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Jailed For Jaywalking?

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Issue: 60 Section: Canadian News Geography: West Vancouver Topics: 2010 Olympics, homelessness

April 29, 2009

Jailed For Jaywalking?

Measures aim to clear out Vancouver's Downtown Eastside before the Olympics

by Gwalgen Geordie Dent

Women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and their allies took the intersection of Main and Hastings on February 15, 2009, to demand an end to street sweeps by the Vancouver Police Department. Photo: Dawn Paley

TORONTO–With the Olympics less a year away, many pundits and officials have been musing about how the city is going to make good on its plan to “clean-up” Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) by 2010. One answer is both crude and sad: jaywalking tickets.

Housing advocates of the DTES say ticketing for minor bylaw infractions are up. According to Nicole Latham, a staff member at the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), suspicions arose at the VANDU July 2008 AGM. “Someone asked how many people had been given a jaywalking ticket and half the room put up their hands.”

According to Laura Track, a lawyer at Pivot Legal Society, jaywalking tickets are only the tip of the iceberg. “Around 30 people were ticketed in two days for camping in parks in mid-July 2008,” she says.

Track and Ann Livingston, Executive Director of VANDU, claim that the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) is on a ticketing binge. Ticketing for jaywalking, selling merchandise and bicycle infractions in the DTES are all on the rise.

Under provincial laws such as the Safe Streets Act and the Trespass Act, 297 tickets were issued to Vancouver residents in 2007. In 2008, that number jumped to 600, well above targets. Both Acts have been labeled by advocates as laws that legislate against poverty and target the homeless.

Vancouver’s Megaphone Magazine tracked, in December 2008, a major "ticketing blitz" in the DTES. A VPD report the following month stated 439 tickets were issued in 2008 for vending, panhandling and loitering in the DTES. “In 2007, bylaw tickets issued in the area totaled only 247,” read the report.

According to information obtained by The Dominion through a Freedom of Information request, tickets issued for illegal vending in all of Vancouver amounted to 263 in 2007. In 2008, 537 tickets were issued city-wide.

In other words, of all the vending tickets issued in Vancouver over the last 2 years, more than 80 per cent have been given out in the DTES.

Statistics from the Freedom of Information request show that other tickets, which seem to discriminate against the homeless, are similarly on the rise. Jaywalking tickets have increased drastically: from 757 in 2007 to 1,086 in 2008. Riding a bike without a helmet resulted in 32 tickets in 2006 and in 2008 that figure rose to 92.

Doug King, Pivot’s Police Campaigner, holds that the targeting of residents in the DTES is intentional; the VPD has admitted as such.

According to King, "The DTES is where the street vending occurs and most of the increase [in tickets] is attributable to about four blocks. The police are being very open about this; they believe in the broken-windows approach to policing." When contacted, VPD spokesperson Jana McGuinness confirmed that new initiatives that target the DTES are being used primarily to address the “open-air drug market."

The idea to increase the amount of bylaw ticketing originally surfaced in 2006 during former Mayor Sam Sullivan’s much maligned "Project Civil City." Civil City was originally promoted as a means of reducing homelessness, street disorder and drug use. According to statistics published in The Tyee in 2008, all three have risen dramatically since the launch of Civil City. Despite this rise, the central strategy of Civil City has been fully embraced by the VPD.

The 2009 VPD Annual Business Plan places significant emphasis on bylaw tickets for crimes prevalent in the DTES. Graffiti, panhandling, street vending, camping and “the scavenger economy” are key issues the VPD says it wants to target. The report also stated that "chronic bylaw offenders” are being targeted with more tickets and more serving of summons.

“There’s speculation in the DTES neighbourhood that this is being done to try to clean up the neighbourhood before the Olympics get into town,” says King. "The VPD [however] is very adamant that [this] is not what they are doing."

