BCCLA REPORT ON RCMP |

A report from the BC Civil Liberties Association has revealed what life can be like for the poor throughout rural BC. The report, entitled “Small Town Justice,” documents severe police misconduct, especially in B.C.’s North. The report also highlights racism against Aboriginal people and the use of some small towns as “training centres” for new officers with little experience. The homeless are often simply told to permanently leave town. RCMP attitudes towards the poor in rural areas is one of the factors pushing poor people to cities, where affordable housing is increasingly impossible to come by.

Confidence in the RCMP has been deteriorating for some time. Documents unveiled in June of last year revealed the Robert Dziekanski incident at the Vancouver Airport led to a “public relations crisis.” There have been several other cases of police brutality over the past year.

The RCMP’s initial response to the BCCLA report was that the community members who spoke against the police are not representative of the broader community sentiments. But the RCMP Assistance Commissioner has since accepted the report and said that the force was going to look into the problems raised by the report.

PERFORMANCE VENUES |

Vancouver City Council has made some changes to regulations that will make it easier for artists to use “non-traditional” spaces for live performances. A “centralized process” is being set up for artists to use to get liquor and events licenses, and it should become easier for artists to work their way through the City Hall bureaucracy.

The regulation changes were inspired by the argument of some that Vancouver is a “No Fun City.” A local film was released under that title last year which documents City Hall’s “war on fun” and the rise of illegal venues to save the arts. On top of the province’s severe arts cuts over the past few years, the city’s own policies have also been very prohibitive. Four venues were closed last year alone.

The major problem for Vancouver venues over the past few years has been noise complaints and gentrification. In the past, there has been a push by the City towards reinforcing Granville Street as the city’s entertainment district. This has been met with resistance by both artists and restaurant owners. A housing development is also set to open up across the street from the Biltmore Cabaret, which is one of the only larger scale venues that isn’t downtown. Richards on Richards was one of the most popular Vancouver venues for acts that don’t have enough draw to fill a stadium, but was demolished last year to make room for condos being built by real-estate developers Aquilini Investments.

VANCOUVER VIEWS |

Later today at City Hall there will be a discussion and vote on “Vancouver Views,” a policy that would see increased heights Downtown, especially in the West End.

The Vancouver Views policy has attracted quite a bit of controversy. The policy will mean serious changes to the urban environment downtown, and some have begun directly criticizing planning staff and making accusations of misleading the public with their reports. They argue that not only have the public not had enough consultation or time to absorb what the changes will mean, but also that Council could not have had enough time to “do their homework” around the policy.

The Vancouver Views policy is only one part of a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy surrounding planning within the city. This past month has seen several attempts at blanket rezonings of areas dominated by renters. There has been a serious community based, grassroots resistance to wide-sweeping changes that would increase opportunities for real-estate developers. Community organizations argue that the social effects of these policies require more discussion and consideration. Council passed an emergency motion to hold off public consultations on a similar policy, the Historical Area Height Review, last week. Dozens of speakers had signed up to speak not only against the policy but also against City Council itself.

CAPITAL BUDGET |

Also at Council will be the discussion and vote on its capital budget. The capital budget includes the construction of infrastructure, City-owned building renovations and public works projects. The staff administrative report is 117 pages, and includes everything from summaries of revenue from Developmental Cost Levies to the wide variety of proposed projects for 2011.

In spite of the huge support shown throughout the city for affordable housing, the city plans to spend only $22 million of the $337 million budget on new land, construction and renovations for affordable housing. This is not enough. Instead, the report shows a continuance of Vision’s pro-police policies. On top of an unnecessary increase in the police budget of $5.7 million approved in last month’s operating budget, the Vancouver Police Department will receive an additional $11 million to relocate to a new central station. A significant amount is also being spent on Vision’s “Greenest City” initiative. Particular spending for greener public works is difficult to decode; there are no cost comparisons provided but in general this will mean retrofitting existing city infrastructure to pass higher environmental standards. The city plans to spend another $16 million on information technology projects for city hall.

