Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Vancouver Riots and Nathan Kotylak

The good kind of fan. This was taken on the day of game six. I love how the excitement of the Stanley Cup brought different communities together. I thought these guys looked awesome. I was sad this guy asked me not to do anything nasty to this picture, like draw something racist on his face. I was shocked he felt the need to mention it. I guess we aren't the harmonized society we'd like to think we are. Ps. Sikh guy, I love this picture. Thanks for posing for it.

I freely admit this is going to be a bit of a contradictory post. Here it goes.

Though I enjoyed getting caught up in fever that overtook Vancouver in the first six days of the Stanley cup playoffs, I am not a fan of organized sports in general. Hockey is a dirty game full of sanctioned violence and thuggery. It wasn’t so long ago that Todd Bertuzzi of the Canucks was encouraged by his teammates to punch Steve Moore in retaliation for a mean hit dealt to Marcus Naslund. And we all knew it was coming and cheered. When Bertuzzi hit Steve Moore too hard, he ended Moore’s NHL career. And we all booed. In this way I find hockey a little schitzophrenic and so I don’t really support the NHL in general.

Except the Canucks have played really well this year and this excitement swept over Vancouver. And Jerseys with “Luongo” “Kessler” and “H & D Sedin” were popping up all over the place. Fans attached flags to their cars and hung Canucks flags from their balconies. Conversations in supermarket lineups about how our boys were doing started to bring us all together here in disjointed Vancouver.

A painted window on the way to work.

As for me, I’ve lived for several years overseas and when asked here I am from, I say Vancouver for simplicity. But standing in Vancouver, it’s obvious I’m an outsider. No, I don’t know where that park is. I’m not totally sure where the Skytrain goes. I don’t know what all the great summer happenings in the city are. It’s been hard to make new friends here. This is a disjointed city, from what I have observed; more than half it’s residences come from somewhere else. Just look at how we form neighbourhoods by nationality. Vancouver is not “We,” it’s made up of “us” and a them and them and them.

So jumping on the Canucks bandwagon for me was a ticket to a party where I knew no one. It was that instant feeling of connectedness to a town which is famous for it’s hard, uncrackable shell. The Canucks lifted that shell and left us vulnerable. Open, friendly, excited and downright giddy. I really didn’t care if the Canucks won or lost I was just happy to be part of the team for once.

Even Lululemon got into the spirit and hosted good natured yoga practices to cheer on the Canucks on the lawn of their headquarters.

As a yoga practitioner, it goes against yoga philosophy to cheer for a sports team for the simple reason that if you align yourself with a certain group, you create and us and a them, when yoga is all about working towards union. If you see us and them, you see your group as more entitled and the other roup as being inferior, and in doing so you lose compassion for the other side. Whether it be Canucks vs. Bruins, men vs. women, blacks, vs Whites vs Asians vs. Arabs, or able bodied and disabled bodied, Christian vs Muslim, if we can’t identify with the other then we can’t feel true compassion and see this world as one. I get that, and generally, I agree with that.

But like I said, I’m not from Vancouver, and I haven’t lived in Canada for a long time. I have a hard time belonging anywhere and I admit it’s a feeling I long for. To belong somewhere. I haven’t felt this feeling in a seriously long time and so however constructed it may have been, I jumped on the Canuck bandwagon and rode it while it was going in a positive direction.

One the day of Game seven, I was working in the library downtown around the area where they set up the giant TV screens. It was a lovely party getting started outside as the students struggled to write their listening exams through the honking and screaming happening directly outside the library. (side note: out of 56 foreign students writing the exam, 21 of them wore Canucks shirts!)

Luongo, Kessler, Kessler and H. Sedin writing their listening exams to get into university.

Part of my shift was to sit outside the doors and make sure no crazy people tried to get into the examination room, as we were right next to the public toilets. Most people who came down were hockey fans needing to use the loo, fix the blue and green Canuck logos painted and peeling off their faces. Most people were excited. I calmed one older man down who was literally fretting and pacing we might lose this game, as if the Canucks were dying patients who might not make it through this next operation. Only once did a young group of men come down and I heard one laughing about two Bruins fans getting ‘the shit kicked out of them’ by a group of young Canucks fans. I did what most Canadians would do. I sat in my chair and gave them harsh dirty looks. What else can you do?

Positive pre-game excitement in front of the post office, where the riot apparently started a few hours later.

After work was over I headed to the non-alcoholized zone, where a lovely Indian lady peeked in my bag. But not my pockets, or my jacket pockets. Maybe I just don’t seem the type to riot, but honestly, I’ve had more thorough checks entering a shopping mall in Istanbul. I stayed for about two hours, taking pictures, enjoying the pre-game fun, sitting between family and young and old people, discussing our excitement for the game.

I can't help but look at the photo and know some of these people were about to make bad, bad choices. Unfortunately, the powers that be put the big screens on to the news before the game started, and the news showed footage of the 94 riots. A large part of the crowd cheered. That's when I decided not to stay too much longer.

But about an hour before the game started, the feeling in the crowd began to shift. The place was filling up and we were losing sight of the big screen. Someone short like me really didn’t have a chance. The father next to me was shouting at everyone that they were rude if they tried to push past him and his ten-year old son, using the son as an excuse to have more space in the crowd. The poor kid, with his peeling face paint and flag tied like a cape was embarrassed, yelling at his Dad that he could see where there was no way he could. This was a nightmare for him. So I chatted with him to calm him down as he got jostled and elbowed, asking him about his favourite players and what he thought of the past six games. But when I started getting elbowed and jostled, it was like my body made the decision to leave and suddenly, with no thought from my brain I was out of the crowd and my eyes were looking for an exit.

