Pivot Legal Society is questioning a warning letter the Vancouver Police Department sent to protesters who have been picketing outside PiDGiN Restaurant in the Downtown Eastside.
The VPD issued a warning this week to some of the demonstrators, citing the definition of acts of mischief under Section 430 of the Criminal Code of Canada, including anyone wilfully destroying or damaging property, and obstructing lawful use of property.
“Obstruction or interference with the use of property includes but is not limited to the following behaviours: shouting, screaming, or swearing at anyone that disrupts public peace or physically blocking any person from freely entering, leaving or staying at any public place,” the warning from the VPD reads.
In a letter to police chief Jim Chu dated April 17, Pivot lawyer Douglas King argues the latter definition is “inaccurate” and too broadly defines the section of the Criminal Code.
“There’s been legal cases that have looked at this section of the Criminal Code and said that it needs to be a physical obstruction for it to amount to criminal mischief,” King explained in a phone interview with the Straight. “So we thought by the VPD saying any kind of behaviour that would just be disturbing people could amount to criminal mischief was not actually correct in the sense that the courts have said it has to be something more than that.”
Const. Brian Montague, a spokesperson for the VPD, said the police wouldn’t be arresting an individual “for shouting at somebody during a protest,” but would be responding to a collection of events.
“It’s not one specific incident, like shouting or yelling at someone, it’s a number of incidents like that, and like the ones set out in the letter...that would constitute us having to act and arrest somebody,” he said in a phone interview. “We’re not saying that we’d be stepping in and arresting someone who’s shouting and yelling or swearing.”
According to Montague, the warning letter has been issued “to a very small group” of about two or three people.
“The letter itself is meant to inform certain people that we believe are going beyond peaceful and legal protest,” he said. “It’s not given to every protester. We have observed certain individuals engaging in behaviour that could result in criminal charges.”
King said he gets the sense that the protesters are not aiming to physically block people from entering the restaurant.
“If there is physical obstruction taking place, especially now that a warning’s been given, I don’t think anybody is going to be upset if the police step in and make an arrest,” he said. “I get the sense that the protestors actually are respectful of that - that they don’t want to actually be physically blocking anybody, and I don’t think that’s what their goal is.”
King added the message behind the pickets is centred on a call for low-income housing in the neighbourhood.
“The protesters, their main complaint is that, 'This is not the housing that we wanted,' " he said. "This is a fancy restaurant that the low-income people can’t use.
“So it’s really not so much about restaurants as it is about housing, and saying the city has allowed the developers to come into a neighbourhood where their impact and the fancy restaurants are kind of like the second wave of gentrification," he added. "You allow the condos in the first place, you create a market for that higher-end business and other businesses follow.”
The pickets have been taking place outside the restaurant on Carrall Street for about nine weeks.