If City Council truly wants to act on the wishes of its citizens, more must be spent on ensuring all classes of people can afford to live in Vancouver. The police and upgrades to city hall should not be prioritized over housing affordability.

VISION NOMINATIONS |

Vision Vancouver has announced it will hold open nominations for all its elected positions, except the mayor. Members of council and the park and school boards will be up for grabs in the next few months.

Vision party members will decided whether or not Gregor Robertson stays as mayoral candidate in the 2011 election by referendum. The party is calling the vote a “leadership review.” Vision members will decide a question either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with a simple majority deciding. NPA Councillor Suzanne Anton said of the review that, “they don’t want to talk about his flaws.” COPE Councillor Elen Woodsworth called Robertson the “trademark” of Vision Vancouver.

Gregor has repeatedly come under fire, especially recently, about his failings on his campaign promises, especially surrounding his promise to end homelessness by 2015.

This past Thursday, the Vancouver Police Department published a press release about a series of arrests made in the Downtown Eastside. It describes eight suspected drug traffickers who used violence, torture, and fear to cruelly control residents involved in the drug trade. Some of the conditions the victims of these criminals had been put through include being stabbed, beaten, and held in cages. As the press release states, this is the first case of Criminal Organization charges in Vancouver police history.

It took community protests to pressure police to investigate exploitation of Downtown Eastside residents. The two police initiatives leading to the arrests were part of an umbrella program called “Sister Watch,” which was designed to curb violence against women in the Downtown Eastside in response to grassroots protest.

Although it would be an improvement for the police to begin protecting residents from exploitation, it must be said that the strong-arm approach of both the VPD is a significant part of the problem of violence in the Downtown Eastside. The “war on drugs” diverts resources away from social services into policing. It simply has not been the case that police use these resources to protect residents from exploitation. On the contrary, the police impose added violence onto the poor, who are unfairly shuffled through the revolving door of “justice.”

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The 10 SITES COALITION of Downtown Eastside organizations has issued a statement opposing the “Historic Area Height Review,” which goes before City Council on January 20 2011. The so-called “Height Review,” which the Coalition calls the “condo tower plan,” anticipates 7 condo 15-storey condominum developments in the Downtown Eastside – 2 North of Pender between Carrall and Abbott, and 5 in South Chinatown.

The Coalition statement outlines concerns that market condo gentrification is causing rent increases, renovictions, displacement of low-income residents, increased police harrassments, and erosion of community assets.

A three year community-mapping process from 2007-2010, facilitated by the Carnegie Community Action Project, identified “unique and authentic community assets” of the Downtown Eastside community (for the series of three reports, see here).

The Coalition statement asks Vancouver City Council to “vote against adding any new density for condos within the Downtown Eastside until the assets and tenure of low-income residents are secured and until the Social Impact Study and DTES Strategy are complete.”

The statement asks Council to instead take proactive measures to stop gentrification by “[buying] 10 sites for low income resident-controlled social housing within the Downtown Eastside before the next municipal election [in Nov 2011]” (click here for a list of the 10 sites).

The City’s administrative (see page 15) claims that there is broad community support for the condo plan, with the exception of one group:

Community groups were also generally supportive of the draft Rezoning Policy, noting however that the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) remains concerned about the impact of new development on the low-income community.

But the Coalition letter to City Council, dated Thursday Jan 13 2011, is signed by a dozen organizations, including:

Association of Chinese Canadians for Equality and Solidarity Society
Carnegie Community Action Project
Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council
Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre Power of Women
REED
Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users
Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction
W2
Gallery Gachet

The next day, Jan 14 2011, Vancouver City Councilor Geoff Meggs told The Mainlander “so far, I have not seen any negative comment on the current report from Chinese community leaders or activists, but plenty from those who live elsewhere.”

