To All Vancouver Police Department Staff
As you all know, my internal VPD communications are confidential. But in this instance, I am encouraging you to share this with your families and friends.
Over the last week, many of us in the Vancouver Police Department have been meeting and talking about the events on June 15th. The deputy chiefs, senior officers and I have managed to speak with many sworn and civilian members over the last few days and I want to thank you again for your amazing work and your feedback. To stabilize the riot in just three hours is a testament to the courage, training, and professionalism our members exhibited, and to the leadership skills of many sergeants, staff sergeants, inspectors, and others who took on leadership roles.
I have promised that we will fully cooperate with any review process, and if there are lessons to be learned, we will implement them.
We all have been moved by the amazing outpouring of public support. The letters, cards, baked goods, dog treats, and hugs and handshakes are unprecedented in my 32 year career. One member who policed an event on Friday night told me he “couldn’t walk 10 feet without a citizen stopping him and thanking him”. Another sergeant told me he went for breakfast with a group of officers and was told an anonymous citizen picked up their bill. And it was so moving to see the VPD patrol car with the sticky “thank you” notes.
It is difficult to explain why there is some media negativity in the face of this overwhelming public support, and why some insist that because there was a riot, the police “failed” because we didn’t somehow prevent it. The fact is that sports-related riots have occurred and will continue to occur in cities across North America and abroad, despite the best preparations and sometimes massive police presence.
I am grateful that this criticism has been aimed at my office and not at you. I am also grateful to live in a democracy with a free press even though we all know that free doesn’t always mean fair. While the majority of the reporting has been accurate, there has also been a lot of wild speculation and gossip that have been reported as facts.
A major source of this speculation is based on statements that have been made by a self-proclaimed expert, Mr. Bob Whitelaw. He has claimed he was an investigator for the BC Police Commission and also claimed to have written the 1994 Report on the Riot that occurred in Vancouver on June 14-15, 1994. Some media reports indicate he was the Chair or member of the Commission and some state he was an investigator. Yesterday, the media began referring to this report as “the Whitelaw Report.” Without exception they have reported his disparaging attacks against the integrity of the VPD without checking the facts.
It is time to set the record straight.
With just a few exceptions, all of the former BC Police Commission’s recommendations have been followed by the VPD. The members of the Public Safety Unit/Crowd Control Unit will especially know that their superb training, equipment, and leadership is a reflection of not only the recommendations in the report, but also the many advancements in crowd control unit training that have occurred since 1994.
The recommendations from the 1994 report that were not implemented are those that impose conditions on the news media and where they can place their cameras. Earlier in the hockey series, we did request some TV crews to move from Granville Street and we were met with strong disagreement.
So who is Mr. Whitelaw and why is he saying that we didn’t follow his 1994 recommendations?
As a sergeant on the frontline in the 1994 riot, I was interviewed extensively by the Police Commission in 1994 and I don’t remember Mr. Whitelaw. Other VPD members who were involved with the reviews in 1994 also do not remember him.
I confirmed yesterday that Mr. Whitelaw did not write the 1994 report, and that he has misrepresented to the news media his involvement with the BC Police Commission. This was confirmed yesterday when I talked to the former Chair of the BC Police Commission, Mr. David Edgar. I also have talked to others who were involved in writing the final report.
I was given a copy of an early report that I was told Whitelaw did help write. It was immediately discarded by the BC Police Commission in 1994. I was also told that because of the inadequacy of Mr. Whitelaw’s work, new investigators were brought in and a completely new report was written without any use of this first inadequate report.
Many of Mr. Whitelaw’s recommendations in his discarded report were rejected as unrealistic, and recommended a police reaction disproportionate to the offence being committed. For example, can you imagine the public outcry if we had zero-tolerance on “horn honking”, and instead of discretion on a “liquor pour-out”, we gave every single person a Violation Ticket, not to mention the impact on our effectiveness in interdicting liquor.
On the internet, there are many news pictures of Mr. Whitelaw holding the final 1994 BC Police Commission report. It is unfortunate reporters were misled and didn’t test the veracity of Mr. Whitelaw’s statements which at best appear to be incorrect or at worse, misleading and false. Mr. Whitelaw lives and works in Ottawa. He has never met with me or any senior staff to learn what we have done in the 17 years since the 1994 riot. I hope the reporters who gave him prominence when he criticized the VPD will give equal prominence to the real facts.
Mr. Whitelaw has definitely raised his personal profile and received a lot of attention at our expense. I found out yesterday that Mr. Whitelaw did offer his services to the VPD as a consultant on June 1st but we did not accept his offer. Shortly after, he appears to have contacted the Vancouver Sun with his opinions and an article warning of a riot appeared on June 4th. One recent article I read has him assisting the Montreal and Calgary Police with their playoff runs. I talked to the Chiefs in both Calgary and Montreal. Both of these agencies have never had any relationship with Mr. Whitelaw nor have these police agencies heard of him.
He did engage in some consulting work for the Ottawa Police. I talked to a senior Ottawa police officer and in 2007 when the Ottawa Senators were in the semi-finals, they experienced a problem incident with a large crowd. Mr. Whitelaw made some media comments about his 1994 expertise so they brought him in to “strategically” listen to him. Everything Whitelaw said the Ottawa Police should do, they were already doing so the advice he offered was not helpful; he nevertheless did invoice the Ottawa Police for his services. I am concerned that he could engage in similar pressure-marketing behavior with another police agency facing a crowd management issue.
In closing, let me share a comment from the 1994 BC Police Commission report:
“Even if all the recommendations in this report are followed, we cannot guarantee that riots will not occur in the future in this city. Crowd behavior is wildly unpredictable in the best of circumstances and the hype that follows major sporting events in this country, combined with a multimillion dollar marketing interest in linking alcohol and sports, is beyond the control of any local jurisdiction, no matter how well coordinated.”
The VPD and our partners must learn from this event and we look forward to the review. It won’t be the last time we are subjected to destructive and fraudulent comments from an individual who has misrepresented himself. What will get us through these tough times are the support we are given from the public, and the support we give to each other.