column was published in the
Aug. 11, 1999)
police head off fireworks
By Leo Knight
started as a little tale about a guy who was whining about
getting four bottles of beer taken by police at last Wednesday's
Symphony of Fire event has somehow blossomed into one of the
major news stories of the week.
the morning tab the day after, the ever witty and erudite
columnist Peter Clough, told us of the incident in a piece
headed "Boys in blue bag brewskis." Great alliteration
in the lighthearted headline and an apt descriptor of the
what followed was a veritable deluge of news reports on all the
major radio and television stations as well as front page news
in the next couple of editions of the daily papers. All day
Friday and Saturday, newscasts were following the story,
interviewing criminologists, civil libertarians, lawyers and
various other talking heads. The talk shows were focused on the
issue with one wag suggesting it was one step away from the
tactics of the brown shirts and jackboots of Nazi Germany.
Police spokesperson Anne Drennan did her level best to explain
the position of the police and even went so far as to quote the
appropriate authorizing section of the Liquor Control and
Licensing Act in an effort to educate the ill-informed. And all
for naught. Saturday's newscasts were abuzz with the question of
whether the police would continue the seizures for that night's
I grant you it's been a slow news week but really, brown shirts
police began checking for booze at bottlenecks such as the
Skytrain stations and the Seabus terminal six years ago in the
wake of the '94 Stanley Cup riot. For all that time they have
been diligently checking people heading for the fireworks and
if, and only if, they had reason to believe persons were
carrying alcohol to be consumed at the beach or on the street,
they confiscated the bottles and cans.
all the Philadelphia lawyers bleating about the police
overstepping their authority, the provincial liquor act allows
this and has allowed it for as long as I can remember, which
goes back to the days of the old Government Liquor Act. So why
all the attention now?
reality is that the Symphony of Fire evolved from the old Sea
Festival which was cancelled by city council after years of
problems caused by drunken louts. The Seafest was at one time a
two week affair. It had a great many events and was centred
around Sunset Beach and English Bay. The world famous Nanaimo to
Vancouver bathtub race was an integral part of the festival.
Now, because of the booze heads the tubbers just bounce around
remember well in 1981, as a policeman, fighting pitched battles
on the beach in what was then called a riot. The fire department
had to be called in to hose down drunks firing rocks, bottles
and other projectiles at us.
a couple of years of trouble, Seafest was cut down to a week,
then only a few days. Finally, it had to be cancelled
altogether. The only remnant is the fireworks competition now
called the Symphony of Fire. But the event does draw a lot of
people, usually between 150,000 and 250,000 each time they light
up the barge off English Bay.
the show is over, all those people begin moving away from the
beach and toward the downtown area. The drunks, albeit a
minority, are very evident: yelling, fighting, puking and
generally firmly establishing that Charles Darwin was in fact,
police response was typically, reactive. And so it was in June
1994 after the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals when the
Rangers beat the hometown heroes. But the police learned their
lessons that night. And it is those lessons which led to their
current proactive policy of trying to head off the trouble
before it gets started. And it has worked well.
brings me to one of the more stupid things I have heard in the
past few days of liberal chest thumping. One talk show host was
going on about how there hasn't been any problems and the police
should just wade in and arrest someone who is causing a problem,
should that situation arise. Clearly the commentator has no
sense of either the history of the event nor any knowledge of
the dynamics of a crowd. The reason problems have been few in
recent years coincides directly with the actions taken by police
in being proactive not reactive.
Symphony of Fire is a great event for everyone. And it should
be. The actions taken by the police in curtailing the lager
louts keeps it that way.
Enough bleating please.