VANCOUVER – Police were in a state of confusion and had lost control of the massive crowd hours before the start of Vancouver’s Stanley Cup Game 7 loss, says a report reviewing the June 15 riot.
The report paints a frightening picture of a crowd ballooning out of control up to three hours before the puck dropped, with thousands of people unexpectedly packing the city’s downtown, many of them already fuelled with alcohol.
The independent review found the crowd was larger and arrived much earlier than city or police officials had anticipated and security efforts were overwhelmed, with one officer saying that some people who wanted to get away from the crushing crowd couldn’t.
Instead of being in control, police were forced to react to numerous reports of barricades being breached, people climbing telephone poles and being forced against barricades in the hours leading up to the game.
“At 7:46, a Twitter user with the handle Marimo tweets: ‘Get ready for a riot Vancouver.’ Bottles fly towards the blank screen, a planned post-game segment is cancelled to encourage the crowd to leave,” the report said.
The report’s two authors found that co-operation among the Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP had improved significantly since the 1994 riot in Vancouver, but there were still problems.
It takes time for officers to change into riot gear, but the gear was stashed too far away from the problem areas and by the time the riot squad got there, the fires were already burning.
The report found the RCMP commander at the south end of the crowd had a Vancouver Police radio that didn’t work and as a result, didn’t hear the order for officers to get into their riot gear.
This meant the officers weren’t wearing the right equipment for the job they were suddenly being ordered to do and the RCMP at that end of the riot ended up being out of radio contact for the rest of the riot.
It also meant that small groups of RCMP weren’t able to get changed into the gear gradually, meaning when they all had to do it at once, there was a “major drop” in police presence at that end of the crowd.
Finally, the report notes that communication with the crowd is considered crucial to ensure police can encourage people to move on before the tear gas starts to fly.
But the report found the batteries on the Vancouver police’s loudspeaker hadn’t been charged, meaning it could only work while attached to a police vehicle.
As for the RCMP, their loud hailer malfunctioned so the crowd was not warned that tear gas was coming.
“Communication was not used with this crowd until the situation was out of hand,” the report notes.
The review was done by former Vancouver Olympic committee head John Furlong and Doug Keefe, a former deputy justice minister in Nova Scotia and the two conclude the police and civic officials made mistakes in hindsight, but they said they were unwilling to blame anyone other than the rioters.
They recommend the province give more powers to dampen the sale of alcohol for regional events, that a regional tactical squad made up of the RCMP, the Vancouver police and others should be formed to deal with such regional events and that a special court should be established to deal with people accused of rioting.
For the first time, the report also revealed the Vancouver Police Force had 446 police on the street for Game 7, though that number swelled to 928 by the time the riot was in full swing.