Habs riot myths

In the aftermath of Monday night’s Habs riot, pundits from all across the punditosphere are giving their two cents about the situation, half based on what they saw on the TV, and most writing from their gut instead of their heads.

As someone who was there, allow me to shine some light on the inaccurate impressions some of these newspaper columnists and radio hosts might be giving you:

Myth: Real fans don’t riot

Reality: Says who? I don’t see anything in the definition of “fan” that precludes such activity. Plenty of pundits are suggesting that the looters wouldn’t know Kostitsyn from Kovalev, but they have no evidence to back up that assertion. The pictures show plenty of the people involved were wearing Habs jerseys and/or carrying Habs flags.

Myth: The police stood by and did nothing while downtown was destroyed

Reality: The police were caught off-guard (as were, I might add, most news outlets who wrapped up their celebration coverage at 10:30). When the crowd got too big to control, riot police were quickly shuttled to where they were needed and chased down rioters as if they were invading a country. The fact that nobody got seriously hurt should be testament to the fact that the police succeeded in their first priority: safeguarding the lives of citizens. They also did the best they could to protect stores from looting, even to the point of standing guard outside throughout the night.

And just what was the alternative? Should they have started firing into the crowd? Filled downtown with pepper spray to the point where no one (not even the cops themselves) would be able to breathe? Should they have spread out and put their individual lives in danger just to protect their squad cars?

Myth: The destruction was done by only a handful of troublemakers

Reality: Five police cars were torched simultaneously over a span of half a dozen blocks. Members of the crowd chipped in when it became clear the mob was in control and nobody would punish them for wanton acts of vandalism. Dozens of people threw glass bottles high into the air, with the intent to injure others. This wasn’t a few isolated cases, this was a mob.

Myth: It’s those crazy leftist activists who were torching police cars

Reality: Again, no evidence of this whatsoever. Some people involved were clearly homeless. Some obviously had a lot of money to waste. You can’t blame this on one identifiable group.

Myth: Most of the crowd were innocent bystanders there to celebrate their team and looked upon the looting/vandalism with disgust

Reality: There are no innocent bystanders (except the media, I hope). Even those who didn’t touch a thing cheered when vehicles looked on the edge of toppling. Others took pictures and video with their cellphones, posting the crappy, highly-compressed, badly-framed, five-second clips of nothing on YouTube with a bunch of exclamation marks noting how awesome it was. All provided a barrier between police looking to make arrests and those who needed to be arrested.

Just because they didn’t do anything doesn’t mean they didn’t contribute to the situation.

Myth: Montreal hockey fans are normally classy people

Reality: You’re kidding me, right? Have you ever been to the Bell Centre?

Myth: Had the police been more forceful, it would have taught people a lesson and the damage would have been minimized

Reality: The opposite would have happened. An arrest outside a shoe store on Ste. Catherine Street forced police to use pepper spray because they were quickly surrounded by angry fans crying police brutality. Never mind the fact that the guy they were arresting was doing everything in his power to resist them and injure them. Every action by police was met with an antagonistic response.

Myth: Closing Ste. Catherine Street will solve this problem next time

Reality: People will just find other places to congregate. René-Lévesque Blvd., St. Laurent, St. Denis, Sherbrooke Street. There are plenty of places. And closing a street will only work if you have the manpower to back it up. Literally putting police officers on every corner of a metropolis isn’t a simple task.

Myth: Once they look at the videos and pictures, police will be able to arrest everyone involved

Reality: Most of those pictures and videos are of such poor quality you couldn’t make out the face of your own mother on them. Even if they do have faces, they have to be identified, which means someone who knows the person has to come forward and rat them out. Then, assuming a positive identification is made, police have to prove that the person actually caused significant damage. Photos might show them kicking a police car, but few capture the more serious acts of vandalism. And those whose actions were minor will get very minor sentences, assuming they are even prosecuted.

Myth: These actions were planned and carefully orchestrated by the vandals

Reality: There’s no evidence of this, and it doesn’t meet with the facts. People didn’t “carry around jugs of gasoline” or Molotov cocktails, they set fire to pieces of cardboard they found laying around. They threw garbage (and garbage cans) they found on the street. It was entirely improvised. People did these things because those around them did too. That’s the power of the mob.

Myth: They just did this so they could post videos on YouTube

Reality: Not once did I see anyone commit an act of vandalism and ask someone to film it. Vandalism was done for its own sake. It was the bystanders who took pictures of the carnage and of themselves standing in front of it.

13 thoughts on “Habs riot myths

  1. montrealiste

    Fans at Centre Bell are usually classier than other hockey fans. Trust me, I’ve been to Boston, New York, Buffalo, Detroit and Florida. I’ve been spitted on, pushed, insulted, thrown beer on, ect. I own season tickets in a hot spot in the bleachers and I garantee you that we are classier. Of course, I am comparing drunk hockey fans. I am not defending MTL fans.

    I heard that the riot actually started at the Wu Tan Clan concert. Is it possible ?

