Euro vs. Vancouver violence

Polish and Russian soccer fans clash outside the National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland, June 12, 2012....

Polish and Russian soccer fans clash outside the National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland, June 12, 2012. (JERZY DUDEK/Reuters)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:45 PM ET

KHARKIV, UKRAINE - The tear gas burns your lungs as if someone has lit a bonfire in your throat.

Your eyes sear as if drops of vinegar had been dropped into your retinas.

In the distance, you can hear explosions echo loudly through the streets. The wails of sirens pierce the night air.

Storefronts are shattered, with thousands of shards of glass scattered all over the sidewalk.

It is total anarchy. At least it feels that way.

As you read this, you probably figure this could be happening in Warsaw. Or Gdansk. Or Kiev. Or Kharkiv. Or any of the other four venues hosting games in Euro 2012, a tournament that, like so many others before it, has been tarnished by violent fan behaviour.

And you would be on the mark in that assumption.

Only this description is not about the Ukraine or Poland.

No, this one strikes closer to home.

This is about Canada.

Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the Vancouver Stanley Cup riot, an ugly incident that instantly became an international wart on the image of our country's most beautiful city.

Lest we forget.

Before the emails and tweets of protest start flowing in that you can't compare the Vancouver riot to some of the garbage that has been occurring at this tournament, let's get one thing straight. On most fronts, we aren't.

But take it from someone at Euro 2012, who was also in Vancouver on that hideous June 15, 2011 night, there is a common thread.

It's called a lack of respect.

A lack of respect certain idiots show for their fellow man.

And a lack of respect for their fellow man's property.

To recap the final stats in Vancouver: at least four people were stabbed, nine police officers were injured and 101 people were arrested that night. Cars were burned. Storefronts were left in shambles. It was a mess.

Having just finished covering the Boston Bruins' Stanley Cup-clinching 4-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks, esteemed QMI colleague Chris Stevenson joined yours truly to wander into the teeth of the riot which, while having subsided a bit three hours after it started, still involved thousands of people.

One of the most alarming sights occurred following the sound of explosions. Instead of scurrying away from the blasts, swarms of people gripping cell phones and cameras ran toward the noise, hoping to capture the anarchy instead of running the opposite way, as you'd expect.

In a bizarre sidebar to the evening's proceedings, hundreds of young people started a rave on the steps of the Vancouver art museum, cranking the tunes and dancing into the chaotic night amid wafts of smoke that were a mixture of tear gas, remnants of burning cars and, of course, a hint of B.C. bud.

As the one-year anniversary approaches, law enforcement officers contine to track down the perps.

The other day, a one-month jail sentence was handed out to Surrey's Emmanuel Alviar after he kicked garbage at a burning vehicle, helped stone a second car and used a stick to smash windows in the Telus building in downtown Vancouver. He also was slapped with 16 months probation, must perform 16 hours of community service and send letters of apologies to Vancouver's mayor and police chief.

This wasn't the only time I witnessed heinous behaviour on the streets of a Canadian city after a sporting event had concluded.

Three years earlier, after the Montreal Canadiens' Game 7 victory in the first round of the NHL playoffs over the Boston Bruins, hooligans took to the streets of that great city and began smashing windows and setting vehicles alight.

Imagine me leaving the Bell Centre after filing that night's copy and seeing police outside dressed in riot gear, complete with gas masks, as if preparing for warfare in Afghanistan. Or turning onto Crescent Street to meet a number of colleagues for some much-needed frosty beverages, only to witness a teenager run up to a vacant cop car and dump a Molotov cocktail inside.

During a call to the legendary Jean Beliveau the next day, Le Gros Bill hit the nail on the head when he said the people who had caused the damage were not hockey fans.

"It's so sad," Beliveau told me. "I felt really bad when I turned on the TV and saw what had happened."

That having been said, perhaps the biggest differences in the violence and stupidity of those incidents as compared to the ones that too often blemish world soccer is that the Canadian occurances usually involve people who deliberately want to damage property.

The soccer stupidity, on the other hand, often involves people who deliberately want to damage other people.

The footage of Russian fans kicking and beating a couple of stadium stewards after Russia's 4-1 victory over the Czech Republic in Poland last week was truly repulsive. There are plenty of other examples where rioters have shown little to no respect for human life.

Fortunately the majority of incidents in Canada have not been at the same level of cruelty. Be thankful for that.

At the same time, come Friday, on the first anniversary of the Vancouver riots, we should learn from what happened, not sweep it under the rug as if it was just a bad dream.

It certainly wasn't.

Lest we forget.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


Videos

Photos