Suburb babies escape their sitters and have a riot.
// Dexter Fergie

This summer was a bloody mess. From politically motivated murders in Europe and the US, to collective acting-outs in London and (of course) here in Vancouver, the “civilized” Western world was brimming with violence.

When the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup playoffs early in the summer, downtown Vancouver erupted in a seemingly senseless orgy of destruction and barbarism, earning Vancouver degrading headlines worldwide. Three months and a handful of inquiries later, do we actually understand the violence of June 15? According to the reports and reviews published in the aftermath, we do: too much alcohol and too many youth, crowded into too small an area.

However, just as it would be absurd for a homicide investigator to limit his work to the room in which the murder took place, it is equally absurd for these inquiries to not look beyond the immediate settings of the riot. By restricting their research to downtown, the investigators demonstrate a general unwillingness to locate the true reasons behind the violence.

Take the official independent report on the Vancouver riot, The Night the City Became a Stadium, co-written by former VANOC head, John Furlong. Reviewing how the riot occurred and why the police were incapable of defending downtown, one does not have to go further than the first page to read their most fascinating conclusion: “The question is not the cause of the riot –troublemakers deliberately caused it- but the conditions that gave them the opportunity.”

Just imagine our incapable homicide investigator saying, “The question is not the cause of the murder…”
Perhaps the Furlong report was not the most appropriate venue to examine the riot’s real roots, but the question of “why?” is not to be seen in any other reports either. Taking this question for granted, each instead makes space for a technocratic discussion on how to better manage crowds.

How have they decided to prevent this happening again? According to the conclusions of the City of Vancouver’s Stanley Cup riot review, stronger measures restricting alcohol are needed during large events such as “clos[ing] or reduc[ing] hours of retail liquor stores,” disallowing “establishments from serving alcohol during a specific time at special events,” and “prohibiting open and closed alcohol on the transit system and in the public realm.”

They also want to work with Translink to assist in crowd management by off-loading passengers more widely downtown to prevent overcrowding and, if necessary, slowing down their system. Additionally, because the City’s efforts “to remove street furniture… to minimize the access to potential projectiles” were unsuccessful, “non-combustible waste cans” will be implemented in the future.

In these reports, the publishers examined their own insecurities, identifying where they, the authorities, could improve upon for that next spurt of collective violence. Within this limited context, the only way forward is that of an increasingly more effective managerial state, carefully watching over its naturally violent citizens, who –if it weren’t for the benevolent authorities- would be on the verge of utter collapse.

Highlighting the possible extent of such measures, the VPD unimaginatively proposed that the City increase the usage of CCTV cameras throughout downtown and introduce “airport security-style” screenings at Skytrain stations during large events. Erecting new modes of surveillance and control appears to be the only serious recommendation.
It is not that these claims and recommendations have no basis: some do (though, most do not). Rather, there is an underlying presupposition contained in each of them that has remarkably gone unnoted: the people wanted to riot. The Furlong report says that “troublemakers deliberately caused it,” but leaving this claim as it is overlooks the very conditions that compelled these “troublemakers” to commit acts of violence in the first place.

Describing the rioters as “troublemakers”, “thugs”, and “villains” as the Furlong report does may be appropriate, and punishing them isn’t unreasonable. However, this event clearly reflects on the society that produced the thousands of “troublemakers” who participated, not to mention the many thousands more who happily watched from the sidelines, photographing the destruction. Could it really be that the formerly ranked “world’s most livable city” has a violent underbelly so easily disturbed as to expose itself over a sports loss?

Not unlike the riots that quaked England last month, the violence of Vancouver’s rioters conveys a message. Whether it was the consequence of a culture that still glorifies violence, a growing apathy amongst youth, or even the genuine boredom of suburban life (nearly 60% of those arrested during the riot live in the various suburbs of the Lower Mainland) that drove Vancouver to destruction on June 15 is unknown. The need exists to investigate it, however uncomfortable our findings may be.
If this discussion fails to occur, the consequences are predictable: more violence, followed by a public outcry demanding increased security. This unwillingness to discuss or comprehend violence might turn out to be the most violent course of action of all.

Dexter Fergie is a previous Cap student, now studying at UBC. His insights into current events and politics have been gracing the pages of the Courier for two years. In his column this term he is exploring violence in relation to human nature.

Enjoy it? Share this on Facebook


© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: