Gregor Robertson and VPD decision to continue discriminatory ticketing rejected by Police Complaint Commissioner


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.

Shaver’s organization has been working on its current ticketing campaign for three years. Last year VANDU requested a meeting with city councillor Kerry Jang to discuss the impact of excessive by-law enforcement on residents of the DTES. Residents told Jang that the by-laws serve to circulate low-income people through a downward cycle of poverty and incarceration, imposing a financial, emotional and social penalty on a population already struggling to survive. Despite the visit, and despite hearing directly from the voices of the people affected by criminalization, Councillor Kerry Jang has recently maintained that “the tickets remain an important educational tool.”

The Police Complaint Commissioner also drew attention to the fact that the recommendations of the Murdered and Missing Women’s Inquiry explicitly call on police to stop discriminatory ticketing.[1] Despite being rejected by the community overall for its failure to address the role of the VPD in systematically delaying justice for the dozens of murdered and missing women, the Oppal report does make specific recommendations deal with the secondary question of why residents of the Downtown Eastside in some cases hesitated to report known information. The answer given by the Inquiry is simple: avoidance with police contact due to outstanding petty warrants for jaywalking and street vending. Oppal therefore called on the VPD stop the disproportionate ticketing of poor, homeless, and under-housed residents in the DTES in order to avoid future tragedies like Pickton. The Commissioner’s letter to the Mayor calls on the City and VPD to finally respect those recommendations, which were released last year.

The Commissioner’s letter also cites the VPD’s misleading use of statistics in its report. In particular the OPCC cites the use of the “2008 ticketing blitz” as a benchmark for VPD ticketing progress in subsequent years. In the lead-up to the Olympics, the VPD clamped down on the urban poor by passing the Safe Streets Act, followed by a ticketing blitz in the Downtown Eastside. Nonetheless, in his 2008 campaign for office, Gregor Robertson ran a series of negative campaign ads attacking the NPA for not hiring extra police officers and for being soft on crime. Even though Vancouver had experienced a 9% decrease in the crime rate from 2007 to 2008, Gregor portrayed crime as “skyrocketing” and smeared his opponents for not fortifying law and order.[2] Once elected, Vision followed through by hiring 100 extra police officers and clamping down on civil liberties and the urban poor.

In a draft budget due for review before council next week, the city has announced yet another budget increase for the VPD. The projected increase will bring costs to $221m for the year 2014. In 2008 the VPD budget cost the city $180m per year; today total police expenditures are $221 million. The total extra amount of money Vancouver has spent on the police, above and beyond 2008 levels under the right-wing NPA, is $153million.

[1] Recommendation 5.9 of the Inquiry states clearly, “the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Police Department [must] take proactive measure to reduce the number of court warrants issued for minor offences by: reducing the number of tickets issued and charges laid for minor offences.” Given that the majority of cases of incarceration results from administrative charges following an individual’s inability to attend court or pay fines, Recommendation 5.9 also suggests “[i]ncreasing the ways in which failures to appear can be quashed early in the judicial process.”

[2] Jackie Wong, “Expansion of Downtown Ambassadors program draws praise, criticism,” Westender, July 17, 2008