OUT ON A LIMB: Vancouver has a tradition of taking it to the streets

I don’t know if I’ve come up with the right perspective but I did hit on an idea that resonates with me

I’ve refrained from commenting on the Vancouver riot because it was a disappointing and disturbing event that I actually thought would have been prevented.

No, more than that, I didn’t think it would even occur, precluding the need for preventative measures. It appears I wasn’t alone because the City of Vancouver did disgracefully little to really prepare for a repeat of the 1994 riots. But that’s fodder for another cannon.

Not long after the event, I tried to wrap my head around why this occurred. I don’t know if I’ve come up with the right perspective but I did hit on an idea that resonates with me. The focus for me is why such an ugly demonstration in the streets? It was then I reflected that Vancouver has a tradition of public demonstrations in the streets. Good and bad.

I myself joined 100,000 other British Columbians on the streets of Vancouver one summer afternoon in 1983 to protest nuclear arms. Refuse the Cruise and No to Star Wars were the chants, reflecting the critical issues facing world peace at the time – cruise missile testing in Canada and Ronald Reagan’s proposal to weaponize space. Of course, one of my witty friends had to tag on to the end of the “No to Star Wars” chant with “Are Alike.” Thank goodness it was a peace march.

The early eighties (my university days living in the Vancouver area) were a time of protests in the street. Remember the Solidarity movement that rallied the labour movement and community organizations? Patterned after Poland’s Solidarnosc (Solidarity) movement led by Lech Walesa, B.C.’s unionized workforce likened their struggle against bearing the burden of economic restraint to the struggle against communist oppression.

I’m not sure I was ever comfortable with the connection but there’s no doubt it got people out onto the streets of Vancouver. Thousands strolled past the tony Hotel Vancouver chanting “Fight! Fight! General Strike!” as the conservative Social Credit Party met inside.

But these were social movements with, regardless of your point of view, a valid agenda that was demonstrated peacefully.

Other clashes on the streets of Vancouver were more violent. Bloody Sunday in British Columbia refers to the communist-led occupation of the Hastings Street Post Office in 1938 by unemployed men. On the heels of the On To Ottawa Trek by train from Vancouver to the national capital, unemployed and unionized workers battled capitalists from one end of the country to the other, culminating in a mounted police charge down the streets. In 1935, the battle of Ballantyne Pier pitted about 1,000 longshoremen against mounted Vancouver police in a running street fight that lasted three hours.

Other incidents involve disappointed rock fans after a Guns ’n’ Roses concert was cancelled and I seem to remember Rolling Stones fans making a mess of the Pacific Coliseum in the 1970s.

Labour protests, disappointed music fans and twice-disappointed hockey fans (1994 and 2011). They all resulted in clashes on the streets of Vancouver. The labour clashes occurred in a time of society change and unrest and can almost be understood. What reason hockey fans in 1994 and 2011 have to vent their anger in such a way is impossible to figure out.

One Vancouver reporter told of a Russian reporter wondering what reason these young people, living in one of the richest societies in the world had to be so angry about? There isn’t any real answer to that, is there?

Justified or not, the streets of Vancouver have never been a stranger to expressed anger. Drunken hockey fans were following the pattern established in other cities around the developed world where sports fans have behaved badly. It’s almost like the feeling is that this is what you’re supposed to do. It has been commented that these weren’t hockey fans but, sorry, that’s just not true and it’s been said that Vancouver needs to grow up but I contest that it’s more indicative of large cities than smaller ones. When the Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup final of 1982 there was no riot. The city has grown in size and stature since then.

So, Vancouver has seen its share of people taking it to the streets peacefully but has just as often seen violence flare. We may get a chance to see if officials have learned anything this time with the Canucks expected to contend for the cup next year.