VANCOUVER – The Canucks lost, violence fuelled by alcohol broke out, shop windows were smashed, stores looted and a city that considers itself an international go-to destination was left wondering whether such crowds should ever be allowed again, and whether anything could have stopped the melee.
But that was 1994.
A report into that incident 17 years ago, which has never been made widely available to the public, offered a prophetic warning that even if the city followed all its recommendations, there was no guarantee against recurrence.
And at least one recommendation wasn’t followed: Erecting TV screens outside for fans.
“The gathering of a large crowd in the downtown core, with glass store fronts and no open areas, is something our city should not encourage,” the authors state, explaining it was the broad sentiment expressed to them by members of the public they interviewed about what went wrong.
The report, written four months later, goes on to note that an examination of the Montreal Canadiens’ Stanley Cup victory in 1993, when people vandalized stores and set police cars ablaze, specifically suggests the city “prohibit big television screen showings of such games in the downtown area.”
Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs rejected the notion that particular suggestion could have helped stave off last week’s turmoil if it had been heeded.
“I would say a blanket prohibition to people coming downtown reflects a dated approach to these things,” said Meggs, who first read the report this past week.
“And that’s not what we’re going to be able to do. It’s clear from a poll that we saw the other day that the public wants to be able to come downtown and engage in large crowd activities that are safe.”
The report makes 32 specific recommendations, ranging from more specific calculation of the number of police officers that should be applied for crowd control, to putting strict limits on alcohol consumption, to dressing officers in fluorescent vests and reconsidering the use of rubber bullets.
Requests for the report earlier this month were met with an insistence that a freedom of information request be filed with the City of Vancouver.
But the report—written by the B.C. Police Commission in October 1994, an organization that no longer exists—has been available on the province’s legislative library website.
Mayor Gregor Robertson declined calls for comment.
Meggs said it was Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu’s responsibility to read the report, which Chu did and discussed during an April 19 council meeting. At that time Chu presented his estimate of the policing costs to the city, which councillors went on to approve.
In a memo to officers released Tuesday, Chu states that “with just a few exceptions” all of the commission’s recommendations were followed during this year’s series.
He said the points that weren’t implemented were those imposing conditions on news media about where to place cameras.
“The members of the Public Safety Unit/Crowd Control Unit will especially know that their superb training, equipment, and leadership is a reflection of not only the recommendations in the report,” he said in the memo, “but also the many advancements in crowd control unit training that have occurred since 1994.”
Chu did not return call for comment.
The report presents a thorough description of what happened the night of June 14, 1994, after the Canucks lost to the New York Rangers in a Game 7 finale in New York. While the exact location and timing of the blowout brawl were different, the details are eerily similar.
The report said the atmosphere was tense downtown, even in the afternoon prior to the game, and that the crowd was primarily young people.
“As the evening wore on … the energy of many of those young people seemed to become negative and aggressive.”
City police used tear gas and rubber bullets to quell the commotion of a crowd estimated at about 50,000. More than 200 people were injured, the most serious being a teenager who suffered permanent brain damage after being struck by the ammunition.
The report’s major conclusion was that alcohol and a “crowd mentality” played a significant role in the destruction that occurred, which Chu has said spanned double the time it took for police to get the streets cleared last week.
The authors point to poor communication amongst police and also between police and the public, as well as a lack of training and experience as contributing factors to the violence.
In his Tuesday memo, Chu referenced the report’s prediction that even if all recommendations are followed there’s no guarantee riots will not occur in Vancouver’s future.
“Crowd behaviour is wildly unpredictable in the best of circumstances and the hype that follows major sporting events in this country, combined with a multimillion dollar marketing interest in linking alcohol and sports, is beyond the control of any local jurisdiction, no matter how well co-ordinated.”
But the report suggests citizens can get involved to make a difference.
“A greater effort needs to be made by the entire community to prevent a similar occurrence.”
A publicly-funded, independent review was ordered Monday into last week’s riot.
It will examine whether recommendations from the 1994 report were enacted, as well as lay out a strategy to ensure the city hosts safe celebrations in the future. New recommendations are set to be issued by late August.