24 hours ago the city of Vancouver looked like a warzone. Today post-mortems abound which try to explain the senseless violence of yesterday night. One common narrative being told today is that the events of last night were perpetrated by a small group of anarchists and not “true” fans and therefore do not represent the “real” Vancouver.
To me it seems quite clear that what lies beneath this interpretation of the events is a desire on the part of proud Vancouverites and/or Canucks fans to differentiate themselves from the rioters—“that’s not what our city is really like” the story goes. I certainly sympathize with this sentiment; after all as a resident of Greater Vancouver I abhor the thought that today the impression lingering in the minds of many North Americans about our fair-city more closely resembles the apocalypse rather than a West-coast utopia. The feelings of Canucks fans who don’t want to be lumped together with their drunker, violent, counter-parts is also quite understandable—after all the majority of fans simply went home last night—dejected and disappointed yes but certainly not violent and wrathful.
That being said it remains at best misleading and worst dangerous to conclude that the events of last night do not reflect that actions of real fans or real Vancouverites. The only criterion I can see by which we can judge what makes a Vancouverite authentic is where they live and likewise the only standard by which a fan can be judged is by their vested emotional interest in the team. Sadly this means that the actions of last night were in fact perpetrated by real, Vancouverite, Canucks fans. The video on TV and the photos in the Newspaper did not show a group of balaclava-wearing, anarchists (though it seems there were likely some) but rather a group of rather normal-looking, jersey-wearing, hockey fans. The rioters were more related to the soccer hooligans of Europe who work their 9-5 in the day and trample and fight other fans at night than to the G20 or Olympic protestors. I think this is something we need to come to terms with as Vancouverites before the problem can be adequately addressed. It’s easy to blame the seedy underbelly—it’s much harder to blame your co-workers, friends, or children…
I also believe that there is danger in speaking of the rioters as a small group. To be sure the group represented a fraction of the fans who amassed downtown to watch their beloved team fight for the Cup; however the group was not mere dozens but rather likely hundreds in terms of actual participants—and the number is in the thousands of those who were complicit in the acts by hanging around snapping pictures, cheering the looters on, and otherwise disrupting/preventing the police from doing their job.
So what does this all mean? Well I’d like to suggest that the real Vancouver is a place where this happens:
The real Vancouver is comprised of mostly respectful, decent people who are proud of their city. However the real Vancouver also has a group of people who set cars on fire, loot stores, and antagonize the police as well as a significantly sized group which gets their entertainment from watching the rioters engage in those actions even if they do not participate themselves.
So what do we do? I think our instinct to differentiate ourselves from the rioters is a good one. We need to show that they are a minority and that most Vancouverites are peaceful and kind—the clean-up downtown project was probably the best way to start this process. However we need to be careful not to differentiate ourselves too much. We need to recognize that these people are a part of our society and our city—they are not some faceless “other”. These are people who share our city and love the same sport that we do. If we recognize this factor we will realize that the problem is not a matter of determining authenticity but rather is a problem within our society itself. We need to realize that there are far too many people in our city who see violence and destruction as a form of entertainment. Let’s own that problem and not deflect it. That’s what the real Vancouver would do!