While groups like VANDU and Pivot have been key in pointing out the increase in ticketing in the Downtown Eastside, other groups have been fighting it. The Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre (DEWC) held a press conference in February calling attention to the aggressive ticketing by the VPD. According to Priscillia Mays, a member of the Power of Women Group at the DEWC, the ticketing “is happening to ensure that residents live in a state of fear and intimidation so that the DTES is ‘cleansed’ of poor and homeless people in time for the tourists.”

She also says, “It is not a coincidence that all this is happening in the lead-up to the Olympic Games. It is likely that poor people who are unable to pay these hefty tickets will be jailed leading up to 2010 because the VPD Draft Business Plan indicates increased involvement in ensuring that court summons are served to those ‘chronic offenders’ of such ridiculous bylaws.”

Asked why the VPD was targeting the DTES at this time and if the sudden rise in bylaw tickets had anything to do with the Olympics, spokesperson McGuinness refused to comment.

Multiple Canadian government officials could be learning from Atlanta, which used the same strategy for sweeping the streets of homeless people during their Olympic Games in 1996. The Weicker Report, issued in 2002 to a special Vancouver-based committee with members from the federal, provincial and municipal governments, looked at the impact of the Games on “Vancouver’s Inner City Neighbourhood.” It noted the use of jaywalking tickets in Atlanta to lock up the homeless populations.

By 2006, a flurry of local laws were being implemented under Project Civil City to make it easier to ticket people, summon them to court and subject them to a term of incarceration.

One of the changes was the introduction of a pilot project called the Municipal Ticket Information system (MTI). Under old methods of ticketing, a bylaw offender would be issued a notice asking them to pay a fine. If they did not pay, then a summons to court would be issued and served personally to the offender, who could then be acquitted, fined or restricted from areas of the city.

Under the new MTI process, a person given a ticket has 14 days to file a dispute. If they do not, a conviction and imposition of a fine is automatic. City documents point out that the MTI project has added to the number of convictions and fines.

The fear of homeless advocates is that warrants for unpaid tickets and similar offenses will suddenly appear en masse.

“That’s what people are the most afraid of in the neighbourhood; that they will keep issuing tickets at everyone. Then, at any time, people can get warranted," says King. "They are obviously targeting specific people."

In a February 2008 submission to city council, Geoff Plant, Civil City Project Commissioner, put forth a series of "immediate requests" for changes to provincial legislation. He requested that the B.C. government make it easier to get bylaw offenders in court and to incarcerate people who are unable to pay fines.

Plant has been pushing for these legislative changes since last year but the cancellation of the B.C. Fall legislature session in 2008 meant that these changes have not yet been put into effect.

Gwalgen Geordie Dent is a contributing member of Medicoop.ca-Toronto. He is a former health worker in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

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Comments

jaywalking

I VISIT THE DTES OF VANCOUVER DAILY AND IF ALL THAT PIVOT OR VANDU IS WORRIED ABOUT IS THE INCREASE IN JAYWALKING THEY MUST HAVE A BENT VIEW ON THE CURRENT CONDITIONS DOWN THERE AS THEY EXIST.IF ANYTHING THE POLICE ARE TRYING TO MAKE PEOPLE MORE AWARE OF THE FACT THAT THESE STREETS THAT THEY ARE CROSSING ARE BUSY AND THE VEHICLES THAT ARE DRIVING THEM CAN KILL OR MAME THEM. THE MENTAL CONDITION OF SOMEONE WHO'S HIGH OR WASTED HAS BEEN THE REASON FOR SO MANY ACCIDENTS THAT HAVE OCCURED IN THIS NEIGHBOURHOOD NOT SOME PLOT TO CLEAN THE STREET BUT TO TRY AND SAVE LIVES I MYSELF HAVE WITNESSED HUNDREDS OF CLOSE CALLS YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE IT THE STREETS PACKED IN BOTH DIRECTIONS VERY BUSY AND PEOPLE ARE WANDERING OR SOMETIMES BOLTING OUT AS IF THERE'S NOT EVEN CARS ON THE ROAD THE DTES IS A CRAZY PLACE AND ADDICTION AND THE SUPPORT OF ADDICTION RULES SO UNLESS YOU ARE ON THAT SIDE OF THE FENCE YOUR PERSECUTING ADDICTS AND NOT SAVING LIVES

I too am regularly in the

I too am regularly in the DTES and it's bad down there-mentally ill people and drug addicts paying no attention whatsoever to the traffic just wandering about seemingly @ random.

