NEWS
10/06/2011 02:59 EDT | Updated 12/06/2011 05:12 EST

Police seek more power to search for booze in wake of Stanley Cup riot

VANCOUVER - Vancouver police have asked the British Columbia government for new laws that would allow officers to search passengers boarding public transit for liquor, which the force says would help avoid a repeat of the Stanley Cup riot.

The idea was immediately condemned by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, but the force said Thursday that expanding the search powers of police would improve public safety in light of findings that the June 15 riot was fuelled in part by alcohol.

Deputy Chief Doug LePard said the force envisions that such searches would take place maybe once a year during major events. LePard said police currently must have reasonable grounds to conduct such a search, which is a much higher threshold.

"We have asked the government to consider whether there could be enhanced legislation for major events that would allow for searches for liquor, for example, when getting on the SkyTrain, without the requirement to have reasonable grounds that we have to have now," said LePard.

LePard said the provincial government could make such changes by updated the Liquor Act or transit rules.

According to reports released at the beginning of September, liquor helped fuel the riot, in which mobs of young people burned cars and looted stores after the Vancouver Canucks lost the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs to Boston.

In fact, a municipal report noted many fans who arrived downtown were either already drunk or were carrying alcohol, which limited the impact of liquor store closures that were ordered throughout the core.

But Rob Holmes, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said allowing police to conduct searches without cause isn't appropriate or reasonable in a free and democratic society, and he predicted the courts would strike down any laws that allowed them.

"I don't think it's just philosophy," said Holmes.

"I think it's very practical and immediate that people want to know that they can go about their business without being hindered or interfered with by anybody else, much less government agents in the form of the police."

Holmes said he also has concerns about people being forced to consent to searches so they can take public transit.

Instead, police should focus on their "regular policing activities" and ensure sufficient numbers of officers are present to be able to police events, he said.

"I think that we have to be vigilant about protecting our rights and realizing why they were, by a whole bunch of thoughtful people, put in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as part of our fundamental law and understand that if we have a bump in the road as we did with the Stanley Cup riot, that we look at it and try and decide why that happened and how to avoid it for the future."

The city report also recommended the city increase the use of CCTV at large events, something Vancouver police have long advocated.

LePard said he also supports legislation, similar to laws in the United Kingdom, preventing people from wearing masks when they are at the beginning stages of criminal activity. The current law prevents those from wearing a mask only if they are committing an indictable offence, he said.

Solicitor General Shirley Bond said the government is doing its homework on the request, noting police have the ability to search and seize liquor if they believe alcohol will be consumed by a minor or in a public place.

"Obviously, it's a balance between ensuring that we have protection of people's privacy and rights so we're doing the legal work on that," she said.

Kathy Corrigan, the Opposition NDP's critic for public safety and the solicitor general, said the government has to tread carefully on the issue and she would like to see a full discussion before any changes are made.

"It's a very serious thing when you start moving down the road to be saying that you're going to start taking away people's rights and even rights that are protected under the charter," said Corrigan.

Corrigan said she wants to ensure people can be safe at events, but she said that must be balanced with respecting privacy rights.

Meanwhile, Vancouver police added another 12 photos of suspected rioters to its website Thursday as the force repeated a promise that the first set of charges would be forwarded to Crown counsel for approval by the end of the month. No rioting charges have been laid so far.

Police have released a total of 101 photos of suspected rioters, asking the public to help identify them. So far, have turned themselves in, been placed under investigation or have been arrested, said LePard.