COLUMN: Team and fans seek redemption

With the Canucks once again entering the NHL playoffs as a Stanley Cup favourite, Vancouver has revealed new plans for the riot-in-waiting.

With the Canucks once again entering the NHL playoffs as a Stanley Cup favourite, the City of Vancouver has revealed new and improved plans for the riot-in-waiting.

I was there in 1994, when the first Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver shocked Canadians. I lived just off Robson Street and only became aware of the carnage after tear gas flowed through my third-storey apartment. Heading down to street level, I remember seeing my neighbours angry about choking on pepper spray and seeing cops in riot gear outside our homes.

The police themselves were noticeably confused and fearful, Clearly it wasn’t a good mix. Fortunately the mood quickly dissipated along with the last of the tear gas. Soon, the residents and officers were enjoying free coffee together, courtesy of the corner Blenz store.

It was a surreal time, for sure. The rumour accompanying the rounds of cappuccinos was that small groups of thugs were to blame. Apparently they co-ordinated their looting with cellphones – still something of a novelty in 1994 – and cases of empty wine bottles, which were smashed to manipulate the police response and, in turn, disorient the crowd.  I should be clear that official reviews I’ve read of the riot don’t mention these specific tactics. For all I know, these conspirators only existed as a way for people to make sense of what we had just experienced.

After the anger and fear, it’s reassuring to have someone to blame.

The same thing happened last year, but, in keeping with the times, the new bad guys resembled characters from reality TV.

A young, water polo protegé was one of the first to face the lynch mob, followed shortly by a former Miss Congeniality.

The city’s new plan tries to balance a crackdown on booze in the downtown with concerns about coming off as a place that doesn’t know how to have fun. A thoughtful report, co-authored by Winter Olympic boss John Furlong, was released a few months after last year’s riot. Reading between the lines, there’s a sense that a lot of people made mistakes – from excitable kids caught in the moment to a city hall that thought it had seen everything after hosting Gold Medal hockey. But the Olympics are not pro sports.

Riots after club teams win championships are relatively common in North America, whether it’s for the NBA Lakers in Los Angeles, MLB Tigers in Detroit or the NHL Canadiens in Montreal.

The difference with Vancouver is that riots happen after the team loses. To be a Vancouver fan requires you to suppress a certain level of denial. Unlike the sad-sack Leafs or even the re-born Senators, fans of the Canucks can’t point to a time long ago when the team earned the right to hoist The Cup. You can tease an Oilers fan all you like, but you can’t take away the smugness that comes with cheering for a former dynasty. When Boston fans goaded Vancouver fans, it struck a chord with a primal immaturity with which many young men struggle.

When the Canucks crapped out in Game 7 4-0, fans lost their right to the swagger that comes with backing a winner. The sense of humiliation was palpable and, unfortunately, it seems too many fans tried to save face by lashing out where they could. It was a sign of a general immaturity among Canucks’ fandom that manifested itself in the worst possible way. Seeing images of a burning cop car makes it tough to think of a riot as a growing pain but hopefully last year was cathartic enough that such extremes don’t have to happen again.

Of course, something even more important has been lost in the debate over whether young morons or inadequate policing is more to blame. The riot itself, with damages estimated around $4 million, was a relatively minor event. It happened suddenly and was cleaned up quickly. It became bigger than life because of the comprehensive television coverage and unforgettable photos – I’d bet that infamous shot of the kissing couple is worth almost $4 million to Vancouver’s international reputation.

Here’s hoping the Canucks have a long and ultimately successful run once the playoffs get underway on Wednesday. Like many fans, I’m cheering for both a Stanley Cup championship and a chance to show the world we can celebrate without the mayhem.

Jim Zeeben is an Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks fan and an editor with Black Press in Greater Victoria.

jzeeben@blackpress.ca

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Thousands protested in Victoria following the death of George Floyd in the U.S. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. is not exempt: New report documents 150 years of racism and the fight against it

Booklet marks province’s 150th anniversary with call for transparency, change

Aerial view of the Capital Regional District residuals treatment facility at Hartland Landfill where residual solids are turned into Class A biosolids. (Photo courtesy CRD)
Plant closure sends more biosolids to Hartland Landfill

Saanich residents are concerned they were never consulted

Sgt. Sandrine Perry in the Oak Bay Police Department interview room that has been softened with household features to better accommodate survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Oak Bay police interview room gets a makeover

Room made less daunting for victims of trauma

BC Housing ensures that by March 31, shelter will be available to all people living outside. (Black Press Media file photo)
All unhoused Victoria residents will be offered shelter by March 31, says BC Housing

BC Housing working to secure shelter locations in coming weeks

Robert Schram, here seen in January 2016, died Saturday, according to a friend. (Black Press Media file photo)
Sidney, Saanich Peninsula mourn the death of Mr. Beads

Bead artist Robert Schram was a familiar, well-loved figure in Sidney and beyond

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

The Nanaimo Clippers in action at Frank Crane Arena in early 2020. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo Clippers for sale, owner says hockey won’t be back to normal any time soon

Wes Mussio says he’s had numerous inquiries about the junior A club already

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation, May 8, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s weekend COVID-19 cases: 532 Saturday, 508 Sunday, 438 Monday

Fraser Health still has most, eight more coronavirus deaths

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)
Det. Sgt. Jim Callender. (Hamilton Police Service screenshot)
B.C. man dead, woman seriously injured after shooting in Hamilton, Ont.

The man was in the process of moving to the greater Toronto area, police say

Police have identified the vehicle involved in the Feb. 14 hit-and-run in Chemainus and are continuing to investigate. (Black Press Media files)
Police seize and identify suspect vehicle in hit-and-run

Investigation into death expected to be lengthy and involved

(Black Press file photo)
Child in critical condition, homicide investigators probe incident near Agassiz

The child was transported to hospital but is not expected to survive

Most Read