A new doc asks: What was really behind Vancouver’s 2011 Stanley Cup mayhem? | CBC Arts

A man wearing a Vancouver Canucks jersey kneels among fires and heavily armed police.
I’m Just Here for the Riot. (Tijana Martin)

Filmmakers Kat Jayme and Asia Youngman both vividly remember the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riots that trashed downtown and saw cop cars ablaze. The lifelong Vancouverites are roughly the same age as many of the rioters and long wondered what sparked the violence that day. Their new film, I’m Just Here for the Riot, explores both the lead-up to the riots and their aftermath.

“I was with my friends at home,” says Jayme about the day of the game. “I couldn’t believe that we lost.”

Youngman, who was downtown that night, came even closer to getting caught up in the mayhem. “We fled downtown right away,” she says. “But I sometimes wonder — I was 19 at the time, I was downtown for all the playoff games — if I didn’t have a ride [and] I stayed downtown, you never know, right?”

When the pair met, they realized that they had a common interest in trying to better understand the riot: how seemingly normal young people could engage in wanton acts of destruction, how others got caught in an online witch hunt to find the perpetrators, and how technology played a role in both.

A very small, noisy boisterous group began the riot after the Stanley Cup final by flipping a car over, the CBC’s Chris Brown reports

The riots happened at a unique juncture in recent history — a time when smartphones and social media were becoming widespread, but we didn’t yet understand the potential ramifications of them. During the riots, people posed in front of burning cars, wrote statuses about looting, and filmed each other breaking windows, not thinking those images would be used against them.

“People…  wanted to show off and write about what they were doing,” says Jayme. “Like, ‘I’m here in front of an exploding car … ‘ People were taking photos, writing Facebook statuses, uploading everything to social media without realizing that they were incriminating themselves.”

Social media played a role in what happened after the riots, too. In the weeks following, there was an online hunt to find people who had participated in the riot and punish them. People scoured social media and outed their friends, neighbours, co-workers, exes, and vague acquaintances as rioters on websites and Facebook pages. 

Youngman says that there is a lot of overlap and similarities between the rioters and the people trying to punish them. While the online justice seekers may have had good intentions, they quickly lapsed into online dogpiling, hateful messages and death threats. Many of the people they outed weren’t the ringleaders or the worst actors — they were just the ones who were unlucky enough to get caught.

Filmmakers Kat Jayme and Asia Youngman stand together holding their cameras and wearing Vancouver Canucks shirts, masks, and headphones.
Asia Youngman and Kat Jayme during the making of I’m Just Here for the Riot. (ESPN)

“You see people who thought they were doing the right thing — doing a good thing for society — but then you watch the film and you’re like, ‘It isn’t really a good thing,'” she says. “Kat and I don’t want to give anyone a free pass with this film — everyone should be accountable for their actions — but how far do we take things?”

“A photo doesn’t give a lot of context for what actually happened. You see something and say, ‘Oh, that person’s terrible,’ but what led them up to that moment? What did they actually do?”

In the film — which will be part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series — Jayme and Youngman talk to many of the rioters who were caught and arrested. Most of them are all now in their 30s. All of them seem like very reasonable people. And all of them suffered the consequences of their actions: one was ineligible for medical school because of his criminal record. Another says the social media backlash pushed her deeper into substance abuse.

When asked why they did it, they say a lot of things: mob mentality, being caught in a moment, their own stupidity, booze, but also that they’d been kind of primed for it.

The 2011 riot wasn’t Vancouver’s first riot after a Stanley Cup Final loss. In 1994, a similar riot kicked off when the Canucks lost to the New York Rangers. In the days leading up to Game 7, footage from that riot became a regular feature on local news.

Rioting breaks out in Vancouver after 1994 Stanley Cup loss

Police deploy crowd-control methods on the streets when things turn violent after the Canucks lose Game 7 to the New York Rangers. Aired on CBC’s Prime Time News on June 15, 1994.

“I do think that the media was partly responsible for what happened,” says Jayme. “It was just the talk of the town. One of the subjects who we interviewed who actually lived on one of the islands came to Vancouver because he knew there was going to be a riot. How does that happen? How does someone from one of the islands come up with this idea?”

At the same time, she says, city officials were woefully unprepared.

“They just didn’t even want to talk about it because they’re like, ‘If we talk about it it’s going to plant this idea in people’s heads,'” she says. “But then you see the media showing [1994 riot] footage, which did that anyways.”

An aspiring documentarian even then, Jayme says she went downtown with her family’s camcorder the next day in an attempt to understand what had happened, but couldn’t find any answers.

“I was trying to talk to people, trying to make sense of everything, but no one really wanted to tell the story back then,” she says. “It was like, you know, it was very embarrassing. And so Vancouver kind of just swept it under the rug.”

She and Youngman hope that now, 12 years later, this film will finally kickstart that conversation about what went wrong in both 1994 and 2011.

“I don’t think we’ve had a chance to actually be thoughtful and be critical as to why things happened in 2011,” she says. “Hopefully when the film comes out, we can actually do that — so that when the Canucks get into another Game Seven situation, we can say, ‘Yes, we’ve actually learned from ’94 and 2011.'”

I’m Just Here for the Riot is available for streaming on the Hot Docs site from May 5-9.

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