New West crackdown creates concern
A public-space advocate says there's a Wild West feel in New Westminster's effort to ban certain individuals from its downtown area. According to Andrew Pask, coordinator of the Vancouver Public Space Network, the move is an American policing model that needs to be looked at from a civil-liberties perspective.
"It's kind of like a little bit of the Wild West: the sheriff's gonna run you out of town or something," Pask told the Straight . "If you're not going to jail someone, we don't typically create these mechanisms where movement is restricted. We charge people with crimes. We don't charge them with spatial infraction."
The attempt to secure "no-go orders" from the courts against persons charged with drug-trafficking is part of a raft of measures approved by the New Westminster city council on October 1 to address "nuisance behaviours and drug activities" in the downtown area. It includes the ban on news boxes containing free newspapers, including the Georgia Straigh t, effective January 1, 2008.
Last week, Vancouver media lawyer David F. Sutherland told the Straight that the ban on news boxes "very likely" violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms' guarantee of freedom of the press.
A staff report outlining the measures noted that police haven't been successful in convincing the courts to approve no-go orders. "The police are working with the Crown Prosecutor to address this concern," the document stated.
The report also identified other measures, such as increasing the number of private security guards employed by the city to patrol sites such as Hyack Square, the elimination of garbage bins, and making it harder for homeless people and metal salvagers to get shopping carts from local grocery stores.
New Westminster councillor Bill Harper said in a phone interview that these are all part of a bigger project to revitalize the downtown area.
"It's been a long road for us to get to the point where we can to make some serious improvements in downtown," Harper said. He cited Columbia Street, which the councillor recalled was considered a prime location in the Lower Mainland during the 1950s. "It had the nickname 'The Golden Mile', in the sense that it was the place for people to shop and socialize," he said.
Harper also said that the city is revitalizing heritage buildings like the old B.C. Electric building, where the interurban rail used to disgorge shoppers before proceeding to Surrey and Langley.