VANCOUVER – Vancouver’s devastating riot and the police and civic decisions that may have helped set the stage for the melee will be under review by an independent investigator, the British Columbia government has announced.
The reviewer, who has not yet been named, will examine whether recommendations from a similar riot in 1994 were followed or ignored, this year’s crowd control plan and the role alcohol played in the mayhem, said Shirley Bond, the province’s solicitor general.
The review, to be completed at the end of August, will also lay out a strategy to ensure Vancouver can host safe celebrations in the future.
“The review will actually be asked to provide recommendations,” Bond said.
“This is not a fault-finding exercise. This is about recommendations for future events like this and to look back at whether or not recommendations that were provided in 1994 were paid attention to.”
Unlike the 1994 review, this one will be made public.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Police Chief Jim Chu have come under fire for the choices that prompted thousands and thousands of people to go downtown to watch the Vancouver Canucks vye for the Stanley Cup on huge outdoor television screens.
Chu has said his officers were simply overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people, and critics have said it took too long for reinforcements to get into the city’s core and stop the escalating violence.
Documents show the force reduced its funding request for policing in the event of a full 2011 Stanley Cup playoff run by about a third from 2010.
Chu and Robertson said Monday the examination is welcome.
“It is critical to our city, to our business community, and to our citizens that we have a thorough and complete review of all aspects of the planning that went into post-Game 7 preparations,” Robertson said in a news release.
“The review will also focus on Vancouver’s ability to be a city that continues to experience the full use of our vibrant public spaces to celebrate safely and responsibly.”
The mayor did not return a request for an interview.
Chu has said he was responsible for making policing decisions, and the department issued a terse statement Monday saying there is no truth to “rumours” that there was any political or bureaucratic interference in police planning.
But Coun. Suzanne Anton, who is running for mayor in this November’s municipal election, is demanding Robertson release all correspondences and documents related to the planning for Game 7.
She urged the mayor to take political responsibility for what happened.
“As mayor of the city, you say, ‘The buck stops here. I am responsible. I am going to get to the bottom of this,'” Anton said. “It’s extremely disappointing that we have not heard Mayor Gregor Robertson say it.”
Council members are expected to discuss Anton’s resolution for public release of the city’s planning documents next week.
But Bond said she isn’t interested “in a blame game.”
“I’m interested in finding the facts and making sure that we go back, take a look and learn about how we can manage to celebrate in British Columbia in a responsible way.”
She rejected questions from reporters that the crowd control preparations for the Stanley Cup may have suffered from budget constraints.
Bond said the Vancouver police received all the help they asked for.
“At no time was there ever an indication that this was a budget issue,” she said.
Meanwhile, police efforts to catch those that smashed and looted continued.
As of Monday, Vancouver Police say they’ve arrested about 117 people so far for breach of peace, public intoxication, breach of probation, assault, mischief, theft, possession of stolen property and obstructing a police officer.
Police have also received about 3,500 emails from the public, including 53 attached videos, 676 links to YouTube, 708 images and 1,011 hyperlinks to help identify rioters.
Chu said while he stands behind an earlier observation that the riot’s instigators were criminals, anarchists and thugs, police have learned many of those who participated represented a wider spectrum of young people, including many who don’t have criminal records.
Last week, the province’s publicly-owned insurer, the Insurance Corporation of B.C., contacted the police to offer its facial-recognition technology.
ICBC has said it has used the technology to protect customers from identity theft and fraud related to drivers’ licences.
The riots have cost Vancouver dearly.
Images of vandals tearing through the downtown core, smashing windows, burning cars and assaulting Good Samaritans have been broadcast around the world.
One YouTube video spoofed a well-known Tourism BC commercial featuring Michael J. Fox, Sarah McLachlan, Steve Nash and Ryan Reynolds. Inserted between the iconic images of B.C.’s old-growth forests and pristine beaches were short clips showing burning cars, black smoke and police wrestling with rioters.
Even comedian Jimmy Kimmel got in on the action, calling Canada a place where “people aren’t nice anymore.”
Those comments jibe with one expert who estimated last week that the melee cost Vancouver millions of dollars in property damage and billions of dollars in damage to its international reputation.
In an attempt to counter the riot’s negative images, Tourism Vancouver and DDB Canada, a creative agency, have launched the website, thisisourvancouver.com.
Tourism officials hope gushing good news will counter the negative media attention the city received internationally.
“Our intention of getting involved with this was really good will,” said Amber Sessions, with Tourism Vancouver.
“From Tourism Vancouver’s perspective, we know that our image around the world has been somewhat tarnished in the past week. We spend our energy trying to get Vancouver in the news around the world for being beautiful and friendly … and we were on all the front pages for all the wrong reasons last week.”
The website went live on Sunday.
Its software crawls the Internet, looking for content, and also allows individuals to upload information, said Sessions.
Despite the public-relations efforts, many citizens are still reacting with disgust to the riot and are identifying suspects online.
Bart Findlay, lawyer for 17-year-old Nathan Kotylak, said the teen’s family was forced to leave home Thursday or Friday after somebody posted their address online and others vowed to pay them a visit.
Until the riots, Kotylak was a rising star on Canada’s junior water polo team, which had dreams of representing Canada at the Olympics.
Findlay said he was not prepared to discuss whether or not the family had returned home, and he criticized those who are promoting vigilante justice.
“It’s a bit ironic how well we can easily see the mob mentality that took over in the riots, that seems to now have been purveying itself though the social media. We’re getting much the same kind of behaviour there, it’s just not as public,” said Findlay.
In the midst of the threats, some citizens are lauding Kotylak for taking responsibility. Sometime during the past few days, a Support Nathan Kotylak page was launched on Facebook.