Why is it so hard to get a straight answer from Vancouver City Hall? There are some really simple questions whose answers the public has a right to know. First, did the city approve Chief Constable Jim Chu's request for almost $1.3 million for Stanley Cup policing, yes or no? Second, if yes, when did they approve it?
We now learn from an administrative report dated September 1, 2011 that Penny Ballem, the city manager, recommended that Vancouver city council "approve $1,000,000 from the Contingency Fund to cover those expenses that cannot be absorbed by City departments related to the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoff Live Site activation, policing of the public realm, and the incremental costs associated with the riot that took place on June 15, 2011."
Of this, the total to the VPD was $308, 250. Council apparently approved the request on September 6, 2011. Did council give Chu any funds before June 15? According to an email response received from Councilor Suzanne Anton, no, it did not.
Translated into the Queen's English this means that city council approved the money for policing retroactively, after the riot, not before, and at less than 25 per cent of what Chu conservatively estimated he would need.
As hard as City Hall tries to hide the details, here is what is emerging in chronological order:
- Chu went to council in mid-April asking for funds for Stanley Cup policing, funds he did not have in his budget;
- City council apparently did not give him his money, clearly assuming/praying that nothing amiss would occur;
- Chu made do and put what cops he could on the streets, dipping into his existing funds to do so;
- The riot happened with something like 300 cops trying to contain a crowd composed of thousands of drunken fans;
- Two and a half months after the riot, Penny Ballem went to council asking for money for the police and other city departments;
- Only then did council approve police overtime costs and replacement for damaged/destroyed VPD vehicles and equipment.
Now that we know that the city did not give Chu the money in advance, the relevant question is why not? If the money is available from the Contingency Fund for policing after the riot, why was it not provided before when it might have stopped the riot from happening in the first place?
It is hard to avoid the obvious conclusions: The city manager, mayor and the Vision Vancouver-dominated council screwed up when they made assumptions about crowd behaviour that were not warranted, ignored previous advice from 1994, and dismissed the request for funds from their own police chief. City Hall now seems to be determined to put the happiest possible face on this mess, hoping that it will all be forgotten before the municipal election in November. Is this really what it now comes down to: a pre-municipal election exercise in damage control?
As for Jim Chu, he is basically a "grunt". He did what he was told by his superiors in City Hall: don't worry your pretty little head about it, it will all be fine. Chu did what he could with his available resources, perhaps with vague promises that some money would be forthcoming afterwards. He is likely too loyal -- or too much hoping not to muddy future job prospects -- to spill the beans about what really happened. But the time for him to do so might be coming. After all, a city government anxious to hide their own incompetence is not above tossing Chu under the bus to save themselves.
The report's conclusion states that, "The riot that occurred on June 15, 2011, was unfortunate and unexpected." Unfortunate? For sure. Unexpected? Hardly.
If this is what passes for honest governance in the City of Vancouver, we are all in big trouble... but many of us have been suspecting this for some time.