As we made our way up the hill, we talked of philosophy and of life. I enjoyed my talks with Lyle. Spending 7 years studying Buddhism in Tibet gave him a certain outlook on life that I enjoyed hearing about. He's a very wise man, and I always found myself watching my words with him, checking to see if my statements and remarks were correctly worded, and with content, which was why I found it hard to ask him the question I wanted to ask him as he walked quietly up the street, deep in thought.
We were on our way up to Robson street. It was about 3 hours after the Canucks had lost the Stanley Cup, and Lyle wanted to know what was up on the streets. It was where he spent most of his time since he left Tibet over 2 years ago.
As we rounded the next corner I asked him the question. "Lyle, I know this is a weird question, but do your nose and eyes burn?" It seemed to be a valid question since mine were. He stopped. "My eyes are," he said puzzled. We looked at each other and in unison, "tear gas?"
We quickened our pace towards the heart of downtown. The wind was at our faces. The burning got stronger. We stopped two girls who were coming from the direction in which we were making our way. "Excuse me, what's going on downtown?" Lyle asked.
"There's a big riot, they're tear gassing everybody." One girl exclaimed. I said thanks to them and they quickly disappeared.
One of the girls called out to us "you don't want to go down there."
"Thanks," I said, and we continued on our way.
We walked on and as we stopped and talked to people, we got the same reply, and the same cautions. I asked Lyle if we shouldn't go back, but Lyle is a very strong, determined person, and when there's shit going down, Lyle manages to make his way to the heart of it. With Lyle, finding disturbing situations are by choice, with me, usually just bad luck.
"Don't you find it curious?" Lyle asked me as we walked. By this time there were quite a few people walking towards us.
"That the police are using tear gas? Yeah, I'd never expect it here in Vancouver."
"No, not so much the fact that the police are using tear gas, but that the people we've encountered seem to be so casual about the whole situation."
I looked around the street we were on, and though everyone seemed concerned, everybody had in fact, been pretty nonchalant about the whole thing. "You know, you're right. Even the girls we spoke to seemed like they were telling us where the party was, or how to get to the pizza parlour, but not that the riot police were out tear gassing everyone who was in their way."
Maybe we were the one's overreacting, but the whole thing seemed too surreal. When we got to the corner of Bute and Robson they were there. It was a scene I won't quite forget. About twenty riot police were out, gear on, gas masks in place. In their hands they all held tear gas rifles, and as the people went up to them, most just asking for directions on how to get out of the situation, they were maced and pepper sprayed.
I couldn't see the other side of the street from all the gas in the air, and my eyes were burning something fierce. I wished I'd brought my gas mask that I keep on my Buddha statue. I looked for Lyle and couldn't find him. I looked around the crowd. People were huddled in groups, some talking, some leaving the scene, and a very few, throwing rocks and debris at the police.
I spotted Lyle, and made my way over to him. He was talking to a man in a business suit. "Do you believe this?" I asked him.
"After all I've seen this year, I'd believe anything." Lyle replied.
He was referring to the Clayoquot Sound incident, and the vigil at the Victoria courthouse which followed. We'd seen our share of government corruption, police brutality, and the jailing of political prisoners.
He began walking up to a police officer, but at about twenty feet from his mark, he was turned back by the raised rifle of a police officer.
I went up to him. I knew Lyle, and if I didn't go get him, he'd end up being in trouble. "Come on, let's go," I said, pulling on his arm. With reluctance, he came with me. The entire scene seemed to be coming from out of a Dali painting. Everything was twisted and distorted beyond reason. We turned away and began walking in the direction from which we came.
When we got to the next corner, Lyle said to me that he wanted to see more, so we turned down into the alley to make our way to a further point along Robson street. On Thurlow street, the police there only carried batons, but from the looks of things, they were in no better a mood then the police were on Bute street. Again when we went up to the cops, we were waved back.
At least here I felt better in the fact that the being pushed back was with the force of batons
, not tear gas rifles, but in the end it was the same, the police were telling us that we weren't allowed on the streets, and the punishment was being tear gassed, maced, or clubbed
The police were incredible unorganised for whatever it was that they were planning, because every direction that we were told to turn by one group, there'd be another group at the next block telling us that we couldn't go there, and to turn back and go the way we came. We were trapped. Over 50 000 people in a 6 block area filled with tear gas, broken glass, and 500 police. Batons to the left, mace and pepper spray to the right, tear gas in back and in front. No where to go.
