VANCOUVER — The response of police as Stanley Cup celebrations in Vancouver descended into a destructive riot has driven public debate about what happened, but the two men responsible for an independent review of the riot say it’s not their only focus.
The province has appointed John Furlong, former head of the Vancouver Olympic committee, and Doug Keefe, a former deputy justice minister from Nova Scotia, to investigate what happened as rioters burned cars, smashed windows and looted stores after the Canucks’ Stanley Cup loss two weeks ago.
Vancouver’s police chief has been dogged by questions about whether his force was prepared for celebrations to turn ugly.
While the review will scrutinize the actions of police, Keefe stressed as the review got underway Thursday that its focus will be much broader.
“We have to look not only at the policing aspect of this, we have to look at event planning,” Keefe told reporters Thursday outside The Bay’s flagship store, which was looted during the riot.
“This city has about 100 major events a year, I’ve been told, so it goes to event planning, preparation, the layout and thoughtfulness of how people move in and out. Policing is one aspect of that and the deployment of police is another.”
Furlong said the pair had already started meeting with local officials Thursday and were touring areas of Vancouver affected by the riot.
Keefe and Furlong have been told to come back by Aug. 31 with a report that examines whether the city and police were adequately prepared for playoff celebrations, how alcohol contributed to the violence and whether the lessons learned from a similar riot in 1994 were put into practise.
They’ll also make recommendations aimed at preventing riots at future events.
“I don’t think you can ever have gatherings of this size and say there will never be another riot any more than the Transportation Safety Board can say there will never be another airplane crash,” he said.
“You just work to improve the management of the event so that they are less likely.”
The riot began at a large outdoor celebration site as tens of thousands of people gathered on the street to watch the game on giant outdoor screens.
It was there that rioters set the first car on fire, setting off a night of violence that took three hours for police to contain and caused millions of dollars in damage.
In the immediate aftermath, Vancouver police put the blame on a small band of “anarchists and criminals,” even though it was clear from photos, videos and eyewitness accounts that much of the looting and smashing appeared to be the work of jersey-clad hockey fans who had joined in.
As police began to identify the rioters — some of whom turned themselves in after being named on the Internet — police Chief Jim Chu acknowledged most of the people who joined the riot appeared to be young people without prior criminal records.
Chu has refused to say how many officers were on the street, though the chief of Delta Police has put the number at more than 800 by the end of the night.