Why? Because They Let Them

Vancouver was ripped apart by vandals in the wake of the Stanley Cup Finals and the question “why?” will be asked a lot in the coming days.

The answer is simple: because they let them.

Vancouver is an easy place to be a protestor. City government is left leaning and lends a sympathetic ear to a variety of special interest groups. Key among those would be Critical Mass; a civil disobedience force that rides through the downtown core each month to raise awareness for the rights of cyclists. Never mind that cyclists are bound by the same rules of the road that drivers must adhere to, these miscreants plow amongst the cars and cause hours of traffic jams.

No helmets are worn, no laws are respected. During this multi hour random ride through the heart of the city, police stand by and watch. They take no action. They make no arrests. They issue a warning to the public the event will happen and to alter travel plans, but they do nothing to stop its progress.

The Mayor courted support from Critical Mass to help gain the keys to City Hall and has been on a bike lane creating train ever since getting in to office.

There’s the Anti Poverty Committee. Another gang of thugs that hide behind balaclavas and hoodies who marched through the streets without consequence in the time leading up to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

There are the thousands who crowd the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery on the twentieth of April for a giant smoke in to encourage the legalization of marijuana. Again, another illegal act performed in the open public while a few dozen police officers stand to the side, content to let the mob have its way with the city.

Even the Olympics, despite a billion dollar security budget, opened with security problems as thugs scrambled through the core scaring tourists on every corner.

There was a caller to Vancouver radio station Team 1040 in the aftermath who told of first hand knowledge that some of those arrested were from Montreal and Toronto and had been involved in the G20 uprising in Toronto last summer. There were also some in custody from Portland and Seattle who had been barred entry to Canada in the days before the Olympics because they were seen as a threat to security.

I understand it’s hearsay, but it fits the profile of the situation and explains why molotov cocktails and balaclavas would suddenly appear amongst a crowd of hockey fans. In other words, people who put the “pro” in protesting are responsible.

Vancouver’s Police Chief Jim Chu concurs with the theory calling the rioters “young men + women disguised as Canucks fans who were actually criminals + anarchists.” [source]

Of course they would pick Vancouver as a place to practice their craft, it’s protest friendly. The Mayor’s in bed with them while the police sit and watch.

No, Vancouverites are not to blame for yet another black eye on the city’s resume. Drunk ignorant youth egged on by a savvy subculture can take the weight of that blame. But it shouldn’t come as any surprise that it happened.

Even as a mob burned a car outside Canada Post on Georgia St, police stood by and let the crowd feed itself on the flames for nearly an hour before making any effort to disperse the crowd. Just as with other civil disobedience by large groups in the city, the police stood to the side and watched. Waiting for it all to just end on it’s own, but that didn’t happen.

Civic leaders courting approval, police standing on the sidelines and judges handing insignificant punishments are the “you” I speak of. The citizens of Vancouver, on the hand, want nothing to do with this reputation.

As rioters trashed the city, others gathered on Facebook promising to clean things up the next day. As sun rose the next morning a forgiveness wall appeared on the boards covering broken windows. The wood covered in scrawls of apologies to the city and the fans. Still others passed photos and video of the incidents through social media chains in hopes that someone would know Brock Anton and he would be brought to justice.

Some call it a slippery slope towards a nanny state. I call it civic reponsibility.

If you don’t want people to break the law, don’t let them break the law. What Vancouver leadership has created is a culture of allowed civil disobedience that makes it a very easy mark for vandals.

Why did Vancouver burn in a riot? Simple, because they (city hall, police, judges) let them.

**UPDATE** I would also like to add the This Is My Vancouver campaign that has sprung from the ashes is brilliant.

The best part? It was crowd sourced. No marketing team with a budget to focus group test different slogans. Someone said it, people liked it, the city embraced it.

That’s the kind of grass roots, critical mass, peaceful protest that I can get behind.

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Comments:

Buzz

Dad. Broadcaster. Writer. Media Disruptor. Two time Guinness World Record Holder. I run marathons for Team Diabetes.

