Downtown Eastside support worker suffers nerve damage after getting caught in "street sweep"

Sean Ramsay, who works for the Lookout Society, says he was detained for four hours on October 2 and released with no charges

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      A Downtown Eastside support worker says he suffered nerve damage while handcuffed and held in police custody after he got caught in a “street sweep” of the Downtown Eastside.

      Sean Ramsay, who works for the Lookout Society, says he was detained for four hours on October 2 and released with no charges. This came after an arrest that he says was made because he protested when city workers impounded his bicycle, which he had locked to a parking meter. According to the city’s Street and Traffic Bylaw, Section 85 A, it is not permitted to attach items to “street furniture”, including meters.

      “This kind of thing happens to my clients all the time,” Ramsay told the Georgia Straight by phone, noting that it isn’t unusual for DTES residents to be arrested for seemingly trivial matters. “We [support workers] are normally given a bit of grace,” Ramsay added.

      Doug King, a lawyer for Pivot Legal Society, has been supporting Ramsay with legal follow-up. King says Ramsay got caught in an early-morning street sweep by police and city workers due to the city’s recent DTES enforcement of the bylaw to prevent street vending.

      King told the Straight authorities could have just given Ramsay a ticket for contravening the bylaw. “We have this problem where the City of Vancouver makes pretty much everything illegal and leaves it up to the people on the street [police] to decide how the bylaw is enforced, and we know of multiple cases where we would say the bylaw is being misapplied in an abuse of power…and this is a great example of that.”

      Ramsay said that on the morning of October 2, when he stopped at 261 East Hastings Street to get keys for his shift, he locked his bike to a parking meter out front. After a city worker told him he wasn’t allowed to do that, Ramsay said, he told the worker he’d only be gone a minute. While he was gone, he said, city workers sawed through his lock and put his bike in their truck.

      Upon seeing this, Ramsay said, he ran outside and called out to the workers. He said he was then “tackled” by nearby police officers, handcuffed, and arrested for breach of the peace. He said he went to a doctor after his release.

      “Because the law is written so broadly,” King said, “it gives the police and city workers the power to try and remove a bike, and in that situation they end up doing it for reasons not actually for the public safety or nuisance on the street or cleanliness but because they had this interaction with a person and didn’t get the response that they wanted. They make it personal.”

      King said Ramsay will be filing a complaint with police about the incident and requesting the Crown to lay charges.

      Const. Brian Montague, a police media-relations officer, told the Straight: “It’s the city that creates the bylaw.…We have the ability to enforce the laws; it doesn’t mean we have to enforce the laws. We do use our discretion.”

      The Downtown Eastside requires frequent garbage removal, Montague said. So that no one interferes with that cleanup, police accompany city workers while they remove waste.

      Montague noted that officers have authority to make arrests based on a “breach of the peace” when they think someone might commit a crime. “It’s a preventative measure for things like assault or mischief or other criminal offences, and what happens is that they get arrested and detained until there is no more concern for that breach of the peace.”