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The Globe and Mail

B.C. Premier fumes over lack of riot charges

A man tries to burn a a plastic barricade during the riot in Vancouver June 15, 2011.

John Lehmann/ The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/ The Globe and Mail

Premier Christy Clark says she is frustrated and angry at the length of time it is taking to press charges against Stanley Cup rioters, even as Vancouver's police chief defended the pace of the investigation.

More than two months after the outbreak of arson, looting and assaults that followed the Vancouver Canucks seventh game loss in June, not a single riot-related charge has been laid, and Police Chief Jim Chu said Wednesday that it could be months more before any arrests are made.

"Am I frustrated? Yes. Am I angry about it? Yes, of course I'm angry about it," Ms. Clark told CKNW call-in host Sean Leslie.

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Earlier, at a crowded news conference, Chief Chu contended speedier trips to court for the Stanley Cup rioters is the wrong way to go, despite widespread public references to the quick convictions and jailings of hundreds of recent rioters in Britain.

"Canada is not Britain. The courts are different. The riots were different," the police chief said. "It's important to do this right, not to do it fast."

Ms. Clark said Crown prosecutors are ready to proceed as quickly as possible against alleged rioters.

"That's our end of it, but we're depending on Vancouver Police to be able to forward us those charges. I'm frustrated..., but if Jim Chu says he needs a little more time to make sure it's done right, then we have to take him at his word on that."

At the same time, the NDP's public safety critic, Kathy Corrigan, lambasted Ms. Clark for failing to deliver on her high-profile vow the morning after the riot that justice would be swift.

"The public was promised action, and it hasn't been seen to be done," Ms. Corrigan declared.

She said the lack of charges in B.C. is unacceptable. "How much work do they need to do to come up with some?"

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But Chief Chu, who confessed to his own frustration that no rioter is yet before the courts or in prison, said it is vital for police to review all the evidence, including 1,600 hours of videotape, before recommending charges.

Even cases involving suspects who have already turned themselves in need to be investigated thoroughly, he said.

Police have discovered several instances of rioters admitting to minor misdemeanours in hopes of avoiding prosecution over more serious crimes they committed that were captured on video, according to Chief Chu.

And several purported rioters brought to police by their parents have turned out to be innocent of any criminal wrongdoing, he added.

Police thoroughness will ensure the highest number of charges, the most convictions and the most severe penalties, the police chief said.

"If you are in favour of speed, you are in favour of more acquittals and lighter sentences. If we rush cases to court, we risk losing them by being ineffective and inefficient."

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To assist what Chief Chu called Vancouver's and possibly Canada's largest police investigation in terms of number of suspects from one event, the VPD has sought the assistance of a specialized video analysis lab in the United States known as LEVA.

At a cost of $160,000, the facility will be able to process and forensically review the 1,600 hours of videotape evidence from the riot within three weeks, compared to the two years it might have taken local police officers, said Inspector Les Yeo.

"It costs a little more upfront, but in the long run, it will save a lot of money, with cleaner cases and increased likelihood of convictions," Insp. Yeo said.

Meanwhile, Chief Chu said a total of 268 suspects in riot-related offences have now been identified by police, an increase of 15 per cent from last month.

"Rushing these people into court without a full examination of all the evidence would produce weak cases with acquittals, bad case law and little or no penalties," he told reporters. "None of us want that."

Responding to public concern over the failure to make any riot arrests so far, Chief Chu said the VPD will soon establish a special website with updated information on the progress of its investigation.

Pictures of 150 new suspects will be part of the site, he said.

And he warned rioters they will not escape punishment, despite the lack of charges so far.

"If you participated in the riot, you should not have a false sense of security because this is taking so long. It may not be tomorrow or next week, but one day soon we will find you," he vowed.

With a report from Justine Hunter in Victoria.

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