Updated: June 16, 2011, 3 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time
The police in Vancouver did little at first, when drunken and angry sports fans took to making sport of the streets of the city. It all started with the flipping of a car on Georgia Street, inside one of the outdoor spectator zones set up to watch the seventh and deciding game of the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup championship between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins. The voluble disappointment over the local team’s 0-4 defeat at the hands of the American team had a cheeky undertone to it in the beginning, the crowd entertained by the flipping of the car, by the people who dance on top of the tumbled vehicle, friends tweeting friends about the incident, laughing. Then the glee turned nasty. Fires were lit in trash bins; garbage was hurled at the police. Violence begat violence. The angry fans took apart the blue fences demarcate an alcohol-free zone, turning it into their own riot gear to use to push back against the shields of the police.
It was only 8 p.m. in British Columbia when the mayhem started. The sun was still shining but black smoke was rising everywhere. More than a dozen cars were torched, including at least two police vehicles that had also been flipped. The fire deparment was unable to move in to extinguish the flames. Suddenly, lawlessness became the law and countless, mainly young fans chose to obey the new dictum. Crowds started doing more than just flipping cars and throwing debris at police: they smashed glass storefronts and looted stores, including The Bay department store, stealing everything from clothing to chairs to cosmetics.
More uniformed officers arrived on the scene; and then the first tear gas cannisters and flash-bang grenades were launched to disorient and disperse the mobs. It was a tall order. The city had invited more than 100,000 fans to gather on the streets of Vancouver to watch the game on four giant screens on the closed-off streets. Precautions had been taken: more than 2,000 liquor pour-outs took place and alcohol sales were prohibited prior to game time. But many of the fans still somehow got the fuel to ignite their already fiery passions over hockey. “We shut the liquor stores down and were pattin down people,” said Vancouver Police Chief Constable Jim Chu on Thursday, “But it is clear the alcohol was at an extremely high level.” He said that, already earlier on Wednesday, he and his officers had run into a group of 16-year olds drinking heavily.
The Vancouver Police Department would need three hours and reinforcements to stop the mayhem. Police marched in full riot gear. Cops from around the region sent extra offers to help quell the madness. British Columbia Solicitor General Shirley Bond took to the airwaves to urge people to leave downtown. “What is most disappointing and disturbing is that we have spectators who will not go home,” she said. “We need them to leave the downtown and they need to stop treating this as a spectator sport.”