VANCOUVER – Thousands of onlookers were busy snapping photos on their digital cameras and smartphones of rioters tipping cars, setting fires and smashing storefront windows following the Vancouver Canucks’ loss in the Stanley Cup final.
Many of those photos quickly made their way onto the web and social networking sites, and now some angry residents are hoping they also become evidence against the rioters and looters.
By late Wednesday evening, even before the riot was fully under control, blogs and Facebook groups were already encouraging users to submit photos from a night that left the city’s downtown core a burning, tear-gas-filled mess.
And police were also asking for those photos.
A site dubbed the "Vancouver 2011 Riot Criminal List," on the microblogging service Tumblr, started with a simple invitation:
"Lets hold people accountable for their actions!" the post began. "All right everyone, lets start posting pictures of the idiots setting fires and looting. Let’s get identifying these criminals."
That prompted a series of postings, including photos taken during the riot and screen shots from TV news broadcasts, showing out-of-control people, many wearing Canucks jerseys, smashing windows and towering over burning cars.
In most, the faces of those rioters are clearly visible, often with triumphant grins.
The unidentified operator of the site was also encouraging visitors to send their pictures directly to the police.
A Facebook group also asking for photos of rioters didn’t specifically mention helping the police, but focused instead on public shaming.
"Let’s post those pictures and put a label on the losers that made this city look so bad, ruined my neighbourhood," said the group’s description.
"We know you just took the photos, so post them, and let them speak a thousand words."
Const. Jana McGuinness of the Vancouver police said the force would be releasing information Thursday explaining exactly how members of the public can submit their photos.
"If people have evidence of crimes that have been committed, they should contact the police department."
It’s something the Vancouver police have used before – including in the aftermath of the 1994 riots that followed the Canucks’ Stanley Cup loss to the New York Rangers.
Vancouver police set up kiosks in public areas displaying photos and videos from the riots, asking users to help identify photographs and submit anonymous tips.
Footage from television crews and witnesses also played a critical role in the trial of a police officer who shot a rubber bullet and injured Ryan Berntt.
Berntt sued for damages, and the trial saw dramatic footage of the confrontation replayed in slow motion and examined by experts. The case was eventually thrown out after a judge determined the officer acted reasonably.
Early Thursday morning, a separate group on Facebook was encouraging residents to head downtown during the next several days to help clean up.
As many as 10,000 users indicated they planned to attend, but whether even close to that many actually show up to help pick up the trash, glass and other debris remains to be seen.