37 Comments

  1. Are you seriously blaming non-violent bicyclists for enabling this riot?

    Critical mass is a response to car-dominated city planning that makes the roads generally unsafe for cyclists. It would be one thing to disagree with their means, or even their goal (though even motorists should be able to get behind the message of “safe roads for everyone”) but linking CM to hockey protests strains the imagination.

    In your dystopian dream world, where bicyclists are arrested for the non-crime of biking through traffic without a helmet, and anti-poverty activists are all safely behind bars, would the riot still have happened? How could 2,000 cops control 100,000+ adrenaline-pumped people, many who were drunk and angry?

    Your blog post is making the rounds of the internets now. Expect a traffic spike (and not from happy motorists that would agree with your point of view)

  2. Read it to the end. Vancouver’s culture of accepting large bouts of civil disobedience makes it a target for those who want to do damage.

    The rule of law is there for a reason.

    I have attended New Years celebrations in Times Square and have seen how a visible police presence, a reasonable set of barriers and a sensible security perimeter can work. More police presence providing a swifter response to disobedience is what’s necessary.

    Thanks for commenting, passing the piece along and continuing the conversation.

  3. You just compared cyclists without helmets to rioters who torched cars. Huh. “Bizarre” is the nicest think I can think of when describing this article.

  4. Read to the end, Jordan. Read all of it. I think you’ve missed the point of the piece.

  5. Read it to the end, twice. Your unfounded assumptions and extreme conclusions based on nothing but hearsay are even more evident on a second reading.

    Democracy was formed in revolution, and the democratic process MUST include the right to protest. This, of course, has nothing to do with a riot over a hockey game. Punish the looters, don’t blame activists and protesters for this mess. It doesn’t take a professional protester (whatever that is) to light a car on fire – even a drunk can figure it out.

    I call into question your experience and knowledge of any of Vancouver’s social issues. Why should anyone take your opinions seriously?

    My question from my previous comment still stands. It’s not rhetorical. How would a culture of strict arrests for bicyclists and pot-smokers have stopped 100,000+ people from rioting? how many cops would it have taken? Who would pay their salaries – the city of Calgary?

  6. Thanks for giving it a second look. I’m not an expert, I don’t pretend to be one. I’m just a person with an opinion and a blog.

    I don’t expect my theories to be treated as gospel, they are just fuel for debate, conversation and second thought.

    I’d argue a tighter leash on other illegal protests and gatherings would show Vancouver has no appetite for the sort of unrest that happened last night. Even the VPD Chief admits there were “pro” protestors involved.

    My allegation is that Vancouver’s lack of application of the law makes it a safe place for those who want to do bad things to do bad things.

    Thanks for participating and raising your points of view. +1 for open dialogue.

  7. I hope you realize that Critical mass happens in every city. New York, San Francisco, London-England, Budapest Etc Etc Etc so your argument is terrible flawed.

  8. I agree with some of the other posters – this has a very right wing feel to it. I follow you on Twitter as well and it seems you love to sensationalize things (and tweet about every 3 seconds) – you were tweeting things that weren’t yet confirmed, and a lot of hearsay. Let the dust settle, get the facts and then share the “news”.

    Protesting is a democratic right – this obviously isn’t what happend in Vancouver last night, but you can’t compare the two – putting the “pro” in protesters – what does that even mean?

    Sorry, but I think you missed the mark on this one.

  9. “other illegal protests” – the stanley cup party was sanctioned and encouraged by the city of vancouver. They provided tv screens to watch the game in public places.

