one hockey commentator put it, “No one deserved to win.”

We started on a national high, then crashed. At the beginning of the series, the breathlessly overboard media attention seemed rather sweet – a harmless break from the great big ugly world out there, where people are rioting in the streets of Greece. But, by the bitter end, the ugliness had come home. You turned on the TV and you didn’t know if you were watching Athens or Vancouver.

It’s comforting to pin the riot on “anarchists.” But that would give the rioters too much credit for higher-order political thought. I suspect the vast majority were just stupid goofs, fuelled by stupendous quantities of alcohol. How stupid were they? They forgot their antics were being tweeted and videoed on people’s cellphones. One rioter even bragged about his exploits on his Facebook site. “Maced in the face, hit with a baton, tear gassed twice, 6 broken fingers, blood everywhere … flipped some cars, burnt some cop cars, I’m on the news … one word … history :) :) :),” said an alleged Facebook posting by a young man who called himself Brock Anton.

The posting abruptly disappeared after a friend replied: “Brockkkk! take this down!!! it’s evidence!” Whether this posting is for real, let’s hope Mr. Anton has left town, because half the population of Vancouver wants to lynch him.

Mark Leiren-Young, a writer for The Tyee, has a different view. He thinks this riot was a new phenomenon, one in which the presence of the social media actually egged on the rioters. After all, if you can’t be famous on TV, then at least you can be famous on Twitter and Facebook, even at the cost of possible arrest. “The police may have been prepared for louts, but they weren’t prepared for people who had decided to riot because they wanted to commit some ultra-violence to show off on their Facebook profile,” he wrote.

Inevitably, the embarrassment in Vancouver has inspired an orgy of introspection. Some people are blaming the authorities, and others are blaming our national over-involvement with a violent, goonish sport. One phone-in caller blamed bad parenting. In the online Georgia Straight, someone blamed the bleak prospects faced by 20-year-olds today, and added: “Can you imagine how much more fearful and angry they would be if they fully comprehended the seriousness of peak oil?”

Nor does everyone feel like letting the good folks of Vancouver off the hook. Writing in The Guardian, Vancouver expat Matthew Good opined that nothing has really changed since the last riots in 1994. “No amount of trendy eateries, hip night spots, and upscale retailers is going to change the fact that if you give most of the idiots around here enough rope, they’ll hang themselves and think it cool.”

For the record, I’m not one of those sneering eastern types who think Vancouver has a lock on idiots. After all, thousands of imported cops couldn’t stop the idiots who rioted during the G20 summit. The only reason we’ll escape hockey riots in Toronto is that the Maple Leafs are about as likely to make it to the Stanley Cup as I am to sing Madame Butterfly at the Met.

In the end, though, it really doesn’t matter who you blame. We’ve had a really lousy week, and I haven’t even mentioned RIM. For better and for worse, hockey is a mirror of ourselves. Sometimes it shows us at our best, and sometimes you’ve just gotta cringe. But look on the bright side. If that’s all we’ve got to riot over, we’re still the most fortunate nation on Earth.

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