What really happened yesterday in downtown Vancouver, I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t there. Looting, cars burning, lines of police with shields and riot gear, a couple lying on the pavement making out—everybody’s seen those images. A riot took place, obviously, but what kind of riot? Was this really just a temper tantrum of disappointed hockey fans? Or are the roots of this event deeper and darker than that?
Vancouver has an on-going and well-deserved reputation as No-Fun City. When the millennium celebrations came and people threw parties all over the world, got reckless and foolish and drunk and howled as the calendar ticked over, Vancouverites just stayed home. The people of the city had been successfully convinced by blue-stocking liquor laws, by paternalistic authorities, by the effective, relentless and long-term zero-tolerance party policy of the city police that there was, indeed, no fun to be had in downtown Vancouver.
But how much wholesomeness can a city stand? The trouble with zero-tolerance is the trouble with all extremist measures: it fashions its own resistance, its own dark doppelganger. And the opposite of zero-tolerance is mutinous anarchy.
For weeks the press in the city has been speculating about a hockey riot, because of Vancouver’s notorious hockey riot of 1994, the last time the Canucks failed to win a Stanley Cup. Oh no no, said the police. We know better now. We blew it in 1994 because we didn’t know how to manage a crowd. Now we are much better at it. No-Fun City is going to be No-Riot City too, they said.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t a lot of people who took the police attitude as a challenge. You think you can continue to shut down this city, make it so well-behaved that nobody can breathe? Well, shut this down, officer!
That’s part of it, I suspect.
And then there’s the fact that there are a lot of chronically unhappy people in this province, which overtaxes the middle-classes and the poor and undertaxes the rich, which has the worst rents in the country and the lowest minimum wage, which has cut back welfare rates to the bone and withheld funding from all manner of street-level services.
The welfare state was created to quell the kind of social unrest which arises from social inequalities. Courtesy of a right-wing ideoloque government in Victoria and its partial dismantlement of the welfare state, there’s not much now remaining in this province to keep your average street-fighting man complacent and off the streets.
Thus, as the convict narrator in “Riot in Cell Block No. 9,” the old Leiber and Stoller song says, [you can lock us up, confine us]:
But every now and then
…There’s a riot going on.