Mayor Gregor Robertson was the target of drug users Tuesday after he and members of the Vancouver Police Board dismissed a complaint from Downtown Eastside residents who accused police of unfair ticketing practices.
More than 40 members of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users broke into a chant of “Hey Gregor, what are you going to do? Who’s in charge, the police or you?” as they left a police board meeting at the Cambie Street police station.
Robertson doubles as chairperson of the police board, which is the governing body of the Vancouver Police Department.
“We have to keep on working and working to break through these lies that somehow targeting people and wracking up their debts and putting them under stress and throwing them in jail is actually for the benefit of our community,” said Aiyanas Ormond, a VANDU community organizer, as he addressed the crowd leaving the station.
In June, Pivot Legal Society lawyer Douglas King and members of VANDU complained to the police board about the disproportionate number of tickets issued to Downtown Eastside residents for such offences as jaywalking and vending.
Pivot obtained statistics from the police department via the Freedom of Information Act that revealed 76 per cent of 2,699 jaywalking tickets issued in the city between 2008 and 2012 were to people in the Downtown Eastside.
Another 17 per cent were issued in downtown while none was handed out in Shaughnessy, Point Grey, Oakridge, Marpole, Killarney and several other neighbourhoods in the city.
The police board ordered the Vancouver Police Department to investigate the complaint. On Tuesday, the report from the department recommended the board dismiss the complaint.
The report stressed the police department’s mass ticketing, which saw 95 per cent of 1,529 vending tickets issued to Downtown Eastside residents, was warranted to “change behaviour” and prevent accidents and deaths in the neighbourhood.
At the meeting, Robertson acknowledged the surge in ticketing occurred after he was elected mayor in the fall of 2008.
But, he said, the police department has since worked with city hall and VANDU to implement safety measures in the Downtown Eastside and decrease the number of vending tickets.
Those measures included lowering the speed limit to 30 km/h along a stretch of East Hastings, adding countdown timers at crosswalks and installing a mid-block crosswalk just west of Main and Hastings.
“There’s been a more modern approach to it and recognizing enforcement isn’t the only solution here,” said Robertson, noting the number of jaywalking tickets has decreased in the Downtown Eastside. “But there’s obviously more to do.”
Deputy Chief Doug LePard told the crowd that officers use a lot of discretion in issuing tickets and that enforcement is used as “a last resort” when attempting to address unsafe behaviour.
“It’s used extremely infrequently and it is becoming even less and less frequent,” said LePard, noting 215 jaywalking tickets were issued in 2012 in the Downtown Eastside.
After the meeting, King told the Courier he was disappointed in the board’s decision, particularly since the board failed to address a recommendation in the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry report that called for police to find ways to decrease the level of enforcement of minor offences against Downtown Eastside residents.
“We still take the position that the recommendations of the Mission Women Commission of Inquiry are not optional,” King said. “What I’m hearing from the department is they don’t want to enact this one because they don’t believe in the principles behind it. And that’s not really their judgment to make.”
Pivot and VANDU says they will appeal the police board’s decision to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.
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