Vancouver Police Department defends decision not to arrest city councillor for distributing drugs at protest

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      The Vancouver Police Department is standing by with its decision of taking no action against a city councillor who gave out free drugs at a public protest.

      A VPD report to the Vancouver Police Board states that the drugs were “not distributed for profit but were intended as a harm reduction measure”.

      The report did not name the city councillor.

      However, the document included a link to a news report about the July 14, 2021 protest that identified the elected official as councillor Jean Swanson.

      In its account, CityNews Vancouver related that Swanson “helped hand out a free safe supply of meth, heroin and cocaine”.

      The VPD report likewise cited a Twitter post that read, “I got to hand out safe drugs today with VANDU and DULF. 6 deaths a day from poison drugs is way too many. 1 is too many. Safe supply now!!”

      The tweet was made by Swanson.

      The July 14 protest was held outside a police detachment on the Downtown Eastside.

      It was organized by the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users and the Drug User Liberation Front, which Swanson referred to in her social media post as VANDU and DULF.

      The protest sought to highlight concerns over toxic drugs that are causing deaths.

      A member of the public made a complaint before the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner about the VPD’s inaction on what the councillor did.

      The report to the police board noted that the complaint stated in part that “the police knew about what was going on but didn’t feel the need to arrest her”.

      “The VPD acknowledges the complainant’s concerns with the situation,” the report states.

      It explained that while no arrests were made, the department engages in enforcement actions “when necessary while considering the totality of the circumstances and on a case-by-case basis”.

      In this case, the VPD did “not believe that the public interest was met and the discretion used was proportionate to the circumstances of the protest”.

      “Overall, the VPD recognizes the DTES community as unique,” the report noted, referring to the Downtown Eastside.

      “There is a disproportionate population impacted by substance abuse whom [sic] have been severely impacted by the ongoing overdose crisis,” the report continued.

      It added: “While the VPD does not condone drug trafficking, it is recognized that the actions of the protesters were not motivated by profit and were not the actions of organized crime groups, but rather, were grounded in harm reduction and raising awareness to the need for urgent action to the overdose crisis.”

      The report is included in the agenda Thursday (October 21) of the police board.