Meggs referred the “Historic Area Height Review” incorrectly as the “Chinatown Height Review,” and suggested that the new condo developments were all South of Pender. As mentioned, two of the most controversial sites are North of Pender, including the half-block BC Electric site across from Pigeon Park.

The 10 SITES COALITION is calling on residents and allies of the Downtown Eastside to speak to City Council against more condos: “Before you can speak, you have to phone 604 873 7268 and ask for Tina Hildebrandt. Tell her that you want to speak on the issue of the Historic Area Height Review (that’s what staff is calling the condo tower plan) on Jan. 20.”

A memorial service for the three men who died in an East Van house fire was held Saturday at the Longhouse Council Native Ministry.

Garland McKay, Dwayne Rasmussen and Steven Yellowquill died on Dec 22 when the porch they were living in at 2862 Pandora St. caught fire.

On Saturday, the Longhouse was filled to capacity with friends and family. The service began with a song led by Traditional Mothers. Morris then asked the mourners to stand up and share memories of the three men. For friends and family, it was a day to honour the men and their strengths. A picture emerged of the men as compassionate, respectful, and selfless.

At Saturday’s memorial, a broad picture of the men’s journey and challenges also emerged. There were many preventable factors creating the conditions for the tragedy.

The three men came from First Nations across the country (Rasmussen from Mount Currie, McKay from Kelowna, Yellowquill from Manitoba) to Vancouver looking for opportunity, but were unable to access appropriate non-market housing. As a result, the only housing that was accessible to them was the unsafe and inadequate “rooming-house” at 2862 Pandora St.

Image by Murray Bush / Vancouver Media Coop

This is the second of five installments of our “Top Stories of 2010″ countdown. Here we tell the story of how the announcement of the “BC Missing Women Commission of Inquiry” and of “Project Sister Watch” were made possible only by the constant advocacy of aboriginal women.

None of these stories would have unfolded or seen the light of day in the absence of community organizing and grassroots activism. The take-home-message of 2010, it seems, is that activism can be effective while defining who we are.

On September 27 2010, the BC Provincial government finally announced an official commission charged with investigating the failure of the police to respond meaningfully to reports of missing women in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside between 1997 and 2002.

The commission has come far too late, is too small in scope, and is chaired by the wrong person. But it is important to recognize that its existence is owed to the persistent advocacy of community activists. The Women’s Memorial March, for example, has continued to be held in the Downtown Eastside on Valentine’s Day annually since 1991.

Community activist Gladys Radek maintains that at least 3,000 indigenous women have gone missing in Canada since the 1970s. Over the years, her organization Walk4Justice has organized several treks to raise awareness of the fact that the Pickton murders are only the tip of the iceberg.

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In addition to rent increases caused by the upscaling and renovation of dozens of low-income buildings around the city, Vancouver is losing affordable housing through the outright demolition of buildings. Last month, City Council approved the demolition of the Cecil Hotel. Two months ago, Vancouver City Council approved the loss of almost all low-income housing at the American Hotel, whose tenants were illegally evicted in 2006. Last year saw a drastic loss of housing, with City Council allowing for the closure of low-income hotels surrounding Woodward’s while granting the demolition permit for the 224 housing units at Little Mountain.

Today, however, the provincial and municipal governments jointly proclaim a “partnership of excellence” in the fight against homelessness. Some journalists have written of the “tight bond” between the Province and City under Mayor Gregor Robertson, and it has recently been reported that many Vision councilors were favorable towards Rich Coleman’s leadership bid for the BC Liberal Party because of “all the progress he has been able to make with the City of Vancouver on social housing during this Vision Vancouver term.”[i]

More than anything else, the proclaimed successes of the “partnership” revolve around the construction of fourteen sites of social housing in Vancouver, known as the ‘Vancouver sites.’ The myth of these fourteen sites can be traced to the destruction of housing at Little Mountain.