VANCOUVER – Ignoring a sea of taunts and threats of violence, Victoria Pearson waded into the 2011 Stanley Cup riot and appealed to the conscience of one wild-eyed young man stuffing a handkerchief into the gas tank of a parked car.
“Do you think your grandmother would be proud of you right now?” she asked the stranger.
He paused, then sheepishly moved away, becoming one among a horde of nameless rioters Pearson, 29, prevented from torching a block of cars for at least half-an-hour the night Vancouver descended into lawlessness after the hometown hockey team lost the big game.
The Vancouver woman was among 17 civilians and eight medical professionals awarded Wednesday for acts of bravery on June 15, 2011 when a melee broke out among thousands of people gathered for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup.
Vancouver’s police chief and mayor handed out certificates of merit on behalf of the Vancouver Police Board to members of the group, as an announcer described heroic tales of individuals standing up to the mob in the midst of mayhem. Two police constables who demonstrated their devotion to duty were also honoured with a Chief Constable Commendation.
An indelible sense of right and wrong and a refusal to be swept up in a crowd gone mad were qualities that set the honoured civilians apart, Paul Patterson, senior director of the force’s public affairs office, told hundreds of guests gathered for the ceremony.
“They showed the world that when things look their worst, all is not lost,” he said. “Their individual stories of compassion and courage are inspiration for anyone facing overwhelming odds.”
Pearson, who stands five-foot-two, believes her height and sex actually shielded her from being victimized for a period of time during the riot, where she defended property while watching police officers and large men get roughed up in the fray.
She only became more resolute as people jeered at her to let them set the cars alight, reasoning insurance would pay for the damage.
“It wasn’t my car and it’s not about the insurance, it’s about Canadian values and what we stand for,” she said in an interview at the ceremony.
“In that moment I just thought it was really important to step up and let people know that what they were doing wasn’t right. It was the job of everyone there to stand up and be more than a bystander and represent what it is they want to see in our society.”
Pearson didn’t let up until she was rammed in the back of the head with a table and then punched in the mouth by a woman dressed all in black.
Malcolm Chrystal became a human shield when one of a trio of men covering their mouths with bandannas charged a photojournalist. Chrystal, 46, was thrown backwards over a bicycle rack and glass bit into his arms and face.
“Your heart’s racing too fast, you don’t feel any hurt,” he said in reflection.
Perhaps he became part of the problem by staying to guard his streets, he said, but he doesn’t regret his actions.
“I felt compelled to stay. They were breaking my city,” he said, adding he believes the police did everything they could.
“The mentality of the crowd was just so stupid. I’m actually disheartened by the number of people who chose to walk by when I was trying to help.”
Chris Ivany was rammed through a telecommunications store window after he grabbed a two-by-six piece of lumber and stood on the wood to prevent the men from further smashing in the building.
He accepted the certificate in front of dozens of police officers but doesn’t think as highly of their efforts.
“I feel ashamed of the police not doing their job that night. I think I shouldn’t have had to do their job,” he said, noting no one has been prosecuted for his assault, although parts of it was captured on video.
But Const. Mike Laurin, the officer who was most badly injured during the riot, said he doesn’t even think about the person who heaved a brick into his head.
“It’s a riot. People lose their minds and in the mob, do things they may not otherwise have done. I think it’s just a cowardly act,” he said.
Laurin was diagnosed with a severe concussion and spent three months in treatment to recover.
“There’s hundreds of people who could receive an award. These are just specific examples that were selected and picked out,” he said. “There are hundreds of stories of officers who did an extraordinary job that night, likewise with citizens.”
Others who were cited included a pair of men who gave backup to an officer helping a stabbing victim and a man attempting to stop aggressors from damaging a large department store. He was eventually swarmed, thrown to the ground and assaulted by up to 15 people.
An off-duty nurse who was commended may have saved a woman’s life by treating her head injury and driving her to a nearby hospital, while another man honoured suffered a collapsed lung as he was kicked and stomped in the head as people tried to break into a rental car operation.
Another woman single-handedly fended off the mob as people tried to loot a luxury clothing store.
Certificates of merit recipients were selected on the criteria of using their own initiative to assist police, apprehend an offender or make a lifesaving attempt in the face of danger.
Some 173 people face Crown-approved charges in connection with the events after the Vancouver Canucks lost the playoff final against the Boston Bruins. Police have recommended charges against a total of 315 suspected rioters.
There have been 110 guilty pleas so far, while 33 people have been sentenced.