Thursday, June 16, 2011

A 9-11 in my neigborhood

No matter what you've heard on the news about "riots in Vancouver", it was infinitely worse. After we lost the Stanley Cup to the Boston Bruins last night, the hooligans in the city must have decided it warranted rioting, looting and general mayhem. It looked a war zone, with burning cars, smashed-in store fronts, tear gas, explosions, and thousands of people rampaging, or just standing around watching the spectacle and refusing to go home. I haven't seen anything like that since 9-11.

Worst of all, my daughter, an intrepid news reporter, was caught in it. I saw her doing an interview with horrified Canucks fans early on in the riot, then that was it. Didn't see her again. I couldn't reach her on her cell, and her cleaning lady was filling in for the babysitter who had to go home. I called her mother-in-law, and she didn't know anything either. My husband Bill kept saying, she's OK, she can take care of herself, but these images were right out of hell, and it went on and on and on and just got worse and worse.

These hooligans jumped around and yelled and waved at the camera in delight, loving the attention. After losing to the Bruins, they were determined to have their fun. Hundreds of cops wearing gas masks formed phalanxes with shields, threw tear gas and pepper spray, brought in dogs and horses, but these criminals had bombs and fire and knives and no conscience and didn't care who they hurt or whose property they destroyed.

I sat through hours of this as it continued to escalate. I felt panicky and helpless. They kept saying things like, "We lost Rob Brown", meaning someone had grabbed the camera and smashed it on the ground or the camera person was sucked into the mob and pulled away, but I kept thinking, "Don't say 'lost'." I got furious with Bill who just sat there impassive, not saying anything, not reacting at all. He had more reaction to the hockey game.

Finally after more than 3 hours of watching the mayhem (with people lying on the ground badly injured and bleeding, no medical help anywhere, and rumors someone had been killed), I had the idea to call the news office,certain it would be a busy signal or automated system. Someone was there! They told me they had seen my daughter somewhere in the building, that she was OK.

I got an email from her this morning saying an intern had driven her home (the parkade had been locked down, her Blackberry stolen, public transit stalled, and it was nearly impossible to leave the downtown on foot with so much blocked off, though the police kept begging the gawkers to disperse). I sensed her weariness and disillusion. She had been in that mess,that chaos generated by citizens of Vancouver, inhaling the fumes and hearing the screams.

The gawkers may have looked blameless, but they were choking up the streets, blocking police access, providing an audience for the hooligans as they smashed everything in sight, and holding up all their little devices so they could be the first to post all this hell on YouTube or sell it to the media. Of all the horrible images from that night, this was one of the most disturbing. These weren't even rioters, just bystanders, but they had to get in on the bonanza. This was reality TV at its most dramatic, not to mention marketable.

I think of Vancouver in smoking ruins, and I feel heartsick. Memories of our jubilant celebration after the 2010 Olympics are still fresh in my mind. What went so horribly wrong? I'm no sports fan, but even I had a bit of Stanley Cup fever: you couldn't help but get caught up in it. The game was pretty depressing, but hey: that's the nature of sports. It's a competition, and one side wins, while the other side loses.

We teach our little league and junior hockey teams that they need to be good losers and practice sportsmanship. Then we give them this horrific example.Yes, most people were horrified, but somehow doing it at all crosses a social boundary that can never be quite as inviolate again.  

I don't know what to think or feel or say. I keep thinking everyone's just shrugging and saying, "Yeah, that's too bad about the Bruins." They think of it as a little horseplay that got out of hand. But this was a war zone, nothing less. A war zone in one of the most elegant, cultured, beautiful cities on earth.


  1. Amazing. Young people are risking their lives fighting oppressive regimes in the Middle East and these dickheads go ape over a hockey game. No wonder the Muslim World hates the West.

    So glad Shannon's safe.

  2. I was profoundly relieved. But this will stay with her for a long time. Even the most veteran reporters had shaky voices, and you had the sense that they didn't believe what they were seeing. I know they had to send reporters out in it, but at the same time I wondered about the danger. I wouldn't have wanted to be Rob Brown's wife! I often go downtown to meet someone for a movie or lunch or to go to the library, but it's going to be a long time now.