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When bad things happen to good places

Whistler might be feeling a special sympathy for Vancouver at the moment as the popular summer destination reels from the effects of the Stanley Cup riot last week.

Whistler might be feeling a special sympathy for Vancouver at the moment as the popular summer destination reels from the effects of the Stanley Cup riot last week.

It wasn't so long ago that Whistler was in the headlines, not for its outstanding visitor experience, but because a sled dog owner allegedly killed some of his dogs in an inhumane manner. The news of the killings made headlines around the world, brought threats against some residents associated with the kennel, resulted in calls for a boycott of the resort, and even spurred a provincial inquiry into the sled dog industry as a whole.

We learned this week that there would also be an independent investigation into the riots though, as B.C. Solicitor General Shirley Bond vowed Monday, it will not be about assigning blame; it will be a fact-gathering mission.

The review is to look at the role alcohol played in the riots, as well as how plans by police and the city of Vancouver were implemented before the hockey game, which ended in a 4-0 loss for Vancouver against the Boston Bruins. Media reports say that fights broke out before the game was even over and that in some cases police were not on the scene of violence for up to an hour. No one has been named to head the review, and there isn't a budget for it yet either. But the province, the city and the Vancouver Police Board want it done before November's Grey Cup street festivities in Vancouver.

There is no doubt that some people went into downtown Vancouver last Wednesday night with the sole intention of rioting, while others appeared to spontaneously lose control: Where damage was done all are criminals and should be prosecuted. Hooliganism cannot be excused.

In all 17 vehicles were torched. The Vancouver police have reportedly received 3,500 emails, 53 of them with video attached - 676 had links to YouTube. To date 15 people have turned themselves in to police.

It is hard to believe that the police were not fully aware of the potential for violence. It is also hard to believe that their response was so muted. Still, an Angus Reid poll Monday showed that two-thirds of respondents believe the police handled the situation properly.

For the last several days major news outlets around the world have carried the story of the riots, images that few of us will forget of burning vehicles not far from the very streets where the city jubilantly, but peacefully, celebrated the winning of the Olympic gold medal in hockey last year.

A compelling email making the rounds shows four pictures of violent street scenes: one from Somalia, one from Libya, one from Egypt and the last of Vancouver. You can't tell which location is which.

In the UK the Daily Mail gave it some perspective with the headline: "No, it is not another G20 protest - somebody lost an ice hockey match."

The New York Time's lengthy article "Trouble in Vancouver's Streets after Defeat" was the most-read story on the paper's online sports section the day after the riots. The story ran with a photo of three men watching a car burn as they stood dressed in their Canucks jerseys.

The Province newspaper reported Walt Judas, vice-president of marketing and communications for Tourism Vancouver, as saying: "We are hearing from some people who are saying that we are never going to visit your city, or we were planning to visit and we have cancelled our plans."

Judas said it was too early to predict what kind of economic toll the riots would take.

"I don't think we could even put a number to it, it's too difficult to measure. In the short term it will have an impact..."

It all sounds a bit familiar.

While the sled dog deaths and the riot cannot be compared there are common lessons - chief amongst them is that in the end it is the reaction and the reaching out by the everyday citizen to share the true identity of a place that will eventually carry the day.

In Vancouver a citizen wall filled with inspiring messages sprang up on the dozen's of plywood sheets used to board up damaged windows, becoming "instruments of our recovery," according to Vancouver Councillor Heather Deal.

The wall will likely be preserved.

More than 15,000 people signed up on a Facebook site to help clean up the city.

People can go to and post messages and also tell stories they believe reflect the true spirit of Vancouver. On the "Vanlover" Facebook site people can find out how to help the more than 50 businesses affected by the riot.

Maybe there is a lesson here for Whistler. Bad things can happen to good places. Let's remember to share the good things about our home while we work on making sure those responsible for the bad things are held accountable.