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.”
In a letter to police chief Jim Chu, the PIVOT Legal Society has stated the the VPD’s interpretation of section 430(1) is “inaccurate” and “too broadly defined.” The legal opinion reads, “section 430(1) is only intended to cover ‘physically blocking any person from freely entering, leaving or staying at any public place.’”
If acted upon, the arrest plan could mean a third lawsuit in two years for the City of Vancouver over a breach of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. PIVOT is currently challenging the city over its recent proposal to impose $10,000 fines on the homeless, and have also criticized previous anti-protest by-laws passed by the Vision council. In 2011, the City of Vancouver approved laws which ban the use of “any structure, object, substance or thing” in protests. The law also proposed application fees and an approval process for public demonstrations. The BCCLA has said it will challenge both measures in court.
Last night was the 27th day of Homeless Dave’s ongoing Hunger Strike, and also the first picket after the VPD issued their statement labelling the picket “criminal conduct.” Dozens of residents came to support the picketers, including the Power of Women group (pictured above). Elaine Durocher of POW — who stated that there is “strength in numbers” and the will for change in “me, my peeps, and Homeless Dave on day 27 of his hunger strike” — was proven right when police decided not to act on their directive to arrest picketers. According to Wendy Pedersen, “the PIVOT legal opinion plus the huge turnout of DTES residents at Pidgin may have stopped the police and city from their attempt to defend private business interests over social good.”
The VPD’s Montague has stated that issuing this vague threat that PiDGiN picketers may be arrested is an “unusual step” for his department. In an interview with The Mainlander, Nicholas Perrin countered that the arrest of housing activists has also been a regular practice since 2008, noting that the Mayor — who chairs the police board — has approved the arrest of housing activists at the Olympic Village, the Fraser Street shelter, and the Granville shelter.
An article on the VPD’s forced closure of Occupy Vancouver in 2011 states, “In the three years since 2008, Vision Vancouver and Robertson have evicted all major tent cities and arrested dozens of housing activists at shelters and empty housing projects across the city.”