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One of the experiences that propelled me into the migrant justice movement occurred thirteen years ago when Bilquis Fatima, a 64-year Pakistani refugee in a wheelchair, was reported to immigration officials during her dialysis treatment at the hospital. She was incarcerated with her son Imran, a minor, for over a month while awaiting deportation.

The very real experiences of thousands of migrants like Bilquis who are afraid of accessing healthcare, who are unable to enroll their children in school, who are denied access to food banks, who are ineligible for a range of social assistance benefits, who are detained by local police forces and turned over to immigration enforcement has underscored the critical and urgent need for Sanctuary City movements.

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Last week, four Downtown Eastside residents went to court to challenge a Vancouver bylaw that effectively prohibits subsistence street vending in the city. The street vending bylaw penalizes a survival strategy for low-income people who struggle to make ends meet. More than 95% of all street-vending tickets issued in Vancouver were for bylaw infractions in the DTES. The neighborhood is also the location of the city’s highest rates of ticketing for jaywalking.

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Louise Lagimodiere (right) and Dave Hamm (left) – Photo by Ward Perrin, The Province

Louise Lagimodiere (picture above) is a 70-year old Indigenous senior and member of VANDU. “I got two tickets more than a year ago,” she in an interview with The Mainlander yesterday, “but yet I’m still being called to court. I didn’t harm anybody yet they are spending thousands of dollars trying to get money out of me I don’t have. I wouldn’t be vending if I had the money to pay these fines.”

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPPC) has now rejected the reasons given by the Vancouver Mayor and Police Department for dismissing a complaint of discriminatory by-law enforcement in the Downtown Eastside. The complaint was filed by VANDU and Pivot Legal Society when it was revealed that 95% of all vending tickets and 76% of all jaywalking tickets were handed out in the Downtown Eastside. In September 2013, the Mayor dismissed the joint legal complaint and spoke in favor of a VDP board decision to dismiss the VANDU delegation.

The OPPC is a watchdog formed in 2011 in response to a systemic lack of police accountability in British Columbia.

VANDU members have been fighting against discriminatory by-law enforcement for more than a decade. In 2010 VANDU members collaborated on the Pedestrian Safety Project to address traffic safety concerns for pedestrians in the DTES. The VPD opposed the changes, including a 30km speed zone along Hastings. Many of the recommendations of the Project have since been implemented. At a press conference today, however, VANDU vice president Laura Shaver stated that police need to do more to focus enforcing speeds limits for drivers instead of fines for low-income pedestrians. “It is not the people hitting the cars, it is the cars hitting the people,” Shaver said.

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Last week the Vancouver Police Board voted to dismiss a joint complaint filed in March 2013 by VANDU (Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users) and Pivot Legal Society. The complaint was based on a freedom of information request revealing that up to 95% of Vancouver’s vending by-law tickets are given out in the Downtown Eastside (DTES).

Pivot and VANDU called on the police to implement the recommendations of the Murdered and Missing Women’s Inquiry, which called on the VPD stop the disproportionate ticketing of poor, homeless, and under-housed residents in the DTES.

Immediately after the Mayor’s decision, PIVOT announced that it will be filing an appeal with Office of Police Complaints Commission. PIVOT and VANDU will also continue with their constitutional challenge against the City’s vending by-law. According to Pivot lawyer Doug King, the challenge will be heard in the courts next Spring, 2014.

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On Monday, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson confirmed his support of the criminalization of dissent. Following the Vancouver Police Department’s recent threat of arrests against peaceful protesters, Robertson stated: “I support the Vancouver Police Department’s prudent steps to ensure that the right to protest is balanced against the right of all residents and businesses to peaceful enjoyment of public and private spaces.”

The Police Department’s “prudent steps” include the publication of a blanket letter warning the public that they may be arrested on criminal charges for “shouting, screaming, or swearing”; VPD Spokesperson Brian Montague’s April 17th announcement that the VPD were “anticipating an arrest” of an unnamed individual on unspecified charges “related to the PiDGiN protest”; armed officers’ surveillance of the PiDGiN pickets, five nights a week; visits to protesters’ homes and workplaces; and the constant monitoring of “all the protests that go on in the City of Vancouver.”


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Photo credit: DM GILLIS

After ten steady weeks of nightly protests by anti-poverty activists in front of the PiDGiN restaurant in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, police have stated that they plan to arrest picketers. In a press conference delivered yesterday, Vancouver Police Department spokesperson Brian Montague stated that his department is “anticipating an arrest soon.”

A letter issued yesterday by the VPD states that PiDGiN picketers can now be arrested for “shouting, screaming, or swearing.” The statement cites section 430(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada, which means that the VDP is seeking to label the protest a criminal action. An associated VPD release states that the police are issuing the arrest order to prevent Vancouverites from being “denied the lawful use and enjoyment of property.”

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