June 18, 2011
social networking

The Vancouver Riot. It’s a Teachable Moment.

During June of 1994, the Vancouver Canucks hockey team were in the Stanley Cup Final, playing against Mark Messier’s New York Rangers. Prior to the Cup final, I (along with my better half) graduated with our first degrees from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec.

It’s significant because during the previous year’s Stanley Cup Final between the Montreal Canadiens and Los Angeles Kings, when we were in our 3rd year of a 4-year degree, and after a hometown Habs win, a riot ensued along Ste. Catherine Street that resulted in over $10 million in damage. 168 people were injured, 47 cars had been burned and/or destroyed, and 115 people were put in jail.

I was there.

I didn’t partake in the rioting, but I was 22 years old, watched the game from my flat (with my future better half) and then once the game was in check, we both journeyed to the downtown core to celebrate with others. It felt like a natural thing to do; be with like-minded individuals and regale in the moment.

Little did I know, however, that I was marching into a hornet’s nest of anarchy.

It was evident to us quite quickly that win or lose, a certain faction of hoodlums were greatly organized to wreak havoc, damage and looting on its unknowing merchants and citizens. Once the premeditated actions of destruction were in play by the organized few, it was clear other bystanders began mimicking the intent, and hence, a full-scale looting riot was underway. It was 1993, I was 22 years old, and I watched with horror as many of my generation employed ‘groupthink’ and began a social conscience spiral into the depths of disgust. I hope this haunts them to this day.

Jump ahead one year and back to the Cup final between the Canucks and the Rangers. Having just graduated, and yearning to move West, we flew to the greater Vancouver area to interview at local schools and school boards during the Stanley Cup Final itself.

After a Game 7 win by the Rangers, in New York no less, the corner of Robson Street and Thurlow in Vancouver’s downtown core became riot central. An estimated 75,000 people ventured to the area after the Canucks loss, like in Montreal the year prior, to inflict damage (physical and mental) on an unsuspecting city.

I was there.

This felt even uglier than the year prior. In fact, if one was to compare riots like I can, Montreal could be described more like World War I whereas Vancouver looked to be like Vietnam. Wars are ugly whichever way you describe it, but for me, the former seems more civilized than the latter.

With over 200 people being injured in the 1994 riot, millions of dollars of damage, and the necessity to dispatch close to 600 police officers to restore order, the Vancouver Riot tattoo is as vivid as the birth of my children.

Fast-forward to 2010.

The beloved city that I emigrated to hosted a spectacular Winter Olympics during the month of February. Throughout the 17 days of cultural and athletic bliss, hundreds of thousands of observers jammed the downtown core to celebrate individual accomplishments, amateur efforts of glory and the Canadian Men’s Hockey Gold Medal win.

I was there.

Sixteen years after the 1994 riot, it felt as though the city had finally grown up and, optimistically, had erased the tattered image of Robson and Thurlow. It was now able to handle public celebrations that could count revellers in the tens of thousands. It was, for most of us, the gaping wound of remorse being atoned for.

I was wrong.

Go ahead and type “Vancouver Riots” into Google and you will be provided roughly 6,230,000 results. I’d hazard to guess that on Tuesday, June 14th, that same search result would have provided somewhere around a million.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, by now you’re aware Vancouver suffered another ‘black eye’ to its public celebration body on June 15th when Vancouver Stanley Cup Riot, Part Two occurred after the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins.

I was there.

With the privilege of being in the arena for the Bruins win I had the misfortune of having to walk into the eye of the riot storm after the game. (a third Stanley Cup riot for me, if you’re keeping score) Having stayed in the arena to laud the Canucks and their terrific season, as well as paying respect through clapping and cheers to the Boston Bruins as they hoisted the Stanley Cup itself, leaving the arena to find a way home meant the only way out was to walk through my beloved streets, only this time thinking I was in war-torn Bosnia.

The bridges were closed. Taxis were nowhere. Trees were being ripped out of their beds. Glass was shattered. Cars were on fire. And my better half and I were merely trying to find a way out of the downtown core towards our Kitsilano home.

It was déjà vu.


Only this time, it felt worse.

Thankfully, a bus stopped for us. The driver opened the door and yelled, “get in, it’s the last bus out of downtown.”


There are many, (and better) writers who have posited the why’s and what’s of Vancouver Riot, Part Two. I am not about to get into that.

After witnessing three riots in seventeen years firsthand, I’d like to end my story with the title of this post itself.

It’s a Teachable Moment.

  • In 1993 and 1994, the day after the riots saw both the City of Montreal and the City of Vancouver contend with the clean-up alone. In 2011, an outpouring of social activism, civic patriotism and human guilt saw 15,000 citizens flock to the downtown core with shovels, brooms and garbage bags in hand aiming to right the obvious wrong of the previous night. I shed a few tears during the morning of June 16th when I saw this firsthand in action.
  • This has to become a tipping point for all, but particularly the young, when it comes to the fallacy known as Vegas Rules. (what goes on tour does NOT stay on tour anymore) One hundred arrests have been made thus far, but there is no doubt the number will dramatically rise in the coming weeks due to the outpouring of evidence through various social and mobile means. I know of two Grade 12 students in Richmond, BC who have since been expelled from their school due to incriminating photos (will they still graduate?) and an elite Water Polo athlete on Canada’s National Team suspended and his scholarship to the University of Calgary now in question.
  • Twitter, Facebook, Social Networking and the like were not around in 1993 or 1994. Our Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools need to take action and responsibility for the education of safe and sensible social networking education. I’m not convinced it’s occurring and in particular, we’re publicly lynching individuals that may have been bystanders and not actual perpetrators.
  • Groupthink: social psychologists will have a field day with this, but it is a teachable moment opportunity for the high school and higher education settings to more fervently discuss and educate students about groupthink. There may have been only a few that were intent on creating damage, win or lose, but it was the masses who fell into groupthink and felt as though it was ‘ok’ to replicate bad behaviour.
  • Vancouver Police Department, City of Vancouver and Province of British Columbia: you’d be wise to follow Air Canada. Despite its faults, the company has an impeccable record of safety. Just because they’ve flown for decades without a serious safety incident, doesn’t mean they don’t adhere to a stringent safety protocol. Moreover, they are continually looking to improve upon an already stellar track record. Just because the Vancouver Olympics was so successful in terms of public gatherings, does not make us prone to past bad behaviour. 1994 and 2011 look eerily similar in your lack of preparation and execution. Use this as a teaching moment.

In summary, I never want to have to write the words again … I was there.

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