Tag Archives: riots

Media win battle over riot footage

Quebec Superior Court has sided with the media in a legal battle with police over notes, video and photos from the April 21 Habs riot. The material, which was seized by search warrant after the event, will be returned – unopened – to the media outlets they came from.

When I first wrote about the battle in April, I was unsure of my position, but leaning toward the idea that because journalists did not make any promises of anonymity to their subjects, there should be no reason why they can’t co-operate with police.

But after the more recent riot in Montreal North, where a La Presse photographer was attacked, I’m leaning more toward the idea that journalists can’t do their jobs properly if they can be forced to act as an arm of law enforcement (especially when that law enforcement sits blocks away waiting for backup while the journalists enter the war zone).

I won’t for a moment defend rioters, but I take some comfort in the legal precedent that journalists won’t be seen as cops. Of course, anything they end up publishing can still be used by police, so it’s still a good idea to avoid journalists, or not riot in the first place.

Montreal North riot OMG BBQ

Apparently jealous of Toronto’s nighttime propane-based fires, some intrepid young Montrealers heroically rescued some propane canisters from a local hardware shop and set them ablaze last night.

On a slightly more serious note, an analysis of Toronto media coverage of its susprise breaking news. Toronto media were caught especially off-guard because the incident happened in the middle of the night on a weekend, when few (if any) people are on the job.

Montreal’s media got lucky, in that the riots started before midnight, before newspapers were put to bed and everyone went home for the night. In addition, the top story was about the police shooting that prompted the riot, so newspapers (like mine) could combine the two together and not have to rip apart their front pages.

La Presse has the best roundup of the action (including a column by Patrick Lagacé, who was on the scene and has some stories to tell about it), as well as the best photos from photographer David Boily. LCN was on the scene live with its helicopter coverage, and though suffering from the usual breaking-news confusion saying-stuff-off-the-top-of-your-ass time-filler, was enough to keep us journalists glued to the set. (LCN/TVA reporters, meanwhile, repeatedly ignored police demands to retreat to a safe area once shots had been fired, making the anchor’s half-transparent “are you ok?” clichés seem almost silly.)

The best anglo coverage came, of course, from Canadian Press, whose reporter Andy Blatchford (a former classmate of mine) had a story filled with quotes.

Unfortunately, most of the other media are playing catch-up today, and you’ll see more photos of day-after busted up businesses than the riots themselves.

As for blog and “new media” coverage, it was pretty well nonexistent. Some posts with “this is badcomments, but no citizen journalists stepping up and doing a proper reporting job.

Recognize any of these faces?

Faces from the Habs riot of April 21, 2008

More faces from the … ahem … “alleged” rioters of Monday night.

Also posted on YouTube is the security video of a Rogers Wireless store downtown that was looted Monday night. They couldn’t take any cellphones because those were tied to the display tables, and those prepaid phone cards are useless because they have to be pre-activated by the cashier. But have fun with those charging adapters, I guess.

Round 2 begins tonight

The last time Habs fans showed a distinct lack of class, by booing the U.S. national anthem at the Bell Centre (news reports suggest in 2003, but I think there was an incident more recent), the media took notice and showed its disgust. Letters to the editor were written, and the next time the Bell Centre hosted a U.S. team, the crowd cheered loudly as the Star Spangled Banner was played. It was a bit corny, but it got the message across that we were sorry, and most of us were better than that.

Expect a similar kind of overreaction tonight as the Canadiens host the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal tonight, from the police who will no doubt be present in higher numbers; from the media who will actually be present this time (besides just RadCan and TVA/LCN); and from the fans who won’t stand and cheer “Go Habs Go” as police cars are burned.

