On Scene

Sobering thoughts about drunken crowds
February 25, 2010
Written by Paul Dixon

Thursday, Feb. 25

Downtown Vancouver erupted for joy at the conclusion of the Russia-Canada hockey game.  A wall of sound washed across English Bay and over a solitary photographer (me) setting up on Kits Point for some shots of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Vectorial Elevation light show. People yelling from apartment windows, banging pots, blowing horns and whistles, sounding car horns.

Yes, the hockey fans are stoked, for sure, with sugar plum fairies and visions of a gold medal rematch with the Americans on Sunday. The women’s gold medal game today can only ratchet the tension up another couple of notches.

Police, fire and ambulance personnel will be following the hockey schedule with as closely as Captain Canada and Johnny Canuck (I noticed them wobbling over the Burrard Bridge on foot after the game), with last Friday’s shenanigans fresh in their memories. The $1.49 beauty show came back to town to unfavourable reviews. The Friday night regulars put on a show for the visitors, with a resultant spike in emergency room visits. 

Talking with some front-liners who were there on Friday, it was ever so close to going over the edge. The Granville entertainment strip is a zoo on most Friday and Saturday nights, as with every large city around the world. The difference here is that any other time of the year there are not too many “innocent victims” on the street at closing time. Now, we have several tens of thousands of Olympic visitors out and about, which creates a very volatile situation, no matter how happy the tourists are. When the hometown drunks start performing and a couple of fights start, there is nowhere for people to go when they try to move away. It’s an instant crush situation. When it gets ugly, police have limited options in responding. Bringing tactical teams or crowd control units in can cause problems when tourists get caught with nowhere to go.

Saturday and Sunday night saw liquor off-sales curtailed in downtown at dinner time and police, fire and ambulance went to a unified command. Saturday and Sunday were much quieter, even after the Team Canada loss to the Americans on Sunday.

Not the time or place to open debate on the correlation between alcohol and “good times”, but gee whiz. Even my very own MLA was nicked for impaired driving on Monday evening, on her way home from some Olympic social event. It’s OK, because she’s accepted full responsibility for her actions (like, who else is there?) and apologized to her constituents (my phone has yet to ring).

Sobering end to my Wednesday evening (no pun) was watching the approaching strobes of the BC Ambulance air ambulance as it transited English Bay in the dark and headed into Vancouver General. That’s the route from Whistler.


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