Sarah Efron [Journalist]

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Canada's Top Ten Riots
Vice Magazine, July 1999

Canadians are violent, unruly troublemakers who, when not ice fishing and eating perogies, enjoy lighting structure-fires and urinating on police cars. In other words, we like to riot. Let's consider some evidence. Cops clubbing protesters with bats outside the Hyatt Hotel in Vancouver. Homeless people kicking Joe Clark in the shin on Parliament Hill. Are riots and near-riots becoming part of the Canadian cultural psyche? A close examination of historical fact reveals that these events are not just part of our present; Canada has always been a nation of window smashers and car flippers.

There are four major issues which inspire Canadians to riot: politics, racism, hockey, and (of course) rock n' roll. Add beer and cops to the recipe and soon you have a full scale disturbance of the public peace on your hands. Here are ten Canadian classics:

10. GASTOWN SMOKE-IN RIOT--Vancouver BC--August 7, 1971.

Hippies. Sheesh! After Vancouver police enacted OPERATION DUSTPAN to sweep up the "hippie problem" in Vancouver's trendy Gastown district, 1200 reefer-totin' beatniks clashed with an army of stick-swingin' mounties at a smoke-in staged by local merchants. After the dust had settled, 38 young rebels were charged with various infractions and more than a dozen were sent to hospital. The following weekend, they were back in full force for a love-in which was attended by over 20 000 people. Today, the former hippies drive around Gastown in Volvos and complain about all the "punks" who hang out at the Cannabis Cafe. Fuckin' hippies.

9. THE LUSITANIA RIOT--Victoria, BC--May 8, 1915

After the sinking of the ship 'Lusitania' by a German submarine, Victorians lashed out against local Deutschlander in this Commonwealth-wide riot. Soldiers gathered in a German-style beer hall in the Blanchard Hotel (formerly "The Kaiserhof") and displayed the Union Jack. Once the bar was destroyed, the rowdies participated in some good old fashioned looting of German-owned shops (as well as ones with German sounding names). Festivities ended when non-rioting soldiers came in and read the riot act.

8. CHRISTIE PITS RIOT--Toronto, ON--August 16, 1933

This riot has the distinction of being inspired by both racism and sport. A junior softball game between a Christian and a Jewish team went awry when a member of the anti-Semitic 'Pit Gang' unfurled a large, swastika-emblazoned banner began chants of "Heil Hitler". Lead pipes, chains and fence pickets were drawn by players and spectators on both sides. The word spread rapidly around the neighbourhood ("Gevalt, me shlugt yidn!") and countless young Jews and Hitler-jungen rushed in to join the battle. One witness said the Christie Pits riot brought out the fighting spirit in even the scrawniest of Jewish boys. "The great part about it is that it wasn't all tough guys that went to Christie Pits. Some of them couldn't even wipe their ass. They couldn't fight but they went. They got themselves a pool cue, a baseball bat or a brick, whatever. The guys who were a little more shy, and were backward and never did fight, never knew how to fight, still had that thing in them that they were Jews."

7. WINNIPEG GENERAL STRIKE--Winnipeg, MB--May to July, 1919.

Labour unrest in the heart of the continent led to one of the seminal moments in Canadian riot history. Tired of watching their bosses get fat while they starved, 30 000 pissed-off Winnipegers took to the streets for six long weeks, turning over cable cars and beating up truncheon-laden 'special constables' who were deployed by the Manitoba government. Things came to a head on Bloody Saturday ( June 21) when the mounties went apeshit, killing two strikers and arresting scores more. The strikers who proclaimed 'We are going to ruin this city' were bloodied, but unbowed.

6. FETE NATIONALE RIOTS--Montreal and Quebec City, PQ--June 24, 1996, 97, 98,???.

The past three years have seen uppity punks and drunken lunatics upset the annual Fete Nationale aka St. Jean Baptiste Day festivities by (surprise, surprise) smashing store windows and throwing rocks and bottles at the fuzz. After stirring up all kinds of shit in 96 and 97, a few punks did an about-face in 98 and attempted to prevent any further tomfoolery. One "punk", with tears streaming down his face, was filmed pleading with the unruly mob to stay calm while the cops managed to keep most of the violence at bay. June 24 is coming up... let's hope the kids keep the proud tradition alive.

