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B.C. public points to Britain to slam Vancouver's riot response

Rioters in Vancouver June 15, 2011 after the Vancouver Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup final.

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

As the British riots spread and those accused of assault, looting or arson were quickly hauled into court, the B.C. government was bombarded by e-mails asking why its justice system couldn't do the same.

The provincial Public Safety Ministry has released a Freedom of Information request that details possible relevance between the August riots in Britain and June's Stanley Cup riot. The 51-page document is mostly composed of letters from the public that disapprove of B.C.'s plodding legal response to a hockey riot that left millions of dollars in damage.

"What is being done about all the so called arrests pertaining to the Vancouver Riots?" one person wrote. "London seems to be much more active in arresting & charging rioters and their riots just happened. If we let this go it will happen again."

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Wrote another: "I am ashamed of our justice system."

The riots in Britain began August 6, two days after police shot and killed father of four Mark Duggan in Tottenham. The mayhem lasted five days and reached London, along with several other cities.

On Aug. 17, London police charged their 1,000th suspect.

The Vancouver investigation, however, languished. In B.C., police must make charge recommendations and then forward their files to the Crown for approval. Vancouver police forwarded eight files to the Crown days after the riot, but those cases were sent back to the force because they were incomplete.

It took another four months for Vancouver police to send any more files to the Crown. Sixty files were forwarded on Oct. 31.

The delay did not sit well with those who e-mailed the province looking for answers.

"The failure to show people that violence has consequences and to do so within a reasonable time is unfortunate," one person wrote. "Not all charges can be processed fast but surely some could be."

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As London police were announcing their 1,000th charge, Vancouver police were defending the absence of charges in their investigation.

"If you are in favour of speed, you are in favour of more acquittals and lighter sentences," Vancouver Chief Jim Chu said Aug. 17.

When reached for comment on the Freedom of Information request Monday, a police department spokesman said the chief stands by his earlier remarks.

Chief Chu was joined at the August news conference by Staff Sergeant Lee Patterson, another Vancouver officer who said there was little similarity between the two riots. London police have the authority to lay charges on their own, and Staff Sgt. Patterson, who previously worked in Britain, said the British capital also has more officers at its disposal – and many of its neighbourhoods are watched by CCTV cameras.

Vancouver police announced Dec. 19 that the force has recommended charges against another 20 suspected rioters and forwarded those files to the Crown. The department has recommended 215 charges against 80 individuals in all.

The Crown has approved charges against 28 alleged rioters. The first batch of people charged with participating in the riot began appearing in court Dec. 14. None have been convicted.

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One day after the riot, Premier Christy Clark promised to expose rioters to the public's gaze. "You won't be able to live in anonymity, you won't be behind your bandana or under your hoodie," she said.

Many of those who e-mailed the province received a form response from Solicitor-General Shirley Bond, though the letter provided little detail.

Ms. Bond turned down an interview request Monday and instead e-mailed a statement.

"I think all British Columbians were disappointed by the events of June 15, and that is reflected in these public comments," she wrote. "… In December, we saw the start of the trial process for the first eight accused and prosecutions will continue as criminal charges are approved by the Crown. This is a major undertaking for all agencies involved and I know they share British Columbians' concern that rioters are held accountable for their actions."

Scornful e-mails

E-mails the province of B.C. received regarding the pace of the Vancouver riot investigation in comparison with the riot investigation in Britain:

- "It has been about 2 months since the hockey riot in Vancouver. It has been about 2 DAYS since the UK riots. In the UK they have already arrested people, put them before the courts and sentenced some. What is the justice system here in BC doing besides naval gazing?"

- "After seeing how London deals with their rioters it is extremely frustrating to see how we deal with our rioters. Are charges ever going to be laid against these people, and if so when? I truly hope that we will just not just forget this act."

- "Vancouver City and Police have completely put the blame on rioters, while taking no accountability for their poor planning, lack of officers on the roads, and delay in response to the riots and the aftermath. WE NEED ACTION!"

- "I must tell you that I am annoyed and embarrassed that there have been so few prosecutions of the participants in the Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots. ... It would be shameful if unnecessary delays caused miscreants to avoid being held accountable for their actions."

- "I am writing to express my displeasure regarding the slow progress of the courts in prosecuting the individuals responsible for the Vancouver Riots. Recent news stories about the trouble in London, England have brought to light the fact that there have been no charges laid and no court appearances in the matter of the [Vancouver]riots. Despite having a multitude of evidence and even some individuals that have turned themselves into police there are still no charges."

- "Premier Clark clearly stated that those people involved would be apprehended quickly. What kind of a message are we sending to the taxpayers of BC, and to the world media?"

- "The contrast with London, England's recent riots is shocking."

Sunny Dhillon

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News reporter

Based in Vancouver, Sunny has been with The Globe and Mail since November, 2010. More

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