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Reading the Riot Act: Vancouver 2011 by Roshak Momtahen

Blog posts are the work of individual contributors, reflecting their thoughts, opinions and research.
Smoke rises from downtown Vancouver // Photo by Roshak Momtahen
Smoke rises from downtown Vancouver // Photo by Roshak Momtahen

The following blog entry was written by Roshak Momtahen, and posted to his blog, Of Stoics.

As you’re all probably aware, the Vancouver Canucks’ Game 7 loss to the Boston Bruins resulted in what has been described as an “orgy of violence and looting.” As someone who was there taking pictures for the entirety of the event, I believe there are a few things that need to be cleared up regarding the riot and ensuing reaction.

“Anarchists and left-wing loons”

In the words of Harsha Walia: “it’s ridiculous that even a hockey riot needs a scapegoat.” It’s downright silly to suggest that anarchists instigated the riot or that the riot is even somehow related to the anarchist movement. Like the ‘fans’ who set fire to their Canucks’ jerseys, anyone who entertains the idea of an anarchist riot is setting fire to the twin pillars of logic and reason. All first-hand accounts, all photo evidence, and all video evidence state that the riot originated in the overcrowded and overly-inebriated CBC plaza. Beginning with objects being thrown at the TV screens, the testosterone-laden drunks then set fire to car in front of the post office, marking the beginning of Vancouver’s 2011 riot. And no, gangs of anarchists did not then go home, arm themselves, and descend onto the downtown core. I’m still shocked that people believe stories of ‘professional instigators’ with Molotov cocktails and gas masks. The only gas masks in Vancouver on Wednesday night belonged to the VPD.

The true make-up of the rioters is a story onto its own. While young (drunk) men in their early 20′s bear the largest deal of blame, the riot was surprisingly heterogeneous. Every time a window was smashed or a car flipped, cheers echoed from crowds as diverse as the city they were in. The Lower Mainland had anticipated the riot. I remember walking down Granville Street just after the game: I can only describe the atmosphere as ‘tense’ with everyone staring at everyone else, wild-west style. Everyone was looking around because they knew a riot was coming; they just wanted to know who was going to start it. Once it began, the floodgates opened. There was no organization nor a purpose. There was just a riot and everyone wanted in on the spectacle. Multitudes stuck around to cheer and take photos while those who were particularly keen (and/or drunk) took part in the property destruction.

Anarchism is the leading contrarian ideology in the West. I’m sure there were anarchists there that night and I’d be shocked if, of the thousands of rioters, a dozen or two anarchists didn’t partake in some of the festivities. But of the thousands there that night, there were liberals, occultists, Mormons, Lithuanians, conservatives, geo-libertarians, cat-lovers, people allergic to penicillin, NASCAR enthusiasts, etc who fervently took part in the riot. Yet no one describes this as a “Mormon riot” or instigated by “NASCAR hooligans.” People are always looking for a place to be and that, on Wednesday night, was between marching brigades of riot police in downtown Vancouver.

“The most violent people in the world…”

I urge everyone to go through their mediums of social media and see what your friends (and yourselves) wrote regarding the riot. I then urge you to read some first-hand accounts of the Rwandan genocide. Then compare the two sets of reactions and judge, based only what you can read, which event was worse. Many of you will find, as I did, it’s not so easy to tell. Far worse than the riot was the ensuing hyperbolic reactions. Some gems from my Facebook news feed include:

“Vancouver is home to the most violent people in the world” (really?)

“I didn’t know we were capable of this.”

“I’m ashamed to be Canadian.”

“I don’t think I can live in Vancouver any more.”

“Our city is forever ruined.”

“These scum should be killed.”

