Photo Essay: Vancouver Sports Riot

These photos are in chronological order, thus they serve to document the progression of the Vancouver riot as it fanned out from Georgia Street and Homer Street. All photos are by Rafferty Baker and are subject to the Creative Commons license detailed at the bottom of the website. For information, contact (remove NOSPAM).

Upset fans have left Vancouver with a nasty bruise after the Vancouver Canucks lost game seven of the Stanley Cup finals. During the third period, when prospects started looking grim for the Canucks, parts of the fan zone near the intersection of Georgia and Homer began to show signs of strain. Alcohol was clearly everywhere and fist fights were beginning to break out around me.

I was at the fan zone covering the game and fans’ reactions for CKNW radio. It was a little after seven when I reported live that fights were breaking out. My live hits began to get a little more chaotic and exciting as things spiralled downward.

As soon as the game was over, fans lit a small bonfire in the fan zone. Various signs and Canucks paraphernalia were burned, filling the air with the rancid smoke of burning plastic. Quite near the bonfire a car was flipped over. So far as I can tell, these two acts were the riot’s spark. After a brief period of fans posing atop of the flipped car, it was ignited.

After the car burned for a short while, police in riot gear began penetrating the throng of fans. Many fans cheered and encouraged the vandals when another, more radical step was taken. The police line moved southward on Homer toward Georgia, while the first windows were broken at the post office, then the BMO. This was the first I heard the riot act read over the LRAD.

The young rioter in the above photo took a run at the line of police. He jumped into a shield then received a good beating and pepper spray. That was my first taste of the stuff, too. I choked on some of the spray but it was nothing compared to the direct hit this guy got. But he likely knew what he was doing when he ran at the line all by himself.

Also, I got trampled in a stampede while moving in for that picture. The police would get pushed back slowly, before making aggressive thrusts forward. Each time this happened a stampede would ensue. I got knocked down and I whacked my camera on the sidewalk, but it was ok. After getting trampled a little, another photographer grabbed my arm and helped me up.

Police got the bulk of the fan zone and the riot’s “ground zero” under control, after it had already been ransacked. Thousands of fans still clung to the area, not wanting to miss a thing.

Police began clearing the block in earnest and I was shuffled north to Dunsmuir Street. I saw thick black smoke which I followed to Richards Street. Mid-block between Georgia and Dunsmuir there was a flipped car ablaze on the first floor inside the parkade. The smoke was thick and disgusting. I got a good cough when I got close for a photograph. My throat is still a little harsh after all that smoke.

On my way toward Granville Street police directed people with the LRAD (pictured above), which doubles as a sonic weapon. Granville was the craziest thing I witnessed all night. I’d seen plenty of altercation and property damage, but this was where the serious looting really took off. Several blocks were covered in garbage and merchandise thrown out of the stores. Small fires were scattered all over.

Nearly every window was smashed out. The one in the above photo was cleared out five minutes later when I passed by there again.

Here’s my token sleazy-looter-leaving-the-store-with-his-pockets-full photo. Please note that the sign in the corner says, “FREE, LIMITED TIME ONLY.” This mouth-breather will likely get what’s coming to him, but it won’t be cheap or easy to identify, locate, arrest and prosecute all of these guys. It’s astonishing what people were doing while people everywhere were photographing everything.

The coverage in a lot of the media the day after the riot has been strange in that Mayor Gregor Robertson and Police Chief Jim Chu are blaming a handful of anarchists for this mess. This was not the work of a handful of anarchists. There wasn’t a whiff of anything remotely political in the air. In a stretch you could count the “fuck the pigs” chants which were eagerly chanted by the drunk so-called douchebag types.

Everything I saw indicated that this was the work of hundreds, if not over a thousand young (19-22, mostly) drunk testosterone-driven Canucks fans. Sure, a minority wasn’t sporting jerseys, but nothing about any rioters that I saw indicated that they were anarchists (ie. Black Bloc clothing style, symbols, organization, etc.). Many thousand other fans and onlookers are responsible for literally cheering the rioters and looters on.

This wasn’t politically motivated in the least. It was an absence of sense. It was immaturity. It was what happens when the city gets whipped up into a collective frenzy over sports and then gets the massive suspense bubble burst with a let-down.

While I was on Dunsmuir the Hudson’s Bay store windows were completely smashed out along Georgia.

Covering the riot for the radio station and photographing it was one of the wildest experiences of my life. I’ve witnessed the police control crowds on several occasions, but the looting was something new. I couldn’t believe that for half an hour I strolled up and down Granville Street while fires burned around me and people looted or broke everything in sight. After all the damage had been done, the police cleared the block.

It was along Granville, right about the time police moved in, that two flash bang grenades exploded about fifteen feet away from me. They were lobbed into the crowd because an especially fierce fist fight was getting out of control. It was between two pretty mean looking guys, one who was trying to defend a store from looters. After everyone was stunned by the flash bangs, the police quickly moved in and cuffed the two fighters. The flash bangs knocked a couple people to the ground and it was a bit of a shock even at my distance. They left a residue which I noticed on my camera.

That was my experience during the riot. I’m sorry I posted so many photos, I generally try to trim it down. But considering that I took over a thousand exposures, count yourselves lucky.

Were you out on the streets, did you see something that I missed? Leave a comment!

All photos are by Rafferty Baker and are subject to the Creative Commons license detailed at the bottom of the website. For information, contact (remove NOSPAM).

9 thoughts on “Photo Essay: Vancouver Sports Riot

  1. Fantastic account, Raff. It’s experiences and adrenaline rushes like this that must get journalists wired and turn them into war correspondents or something.

    • Basically. Matt Van Deventer, my classmate who was out there as well, has decided to go to take the conflict journalism course the military offers at the Wainwright base in Alberta.

  2. You’ve got some great gritty shots right in the thick of Riottown (population:busted).

    Two things I wish I did that night: 1) stay downtown for the whole game and 2)left that shelter zone behind police lines. I had this mentality that if I left then I’d never get access to it again.

    Good stuff though. Why travel halfway across the world when a perfectly good riot can come to you….

    • Yeah, someone’s got the get those behind the line shots. You’re right, It wouldn’t have been easy to get back there without a police dog biting off your nuts.

      I’ll tell you, if I hadn’t been on assignment I would have left the fan zone long before the game even started. It was overcrowded and silly. I found it tough to stomach, even more so as drunkenness reigned toward the end. Also my cell phone wasn’t getting solid service (I understand the networks were overwhelmed) so I wasn’t able to perform my job by doing live hits and getting fans on the radio until halfway through the third period. I was therefore just sitting out of the way (near the library) seething.

      Of course once I was on hand to witness the riot’s inception, it all paid off.

  3. I aapreciate your acount of events. I was on granville between robson and smithe, doing security with the owner and my buddy dieter for millenium.apperantly the only security on the block. It was the most undescibable experiance of my life.

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