    And the car burnings occured at 11h30, which indicates that the idiots probably left to go downtown AFTER the game. They had Molotov cocktails, thats what police is saying. I don’t think fans took their cocktails at the Bell Center…

  2. HabsFan29

    Well done Steve. Probably the most truthful article about the riot yet. You were there. Everyone else who wrote about it (myself included) would have no clue about what really happened. You need to get your Gazette bosses to publish this.

  3. heri

    great points, here.

    montrealiste. it has more to do with beer and alcohol than wu tang clan concerts. we have all seen guys with Habs shirts kikcing the police cars. the molotov cocktails were also improvised.

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  5. blork

    Has it been established (or definitively not) that there were Molotov cocktails? Those cop cars were really burning, and they wouldn’t burn like that unless there was some kind of accelerant.

    Were the cop cars burning before or after the break-in at the SAQ? Booze could, sort of, be used as a Molotov cocktail, although it doesn’t burn nearly as readily as people think.

    But there’s no way just throwing burning matches or paper into a car will cause it to burn like that.

  6. Karine

    We live in a city and once in a while, cities got bezerk. Not this “riot” was over in 2 hours, no one died and only 7 stores got broken into. Honestly, I think we got off easy. I’m just mad because I used to work corner Bishop and Ste-Catherine and so I would have seen the aftermath (say, hopefully a smoldering squad car) when I came in the office the next morning…

    And as for the police, for once I’m on their side. They did the best they could, sometimes things go wrong no matter how you plan things.

    @ Montréaliste: So the kneegrows are to be blamed for the riot?

  7. ohms

    The myths busted here are DEAD-ON. This was a riot of fans in my opinion; fans that were too drunk and clearly too stupid to know any better, but fans nonetheless. It’s not like fans don’t riot elsewhere in the world, it’s soccer in South America or Europe or Cricket in India and Pakistan. Sports hooligans are well documented. I wish I could find that documentary about the British soccer hooligans. I remember them being surprised that a large chunk of these supposed hooligans had jobs, families, kids, etc. That they were rather normal people most of the time.

    I’m disappointed that the media took this severe law and order stance, it’s frankly not their job. All we have had from the media is OPINION, how about some facts? How about having some psychological experts on the air? What about examining and understanding what happens to otherwise normal people in a mob.
    I think i’m expecting too much from commercial media really.

  8. Allan

    I was there. I wasnt cheering these people on, nor was i filming any of this to put it on youtube. I had gone to celebrate the win, and I guess we were in the wrong because I know it isnt a great thing to block off a major street and to yell and cheer and to drink in public. But for about an hour that is all it was: no vandalism, just innocent enough. Then out of nowhere it got out of hand really quickly. I was about 2 blocks down on a stairwell trying to see what happened untill riot police pushed the crowd up towards sherbrooke and vandals dispersed making it impossible for police to stop.

    I can tell you that there were no molotov cocktails used by the guys i saw trying to light their shirts on fire (to torch cop cars). When I left the no looting had occurred yet so alcohol bottles were not used to start the fires.

    Also, I think this is a pretty good analysis except for a few things. I did not once see a homeless person doing any damage to anything! What I saw was people with bandanas over their faces, dressed in 100$ Gangstaa shirts and drunken habs fans doing all the damage.

    Also, I highly suspect that a few individuals did have this planned. The majority of rioters were not going their to riot I agree, they just got caught up in the stupidity, but I sincerely believe that there were a few idiots who ceased the opportunity to start this. Nobody carrys toilet paper in their pocket, yet there was alot of it all over the trees and streets.

  9. Jack Ruttan

    Thanks for this. But haven’t there historically been spring riots in Montreal? I’m not judging the effect or severity, but arriving in Montreal 20 years ago I was warned (or encouraged) about the bonfires in St. Henri on Victoria Day’s eve. Maybe people need a release, even if they don’t take it very graciously.

  10. Justin

    Not so sure I buy all of these “myth busters”.

    If you read LaPresse, they quote a criminologist who claims this falls into classic Hooliganism. Holligans are not “uber fans”, they are people looking to cause a riot. To profit from a situation. LaPresse also quotes a sociologist who agrees entirely with this point of view.

    In regards to what went on inside the Bell Center, I’ve been to several matches and I have been to matches in other cities. Montreal is by far the town with some of the most respectful fans. There were no signs of Hooliganism in the Bell Center during Game 7. So that myth bust, falls flat IMHO.

    I also take issue with the argument that it was not a handful of rioters. A full out riot in where a large number of people took part, as opposed to a handful, would have caused A LOT more damage.. Think 1993 or better yet, Rodney King.

    But the real question is WHY WAS CHANTAL FONATAINE TREATED SO BADLY BY RAD-CAN!?! ;-) ;-)

  11. Erin

    Hi Steve! It would be awesome if Montreal fans in the Bell Center could be classier. I agree that there’s no saying that the people doing this aren’t fans of hockey, but I think that’s really beside the point in all this. Like, maybe the game got their testosterone flowing, but the beer and maleness and asshole-genes got the stupid flowing, and that’s rather more pertinent in all of this. The defensiveness about saying they’re hockey fans comes more from the embarrassment of the whole thing (ie, my mom calling from California because she hears on the news that “montreal hockey fans trash the downtown area because the team won the quarterfinals” and wants to know who these people are that I’m hanging out with.) Cripes.


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