Six lessons from highly-predictable riot

It’s bizarre that the authorities in Vancouver claim to be surprised by the Stanley Cup riot.

It’s bizarre that the authorities in Vancouver claim to be surprised by the Stanley Cup riot.

I was on a 9 a.m. ferry from Victoria to Vancouver that day. Within about 30 minutes, it was clear trouble was likely.

The ferry was crowded with young people, mostly male, wearing Canuck’s sweaters. They weren’t criminals or ‘anarchists’ (which always suggests a bearded, skinny guy with a round bomb).

They were young fans, ready for a day of drinking and a hockey party. Some of the guys led the passengers in ‘Go Canucks go” chants. They had jobs or were in college or university.

One young man in a Luongo jersey told friends he’d been over for Game 5. You had to line up to get into a bar at 2 p.m., he warned them. And you had to keep drinking or you’d lose the table. (Which, he said, was not a problem.)

“Ferry jammed with young people in Canucks’ jerseys,” I tweeted. “Vancouver police should be biggest cheerers for Canuck win.” (Yes, I’m on Twitter.)

I’m no security expert. But it was clear that there would be trouble if the Canucks lost.

My ferry fellow travellers might not set a car on fire or loot a store. But some would watch and cheer, or taunt police, perhaps get in drunken fights if they felt wronged.

People have been drawing an extraordinary range of messages from the riots.

I’d settle for six conclusions.

First, that a proportion of young men are capable of stupid and dangerous behaviour. Destruction and violence please them. The trait must serve some genetic purpose, or it did in the past, but it is a great nuisance today.

It’s not a question of intelligence, upbringing, thwarted opportunity or philosophy. Look at Nathan Kotylak, the 17-year-old caught trying to set a police car on fire. His dad is a surgeon. He’s a water polo star, set to head off on a university scholarship, a potential Olympian. That’s not some loser anarchist wannabe in a hoodie.

Second, that alcohol remains our most destructive drug. The Canucks’ fans on the morning ferry were the usual mix of people, great and not so great, but none of them would do you harm.

Many would help if you needed it.

Unless they were drunk. Then, all bets would be off.

And the crowds watching the final game in Vancouver were drunk. People drinking in the street – tens of thousands – were joined by people pouring into the streets after spending six hours drinking in bars.

It was predictable that any incidents would quickly escalate.

Third, that mobs are dangerous. People who would never loot a store or confront police individually can be swept, sheep-like, into stupid and dangerous activities. (That conclusion applies just as well to those – generally online – who urged vigilante justice against rioters. The herd mentality swept them along as well.)

Fourth, that we need to at least consider whether our culture – the things our society celebrates – is increasing the risk of such violence and disruption. Hockey did not make people set fire to cars.

But it’s not unreasonable to wonder if commentators who celebrated violence and actions outside the game’s rules legitimized similar acts on the streets. Or whether a steady diet of TV that makes stars of the selfish, stupid, rude and violent influences behaviour.

Fifth, that Vancouver blew it. The police presence was inadequate, several smaller public venues – ideally in open areas – would have been safer, and it’s baffling that city staff and police were caught by surprise.

Sixth, that parents should recognize that some of the rioters were people like their own children (or sons, to be more accurate). It’s a good chance to point out the perils of drunken gatherings.

We’re never going to eliminate stupidity and violence.

We can do a lot better than we did this week.

Footnote: Premier Christy Clark ordered a review and promised swift justice and public humiliation for rioters. That led Attorney General Barry Penner to reverse his decision to cut sheriff’s hours, a cost-saving measure that had led to even longer delays and more dismissed charges in the courts.