    You could have made your point without sounding like a borderline-fascist by arguing that more police presence at the actual hockey event would have reduced the violence. See http://www.thestar.com/article/1010336–kelly-vancouver-s-mistake-was-trusting-its-own-citizens

    Similar conclusion (need show of police presence to keep huge crowds in line) without all the nasty ideological baggage. Unless you really believe “we” should lock up the bicyclists, hippies, anti-poverty activists, homeless…. gay pride parade could be seen as civil disobedience, let’s lock up the queers too! And the immigrants – it’s gotta be their fault somehow. Should make for a great made-in-Calgary shock radio program

    The “rule of law” is fluid and fallible. It was once a crime for Chinese store owners to hire white women in Canada. Now it’s illegal to discriminate based on race. Today, it’s a crime to grow and smoke marijuana. Hopefully tomorrow, that will change too. Martin Luther King Jr. argued that one had a moral responsibility to oppose unjust laws

    Keep too tight a leash on the public and you end up looking like Egypt, Syria or Iran. Clearly their police and military presence has prevented riots in those countries, right?

  10. A city where special interest groups have the ear of leaders and protest isn’t reflexively shut down regardless of what it is? Sounds like a nice, democratic place to me. Glad I live here.

    Yes, depending on who you are, critical mass is annoying and 420 is stinky. But they are also organised acts by large numbers of citizens expressing how they want their world to be.

    The police physically can’t stop 420 and critical mass, any method by which they tried to outright stop it would justifiably cause outrage. Could they issue a few tickets? Start to control the route with roadblocks? I dunno, maybe. If you’re seriously suggesting the police break out the rubber bullets on a bunch of warm smelling hippies riding fixies through wafting clouds of pot smoke, you’ve got problems.

  11. The horse has left the barn, for sure. And that culture of civil disobedience is what attracts the bad element.

  12. I’m afraid that you haven’t demonstrated that Vancouver has a culture of crowd-powered violence anymore than any other North American city. A few counterpoints:

    * Critical Mass rides are permitted to proceed in many cities around the globe.

    * As others have pointed out, plenty of civil disobedience has transpired without mass arrests or police interdiction in Toronto, Seattle, New York and elsewhere.

    * Marijuana rallies–always peaceful in Vancouver–happen up and down the west coast.

    Incidentally, the thuggish actions of a couple hundred people during the early days of the Olympics have been attributed to a group of cowardly, despicable self-styled ‘anarchists’ called the Black Bloc (http://bit.ly/mszOQ3).

    Also, it’s important to use the correct words here. Last night wasn’t “civil disobedience”, which is defined as “a refusal to comply with laws” or “a peaceful form of political protest”. Last night was a riot, as was the rioting thugs in the early days of the Olympics.

    On the other hand, I don’t care for Critical Mass’s philosophy and approach, but it’s right and fair (as you do) to label their actions ‘civil disobedience’. It’s not fair to lump them in with violent actors.

    I don’t think Vancouver necessarily has more instances of violent crowd actions than anywhere else in the developed world. We shouldn’t forget, for example, the soccer hooliganism and extreme racism that routinely plagues Europe.

    On the other hand, Vancouver might have more protests than, say, Calgary simply because of the weather.

  13. Thanks Darren. The news in Calgary tonight is filled with “why didn’t it happen here?” in regards to 2004’s similar loss by the Flames. They didnt offer any answers, but they did pepper the broadcast with many blurred topless shots of The Girls of the Red Mile.

    My logic may not flow in a straight line, my argument may be loose. But, like others, I’m just trying to figure out “why?” Living on the other side of the Rockies you quickly realize the “Rest of Canada” is quite different in it’s approach than BC. There isn’t the same ‘protest culture’ over here. People are happy with a government that stays out of their way and the government is happy to do steer clear.

    It’s just *different* and I was thinking through a line of events and trying to draw a straight line. As I said on Twitter, what I wrote here is what I would say to a friend over a beer talking about the news. I posted it to foster discussion and maybe see if anyone else could find a way to connect the dots.

    Of course there’s another, more circular line that could be drawn to try and explain why it happened. One that connects Richmond, Surrey, Burnaby and Coquitlam.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  14. I wonder what it is about the culture of Calgary that attracts white supremacists?

    http://www.ctvbc.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20110319/EDM_white_110319/20110319/?hub=EdmontonHome

    http://calgary.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20110319/CGY_whitepride_demo_110319/20110319/?hub=CalgaryHome

    Then there’s tar sands…. ugh let’s not go there.

