British Columbia

Stanley Cup riot report says police late to react

A review of the 2011 Stanley Cup riot concludes the Vancouver Police Department did a "heroic" job, but that its reinforcements arrived too late to control an unpredictable crowd.
The report lays out 53 recommendations for better communications to prevent a similar situation in the future. (Wilson Wong/CBC)

A review of the 2011 Stanley Cup riot concludes the Vancouver Police Department did a "heroic" job, but that its reinforcements arrived too late to control an unpredictable crowd of 155,000 people.

Hundreds of people burned cars, defied riot police, smashed windows and looted stores for hours after the hometown Canucks lost the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final June 15.

The report — authored by John  Furlong and Douglas Keefe — found authorities mostly respected the recommendations of a review of a 1994 Stanley Cup riot. But in a series of 53 recommendations, the report lays out a framework for better communication and volunteer involvement that the authors say might prevent a similar occurrence in the future.

The authors also say police should have anticipated trouble with such a massive crowd.

Instead, surprised officers accustomed to milling through throngs and high-fiving with hockey fans found the extreme congestion in the streets stifled riot prevention and then suppression once things started to get out of hand.

Keefe said police plans for such events, "be more flexible and fluid and that intelligence be better and in more real time."

Titled "The Night The City Became A Stadium," the independent review blames a core group of about 1,000 rioters fuelled by alcohol.

"The troublemakers and those who cheered them on caused this riot and our goal was to understand what conditions or circumstances gave them the opportunity," said Keefe.

"There's no question that mistakes were made and while hindsight helped us and all of those involved better understand what might have been done differently, we've tried to avoid using it to overly criticize those who acted at the time without its benefit."

The report reveals that Vancouver police had a total of 446 officers on the ground the night of the riot — a number the department had been reluctant to release. By the end of the night, resources from surrounding areas raised the tally to 928.

By comparison, the review says approximately 5,700 police officers were on hand for the 2010 Winter Olympics — but the authors say a more realistic comparison would be to the 200 officers who staffed the 1994 Stanley Cup riot.

Douglas Keefe, right, and John Furlong released the report in Vancouver on Thursday. (CBC)

The review concludes that most of the lessons from the 1994 riot were learned. Those include a requirement for better police operational planning, better radio communication between police, better crowd control, the early closure of liquor stores and developing a volunteer plan to assist with large special events.

The report concludes that authorities had largely heeded those recommendations, though it points to a number of concerns that were not addressed.

According to the review — 45 per cent of officers who completed a post-riot survey said they were ill-equipped. The report also reveals that public order equipment vans were placed too far away from the centre of the riot, and a defective radio meant RCMP commanders didn't hear the order to put on riot gear.

Recommendations in report

Key recommendations include:

  • The development of a regional framework for emergency services to work together in events like a riot.
  • That RCMP and VPD tactical troops train together and develop common tactics.
  • That TransLink lead a process to better control alcohol in and around the transit system
  • That the City of Vancouver form a "Major Events Planning Team" drawing on experience to develop better plans for one-off celebrations.
  • The development of an "Everyday Heroes" plan to attract volunteers needed to help stage special events
  • That the Vancouver Canucks and the NHL both work to encourage year-round, 'safe' public celebrations

The review also calls on the attorney general to establish a special court to deal with the prosecution of rioters. The authors call on authorities to consider restorative justice that would allow rioters — many of whom are young — to pay back the community without permanently ruining their lives.

"Officials tried to do a good thing and acted with great courage but their plans were overwhelmed and their mistakes amplified by the impact of an immense crowd far beyond what was expected," concluded Furlong.

"This was not our Vancouver and at the end of the day everyone wants Vancouver to continue to be a city that enjoys and celebrates its public spaces."

With files from the CBC's Jason Proctor