5. MC HAMMER RIOT--Penticton, BC--July 27, 1991.

While the cops shouted "u can't touch this," 2000 looted and pillaged in the BC resort community of Penticton. Windows were smashed, a department store was robbed, and a mob of thirsty rioters broke into a liquor store while the pigs lobbed tear gas in an attempt to quell the violence. The riot apparently broke out after 20 teenaged misfits, hyped up on Hammer, began chucking rocks at a traffic cop. The tally: over 50 arrests, 60 injuries, and one shamed, pathetic rapper in an oversized, purple jumpsuit.

4. ON TO OTTAWA TREK/REGINA RIOT--Regina, SK--July 1, 1935

Bricks to the head. Gas grenades. Overturned baby carriages. This riot had it all! During the depths of the Depression, two thousand men hopped on train cars to Ottawa, to protest the miserable conditions in the work camps. The RCMP decided that a huge gathering in Regina was a good place to arrest the Trek leaders. In the chaos that ensued, 100 people were arrested, and another 100 were hospitalized. Cars were overturned and used to barricade the streets One cop was killed after three men smashed his skull with a wooden board and another was hospitalized after being hit in the head with a horseshoe. Then the RCMP started firing at the crowd, and over a dozen Trekkers were shot. The On To Ottawa Trek was over, and the government paid the protesters' train fare back home.

3. THE PARKSVILLE SANDCASTLE RIOT--Parksville, BC--July 19, 1997

The annual sand castle competition in this Vancouver Island town reached new levels of festivity when people decided to liberate some alcohol from a liquor store. The crowd of 1000 moved on to do some spontaneous shopping and innovative redecorating of local businesses. Police officers celebrated by letting off a beautiful series of gas grenades. Later, they gave free room and board at the local law enforcement facilities to approximately 100 merrymakers. The bill for all the festivities came to over $30,000. In fact, the sandcastle festival may have been a victim of its own success, as it was subsequently canceled by local authorities.

2. ROBSON STREET RIOT--Vancouver, BC--June 14, 1994 Score: Police 3 Crowd 2

What do you do when you have 70,000 drunken hockey fans loitering downtown after their team just lost the Stanley Cup? Well, if you're a cop in Vancouver, you cut off all transit, barricade the people into the downtown core and throw gas grenades at them. The pandemonium erupted after the Canucks lost the NHL finals to the New York Rangers. After one angry fan fell from a utility pole, the police rushed in. The crowd pushed back, and the power trippin' robots responded by hitting everyone within an arm-length. The cops were reinforced with tear gas, dog teams and pepperspray, while the crowd armed themselves with firebombs, rocks and bottles. 150 were injured, and one was close to death after being hit in the head with a rubber bullet. Tyler of Vancouver was on acid during this riot. "I looked up and saw three helicopters circling the downtown core...It was cool....We knew something was gonna happen," he recalled. "I got beat up by two redneck hicks from Alberta and broke my nose. It was bleeding like crazy but I didn't really feel it cause I was on acid."

1. GUNS N' ROSES RIOT--Montreal, PQ--August 8, 1992.

The piece de resistance of our top ten, this melee began after Metallica lead singer, James Hetfield, damn near blew his head off by standing too close to the pyrotechnics during a concert at the Stade Olympique. When the band was forced to abandon their show, a disinterested Guns n' Roses took to stage, quitting after a mere 5 songs. According to Nathan Allen, a participant in the ensuing revelry, the violence began after one drunken lout tore off his "Gn'f'n'R Tour 91-92-93" shirt and lit it aflame. Numerous others followed, building bonfires of T-shirts, seats, and souvenir dolls. Over 10 000 longhairs, despite being confined by their painted-on jeans, raged through Olympic stadium smashing everything in their wake, only to be met by 300 club wielding cops. Once outside, the disgruntled metalheads flipped over one cop car and proceeded to damage 30 other cruisers. The numbers speak for themselves: 12 arrests, eight injured 'blue-shirts', and countless angry parents forcing their kids to cut their 'short-longs' and get rid of that "devil music".

by Gabby Resch and Sarah Efron