    Maybe the evil bicyclists, anti-poverty activists and stoners come to Vancouver to get away from Calgary? Maybe not – the bikers are organizing in Calgary too!
    http://bikecalgary.org/
    Mothers lock up your daughters. Bicycles are on the loose

  15. I asked a friend how long it would take for someone to blame cyclists for the riot, and she sent me your blog. Thanks for the big laugh.

  16. Calgary is proud to have Naheed Nenshi as our Mayor. While the media highlighted he was the first Muslim Mayor elected in Canada, his race was never discussed once during the entire campaign.

    Yes, there is a rally for white supremacists in Calgary, if you can call a half dozen guys standing outside City Hall surrounded by a couple dozen cops protecting them from the hundreds at a multicultural rally on the other side of the street a “white supremacist rally.”

    This weekend is the Greek Festival in Calgary, I’m excited to attend this, just one of many multicultural festivals celebrated in this fantastic place.
    http://www.buzzbishop.com/blog/2011/06/04/calgarys-summer-multicultural-festival-calendar/

  17. I didnt blame the cyclists, Mike. I blamed the city, the police and the judges. Read to the end.

  18. We should also acknowledge the political landscape of Canada. The biggest cities–Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal–are liberal (small-L) hot-beds, so you’re naturally going to see more protests–legit and illegit–there. The same is true about the coastal versus interior cities of the US.

    To broadly oversimplify, liberal culture fosters dissent, while conservative culture fosters uniformity. So, boobs instead of molotov cocktails.

  19. The downside of the conservative part is that red states were the last one’s to racially integrate, to abolish slavery, to abolish the death penalty (still waiting on a bunch there) and so forth.

    The differences are much less severe in Canada, of course, because citizens and governments remain, politically speaking, much closer to the centre.

  20. How is the gay pride parade civil disobedience? They get a permit from city hall to close off the streets and saunter away.

    Was the city naive? YES! That’s my point – they let these huge rallies happen all the time and they dont have any major incidents. While I argue 420 and CM are illegal, there is no violence that happens. In light of 1994, the opening days of the Olympics and the tolerance of large crowds forming without proper police presence, the cart was going to eventually be tipped.

    Now will come the over-reaction. Get ready for cops dumping booze at the SkyTrain platforms on fireworks nights (if they’re even permitted to happen this year). The NYPD on New Year’s Eve walk a fantastic line. They pose for pictures, smile with the crowd and they are everywhere. They have presence. VPD standing at the back of the room watching and waiting for reinforcements to arrive was not what a crowd of 100 000 people needed.

  21. If you honestly can’t tell the difference between peaceful demonstrating and a riot then you have no business commenting on the nature or cause of either. To assert that the police respond to each should be the same, or that cracking down on peaceful citizens would somehow deter the idiots? Wishful thinking at best, pure idiocy at worst.

    There’s a very big important point that deflates your “article” of all credibility – there were absolutely NO protectors or demonstrators of any kind in Vancouver last night. No one was trying to have their voice heard or their point of view considered. Just drunken angry idiots with mothers who should be ashamed of the sons they’ve given society. I can guarantee you that every young man who geared up to join the chaos did so because they got a charge out of it… Not a single one of them sat there and thought “Gee, the police let those guys ride without helmets, they must be pushovers for looting and arson, let’s riot there!”

    The argument put forward here is so void of logic it could be front page Fox fodder. Have you submitted it Fox News North yet?

  22. Hey Jack. I would argue the Critical Mass protests in Vancouver are not peaceful. The riders are aggressive, abusive and do not follow the rule of law. I’d be curious to know the attitudes of riders in other cities. Do they follow road signs? Do they respect drivers? Do the rides receive widespread publicity by media? Are they a consistent focus of editorials by media? Does the mayor participate? Are they wildly popular?

