There’s no easy way to write this – police are willfully ignoring rampant lawbreaking by a specific community. Worse, this special treatment is so widespread as to be invisible to most citizens. But the ruinous impact on our communities is all too apparent – violence, vandalism and even death.
Police have been giving preferential treatment to this subculture for decades, but many noticed it for the first time during the Stanley Cup playoffs last month. Sports fans, as usual, broke any number of laws with apparent impunity.
Night after night, hordes of fans, publicly drunk, rioted noisily in the streets. Some of them jostled and yelled at passers-by, including frightened and unsuspecting tourists. Others littered and spat. Unseatbelted passengers in vehicles careened out of sunroofs while distracted drivers blared their horns. Loitering was also observed.
Some of the disruptive behaviour occurred in licensed establishments, which flouted their own special rules about patrons’ conduct. Other behaviour occurred on the streets of our own neighbourhoods, at ungodly hours, while hard working, law-abiding citizens tried in vain to get some sleep.
The sports community is organized, sophisticated and over the years has developed considerable political clout. It seems clear that there has been a quiet agreement to treat some cultural events differently. People are now asking if there is a secret deal between the police and sports fans. If it isn’t a deal proper, it sure is a cozy arrangement.
I once attended a large sporting event. Don’t be fooled by the manipulative positive images you see in the media – sport is ugly. Fans stuffed their faces with beer and processed foods. One man vomited on the seat in front of him. Another man, in a frenzy, knocked a small child to a concrete floor. Scantily clad adults, their bodies painted in lurid colours, stood and gyrated while making loud hooting noises, dousing anonymous fans around them with their sweat and saliva. Fans, including small children indoctrinated into the lifestyle by their parents, encouraged participants to fight. And fans fought amongst themselves, again in the presence of small children. A man fondled a woman without asking permission, and exposed small children to his behaviour.
The police are successfully stopping the cultural activities of smaller, less disruptive groups. Take cruising, the sport of choice amongst many gay men. Police had no problem locating the necessary law to stop sexual behaviour at The Bijou cinema last summer. When a group of well-mannered gay men removed their clothing at the Barn earlier this year, police again whipped out the appropriate fine print. Those events are cancelled until further notice.
Police have also ensured that ravers won’t be enjoying their activity of choice on city property any time soon. Chief Julian Fantino successfully wooed city council to pass a ban on raves, and police have stepped up drug charges at dance events.
On the rave front, police have capitalized on the inquest into the ecstasy-related death of Allen Ho. But sports enthusiasts are routinely killed (39 fans died at a single European Cup event in Brussels in 1985), and yet these events continue, often at public or publicly funded venues. Even famous fatalities, like the skiing death of Michel Trudeau last year, do little to raise concern. I know of no related clampdowns on the dangerous skiing subculture.
Despite the violence and death, governments continue to spend millions building venues and funding clubs. And police do nothing. It doesn’t take a cynic to see that some bad behaviour is encouraged – sanctioned, even – while other bad behaviour is outlawed.
Given the power of the sports community, police and politicians likely fear the kind of backlash they’ve seen in the gay community. Radio host John Grundy gives a typical response in our feature on drugs (on page 21), “We need the dark rooms that were closed under police coercion in 1997. We were cheated out of a unique cultural tradition.”
Sports fans won’t give up their special treatment without plenty of whining. They’ll no doubt claim that to shut down sports events and sports culture with bans and police force is tantamount to cultural genocide.
But the law is clear – pretty much anything can be interpreted as illegal. And we will not be treated equally while some groups are allowed to enjoy their culture while breaking the law, and others are not.
David Walberg is Editor-in-chief for Xtra.