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Vancouver's Shame

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A silence hangs over the city of Vancouver this morning. Yesterday's buoyant elevator conversation among strangers wearing blue jerseys has ended.

There is a palpable sense of embarrassment as downtown workers return to the scene of the crime, where the aftermath of last night's riot is evident. Shards of broken glass, looted storefronts and debris abound.

The question on everyone's lips is "How could this happen?"

Yesterday began with anticipation and excitement. The city was electric. By noon, crowds of people were congregating on downtown streets, pubs and bars overflowed and lineups snaked around the sidewalks.

By game time hundreds of Canucks fans were stumbling drunk, mostly young men who had travelled from the surrounding suburbs by Skytrain and bus.

Throngs of fans huddled together watching a live feed on gigantic screens set up on several downtown streets. The Bruin's first goal was disappointing, but the street crowd mirrored the 14,000 fans inside the stadium. Still optimistic.

After the second goal the mood began to shift among the 100,000 street fans. It was becoming apparent the Canucks could not score against superstar goalie Tim Thomas. After goal three, emotional fans began to cry and angry young men became agitated. Goal four was even more devastating.

Temporary fencing installed to delineate the seating/standing areas for street fans were now missiles directed at Vancouver police officers, including the experienced crowd-control unit. Mailboxes, newspaper boxes, stones, potted plants and bottles were used as weapons. Cars were overturned and set on fire, including two police vehicles.

As hundreds of cameras and cell-phones captured the scene, young men boldly jumped on burning cars, flailing their arms in the air as they expressed their rage, while dancing with glee.

It was obvious that a core group of rioters had come prepared with balaclavas and molotov cocktails.

Hundreds of other fans simply lingered, taking in the sights and sounds like tourists as they snapped photos.This group also refused to disperse. Clouds of black smoke mixed with bursts of tear gas enveloped the crowd. Buses were stopped and downtown bridges were closed. Vancouver's firefighters, eager to help, could not enter downtown. It was not safe.

In startling contradiction to the violence on the street, affluent theater-goers were at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre for a performance of Wicked. The theatre was next to "ground zero" on West Georgia Street in the midst of the mayhem. Inside the theatre, parents were comforting their children while gamely hiding their own fear of the events exploding outside.

But there are always heroes in a story like this. Chief Constable Jim Chu ought to be proud of his men and women who willingly walked into the storm, all the while exercising restraint, patience and grace under pressure. They resisted the aggressive advances, the taunting and torrents of abuse and the hailstorm of falling debris.

The immature hooligans, nothing more than common criminals, will surely be arrested and ought to face serious jail time. They ruined what should have been a bittersweet party and a celebration of the Canucks spirited journey to the Stanley Cup. The Canucks deserved better than this.

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