    My assertation is that by allowing these sorts of lawless activities on the streets, with police presence, it encourages a mentality in the city that law does not apply to large groups. For years there has been urging that these large illegal events be stopped.

    THAT is the problem. Vancouver’s permissiveness in allowing that mentality to spread makes it very easy for a large crowd to turn into something like what happened earlier this week.

    If the city, police and judges would enforce the rule of law, perhaps there would be a better chance the citizenry would respect it.

  23. I’d encourage you all to read Andrew Morrison’s great piece on his reasons why the riot started. He points the finger squarely at the suburbs. He also adds an ill prepared police force are too blame.

    http://scoutmagazine.ca/2011/06/16/city-narrowly-survives-attack-by-drunk-suburban-douchebags/

    Vancouver’s culture of civil disobedience empowered the suburban youth, the police’s routine attitude of letting groups do what they want caused a simple sore to become infected.

  24. Well you got people talking Buzz, which is what a blog is all about :-)

    Here’s my take on it – I am a born and raised Calgarian, who had the pleasure of living in Vancouver for a few years of my life as well, so what you could say is I am neutral ground. I have been heartsick for the past two days about what went down, I lived two blocks from the BMO bank, my daughter was born at St. Paul’s, also just a few blocks from this horrific scene. It breaks my heart to see a city that I hold in such high regard be trashed at the hands of complete morons.

    The VPD is blaming anarchists and I also heard in the same hour that the image this portrays on Vancouver will cost them BILLIONS of dollars. Something seems a bit fishy there. By blaming said anarchists, as well as people from different provinces, or the States, they are looking to wash the image of Vancouver that it was not locals. They are looking for excuses. A the end of the day, sure, there were people that came down with intent to loot, riot etc. but the vast majority of those involved were spur of the moment, drunk kids with nothing on the line, thinking they could get away with it.

    Pushing blame on anything except the fact that people are sheep and go with what’s cool at the time is naive. I think the anarchists are maybe a handful, but the damage done to beautiful Vancouver was NOT a handful of people, that level of destruction took a mob.

    There’s my take.

    Oh, one more thing, Vancouverites or anyone wanting to bash Alberta because we were able to have good clean (albeit, topless) fun even with our loss in 04′, call us rednecks, tar sands this and that, you just look highly unintelligent and totally hypocritical. I work in oil and gas and can tell you a bit more on the environmental efforts of the industry than the average joe. But that’s for another time or day.

  25. Oh, yes…this I agree with.

    Having lived in Yaletown and the West End – there is NO WAY those residents would have done this to their own neighbourhoods. The spoiled brats from the ‘burbs that don’t have to live, work, walk and go to school downtown aren’t affected the least bit by their destruction.

    I just think the city and VPD are trying to save face for the city. I mean, I don’t blame them but it looks silly.

  26. I agree with a lot of what you say Buzz, but one thing that must be pointed out is the goal of the professional protestor. Burning cars and smashing windows is merely the warm up. Goal number one is to be beaten up by a cop. That’s what they want., and that’s why they came. They want to show that they are oppressed and downtrodden. They want a picture of a cop’s knee pounding their face into the pavement on the front cover of their next little underground newsletter.

    The police, by standing at a distance, allow them to have their tantrum without achieving their end goal. It makes me angry, seeing all the damage and knowing most will get away with it (and it irks nobody more than those officers), but participating in the fight simply was not going to work.

  27. I can’t believe that readers don’t understand the point of this post. A mass of people breaking the law, no matter whether it is no helmets or other traffic laws that cyclist think they have the right to ignore, to people in a large group illegally smoking pot.

    Without police or government enforcing the laws, ALL the LAWS then you create an atmosphere that you can do anything and not get in trouble.

    That is the point of the post. The government has allowed people to break the law creating this situation.

    Good post Buzz.

  28. Thank. You. Ray.

    Guess I should have written 3 short paragraphs to make my point instead of distracting the slackers and bike brigade with my explanations.

    Thanks for the support.

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