I’m quite certain that by now I would qualify as an honorary Canadian. I love the flag and maple syrup, wear Roots clothing, appreciate Canadian films, musicians and authors, and enjoy watching ice hockey. During my relatively brief residence, I have immersed myself in the socio-political culture of this country. I participated in the recent Slutwalk protests and watched the Pride parade here in Edmonton. For over a year now, I have shared in the emotional highs and lows that accompany landmark ‘Canadian’ events: I cheered when Sidney Crosby shot the winning goal in the 2010 Olympics (while watching the game from my home downunder) and woke up depressed the morning after Stephen Harper gained a majority government.
Over the past few weeks I have been following the Stanley Cup NHL playoffs and finals series with great interest. I watched one game at our local bar, surrounded by over twenty screens and surprised by the number of Edmonton locals who were supporting the Boston Bruins over the Vancouver Canucks. I even researched the origins of the players, to find out how many Canadians were in each team. Last night my partner and I enjoyed some chicken wings and a couple of alcoholic beverages while we watched game seven from the safety of our loft, hoping for a Canucks victory. The sight of the enormous crowds in the streets of Vancouver reminded me of the thousands who had gathered in Lygon Street, Melbourne during the 2006 FIFA World Cup, to watch Australia versus Italy on a giant outdoor screen. Such excitement and a fabulous party atmosphere, police commented that despite the large and boisterous turnout, no injuries or incidents were reported. I also recall driving through the crowded streets of Melbourne in 1990, following the Premiership victory of my beloved Collingwood Football Team. There is nothing quite as exhilarating as being amongst revellers, especially when you are supporters of the winning team. Sadly, following the Canucks defeat, revelry turned to chaotic violence and vandalism last night in the streets of Vancouver. As an honorary Canadian, I feel compelled to comment.
In these days of social media documentation of basically any newsworthy (and many non-newsworthy) events, it’s easy and fascinating to trace the public response. Soon after 10pm Mountain Time, within minutes of the award ceremony ending, the trending topics on Twitter were hashtags related to the Vancouver riots. I stayed up for about half an hour, watching the live news feed on CTV, until I couldn’t stand it anymore. This morning I awoke to media saturation, which naturally included extensive analyses of the cause and hypotheses of the consequences. The typical labels proliferated, as the perpetrators were called ”troublemakers”, “idiots”, “hooligans”, “punks”, “disgruntled fans”, “criminals”, “thugs and thieves and lunatics”, and their actions described as “craziness”, “insanity”, “running amok”. Some ridiculous reports described the protagonists as “protestors” and attributed the cause to “frustration over the loss”. Seriously, one glance at the footage reveals that nobody was protesting and the dominant emotion was not frustration. Understandably, as they awoke to the images of vandalism, burning, looting, and aggression towards authorities, the good citizens of Canada were in “shock”, “ashamed”, “embarrassed” and “dismayed” at the behaviour that was “despicable, embarrassing, so un-Canadian as well”.
Then there was this tweet, that attempted to sum up the reasons in less than 140 characters: “Youth, emotional impulsivity, alcohol, testosterone, and group behavior = Vancouver riot” . While I completely agree with the contributing factors of alcohol abuse and mob mentality, I take issue with this equation for a few reasons. Firstly, to equate male aggression with ‘testosterone‘ is inaccurate and misleading (just ask my partner who is about to embark on a phD in this area). Secondly, to identify ‘youth/emotional impulsivity’ as a cause for intentional and sustained lawlessness serves to diminish responsibility and echoes the dismissive cry of ‘boys will be boys’. Finally, the equation mentions nothing about the culture of violence that permeates the sport itself, nor does it sufficiently identify the characteristics of the demographic responsible for the chaos that ensued last night. A cursory glance at articles and blogs reveals a similar pattern of what is and will continue to be open for discussion and what will remain unmentionable. No doubt the debate will be hijacked by those who want to perpetuate certain perspectives and silence others. There is scant mention of the sense of entitlement on display from these adult men, the majority of whom would be aged between 17-30. Let’s be honest in our depictions of who did what. These predominantly white adult men kicked, jumped on, overturned, and set fire to police cars and then proceeded to leap over the flames, proudly filming their antics, to later post on youtube.
They smashed windows and grabbed their booty of expensive merchandise from Canadian department stores like The Bay. Analogies have been drawn to the civil unrest and chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina, and the G20 summit protests in Toronto last year. This is another grave mis-representation. The behaviour of these men does not constitute a ‘protest’, because they have absolutely nothing to protest about. Furthermore, they were not looting because they were in desperate need of food or other provisions, or because their home or livelihood had been lost. They were vandalising and looting simply because they could and willfully chose to, with wanton disregard for their fellow citizens, community and authorities. And therein lies the entitlement. Martin Luther King famously said that “riots are the voices of the unheard“. Perhaps the assault on Vancouver should be considered an ‘anti-riot’ in that it brought attention to voices that speak too loudly and are too often heard in privileged societies.
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