How a Habs Playoff Win Became Montreals Loss
Globe and Mail
he heart of Montreal was a mess of shattered storefronts and burned remnants of police cruisers yesterday as a city awoke to ask itself whether hockey victories and street hooliganism must invariably go hand in hand.
Montrealers' pride at the Habs' first-round playoff win Monday was marred by a postgame riot that degenerated into looting, setting cruisers on fire and recriminations over whether police were caught off guard.
Police Chief Yvan Delorme said yesterday that much of the vandalism was carried out by a small group of highly organized arsonists using the cover of a postgame celebration to lash out at police.
And while about two dozen blurry videos glorifying the riots were uploaded to YouTube by yesterday afternoon, many more were handed over to Montreal police as evidence, a spokeswoman confirmed. Amie Lemieux said Habs fans who witnessed the rioting also supplied photographs and tips - more than they expected - leading police to set up a website for further submissions.
Meanwhile, the Montreal Canadiens issued a statement late yesterday afternoon saying they "deeply regret the acts of vandalism and the wrongdoings of a few isolated groups of individuals" after their 5-0 win over the Boston Bruins.
Along with yesterday's cleanup came hand-wringing over damage to a city's well-deserved reputation as a safe place that knows how to handle crowds and fun at the same time.
"Montreal is not a violent city - it's a beautiful city - but some people want to ruin it for us," Richard Hazan said on Ste. Catherine Street as workers placed a new plate-glass window on his men's clothing boutique.
Mr. Hazan picked up a broken brick that he had found inside his store during the night. "I'm ashamed of my city," he said.
The outbreak revived memories of the 1993 riot after Montreal's last Stanley Cup triumph, which caused millions of dollars in damages. This time, however, Montreal had won only its first playoff round. And, unlike prior outbreaks, this fracas may have been stoked by the Internet.
The YouTube and other website exposure seemed to embolden, not deter, the rioters; some posed triumphantly in front of burning squad cars, smiling for the camera. Others filmed themselves as they kicked the police cruisers.
Postgame celebrations began peacefully as the city filled with honking and hooting fans. But within hours, rioters joined peaceful revellers who had massed along Ste. Catherine, Montreal's marquee shopping street, only two blocks north of the Bell Centre.
As tensions rose, police took precautions. A guard hired to protect the Canadian flagship store for Reebok was told a little before midnight to leave for his own safety. Later, the storefront showcasing Montreal Canadiens gear was smashed and thieves made off with hockey merchandise.
Police arrested 16 people, including three minors, who face charges ranging from public mischief to assaulting a police officer.
Sixteen police cars sustained $500,000 in damage, some of them burned to a hulk.
Police faced criticism that they were inadequately prepared for the violence. In recent weeks, the police department has adopted a friendly approach toward hockey fans, one reason officers left cruisers in the heart of the party zone.
Chief Delorme said police opted for "targeted" arrests to avoid cracking down on all citizens.
Police say they'll review their strategy and will consider making Ste. Catherine Street off limits after the next game, scheduled for tomorrow.
But, "we want to accommodate all the citizens downtown who want to have fun," the chief said.
Pierre-Paul Pichette, assistant police director, told reporters that policing strategy changed after the 1993 riot. But the public response to hockey victories may not have.
"We [the police] learned a lot in 1993. ... We had believed that society had also come a long way. ... I have to conclude that isn't the case."