Jenn Jackson July 2012, installed at The Crying Room, Vancouver
This past December, the Conservatives forced through legislative changes to nearly every aspect of First Nations life in Canada. The reforms of omnibus Bill C-45 have sparked the Idle No More movement, and while First Nations have been far from idle in recent years, Canada is experiencing an upsurge of Indigenous activism not felt since the late 1980s and early ‘90s. One focus of the opposition to Bill C-45 is the First Nations Property Ownership Act (FNPOA), a law to convert First Nations reserve land into private property for sale on Canada’s housing market.
Urban housing crisis
To understand the implications of Bill C-45 it is necessary to interpret the current state of the Canadian housing market. The housing crisis engulfing Canada today affects First Nations worse than any other group. In Vancouver, 32 percent of homeless people are aboriginal, despite making up only two percent of the city’s population. In Calgary the rate is 35 percent and in Toronto it is almost 20 percent. The people whose land forms the basis of the colonial nation are the most likely to be left without a home. If they do have an apartment in one of Canada’s largest cities, First Nations are in turn the most likely to be evicted and dispossessed by Canada’s aggressive housing market and colonial tenancy laws.
Yet, as Canada enters an affordability crisis unprecedented since the 1940s, policy-makers are seeking to extend the reach of the private housing market beyond the class-divided cities and onto the reserves.
Public backlash yesterday against the City’s plan to increase fines on homelessness and street-vending to $10,000 caused the Mayor’s office to pull the item from the agenda just before the 6pm public hearing time.
According to statements made last night by Vision city councillors Geoff Meggs, Raymond Louie, and Andrea Reimer, the party has decided to postpone a decision on the matter — not because they are opposed to the high fines, but out of legal obligations in response to ongoing constitutional challenges against the City in court.
The stated reason for the postponement was that the PIVOT Legal Society has launched a court challenge against the existing $2,000 fines for homelessness. The court challenge did not arise at the last minute, however, and has been ongoing since November of last year. Councillors were in full knowledge of this legal challenge (and others), as well as the impacts of the legislation on the poor and on civil liberties, when on November 28 2012 they approved the new fines in principle and asked the city’s lawyers to draft the bylaws, to be voted upon after yesterday’s public hearing. The impacts of the proposed bylaws were also discussed in recent newspaper articles, including one in the Straight on January 9th entitled “Higher fines could hit Vancouver’s homeless hard.” Nevertheless, Vision felt the new bylaws were ready to come to a vote, and made no attempt to incorporate exceptions into the bylaws for homeless people or those who cannot afford $10,000 fines.
Image by Ahamedia
On today’s agenda at City Hall sits a proposal to increase the maximum fines on 42 city by-laws by a factor of five. Among the changes are measures to levy $10,000 fines on low-income people for sleeping outside, jaywalking, and engaging in “illegal” street vending of recycled wares, a crime councillor Kerry Jang recently called “unacceptable behavior.” A homeless person in Vancouver already gets a minimum $1,000 fine for erecting a tent in public (under the illegal Structures By-law covered by The Mainlander here, here and here), but the new revisions propose extending that punitive logic to all aspects of daily life.
The report to city council states that both the ‘Street Vending’ and ‘Street and Traffic’ by-laws will have their upper limits increased from $2,000 to $10,000. Pivot legal society has noted in the Straight that people who are homeless cannot possibly afford to pay the previous fines, nevermind the new fines. The same is doubtless true of low-income street vendors selling recycled wares. With the city’s new measures, the poor can now be jailed for fifteen days for non-payment.
Solterra President Gerry Nichele (centre) with VP Mike Bosa (right)
EDITOR’S NOTE | On Jan 20th 2013, the Waldorf Hotel will close its doors to the public. For the last two years, developers have been quietly buying up property along the Hastings Corridor while building support from city councillors. The result has been a dramatic escalation in property values, followed by evictions and rent increases. While evictions are typically poorly covered by mainstream media, the eviction of the Waldorf has been making big headlines. This cultural space, however, has a backstory that links it to other evictions and to the broader neighborhood of which it is a part.
Vision Vancouver and the revitalization of East Hastings
For the past two years the real-estate industry has been aggressively acquiring property in the area east of Clark Drive on the Hastings Corridor. This forward march of developers into the east end, actively encouraged and brokered by Vision Vancouver, has brought dramatic increases in the value of property in the area surrounding the Waldorf. The price of the Waldorf property has increased $1 million in the past year alone. The blocks surrounding the Waldorf site are being consolidated by the Solterra Group, a large property development corporation, with the Waldorf site being the last piece of the puzzle. Solterra, who purchased a table at Vision’s recent fundraiser, is run by Vice-President Mike Bosa of the Bosa family of developers, also reliable Vision funders.
Across the street from the Waldorf is 1500 East Hastings. This past year, the entire block was purchased for $5.5 million by Sharam and Peter Malek of Millenium Development, who were bailed out by the City during the Olympic Village social housing betrayal.