Of course the Vancouver rioters were hockey fans

Surely, none of them were hockey fans. Not the guy in the vintage Trevor Linden jersey posing next to the burning truck in front of the Post Office; not the guys in the Pavel Bure or Alex Burrows or Roberto Luongo jerseys who rampaged through Vancouver’s downtown core, smashing windows and looting and setting cars on fire. Surely they were all just dead-enders, anarchists, professional felons. Makes sense.
Except it doesn’t, and the attempt to peddle the fallacy is not going to help Vancouver move past whatever sickness ails that city.
Vancouver Chief of Police Jim Chu told reporters Thursday, after the riot that marred the end of Vancouver’s chase for the Stanley Cup, that the rioters were “young men and women disguised as Canucks fans who were actually criminals and anarchists. These were people who came equipped with masks, goggles and gasoline, even fire extinguishers that they would use as weapons.”
Pretty organized for anarchists, when you think about it. And so many of them didn’t even hide their faces, which is probably another disguise. And they never seem to pop up anywhere else. Damned organized anarchists. There oughta be a law.
Ridiculous. Surely there was a criminal element in the crowd, but to say that there were no Canucks fans among the rioters is like saying there was nobody from Vancouver among the rioters. It’s convenient, and impossible.
It’s terribly convenient to say that the thousands of people who acted badly did not represent Vancouver, or were not even from Vancouver, or were not Canucks fans. Even if they were wearing Canucks merchandise, some said, they were not Canucks fans, or they were bandwagon jumpers. Real fans wouldn’t do that.
People love to believe that only good people are part of their group. But to say that being young and drunk and aggressively stupid does not make you a real fan is a fantasy, bent on self-protection; in an awful lot of cases, all those things make people more ardent fans, if anything.
And that is sports. Most sports fans are young men, and some of them are full of empty machismo or inchoate rage or the desire to add meaning to lives that they deem insufficiently meaningful. This is true everywhere.
But in some places that machismo and rage and nihilism can find fuller throat, for whatever reason. Edmonton and Calgary’s hooliganism was limited to non-existent in 2006 and 2004, when they lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup; Montreal has made the reflexive burning of police cars a sort of tradition, win or lose.
And Vancouver, for whatever reason, appears to have placed itself in a different category altogether, with a sad burgeoning tradition of its own.
You can blame the outdoor viewing areas that pulled 100,000 people downtown like a magnet, but those didn’t exist in 1994, and there was a riot. You can blame some sort of vague alienation regarding the soaring real estate prices in the city, which have deprived an entire generation of the opportunity to own property, but houses were relatively cheap in ‘94, and there was a riot.
You can blame the Canucks for whatever sins of comportment they have committed — owner Francisco Aquilini reportedly cursed repeatedly at several members of the media after the game — but in 1994 the Canucks were a lovable underdog, a happy tugboat of a team, and there was a riot. You could blame the same stupid slice of the greater community, except the rioters of 1994 are middle-aged now, and the vast majority of the faces that made the news were young. This was another generation. And there was a riot. Again.
No, there is something else here. To be clear, we are not just talking about Vancouver proper, but the entire Lower Mainland and beyond. But as someone who was born and raised there, I do not understand the virulent strain that infects the Canucks fan base, the vast majority of which is in no way connected to these people. I don’t understand the seeming prevalence of keyboard bullies who unleashed a stomach-turning torrent of abuse towards former player Theoren Fleury after he rather innocuously predicted that their team would lose in the first round.
No, I don’t understand why this strain of poison leaches from a city that, while it has a bright line between rich and poor that grows brighter every day, is generally a good place. You can correctly note that the Olympics were remarkably peaceful, but not only did Canada win the men’s hockey gold to cap a triumphant two weeks, but so much of that crowd was not just local — that was Canada on those streets as much as it was Vancouver.
This was different. People said there were rioters ready to cause trouble win or lose, but every gathering after Canucks games up until Game 7 was a peaceful affair, with tens of thousands streaming through downtown. This time, some of those same people propelled or followed the herd, looking for infamy and adrenaline and meaning. They wanted to smash something. They did. Only they really know why.
So no, those rioters do not represent the majority of Canucks fans, or Vancouverites, many of whom responded by cleaning up their downtown Thursday, and reporting the thugs. But the vandals are a part of that group and that place. They are a part of the mosaic. It’s a terribly beautiful city, but a part of it, when it reveals itself, makes you sick.


  1. hey harbs, did you write this? o.O

  2. um...no,...the attribution is right below the picture- Bruce Arthur.