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Canucks fans turn violent after loss

The debate of violence in hockey took new meaning in Vancouver, B.C., as fans turned their frustration over losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals into a riot-filled evening on the city's streets Wednesday night, complete with overturning and burning police vehicles and engaging in widespread looting.

The riots were ultimately controlled by police late on Wednesday night. The AP reported Thursday that 150 people required hospital treatment and Vancouver Coastal Health spokeswoman Anna Marie D'Angelo told the news organization that three stabbing victims have been admitted and an unidentified man is in critical condition with head injuries after a fall.

In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu blamed a group of "anarchists and criminals" for the riots. According to The Province, Chu said nine off-duty officers suffered injuries (many came into work after watching the riots on television) from thrown objects and being bitten. There were almost 100 people arrested, and 15 vehicles were set on fire, including two police cars. Chu said the rioters were "young men and women disguised as Canucks fans who were actually criminals and anarchists. These were people who came equipped with masks, goggles and gasoline, even fire extinguishers that they would use as weapons."

Asked by reporters why the police had trouble quelling the riots, Chu said, "When a crowd is this large, it is difficult to go and pick off the instigators and troublemakers. That is what we encountered that night. The crowd was very, very large. At the live sites there was a plan to create corridors for people to get through but they were quickly taken over. Those criminals and anarchists hide behind the large number of people. They were looking for that opportunity." The police is appealing to the public to upload video and publish photos of people involved in the riots."

Chu added that his investigators have received more than 150 tips from people who witnessed acts of vandalism. The VPD has asked people with photos, videos or witness evidence to contact them by e-mail at robbery@vpd.ca.

According to a VPD press release Wednesday night, the riot began with people setting a police car on fire in the CBC Fan Zone. "After the game ended tonight things turned pretty ugly down here," McGuinness said in the release as reported by The Vancouver Sun. The spokesperson said the chaos soon moved away from the fan zone, up the Georgia corridor and onto Granville Street.

On Thursday the office of Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson told the Vancouver Sun that the mayor will be conducting a tour of the areas most heavily damaged in last night's riots. His city woke up this morning to news reports that portrayed this normally-placid communityin out-of-control chaos, a sharp contrast from the goodwill engendered from its successful Olympics 16 months ago.

How did things unfold? As over 100,000 fans packed downtown Vancouver on Wednesday afternoon for the Canucks' game, a fan-viewing area on Georgia Street turned violent. The area housed thousands who had camped out much of the day to watch the game on a giant screen outside Canadian Broadcasting Corp. headquarters.

In that fenced off area and directly outside of the city's large Canada Post building, a group of fans overturned a car and then hopped onto it, jumping up and down while hundreds more egged on the behavior. Once the crowd started chanting "Burn It," the level of violence ratcheted up.

Soon, small trash fires peppered the area and fights became common. The blue fences originally used to keep alcohol out of the fan zones -- four outside screens had been set up in the downtown core -- were torn down and fashioned into weapons by some in the crowd. They were also used to fend off the riot police.

The riot police -- bolstered eventually as officers from throughout the region started arriving on scene -- used tear gas and smoke bombs to disperse the crowds. The rioters responded with their own explosions of some sort, which early on drew cheers from spectators that had climbed onto roof overhangs and transit stops to get a better view of the destruction. Other spectators created a ring around the violence, with cameras clicking and videos rolling. Originally, as rioters threw debris at the police and taunted the uniformed personnel, the police remained calm and even videotaped those causing problems.

One car fire led to others, including two police cars that were overturned and then lit on fire. Fires and looting then spread into other areas of downtown.

Crowds overtook The Bay department store and a nearby drugstore -- among countless other businesses -- by smashing out windows and climbing through the open fronts to loot the stores.

With about 20 blocks downtown closed off to make way for pedestrian traffic at noon local time -- Game 7 began shortly after 5 p.m. -- the drinking started early, with lines at the bars wrapping around buildings by midafternoon. The city shut down alcohol sales at liquor stores at 4 p.m. in attempt to curb "alcohol-related violence."

Fire units weren't allowed to put out the variety of flames until over an hour after the first were started because the area was deemed too dangerous. That danger also kept families inside the nearby Queen Elizabeth Theatre after a showing of Wicked.

Even those not participating in the violence took part in it as a spectator sport, seemingly getting more enjoyment from taking pictures and video of the event than watching the Canucks lose to the Bruins on home ice 4-0.

To help curb the influx of mobs popping up in various areas, the city shut down the major routes into town and warned people they could be arrested if they stayed. BC Transit cut all bus service in the downtown area because of the riots and the agency's SkyTrain service was running at capacity for hours, starting during the third period of the hockey game.

As the evening turned dark, the fires continued and the riot police marched up and down differing downtown streets hoping to funnel people away from the downtown area.

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