VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Vancouver responded with shock and shame on Thursday after their team’s National Hockey League defeat ended in riots and broken glass, images that shattered the Canadian city’s peaceful reputation.
By mid-morning, scores of citizen volunteers were helping city crews clean up the downtown mess, and a painted sign on a board covering a smashed window at a Hudson’s Bay department store, read: “On behalf of my team and my city I’m sorry.”
Boarded-up store windows and scorched pavement from burned cars — including two police vehicles — offered evidence for morning commuters of the Wednesday night’s alcohol-fueled rampage by hundreds of young people.
The violence began in the closing moments of Vancouver Canucks’ 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in the deciding seventh game of the Stanley Cup NHL Championship, a series that Vancouver had been favored to win.
Police blamed “criminal anarchists and thugs” for inciting violence, and said some had been part of groups that attempted, without much success, to disrupt the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The Games included a few skirmishes with police, mostly at the start. But they ended in a jubilant carnival atmosphere of red and white, Canada’s national colors, as Canada’s team won the gold medal in ice hockey in the final event of the Games.
About 100 people were arrested in Wednesday’s rioting, with more arrests expected after police pore through cellphone images from witnesses. About 150 civilians and nine police officers were hurt and at least 50 stores damaged or looted.
But the longer-term cost could be in damage to the reputation of the normally laid-back Pacific Coast city, which won praise for its handling of the 2010 Games and the mass street parties that accompanied them.
“It is very unfortunate that the actions of a small group of people who were here to commit crimes and cause chaos should somehow define who Vancouver is,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson.
“It does not define who we are as Vancouver.”
More than 100,000 people had jammed into the heart of downtown Vancouver on Wednesday night in the hopes of celebrating the Canucks’ first Stanley Cup win.
But instead of an Olympics-style street party, the ugly scenes brought back memories of a riot that erupted when Vancouver lost the Stanley Cup finals in 1994. Rioters threw bottles, attacked parked cars and smashed store windows.
“I think the people involved came down to fight. Even if Vancouver had won this would have happened,” said John Revington, supervising cleanup at an electronics store.
Witness reported seeing people with knives and other weapons. Fifteen cars were burned, and police said some people came armed with Molotov cocktail gasoline bombs.
Thousands in the crowd watched without joining in the violence, and authorities hope to use their cell phone pictures and videos to make more arrests.
“If you were a part of this... I promise you will not be able to live in anonymity,” British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said as she toured the damage area.
Police defended their response, but admitted the large crowds, many of whom were trying to escape the violence, hampered their ability to respond to troublemakers.
Just one year ago Toronto, Canada’s largest city, was host to similar violent scenes on the sidelines of two international summits. Criticized the first day for allowing rioters to smash windows and torch cars, police came down hard the second day, only to face even tougher complaints about mass arrests.
Reporting by Allan Dowd; Editing by Janet Guttsman