So don’t expect any riots tonight, win or lose. Just a lot of respectful cheering. (What police will do about moving violations and dangerous-but-only-to-you stupidity like running up and down on the roof of a moving bus is another question)

But in the unlikely event that things do get out of hand again, a few pointers:

  1. Don’t even consider the prospect of vigilante justice. You’re just going to get yourself seriously hurt. You might even start a massive drunken brawl that will result in serious injuries for dozens of people.
  2. Don’t go up to vandals and take pictures of their faces to show the cops later. Even in their drunken state, they’ll realize what you’re doing and attack you.
  3. If you see vandalism and/or violence taking place, don’t stand there and take pictures, go to the nearest police officer and tell him/her what’s going on. Then leave the area so you don’t become part of the problem.
  4. Have respect for the authorities. I’m sure most of them would love to be sitting at home or at a bar cheering on their team, but instead they have to miss the game and refrain from celebrating because a few drunken idiots can’t exercise some self-control.
  5. Clean up after yourselves. And clean up after others. Litter is bad, and it makes us look bad.

Media won’t cooperate with Habs riot investigation

Mere hours after demanding that police ruthlessly prosecute anyone involved in the Great Habs Riot and some even printing photos of suspects and asking people to identify them to police, local media are now refusing to participate in the investigation by handing over photos and video of the rioters. They are now in the process of fighting search warrants while evidence sits sealed under police custody.

The media have a legitimate interest in fighting such invasions. If they were seen to be agents of the police, they wouldn’t be able to do their jobs properly. Perhaps more worrisome, in situations like this the media itself could become a target.

But can you really pretend to take the moral high ground and a tough law-and-order stance, asking people to get involved and cooperate with police, when you refuse to do so yourself?

None of these rioters received promises of confidentiality, and none could have been stupid enough to think photos and video of them smashing police cars and store windows wouldn’t eventually get in the hands of police.

UPDATE: The Gazette’s Andrew Phillips responds on his blog, using the “slippery slope” argument. The Gazette’s article presents both sides of the issue, and Thursday’s paper has an editorial explaining the decision. The Journal’s Benoit Aubin also responds, giving mostly philosophical arguments about how the media shouldn’t act as deputies to the police.

Meanwhile, Richard Martineau, always ready to disagree with everyone, asks the question: Aren’t journalists citizens first? Should they not report when they witness crimes?

UPDATE (April 26): The court date is set for June 17. Can you feel the overwhelming speed of our justice system?

UPDATE (April 29): A letter-writer calls cooperating with police “doing one’s civic duty,” journalist or not.

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.

The Great Canadiens Conference Quarterfinal Riot of 2008

I haven’t been a Habs fan for very long. Once, way back when, I wasn’t really a sports fan at all. I might tune in to the odd championship game and cheer for the home team, but I couldn’t name more than a couple of players, if any.

I never saw Rocket Richard play. Or Jean Béliveau. Or Guy Lafleur. And I think I saw Patrick Roy play once, in that Stanley Cup-winning game in 1993. Really, my affection for the team grew out of necessity. As a copy editor, I was assigned to the sports desk at the Gazette, and I would read everything there is about the team. Now I watch all the games and know all the names of the players.

In my short time as a devout fan, I’ve never been ashamed of that fact. Not after missing the playoffs because of a loss to the Leafs. Not during many slumps. Not when fans would sing “na na na na hey hey hey goodbye” during Game 2, or would so overwhelm other teams’ stadiums you’d think they were playing a home game.

Last night was different. Though the news networks and politicians are stressing until their faces turn blue that last night’s riot wasn’t caused by “real Habs fans” (how do they know?), the images shown to the world speak for themselves.

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Violence is funny

I know it’s wrong to make fun of victims of violence, but:

  • We’re just now getting around to compensating store owners after the post-Stanley Cup riots in Montreal. The riots where we won the Stanley Cup. In 1993. Fourteen years ago.
  • Joe Clark was punched in the face for no apparent reason on Sherbrooke street last month, giving him a bloody nose.
  • A Union Station street meat vendor got badly burned after he lost consciousness and his clothes caught fire. The headline for this story on the Edmonton Sun website was, for a brief time, “Toronto hotdog vendor roasted.”

Can’t we laugh, just a little bit? Please?