A lawyer with Pivot Legal Society has accused the Vancouver Police Department of carrying out a campaign of “discrimination” against low-income residents in the Downtown Eastside.
According to VPD statistics obtained by Pivot and provided to the Straight, 95 percent of street vending and street and traffic tickets issued in the city of Vancouver over the course of the last four years have gone to people in the neighbourhood.
That number represents 1,448 of 1,529 ticketed infractions of those bylaws in the city. The downtown area ranked second, with just 28 such tickets, and the West End third, with 24.
In a telephone interview, Pivot’s Douglas King argued that the pattern amounts to an attempt to “criminalize poor people behaviour”.
“They are essentially giving tickets out to one type of person in a specific neighborhood that fits a different description,” he said. “To us, it is discrimination on the basis of social condition.”
King argued that what the VPD is doing targets some of the city’s most-vulnerable residents.
“It is against people who are on income assistance,” he said. “It is against drug users, it is against sex workers, and it is against anyone who kind of fits that stereotypical mold of a Downtown Eastsider.”
King noted that this is not the first time it has appeared the VPD is targeting low-income people living or working in the Downtown Eastside. He pointed to a spike in tickets issued in 2008 ahead of the Winter Olympics. King recalled that Pivot and community groups challenged the VPD on what was happening then, and secured the support of Vancouver city council on the matter.
In March 2009, Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs was quoted in Megaphone Magazine stating that city hall had directed the VPD to stop targeting specific areas for disproportionate ticketing.
“The mayor’s made it clear to the police board that these ticketing procedures cannot be used in one neighbourhood for a particular purpose,” Meggs said. “If they’re valid tools, they’ve got to be used everywhere and they should be used without discrimination.”
King charged that the data provided by the VPD is proof police have consistently ignored that directive.
VPD spokesperson Const. Brian Montague denied that any special attention is being directed at Downtown Eastside residents.
“It is not discriminatory at all,” he said. “Tickets are given out where the offences occur, and the Downtown Eastside is where the majority of street vending happens. We don’t have a street vending problem in other areas of the city.”
Montague pointed to similar concentrations of categories of tickets issued in other parts of the city. Liquor offences are highest in the entertainment district, he said. And a similar spike in tickets issued for speeding can be observed along Knight Street or Marine Drive.
“Different policing doesn’t mean that it is discriminatory,” he maintained. “We simply hand out tickets where the offences occur.”
Pivot and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) are scheduled to hold a press conference at 10 a.m. on Wednesday (March 6). The event will take place at Pivot’s headquarters at 121 Heatley Avenue in Vancouver.
You can follow Travis Lupick on Twitter at twitter.com/tlupick.