The Vancouver Police Department has stated that riot resulted in a whopping fifteen burned cars and twenty-nine businesses with windows smashed. Sure, that’s somewhat unpleasant, but it ain’t no genocide. The violence that occurred that night is to be expected when you mix emotions, alcohol, and 100,000 people. There were certainly many fights that night but fights between young men (particularly when crowds are involved) aren’t exactly unusual. They all generally followed the formula of two sets of drunken idiots doing some macho posturing, then pushing, then either realizing that being punched really hurts and walking away OR being harshly reminded that being punched really really hurts and then being (more than willingly) pulled away by the crowd. Interestingly, the only violence that actually made me squeamish during the riot was the violence enacted by anti-riot vigilantes and less often, by the crowd against them. Although these vigilantes have now been glorified by the media as the manifestations of all that’s good about Vancouver, they were usually the angriest, brutal, and violent  in the riot. I have no respect for anyone who thinks it’s fun to smash windows but I genuinely dislike anyone who thinks it’s then okay to come from behind and blindside and beat the rioter. Admittedly, there were those heroes who tried to face the crowds in a non-violent manner and the rioters who attacked them deserve special condemnation.

Even the media acted frivolously (shocker!) with the National Post proclaiming “Parts of Downtown Vancouver Destroyed.”Judging from that you’d think we just lost Gastown to a tsunami. I’m sorry, but a BMW M6 on Seymour Street and a Hummer H2 in the lot next to it don’t qualify as entire “parts of downtown Vancouver.”

Overall, the behavior I saw on Wednesday night were really no different from the behavior at house parties, just on a far larger scale. There were some fights, some windows were smashed, a few things were stolen, and people generally acted like idiots. That said, I’m far more frightened by this de-humanization of the rioters than the rioters themselves.

Regarding the makeshift mementos to the riots on wooden boards and cop cars downtown, I think it says a lot about how serious us Vancouverites take ourselves when we react to this in a similar way to how New Yorkers reacted to 9/11.

1984 4891

Another interesting and terrifying aspect to the riot is how the reaction in ways resembles themes explored in George Orwell’s 1984, although in an opposite fashion. In the dystopian novel, society is constantly watched by government cameras ensuring few people step out of line and that those who do are quickly caught. Instead of the government watching the people, the riot created a situation where the people themselves volunteered their own footage and pictures to the police. Whole Facebook groups have sprung up dedicated to shaming alleged rioters, many of them hosting unwarranted amounts of condemning comments for pictures of people doing no more than posing in front of a burning car. While online comments generally represent humanity at its intellectual worst, it’s truly heartbreaking seeing so many racist, misogynistic, and overall hateful comments towards people who may or may not have broken some windows (that whole de-humanization thing). Swaths of people have become an ad-hoc volunteer army for the VPD, going through a great deal of content trying to identify rioters. I don’t think they can be condemned for what they’re doing, after all, they’re trying to catch people who did some pretty shitty things. But it marks a worrying trend where those who wish to anonymously commit acts of disobedience for legitimate purposes can no longer do so.

Also akin to 1984 where children spy on their parents, the riot led to two parents turning their child into the police. I can’t and don’t really want to comment on the private dynamics of that family but seriously?!? Unless the kid was one the stabbers, I hardly think he deserves a criminal record.

En fin

The riot sucked. The rioters acted stupidly dangerous. But far more dangerous than burnt cars has been our collective reaction to the riot. We immediately de-humanized the rioters, portraying as neanderthals hardly worthy of the air they breath. Then the police fed us the storyline that it was caused by anarchists simply because a few of the 100 arrested were known to police from political protests. We ate it up and refused to accept the truth: that the rioters were us. Every Vancouverite reading this will have friends who took part in the destruction, the looting, and the fighting and guess what? You’re friends aren’t evil! With the exception of truly few who truly sought to injure and main, they as all of us will do too many times in our lives, acted stupid and looked for fun in a place it didn’t belong.

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Great perspective and

Great perspective and well-written.

I agree:)


Good rant

Skilled writer. Great points throughout.

Shame about his attitude towards window-smashing though.

You just need to try it some time Roshak. Don't knock til you try.


You just got busted

Easy to write about and easy to participate when you are masked up - next time man up and take the mask off asshole and BTW, I'm sure some third world slum would love to have you help them in their uprising.

Forgot to add

Is this what well off West Vancouverites do?  How was West Van Secondary? Oh the irony

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