The executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association has said that police statements to the media “need to be examined very carefully for the truth”.
David Eby spoke to Straight today (February 24) after his organization posted on-line a video showing three plainclothes police officers visiting the Olympic Tent Village in the Downtown Eastside on February 15.
A week ago, Const. Lindsey Houghton, a spokesperson for the Vancouver Police Department, told the Straight that only two plainclothes officers had visited the squat, along with Const. Jodyne Keller, the VPD’s homeless outreach coordinator, who was in uniform.
“I think that’s a concern that the VPD is releasing information to the public that is inaccurate, and that the only reason we know it’s inaccurate is because someone was there and videotaping what actually happened from our observer program,” Eby said by phone. “So, if the police are going to be releasing public statements, they really do need to make sure that they are accurate and truthful. Otherwise, they’re going to lose the confidence of the public in what they say to the media.”
Shot by legal observers with the BCCLA, the video shows activist Harsha Walia escorting the three plainclothes officers out of the tent village at 58 West Hastings Street. Two of the officers can be seen wearing earpieces.
The video also includes an interview with a tent-village supporter, who recounts the conversation he had with Keller about why she wasn’t in uniform.
Today, Houghton told the Straight that he had unintentionally passed on incorrect information.
“My understanding was that she was in uniform,” Houghton said by phone. “But, if she was in plainclothes, she was in plainclothes. She, as a police officer, can wear that too.”
Houghton remarked that he didn’t know why Keller wasn’t in uniform that day, but he asserted that her job is “to try and help people” living on the streets.
“Some people find uniforms a bit intimidating,” he said. “So, maybe she made the decision, like we do on a daily basis, to go in plainclothes. Maybe she didn’t have time to change. I don’t know.”
Eby called the sending of three plainclothes officers to the tent village a “tactical decision”.
He speculated that decision might have been made to “avoid the appearance maybe of three uniformed officers going into the tent city, because the public wouldn’t agree with that, but at the same time send a message to the demonstrators that they’re being watched by police”.
Police have “overused” plainclothes officers when dealing with political movements in Vancouver, Eby argued.
“We would think that plainclothes police officers should only be used in circumstances where police have grounds to believe that the individual organizations being infiltrated are engaging in violent activities or plan on engaging in violent activities,” Eby said. “You know, similar kinds of grounds they would need to use a wiretap of a phone.”
You can follow Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.