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Vancouver Riot Anniversary: A Year After The City Burned

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VANCOUVER RIOT TRIALS
Vancouverites write messages after last year's Stanley Cup riots. CP | Getty Images

VANCOUVER - It's been a year since the Vancouver Canucks' loss in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final set off a riot that swept through the city's downtown last June 15, leaving a trail of burnt cars, broken windows and looted storefronts. The mayhem caused millions of dollars in damage and its effects are still being felt as rioters face justice and a city reflects on what happened and how to move forward.

Here are the stories of some of the people affected by the riot. The interviews have been edited and condensed.

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Peter Raptis, 32, co-owns the Refinery restaurant and Sip Resto Lounge on Granville Street, not far from the epicentre of the riot. He was inside Rogers Arena as the Canucks lost.

"Mine was a story of being at the venue and not being able to get back to the business because the police wouldn't let me downtown (until later.) We're watching the monitors at the stadium and it looks like a complete war zone out there.

"Until the tear gas hit our building, we were actually having a pretty good night, despite the riot. But once that tear gas hit, it just sort of flooded in. We have these air vents that suck up all the air for the kitchen and the tear gas just went right through them and you could see (the gas) coming out the vents and everybody ran out the door.

"I thought my business partner was crazy, but he went out and bought plywood ahead of time ... just in case. I said 'Come on, this isn't going to be an issue.'

"We put the plywood up on the outside of the windows while the riot was happening.

"We didn't have any broken windows or anything, but I mean thousands of dollars of sales were lost (and there were) cleaning bills because all that tear gas gets into the fabric.

"Once you're over the fact that everybody's safe, then you start getting a little bit angry. There was obviously a massive response from the public about how ashamed they were and the clean-up process.

"This was a one-off incident that isn't a representation of what downtown is about and what Vancouver is about."

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Const. Brian Lequesne, 33, has been on the Vancouver Police Department's crowd control unit for the past seven years. He was part of a team of officers in riot gear who were on standby for Game 7 if "stuff hits the fan," which of course it did.

"Our squad, there was seven of us in our gear ready to go. There's one squad setup where you're going to be in your full riot gear for the worst-case scenario, and if stuff hits the fan, we're going to be deployed there first.

"We were deployed directly to the post office just after the truck had been flipped over and set on fire. When we got on the ground, the best way to describe it is utter carnage, just a scene of debauchery and disarray. There was a car burning, some porta potties burning, some garbage cans burning. We were in full riot gear and as soon as we formed up in a line to start making the approach to where the burning car was, we're taking bottles to the head, bricks, pretty much anything people could have thrown at us.

"I was expecting some drunken rowdiness, some pushing and swearing, pushing over of garbage cans. I didn't expect to have burning cars, bottles thrown at me, a general disregard for human life and property. There's always going to be people out there who just don't care, but to see so many at one time doing so much carnage, that was the overwhelming part.

"There was no engaging the crowd, no standing there and talking to them. We tried. We tried to tell them to go home, but there's no way I can communicate with the mob of thousands in front of me. If they didn't see the burning cars and the riot police and the horses showing up, if they're not leaving with that visual cue, then there's obviously a big problem.

"I learned that I can go through that. I didn't have any trouble sleeping. It didn't affect mentally, even though I'd never been in a riot. I'd been trained well and had been given a group of guys and girls to work with, so I had confidence in that."

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Robert Mackay, 37, was watching the game downtown with his girlfriend and decided to walk home instead of waiting for transit in lines of people that stretched on for blocks. When he saw a lone man trying to prevent hundreds of rioters from smashing windows at The Bay, he stepped in to help.

"So by the time we got up to Georgia and Seymour, there had already been some cars on fire. I was in shock. I was like 'Oh my God this is crazy.' But I was also — not drawn to it — but curious.

"There was a wall of people standing in front of The Bay and there's this one guy who was trying to defend the store, defend the windows. That's when I instantly (thought) this guy needs some help.

"The mob, or the rioters, I think they gained more courage. I was pretty furious at that point. They wouldn't stop and they were just being morons. I couldn't believe people were losing their minds over a hockey game.

"I opened up my back, that's when I got surrounded and overwhelmed and I was just like bombarded. Once I was down, some guy came in and pepper sprayed me. That kind of helped cleared off the crowd too, I believe.

"I thought it was actually six or seven people were there, it was actually 15 people that were involved in my assault. They've caught 14 of 15. That No. 1 guy is the first rioter (police) were after.

"The next day, the first thing on the news was my assault. They were reporting I was in critical condition in the hospital. I was in a bit of pain, it's like the morning after a rugby match, you know what I mean. But definitely not broken.

"Then the story was out of my hands; I couldn't control it. Part of me felt maybe a little ashamed for getting involved with something like that.

"It's been a pretty good year. I was able to drop the puck at the (Canucks) season opening game this year. I was awarded the Heroes and Rescue Award from the Justice Institute of B.C.

"I still love Vancouver. I think I had one crappy night."

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Christina Graham, 34, was the nurse leader in the St. Paul's Hospital emergency room the night of the riot.

