On Thursday, January 16, community members, press, and speakers crowded into a media room at Vancouver’s Cambie Street police headquarters. The crowd waited nearly an hour to hear the results of a Vancouver Police Board report on discriminatory bylaw enforcement in the Downtown Eastside. While the report claimed that the Vancouver Police Department is not targeting residents of the Downtown Eastside with bylaw tickets for vending and jaywalking, the crowd left the room visibly frustrated with the results of the decision.
The report was a result of the November 2013 recommendation from the Office of the Police Complaint Commission to address a complaint filed by Pivot Legal Society and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU). The complaint, from March 2013, accused the Vancouver Police Department of discriminating and targeting residents of the DTES following documents obtained that showed 76% of jaywalking tickets and 95% of city-wide vending tickets were handed out in the neighbourhood in 2008 in a pre-Olympics ticketing blitz.
Calling the final report “just a whitewash,” Aiyanas Ormond, a VANDU spokesperson, told reporters that the board seems “hell-bent and determined to ignore what are the deeper and substantive issues and complaints.”
Despite evidence of an absolute decrease in jaywalking bylaw infractions citywide and in the DTES since 2007, the report as well as the board have failed to address the nature of bylaw enforcement in the neighbourhood. Speaking before the board, both Ormond and Doug King of the PIVOT Legal Society made it clear that their concern is that there is a pattern of disproportionate ticketing. “If the reduction in jaywalking tickets in our neighbourhood is for real, and indicates an actual change in VPD practice, then it is very welcome but without a clear, monitored and enforceable policy change there is nothing to stop the police from simply using different bylaws, or implementing new ticketing blitzes,” Ormond told The Mainlander.
Double standard of discretionary policing
The Police Board meeting was postponed for an unscheduled press conference where VPD Chief Jim Chu addressed an incident involving a man urinating on the Komagata Maru memorial in Coal Harbour.
Chu announced that no charges would be laid against the man, who suffers from mental health issues and is an illicit drug user. “We do have the discretion in terms of laying charges or serving tickets, but in this case, it would make no sense for someone that’s poor, that’s marginalized, to receive a ticket,” he is quoted saying in the Globe and Mail.
“I find it deeply ironic to push back the board meeting in order to hold a press conference to proclaim that they weren’t going to pursue or enforce the Komagata Maru issue because of a social condition,” said Doug King, in an interview with The Mainlander. “This says that we’re getting somewhere with them on the enforcement of bylaws, but that they are too afraid to move away from the status quo when it comes to the systemic disproportionate ticketing of low-income residents in the DTES”
After a three-year campaign waged by VANDU members, Jim Chu’s statement on the Komagata Maru incident hints that the VPD might have begun to recognize their failed over-reliance on bylaw enforcement as a means of curbing criminalized behaviour. The incident also exposes the double standard of discretionary policing: while urinating on the memorial is deemed heinous but non-criminal, selling goods on the street without a permit remains criminalized. However, the question of vending tickets was also studiously avoided in the report.
Despite Chu’s statement on the Komagata Maru memorial incident, the Mayor and the police board continue to refuse to acknowledge the substantive issues brought up in the VANDU, Pivot, and OPCC argument. According to Ormond, without publicly accepting responsibility for the harm of the 2008 ticketing blitz the report simply serves to distract from the real concerns of residents of the DTES.