Eyebrows raised by Kirk LaPointe's vow to sweep away Downtown Eastside drug dealers

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      NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe has said he will clear drug dealers from the corner of Main and East Hastings streets if he’s elected on November 15.

      The open drug market in the Downtown Eastside is a problem that every Vancouver mayor has tried to tackle dating back to Mike Harcourt’s tenure in the early 1980s.

      Speaking on November 4 at the unveiling of the NPA’s election platform, LaPointe was scant on details but reiterated his commitment to addressing the issue.

      “It’s distressing to see this kind of open drug sale within a few feet of a community centre where a lot of families go,” he said in reference to the Carnegie Community Centre. “After the election, we need to have direction there.”

      LaPointe added that he doesn’t intend to target every drug user. “We don’t wish to crack down on those who are vulnerable,” he said. “But we do wish to deal with those who are exploiting the situation.”

      The NPA’s election platform doesn’t mention drug dealers in the Downtown Eastside. It does, however, promise that an NPA government at 12th and Cambie would convene a “Street Crime Task Force” that would examine how to reduce "petty crime" in Vancouver neighbourhoods.

      The ruling Vision Vancouver party did not make a representative available for an interview by deadline.

      Adrienne Smith is Pivot Legal Society’s health and drug-policy advocate. In a telephone interview, she emphasized that it’s common for street-level dealers to use drugs and deal only to feed their addictions.

      She said she still has questions regarding what LaPointe would change about VPD drug enforcement. “I’m curious where he thinks he’s going to clear people to,” Smith said.

      Smith explained that although LaPointe has called for a “crackdown” on drug dealers around Main and Hastings, he has also said police should not feed a revolving door where dealers are arrested, tie up the courts, and soon after are released to the streets, where they return to selling drugs.

      “I feel like politicians who decry a revolving door would like the door to stop and to keep people in jail for longer,” Smith said. “That’s something we are seeing federally with Stephen Harper’s law-and-order agenda: more mandatory-minimum sentences on the books. And we know those are bad public policy; they are expensive and they don’t work.”

      Today the corner of Main and Hastings isn’t as crowded with drug dealers as it was a decade ago, but it remains a location well-known for the sale of illicit substances.

      Sgt. Randy Fincham clarified the VPD’s strategy for policing in the Downtown Eastside in a telephone interview.

      “We focus our enforcement efforts against violent traffickers,” he stated. Fincham explained that drug users who struggle with a mental illness, for example, are designated a low priority. Police instead go after drug dealers who target people with mental-health challenges and other marginalized groups.

      When asked if it’s time for police to reassess how they deal with drug dealers, Fincham only said those efforts will continue.

      He noted the justice system has implemented changes in the ways it deals with street-level drug dealers.

      Fincham pointed to the Drug Treatment Court, which opened in 2001 under NPA mayor Philip Owen, and the Community Court, which was established in 2008 when NPA mayor Sam Sullivan was in office. He said those developments have helped ease traditional courts’ caseloads and also serve as meeting points where mental-health services can complement policing.

      “Those provide avenues to have more minor or community-based offences dealt with in a court within the community,” Fincham added.

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      Nov 5, 2014 at 1:02pm

      Let's be very clear: the open drug market at the east corner of Main, at Hastings, is UNSAFE and violent (not for the cops who walk by, but for the average citizen), and clearly something needs to be done — not just at Main and Hastings, but on the next block down Hastings at the street market where stolen goods are offered for sale (hell, you can go up to one of the sellers and order what you want — and they'll boost it, or commit a house break in, and with a couple of hours the desired goods will be in the hands of the anxious consumer).

      When the open drug market "problem" at Main and Hastings was tackled in the not-too-distant past, all it did was chase the problem into the alley ways, where out of public view, violence against vulnerable DTES residents only increased (even if the general public was somewhat safer).

      There's no easy fix here. LaPointe's proposal is, perhaps, praiseworthy - but simplistic.

      For greater insight into LaPointe's DTES "programme", a recently-published Gastown Gazette <a href="http://gastowngazette.com/vancouvers-next-mayor-lapointe-commits-to-shut... target="_blank">article</a> provides some necessary background.


      Nov 5, 2014 at 1:04pm

      “I feel like politicians who decry a revolving door would like the door to stop and to keep people in jail for longer,”

      Ummm I hate to break the bad news to someone who seems to have their head firmly planted up the DTES bum, but this is a policy that the majority of the people in the city want. Actually in every city, in every country. Sorry lefties, but you have to do a way better job of convincing people that your strategy is better.


      Nov 5, 2014 at 1:15pm

      Great idea. Don't go after their source or anything - drugs just magically appear in dealers' pockets. I wonder how in the world huge amounts of drugs come into and through Vancouver what with our super regulated and policed ports.


      Nov 5, 2014 at 2:51pm

      finally someone who understands. Naturally the yokels at pivot are against this policy since it makes logical sense.


      Nov 5, 2014 at 2:57pm

      As long as there's a market for illegal drugs, dealers will find a way to serve it. Cracking down on the supply only drives prices up. If LaPointe (or anyone) were serious about solving the problem, they'd work to reduce the demand by putting money and effort into mental health care, drug treatment, safe injection sites, and other social programs that actually work to reduce dependency and the number of users.


      Nov 5, 2014 at 3:07pm

      Lapointe seems to be full of bad ideas that are always "scant on details". Thus far, Lapointe has promised smooth sailing for 340 more bitumen tankers in the the Burrard Inlet, a welcome mat for oil companies to promote their happy world in elementary schools, the ability for Vancouver Aquarium to breed and hold whales in captivity in perpetuity, a laughable proposal for counter-flow traffic on Broadway, and now this. Frankly, Lapointe scares me: he clearly hasn't a clue as to what a complex city such Vancouver needs. I understand that Lapointe has been in need of a job for the past few years and he looked good for the NPA optics, but please, couldn't he find employment elsewhere? He and his merry band of idiots will do this city great harm.


      Nov 5, 2014 at 3:48pm

      @ACMESalesRep. Prove to me that "safe" injection sites reduce dependency. If that is true, why are there so many more addicts than there were before insite opened. If insite is such a great program, why has no other city in North America copied their idea even though insite has been open for over 10 years.


      Nov 5, 2014 at 4:14pm

      Gregor has more than stuffed down the throats of Vancouverites his own personal agenda with a frightening lack of engagement on his pet projects. The epic waste of money on the bike meters is further evidence of his and his cronies of enormous narcissism. Bike lanes are great. But not if there is a direct benefit to those in the mayors office and his special peeps. Developers on Point Grey Road. Spare us the emissions belching out as cars navigate through all Gregor's personal project bike lanes. Rapid transit would be considerably better albeit more expensive but with density initiatives clogging up the brains of Vision politicians...how about some infrastructure? Gregor had little credentials coming in off the street from his ailing flailing juice company. at least Lapointe has a CV that would impress anyone in business. Let's face it at the end of the day the mayors position is one of advocacy for the general populace not for an elite few as Gregor's tenure has been.

      Harm reduction supporter

      Nov 5, 2014 at 4:48pm

      @bobo, supervised injection sites are not designed to reduce dependency and do not claim to do so. They are designed to reduce the harm drug users inflict on themselves and others through consequences of their addictions. Many, many studies shown that harm reduction services like Insite do a very good job of accomplishing that stated goal.

      @Murdoch, this article is about drug dealers and addiction in the DTES. What do bicycles have to do with drug addiction?


      Nov 5, 2014 at 4:55pm

      The concept of supply and demand has flourished in this part of town