"My staff had the game on television so we were sort of following what was going on. When we lost, I gave a phone call to my counterparts in the B.C. Ambulance Service and the police department, and they told me things were starting to ramp up but things were under control.

"About 15 to 20 minutes later, I got a phone call back that things were starting to get a little bit more riled up and police were considering releasing their tear gas. About 10 minutes later, I got a phone call that they had released the tear gas and I should start preparing for an influx of patients.

"The majority initially were people covered in tear gas. We had people in contamination suits outside dunking people off in the (water) buckets and generally minor injuries, people who could make it to the hospital on their own, things like sprains, strains, minor fractures, but not needing an ambulance.

"Shortly after that, when police did have a better handle on the crowd, that's when paramedics could go in and start picking up patients and the seriously injured came in.

"We had things like rib fractures, collapsed lungs, some more serious facial injuries.

"Normally we are a facility with two trauma bays, with capability for two trauma patients at a time. Those bays filled up pretty quickly and I started opening up makeshift trauma bays. By the end of the night, we had six running.

"Most of the patients we had come in that night were related to the riot. I believe it was about 150, which is one of our busiest nights we've had.

"I didn't have to call any staff in, they call called me and said, 'I'm watching the game on TV, things had gone awry, would you like me to come in and work?'

"I had one of my staff who lives not that far away, and she was going to walk to the hospital, but she got as far as Granville Street and had police stop her. They actually had to put her under their riot shields and run her up to the hospital to make sure she got here safely while people were throwing stuff at them. I had another nurse who rode his bicycle to work and he said there were people on their balconies throwing bottles at him.

"It was chaotic, but the night went well from a health-care point of view. I felt everybody got amazing care, which is really hard to do when you've got that volume. The staff, I would anticipate, they went home feeling really good about the night, feeling they did the best they could in a bad situation."

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Before the riot had even ended, Ryan Arndt set up a Facebook group to encourage the users to identify rioters — one of several social media pages and websites that quickly channelled public anger into what became an infamous name-and-shame campaign. Arndt, 30, now lives in Moncton, N.B., where he manages social media for the video game industry.

"I was down there for the previous game, and it was such a positive atmosphere, so I went down again for the final match. It felt different. There were more people everywhere.

"By the time it was between the second and third period, it was getting pretty crowded and there were people throwing bottles at each other. I thought, 'This is not going to turn out well,' and that's when I went home and watched it go down over Twitter and Facebook.

"On Twitter, people were sharing these pictures around the place and it was happening on Facebook, too, but it wasn't co-ordinated at all. And I thought, 'Well this is really silly, because you could be using Facebook tagging to crowdsource the offenders.'

"It wasn't so much a matter of shame, just identification. If people knew somebody, because there were that many people doing things downtown, we could help identify (them), and all that information did get passed on to the police.

"A year later, I think it was worth it. People will (set up similar sites again), because there's digital cameras now and people have them on their phones. It'll just happen. People are going to want to collect these photos in some way.

"I think there's social value in it, but not in a long-term way. If you search (the names of alleged rioters'), they're there for good. If someone would have done something similar on a different day that wasn't associated with the riot, their name wouldn't be smeared all over."

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Trevor Holness was 18 years old in 1994 when he was charged, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 100 days in jail for participating in that year's Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver. Holness, 36, still lives in the Vancouver area and now works as a carpenter in the film industry. He was also in the arena last year for Game 7.

"(In 1994), I was in the suburbs with a few friends of mine. We were at a pizza joint drinking underage, and we managed to meet up with a whole bunch of our friends and we were going to head downtown. Win or lose, we were going to party.

"I taunted the police. I didn't do any property damage, I didn't assault anybody, I didn't do any vandalism, I didn't set anything on fire, I didn't flip over a police car. I was just running around sort of dodging bullets, that's what it felt like, like being in a war zone. You'll never ever experience something like that unless you're in it, and so when you're 17, 18, you want to experience everything you can. This was a big deal and I was going to be a part of it no matter what.

"We were all watching the news coverage for the next couple of days and we thought it was hilarious. We weren't thinking about consequences until Crime Stoppers came out with little kiosks in the malls with pictures of people. As soon as I found out about that, I left town.

"I found out they were looking for me, there were warrants for my arrest, so I came back to town to spend some time with my friends. I was arrested at the fireworks. I got locked up and I got charged and I got denied bail. It was a bad day.

"I was left with a criminal record, so that affected everything after that. That affected my ability to get a job, to travel. It's hard on your family, it's an embarrassment for them. And being in jail, all those things you take for granted were gone.

"Recently, I got married, and I bought a place. You can recover from a jail sentence.

"(Last year after leaving Game 7), I saw smoke close to the library, and just couldn't believe it. I was in shock. If I was 18 and saw the smoke, I would have went to the smoke. There wasn't even a half-second thought that I would do that again.

"(My advice to rioters who are convicted and sent to jail is) to take that time to really think about what you did and what you can do once you get out.

"For someone who's not a career criminal, it's not really going to set them on the right path, they were probably already on the right path. It was one night where they made a split-second decision to participate in something and that might not be who they are. After they get out of jail, they should do everything they can to make up for what they did and give back somehow."

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