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|Written by Lauren Cheal|
|Sunday, 26 June 2011 16:07|
I have lived in Vancouver for 15 days (as of this writing), and, in my second week of being a B.C. resident, I experienced something both frightening and eye-opening. I was caught in the Vancouver riots that occurred after the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup to the Boston Bruins. Who knew that musical theatre would land me in such a precarious position? As my sister put it, "I just wanted to see a witch sing her heart out!."I am writing about my experience because it was a unique one (and because I hope to never end up in this situation again).
Three weeks ago I bought tickets for my sister and I to see Wicked on the evening of Wednesday, June 18. I didn't think to check the hockey schedule before doing so. When I realized that the tickets coincided with the possible game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, I was mostly disappointed that I would not be able to watch the game (I enjoy a historic sports game as much as the next guy). When my sister told me the theatre was literally across the street from the CBC crowd, I thought it would be an inconvenience at worst. I may have been wrong.We headed down to the area early that night and saw the scores of fans wandering around, an air of camaraderie filling the streets. We watched the gigantic crowd from behind the CBC TV screen for a while (where the Queen Elizabeth Theatre is located) and then headed into the theatre just before the game ended. From inside the theatre, we saw drinks being hurled at the TV and a bunch of smoke coming from one spot in the crowd (we guessed that this meant they had indeed lost the game). We headed to our seats and enjoyed the first act of an amazing show. As we got up for intermission, the staff made an announcement asking us to remain indoors due to the "situation" outside.
We went to collect our intermission beverages and caught glimpses of a burning car and what I now think was a flash bomb. A large crowd outside the theatre looked on as a few people approached the burning car (and a smaller crowd inside the theatre formed to look on at this scene). The theatre staff told everyone to stay away from the windows and return to their seats.
The second act of the play was enjoyable, too, but there were distractions in the audience (several phones going off, people leaving the theatre), and it was hard to concentrate on the play knowing (or not knowing) what was happening outside.
As the play ended, we received another announcement advising us to stay inside and wait for police instruction on the safest routes out of downtown. We waited, and 15 minutes later, the theatre staff announced which streets were open to cars and that all transit had stopped downtown. Given that we had come by transit (thank goodness, I believe that one of the parkades where cars were torched was the one at our theatre), we headed out into the streets to try to walk to a bar where a Wicked-themed drag show fundraiser was taking place in order to wait out the chaos and hopefully get a cab or bus.
The walk across the city was one I will not soon forget. The environment of chaos and fear was really quite frightening. In the theatre, as people checked their phones and called their friends, rumours quickly spread about people dying and about the amount of damage being done to the city. The most ridiculous instance of this was a woman who exclaimed to her two friends that, "a Boston fan was thrown from a bridge." This was likely based on the story of a man who was injured on a bridge and perhaps the items decorated in Boston colors that were set on fire early on in the riots. Clearly, exaggeration and misinformation grow rampant in a group of scared people.
In this heightened mindset, we set out on the streets to see four torched cars, police in riot gear at every turn and debris littering the streets. Men in cleanup gear were already sweeping things up in some areas, while a smoking dumpster we passed was given a wi
de berth. We started walking away from the area we were warned about and found that we could not go in the direction we needed to because of lines of police in riot gear. We were certainly not alone on the streets; hundreds of other people were still wandering around, too. Every time a group of police passed us, we were told (harshly) to go home. I don't believe we were in danger, but it was extremely frustrating to be both commanded to leave the area and unable to do so because of the roadblocks and lack of taxis and buses.
The darkness compounded the eerie feeling as we passed blockaded streets and as groups of police in riot gear walking in formation down the middle of the street. I don't remember very much noise, as those of us remaining on the streets were hesitant to do or say anything to antagonize the police. The occasional banging or other loud noises told us that nearby, things were still being destroyed. When I remember the walk now, it comes to me in pure, defined colour, almost like a cartoon. The most vivid images in my mind are the physically imposing figures of those police teams.
Eventually, we made it out of the riot zone and found a friend who was waiting on us at the fundraiser. A few minutes after we entered, we heard that tear gas was being used outside. After waiting for an hour and a half, we went out on to the relatively calm street, walked for another 45 minutes to where the buses were available, and eventually made it home on a bus filled with some of the most inebriated people I have seen in some time.
It is easy to say now (in the light of day and with a week between me and the incident) that I was not really in danger and that the police were in control of the situation by the time we left the theatre. The early report from the Vancouver Police was that the damage was caused by a fraction of people who were intent on causing mayhem (though as of June 21st, this account of things is changing; police now report that many more people (not just the fraction) were involved in the destruction, and many of them were, in fact, hockey fans). From what I have seen and read on the news, most of the injuries (cuts, bruises, and one very bad fall on a bridge) seem to be the result of drunken people acting foolishly. At the same time, though, there are reports of a stabbing that took place during the event. The cover of a chaotic environment has always frightened me and being in this situation only served to strengthen that fear.
Much criticism has been levied at the Vancouver Police Department for their action or lack of action during the event. From my perspective, the officers on the ground did a good job of containing the situation and keeping the public safe, which is all I feel I can ask of them in a chaotic and unpredictable situation like a riot.In the aftermath of the riot, many people have expressed disappointment over the actions of those who caused the damage (and those who stood by cheering it on or allowing it to happen). Disappointment is certainly a valid reaction to such ridiculous and potentially dangerous behaviour. I was disappointed, though not surprised, at the way people took advantage of what was and should have been a fun and exciting event in the city.
From my understanding of things, the people we saw in the streets after we left the theatre (none of whom were doing any damage to property or engaging in riot behaviour) had been warned to leave the area for some time and chose to stick around to see what happened. This behaviour is somewhat baffling to me, but I am never surprised when people make poor choices (especially when intoxicated). There is no doubt that the riot was made more difficult to contain by people standing around watching those who engaged in destructive acts. An article by Ainslie Cruickshank and Katie Hyslop outlines the need to educate "generation me" about the perils of social media, and I think their point is extremely valid. I have read a lot about the riots since they happened, and one article that gave me some idea as to why this occurred is Ken Dryden's in Globe and Mail. His point is that people riot because they can, plain and simple.
It was scary to be in a situation like that where nothing was in our control, and the police force looked at my sister and I like we were their enemy (even with our souvenir Wicked bag in hand). It was also scary feeling like we were trapped in an area where rioting behaviour might be taking place and not knowing how to get out of the area or where to go to get to a safe spot.
I guess my take away from this experience is just how lucky we are to live in a place where this is among our worst-case scenarios. We didn't get injured, we weren't threatened, and despite the seeming atmosphere of chaos, I didn't feel like we were ever really in danger. We are lucky to live in a place where this isn't a daily reality.
This very small (relatively minuscule, really) experience of violence and chaos of this has given me a different perspective on the demonstrations in the Middle East. People who are the same age as those who participated in these riots are risking their lives for something they believe in, and I can't imagine the conviction they must have to do what they are doing. We are so very privileged, and it is far too easy to forget that.
Tags: canucks, nhl, possibility, riot gear is scary, riots, social unrest, the green girl, thisismyvancouver, vancouver, welcome wagon, wrong place wrong time