Taken a few days earlier when I was excited about the games. Not so funny now.

First I went to the library, which was fenced off at this point, but there was an openable gate there. When I asked if I could get out that way, an unobstructed stroll out of mayhem and to my bicycle, I was told flatly by security, no.

“So you are telling me I have to go push against the crowd out there to get out?”

The answer was a firm yes. Sigh. My mind had caught up with me and wasn’t looking forward to inserting myself into that swelling crowd again.

These people made their own paper-mache hats. The good kind of energy!

Long story short, it wasn’t pleasant, but I happened to get in the middle of an Indian family with several teenage daughters who were also trying to get out. I held back the crowd and pushed the girls in front of me so they wouldn’t be separated from their family. In exchange, I joined their posse to get out. A chubby man with an extremely flabby protruding stomach pressed so hard into me from behind we had full contact from my shoulders to my bum.

“You aren’t a fraterist, are you?” I joked. He looked extremely embarrassed but since I could see it wasn’t him doing the pushing I took deep breaths and focused on getting out of the crowd, and not on his genitalia mashed against my butt cheeks. I decided to chalk it up to taking one for the innocent teenage team in front of me. It wasn’t pretty though. The game hadn’t started and we were pushing against the group pouring in, a few choice words thrown our way simply for trying to get out.

We surged against the crowd a few times and I lost my breathe twice as I was mashed between the man behind me and the Indian girl in front of me. But soon we were out of the crowd and I was free to circle to block back around, hop on my bike and ride the seawall to my friend Eric’s house in relative peace to watch the game with a bottle of wine and some good people.

We lost the game. As we swilled wine and ate sushi, we acquiesced that the Bruins played the better game. But it was a beautiful night and Eric has a great view, we all stepped away from the TV and onto the balcony to watch the sunset. But instead, we watched plumes of black smoke rising from downtown Vancouver.

Plumes of smoke over Vancouver post game seven.

What came next was horrific. Idiotic. Moronic. Stupid. Embarrassing. Shameful.

Vancouver was grief-stricken.

A tank outside the library the day after the riot. There was a prom going on across the street hence the girls in prom dresses posing next to the tank.

One of the messages scrawled on the plywood covering broken windows downtown.

After spending so long overseas in less developed countries I have generally witnessed one thing: The more privileged a society you are, the more angry the youth you seem to have. Why are Canadian youths so angry? Why would this happen in a place like Canada? The early rioters that have been identified come from well-off families. Yet I’ve been in India where the people have every reason to be angry and dissatisfied with life and instead they sit down with the patience to sit through a three-hour Bollywood movie filled with singing and dancing and happy, beautiful colours. People throw their energy into surviving. That night Vancouver looked like a spoiled Veronica out of an Archie comic- stamping feet and throwing a tantrum because we didn’t get what we wanted. A cup that means very little. Not world peace, not equality, a metal cup.

Tonnes of Canucks fans donned their jerseys again and came downtown to clean the streets after the riot. These are the good people.

What I’d like to say is that bystanders egging on rioters should be ashamed. Just because you didn’t try to set a cop car on fire but you cheered and told someone to do it, means you are disgracefully guilty. Shame on you. The rioters should be held accountable, without a doubt. And I encourage anyone with a photo to send it into the police (even though I don’t think you should have still been there snapping away in a riot. You were obstructing the police from doing their job. ‘Nuff said.)

But where I get queasy is where stories like Nathan Kotylak, a seventeen year old water polo athlete with a promising career in front of him gets caught up in the mob and tries to light a cop car on fire. Nathan possibly threw away everything he’d worked years to build in fifteen seconds. His father, a well-respected physician accompanied him to the station when he turned himself in. He’s trying to make amends for his moment of disastrous stupidity.

I say, bravo, Nathan Kotylak! Without condoning the original offence, I see a young man doing his best to turn this around. I see a family doing it’s best to support their son in the face of all of this. Bravo family. I don’t see a family making excuses for him. This is truly brave, in my opinion. This will be a turning point in this young man’s life and I hope Vancouver as a community can support his efforts to make these wrongs into rights. As for the lynch mob who have chased Nathan’s family from their home, you are no better than the rioters. Please leave the judging and punishment up to the courts. Otherwise the dirty side of this situation continues. Because if we are incapable for forgiving, we are incapable of moving on.

A Muslim girl adds a prayer to help Vancouver heal, with a little peace sign.

As for me, I won’t be part of this lynching. Though you and I both agree that your actions were stupid, I stand up and applaud you in your apology to Vancouver, Nathan. And I hope when this is over and you’ve done your community service (because you know that’s coming) and taken responsibility for the damage you have caused, you still have the chance to become the leader you are already appearing to be.

The new kind of Canucks fan.

Let’s help him heal, Vancouver.

Link to Nathan's apology.

Well-written response from a police officer on scene.

Globe & Mail article: The sad, painful truth about the Vancouver rioters’ true identities


  1. Really great post. You must have seen me reading it because I immediately got your notification which I appreciate. I totally agree with your values on this and glad you are vocal about it. I also like the way you often capture irony in your photos, here in the one that says, "...fear the fans." And in the first one also which winds up being a great commentary on sterotypes given the nature of the article. Good stuff. Thanks, always, for sharing.

  2. Nice post. I agree with your comments about the vilification of Nathan K and the notion that privilege produces this kind of anti-social behaviour in some young men. You might be interested in reading my thoughts at

  3. Well done Mel. So proud of you.

  4. Well, you've changed one mind. Mine.

  5. Well then, Anonymous, you have made the time it took to sit down and write this out worthwhile. Thank you for this!