That's when people started getting mad. Everywhere we went it was the same, we couldn't get out. Lyle and I got separated in a tear gassed corner of the street. I had to close my eyes, they burned. I was tearing so hard I had to stop for a second. When I finally managed to open my eyes, I was just able to make out Lyle's shape disappearing into a cloud of smoke. I couldn't continue after him, I had to go back.
Down the street I saw a man in his mid 40's, 3 piece suit and all, pick up a piece of debris and throw it at the police. He then went back to rubbing the tear gas from his eyes. A little further down the road I saw a guy on the side of the road, face down in a bucket of water, trying desparately to get the mace out of his eyes.
I managed to get behind the line of police that were marching towards us, and got to a pay phone to call home to tell Andrea what was going on. She wanted to come out to see what was going on. She'd been at the '87 Montreal Stanley Cup riots, and wanted to see these. With much reluctance, I told her to come and meet me.
I got off the phone and began walking to meet her. I passed by St. Paul's hospital and noticed that there was a guy, mid 20's, screaming and swearing. I went up to him to see if he was okay, and he told me that he was at the riots and had an asthma attack. He went to the hospital where the cops followed him in and together with the security guards, began to beat him. The police were all around so we parted company and I went on my way.
I was out of the action, walking down Burrard street, up near Davie. People sat at cafes drinking Espressos, laughing and joking, smoking, and having fun. The pizza parlour was happening, cars drove by honking, with beautiful young things hanging out of windows, proudly displaying Canucks signs and t-shirts.
I looked about the street in my still burning eyes, and couldn't believe what was going on only 4 blocks away. I stood there and looked at the scene, and listened into the night at the sound of the ambulances. I walked on, giving people the same warning that the other people had earlier given me.
By the time I met up with Andrea, my nausea had passed. She said I looked like shit, and we started walking back into the heart of it. I told her what had happened, how I'd lost Lyle, what happened with the guy at the hospital, the stupidity of the police, who as far as I and most of the people around us felt, were the cause of the riots in the first place.
I wondered about Lyle, and hoped that he was ok. Andrea said she couldn't smell any tear gas. I couldn't tell, because I still had it in my nostrils. But if she couldn't smell it, then maybe it was over. We walked on. But when we got to Thurlo and Robson, it was the same thing.
Apparently the police had run out of tear gas and sent in for a replacement. That's why there was a period where Andrea couldn't smell anything. It wasn't over, it had just begun. By a run of bad luck, and by trying to avoid abusive police, we ended up on Robson street. Not a good place to be.
We turned down the street and began to walk to the next block to try to get out, when we noticed people running past us. We turned to look and saw, in a cloud of tear gas, police in full riot gear and masks running towards us with extremely angry and tear gassed German Shepherds. We ran. One of the cops let go of his leash and the dog bolted and began pulling this one guy down the street by his leg.
We quickly turned down another street where we saw the police fire a tear gas canister from out of one of their rifles and hit a woman in the back as she ran from them. She fell to the street, pulling at her burning shirt, taking it off and leaving it on the street. She got up and continued running away topless.
Again we found ourselves turning down yet another block. This time we ended up walking towards a row of policemen standing around talking. This seemed the way to go. We got in line behind a businessman and his wife. They were looking for a way out of the madness. We followed close behind, feeling that it was a safe place to be.
We were close enough to them that when they approached the officers and asked them where they should go, we were able to hear the officer's reply.
"Go home", the officer said to them. Then proceeded to mace both of them. The woman screamed and she and her husband turned and ran back, knocking into Andrea and I. We all fell over, with the woman on top of me. The smell of mace coming off of her made me gag. I couldn't breathe.
We all got up quickly and ran as fast as we could in opposite directions. Andrea held tightly in my grasp, I turned down an alley and found a back door to an appartment building open. We went inside to get out of the scene.
After a while, we ventured out again. At the end of the block, we were met by police macing everyone who passed them. We managed to finally get by a group of cops and made our way out of the battle scene and off towards home.
Once the night was over, and all was said and done it was found out that the cause of the riots was not in fact people rampaging out of control. Or looting. Or anything that anyone had done wrong. No one was angry that the Canucks had lost the Cup. We were all so proud of them and were just out celebrating. What happened was that a rookie cop had gotten separated from his group that was doing crowd control and had gotten himself into the center of a little mosh pit, gotten scared and called in for the tear gas. Simple as that. Many people were arrested, and a few were hospitalized. The police were never charged in any wrong doings.