VANCOUVER - Vancouver police plan to lay the toughest charges possible in last June's riot with the help of a high-tech spin on the old-fashioned Most Wanted poster.
The force has launched the website riot2011.vpd.ca, which currently features photos of 40 suspected rioters who the force hopes the public will help identify.
Police Chief Jim Chu said Tuesday that he expects the information gleaned from the website will be used to shore up tougher charges against the rioters.
Chu, who has come under heavy criticism because no rioting charges have yet been laid over the June 15 melee, said he doesn't want just mischief or looting charges laid against those who tore through the city smashing windows and setting fire to vehicles.
"Participating in a riot, that's the charge we're going for," Chu told reporters in Vancouver.
"It's a tougher charge to prove, but it can be the most serious offence. We're not pulling our punches, we're going for the most serious charges we can get."
Chu, who admitted being frustrated himself at the slow pace of the charge process, said even his daughter has asked him why it's taking so long to bring suspects before the courts.
By late Tuesday afternoon, the force said the website had been receiving as many as 2,200 hits an hour and had already brought in more than 50 new tips.
It's been two-and-a-half months since the Vancouver Canucks lost Game 7 to the Boston Bruins, setting off the frenzy in the city's downtown core. Shops were pillaged, windows were smashed and cars were overturned and set on fire.
In comparison, more than 1,000 charges have been laid in the riots that swept through Britain earlier this month. Vancouver police bristle at the comparison, saying the laws in the two countries make them entirely different.
In Vancouver, 42 people have turned themselves in and police have the names of another 1,100 people they believe may have been involved.
Chu said police don't want to lay charges against the confessed rioters without ensuring they have admitted to all their crimes.
He said once those suspects' guilty pleas have been entered, they can't charge them with rioting again because of the legal rule of double jeopardy.
"Speedy justice, in the end, may be no justice at all."
Vancouver defence lawyer Eric Gottardi said there's nothing that prevents police from laying a charge such as theft and then later laying another charge of, for example, assaulting a police officer.
However, he agreed that if police use the blanket charge of participating in a riot, it may be open to a double jeopardy type of legal argument.
"But there's no reason why you couldn't charge the separate offence of theft first, leave off the riot charge until later, until (they have) satisfied themselves there's nothing else."
Gottardi said it appears police and the Crown have made a decision to charge everyone involved with participating in a riot.
"If they weren't hanging on to that policy decision then there wouldn't be any reason not to go ahead with the specific charges."
Chu added that even in cases where people have admitted to a crime, investigators are still trying to determine what each of those people may have done.
"I understand people are frustrated, so are we. Our professional investigators are doing the best they can with the existing justice system, the existing laws they have."
The maximum penalty for participating in a riot is two years in jail.
Police still have 1,600 hours of video to review.
Vancouver police Insp. Les Yeo said it's still not too late for others to come forward and admit their guilt.
"These images (on the website) are very clear, there are more very clear photos coming in the weeks and months," he said.
But Yeo said even if they turn themselves in, police still have essential elements of the crime to prove, and those people have the right to plead not guilty and go to trial.
An independent report into the June 15 riot is to be released Thursday by John Furlong, who led the Vancouver Olympic organizing committee, and Doug Keefe, a former deputy justice minister from Nova Scotia.
Chu said he would comment on the report after it had been released.