Pivot Legal Society has released new information suggesting that Downtown Eastside residents are unfairly targeted for jaywalking tickets and that there are “startling discrepancies in the way the Vancouver Police Department is enforcing city bylaws.”
A June 6 media release issued by Pivot and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) presents statistics obtained from the VPD that show that 75.2 present of jaywalking tickets issued in the last four years were handed out in Downtown Eastside.
That puts VPD practices in stark contrast with where jaywalking is happening, the advocacy groups suggest, noting a 2012 study funded by the City of Vancouver that found jaywalking occurs “equally across multiple neighbourhoods”.
In a telephone interview, Pivot’s Douglas King told the Straight his biggest concern is that tickets for minor offences such as jaywalking are “creating an industry of enforcement that has nothing to do with criminal behavior and has everything to do with profiling people who are of a different social class.”
King noted that in Canada, there exist constitutional protections against random street checks that prevent police from randomly searching people on the streets. “What we’re concerned bylaw enforcement has become is a way around that constitutional provision against street checks.”
He continued: “We suspect that ultimately that is their goal, is to try to pick up as many people as they can on outstanding warrants, because they are trying to show, for their statistical purposes, that they are taking people of the street.”
King said that at face value, arresting people with outstanding warrants is not a bad thing. But that upon closer inspection, how warrants are being pursued reveals a troubling phenomenon where people of lower incomes are treated unfairly.
“If someone receives a ticket for a bylaw offense, they can’t pay it because they are in poverty and they can’t go to the court for a variety of reasons,” King explained. “So basically, it becomes a vicious cycle of warrants.”
During a VPD press conference held the same morning, Sergeant Randy Fincham defended the force’s operations in the Downtown Eastside and dismissed claims of ticketing inconsistencies.
“There is a larger police presence in Downtown Eastside,” he said. “With an increased police presence, what you will see is a larger potential for interaction with police and issue of jaywalking tickets.”
“The police are not utilizing the issue of jaywalking tickets or any other tickets to identify individuals or to gather information on people,” Fincham emphasized.
King said that their analyses of jaywalking tickets is more revealing than previous studies of how bylaws are enforced.
“The last few times that we’ve had these discussions and talked about bylaw enforcement in Vancouver, the VPD’s response has been, ‘These are poverty-related crimes, they happen in poorer neighbourhoods, the Downtown Eastside is where the offences occur, so that is why the enforcement has been in the Downtown Eastside,’” he explained. “With jaywalking, it is harder for them to say that because jaywalking is something that occurs all over the city….Research suggests that it’s actually quite uniform across the city. So the big question is, why has enforcement been centered on one neighborhood?”