A Tale of Two Cities: Toronto’s G20 and Vancouver’s Stanley Cup Riots

This is one of two blog posts I will publish about the June 15, 2011, riots following the Vancouver Canucks 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and how they compare to the G20 which occurred in Toronto in June of 2010 and the 21st Olympic Winter Games which occurred in Vancouver in February of 2010.  Having had personal experiences with both events (I was present at the entire Olympics and have had extensive experience with G20 matters through my criminal law practice), I felt the need to offer some commentary on why last night was so different.

The G20 left an indelible mark on the City of Toronto.  It is still being discussed over a year later.  As a city, however, Toronto recovered.  The event became more of a case study in citizen and police relations than one that embarrassed the city.  Only time will tell if Vancouver will recover in the same way Toronto clearly has.

One of the main differences is that in Vancouver what we saw what was actually a riot.  In the whole scheme of things, it was a pretty minor riot and not overly dangerous (although tragedy could have easily struck), it was definitely still a riot, and quite inexcusable.  There was much destruction around the city that continued for several hours.  Frankly, I don’t see the G20 as a riot at all.  There was a period of about 1-2 hours on the Saturday where groups of individuals vandalized and ran reckless around the downtown core, but they did not succeed in inciting the innocent crowds.  Last night it was a small group that started the riot (some reports suggest using black bloc tactics similar to what was used in Toronto) but the destruction continued by many others who likely had zero intention of actually being involved in such a thing when they came down (alcohol was likely a major factor).

Following the couple hours of vandalism in Toronto there were a number of protests throughout the city.  Evidence seems to suggest these protests were peaceful.  There were few injuries and minimal destruction of city property during the events which succeeded the “black bloc” riots.  Unlike the anarchists, and unlike regular citizens who somehow find themselves involved in a riot, these protestors were looking to deliver a message.  Some of these messages may very well be misguided, but they had a reason to be there.  For the most part, these protests were entirely peaceful.  There were some issues, but I would not describe them as violent.

Somehow in Vancouver the ones who began the violence were able to incite the masses to join them.  For this I think the large crowd, alcohol, the stress of the long-series, and the presence of misguided suburban youth without real responsibility, is what caused this to happen.

The one major difference is that the police in Vancouver appeared to exercise a great deal of restraint.  There’s little doubt that this did not happen in Toronto.  The Vancouver riots were more violent and caused considerably more destruction, yet somehow the G20 saw hundreds of people arrested and charged (most charges were ultimately withdrawn).  The irony is that had there been greater police presence in Vancouver (which I think was necessary), and had they made more arrests, they would likely have received the full support of the public, unlike what has transpired in Toronto.

One question that has been hotly debated is whether such a thing would happen in Toronto if the Leafs were to make it to the NHL’s greatest stage.  It’s an interesting theoretical debate that unfortunately often turns into Vancouver vs. Toronto debates, which is silly because both cities are fantastic.  Ultimately I think Vancouver can learn a lot of lessons from this event and see no reason why Toronto, and other cities, can’t try and learn as well.

This blog post was written by Toronto Criminal Lawyer Adam Goodman.  For more information on Adam’s practice, please see his web site at www.aglaw.ca or contact him at 416-477-6793.

2 Responses to “A Tale of Two Cities: Toronto’s G20 and Vancouver’s Stanley Cup Riots”

  1. Nadine Lumley June 22, 2011 12:11 pm #

    These two events are more linked than you can ever imagine. The goal is stripping away our civil rights and liberties.


    When is a simple riot ^NOT a riot?



    Re 2011 Van riots: Bob Whitelaw, independent investigator of the 1994 Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver is incredulous his exhaustive recommendations and warnings were ignored by Vancouver Police Dept.



    One month before the Van. 2011 riots, Bob Whitelaw told The Sun in an interview he was concerned about a repeat of the 1994 riot.



    Both Vancouver and Ottawa had the potential for dangerous Stanley Cup riots,

    … but only ONE city’s police force took Bob Whitelaw’s advice and stopped mayhem from destroying downtown streets…



    “Once the incidents began to start, the police, in my opinion, many of them just stood to the side waiting for the next order.”



    In other words, Police EXPECTATIONS of a uniformly violent group acted as a self-fulfilling prophecy because of the effect of their (Police) subsequent strategy and tactics on fans’ social identity.

    (link above may not “hot link” so copy and paste it instead)

    A Quantitative Study of Public Order, Policing and Crowd Psychology

    Additionally, in the attempts to control incidents of football crowd disorder, laws have been created that arguably undermine fundamental civil liberties and human rights.


    Q What did you recommend in that report that you noticed was not followed through on Wednesday night (Vancouver Riot Night 2011)?

    A Number one, we recommended the streets three or four blocks away from any crowd have no parking on them, no cars at all.

    Secondly, if a crowd is agitated, as it was in ’94 and this time,

    agitated by alcohol and also with tear gas,

    which is a lethal combination that breaks down people’s behaviour, cars will be damaged.



    The wrong questions will inevitably get asked in the wake of all this, and the wrong solutions applied.

    Expect “tougher policing”, and a ramped up culture of intolerance in a city that already turns a blind-eye to a tsunami of social ills.



    An investigator who examined the 1994 riots in Vancouver says key recommendations went unheeded by local police. Bob Whitelaw told CTV News that many of the 100 recommendations he helped draft were blatantly disregarded.

    Those suggestions include a no-parking zone in the downtown core, something that could have prevented frustrated people from taking their aggression out on parked cars. Whitelaw also recommended that fans should have been quickly dispersed and reminded they have to get out of the downtown zone.

    “The police, in many ways, as they did in ’94, seemed to be standing around, not taking any pro-action,” he said.



  2. Nadine Lumley June 22, 2011 12:14 pm #

    The drug “war” and riots justify to those in authority, and to those who like authority,

    ….that we need more laws, more police, more jails and longer jail terms.

    This encourages law enforcement to SET THE STAGE to prove themselves right – thereby fulfilling the self fulfilling prophecy.

    ~Bruce Becker


    As we all know there are several questions that need to be answered.

    1) What was the budget for policing for the Game 7?

    2) Why were police not checking Skytrain riders as they got off the trains for booze, weapons and other contraband (see Fireworks for details)

    3) Why did it take hours to call for reinforcements from outside police forces?

    4) Why were off duty officers NOT called in as reinforcements BEFORE the event?

    5) Why were the fences and access points opened to allow even more people into the area?

    6) Why did it take so long to respond to the violence and looting on Granville Street?

    7) Where were the Skytrain/Transit Police during the day when open drinking onboard the trains by many was taking place?

    8) Why was the Bearcat APC – VPD Riot Vehicle not ready to be deployed and/or used?

    9) Why was there no initial support for the VFRS to get their vehicles in to put the fires out?

    10) Why was the ERT team seemingly overwhelmed in 2 different locations?

    11) Finally…… WHO planned this mess and what was the rationale for cheaping out?

    Just a few questions that NEED to be answered?

    Perhaps Hizzoner and Ms. Ballem would like to step up and answer some of these questions in a credible manner!


    Vancouver Riot: Psychology (Not Hooligans) Responsible for the Chaos
    By Bobby Brooks(Featured Columnist) on June 16, 2011


    Social conditions

    A significant portion of Vancouver metropolitan society has never exactly trusted the police. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as I’m sure it’s the same in many cities around the world.

    This pre-existing negative orientation towards the enforcement groups walking around downtown is always a contributing factor in mob violence. This makes it much more likely that mob violence will occur when you combine that with a Game 7 loss and an instigating event.

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