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Increased police presence expected in Edmonton to deal with unruly Oilers fans

EDMONTON — Police are promising a greater presence in downtown Edmonton after increased violence around the Oilers arena during this year’s NHL playoff season.
Fans look on before the NHL Stanley Cup first round playoff action between the Los Angeles Kings and the Edmonton Oilers in Edmonton on Tuesday, April 25, 2023. Police are promising a greater presence in downtown Edmonton after increased violence around the arena where the Oilers have been playing NHL playoff games. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

EDMONTON — Police are promising a greater presence in downtown Edmonton after increased violence around the Oilers arena during this year’s NHL playoff season. 

Police Chief Dale McFee said although there has been a rise in violence in the area, most fans are there to respectfully enjoy the game and cheer on their hockey team.

“There's a lot to cheer about and we want to make sure that is what we're focused on — the sport, focused on our team, focused on our city to have the best experience possible,” McFee said at a media conference at Rogers Place arena on Monday.

Rogers Place president Stu Ballantyne said Oilers fans are "very passionate" and the city is "on the world stage right now, so it’s on all of us.”

An Oilers watch party in the plaza across from the arena has held thousands of fans over the first round of playoffs, with it reaching capacity on Saturday night. Ballantyne said they are working on a no-re-entry policy, similar to that at the arena.

“We have to adapt. We did not expect this volume of people to be here two hours prior to us even opening up our gates,” Ballantyne said, adding that fans have been lining up around the block to enter the plaza.

When Ballantyne was asked about the possibility of ticketing the watch party, he said they wouldn’t be considering that as an option.

Officers are investigating social media reports of finger biting, a stabbing and barricade rushing after the Oilers won against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday to close out their first-round series in six games.

“I don't want everybody to think that these isolated incidents are the actions of the majority,” said McFee. “The majority of people down here have been very good, very respectful … There are some isolated incidents that we'll deal with and investigate.” 

Police responded to a weapons complaint near the arena on Saturday where it was reported that multiple people had been stabbed. A man brandishing a knife was shot by police, sustaining serious injuries and being taken to hospital. Two people were also taken to hospital with critical and serious injuries but remain stable.

A video circulating on social media shows someone yielding a knife and wearing an Oilers jersey before getting shot.

McFee said additional officers are to be present during future games and watch parties to deal with unruly fans.

"We're going to continue to scale up based on what the need is," said McFee, adding that between 30 and 40 extra officers were present in recent games.

Barricades are also to be reinforced to prevent trampling after one was pushed down on Saturday at the Ice Plaza where an outdoor watch party was at capacity, resulting in a city employee breaking their ankle.

Nicole Poirier, the director of civic events and festivals with the city, said several agencies including police, transit, fire and medical services work together in planning for each game to ensure things run smoothly.

"We do this to ensure the right people are in the right place at the right time to make decisions quickly and move resources where they need to be," said Poirier.

McFee suggested that those who want to behave inappropriately should stay home, and that any who try to cause harm to other fans will be held accountable for their actions.

“If that’s the nature of why you’re coming down here, why don’t you just not come.”

McFee said that with heightened camera and police surveillance at the plaza, he's confident they'll be able to track down unruly fans. “We’ll find you,” he said. “Don’t think you can hide.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2023.

Angela Amato, The Canadian Press

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