If I'm cycling it's bad enough but in a car it can be terrifying to have someone who can barely walk lurch out in front of me and expect me to stop.

Last week in Chinatown I saw some character in a wheelchair heading east on Pender Street straddling the yellow line in the middle of the road-he had no idea where he was looked like he didn't know what planet he as on-what about people on the bus/people in cars/other pedestrians?

But throw them in jail?

While I understand that many people in the Downtown Eastside cause problems for drivers, I have tried to show in this article that the tickets may have less to do with slowing down jaywalking and more to do locking people up before the Olympics.

While both comments above seem to think this is acceptable, having worked with hundreds of people in the DTES, many who are suffering from schizophrenia, drug use, a host of mental health disorders and/or chronic poverty from birth, I believe that throwing these people in jail for the Olympics is a grave crime and grossly illegal if done in this kind of systematic way. It's depressing that people would create or support this garbage.

Fighting poverty in the DTES is very simple. It involves building more substantially more social housing, raising the rates of social assistance and using targeted programs to help the mentally ill and drug addicted.

Having lived and taught in Scandinavia for a few years I can tell you that they have mentally ill and drug addicted populations, but due to policy they have nothing even remotely close to the nightmare that is the DTES.

ticketing stats

Hi Geordie,

Great article! I'm curious about the stats you obtained through your FOI requests; they would be really helpful to me in my work on this issue, and this was the only way I could think of to contact you! COuld you call or email me at your earliest opportunity? Thanks very much!

Laura Track
PIVOT Legal Society

But throw them in jail?

Geordie, while I understand the intent behind what you are saying, it seems that there is a flaw in the logic. If the law has more to do with locking people up for the Olympics, somehow I don't think it would be done 10 months in advance.

Jay-walking is not a prison sentance and as such would not keep someone off the street until March 2010.

I agree that programs can be improved, however I also know from my own personal experience, that the concerns vocied above are real, and demand real actions.

I can appreciate your perspective from Scandinavia however part of the problem withe large homeless problem is the climate in Vancouver which does not subject these individuals to the harsh winters that exist in places like Scandinavia.

There are complaints at the cost of the Olympics, which is a one time cost, how long should the majority of the public, hardworking, contributing memebrs of society be expected to building, maintain and support your social housing project. When do the end 'users' get their fair share of the load to fix the problem? When will they finally be held accountable for their choices? Not all have made the choices, some have been dealt a very unfortunate hand in life, and those I believe we should support, but those choosing drugs and crime will not receive, and do not deserve my sympathy.

Jaywalking is not a prison sentence...yet

Mark, please re-read my article; specifically the sections which state that this tactic was used in Atlanta and at the end which states that laws are being brought in which would allow the tickets currently handed out to be turned into jail time.

Jay walking is not a prison sentence...yet. But changes in the legislation are trying to make it so. You're right that this wouldn't be done 10 months in advance. It has been done almost 3 years in advance to get the point they are currently at. The old system would not have allowed tickets to be turned into jail-time. The pilot projects, ticketing blitzes, and legislative changes have taken years to create. People won't be locked up now...they can't be. If the legislative changes go through though, say right before the Olympics hit, you could very well see a sweep of the streets solely on the basis of outstanding warrants.

I absolutely agree that the DTES is a problem, and again have suggested it be fixed through an expansion of social housing and listed Norway as an example (Bergen has an identical climate to Vancouver BTW). Besides Norway, in every country, cold or not, there is a correlation between high social housing and lack of homelessness.

As far as drug users and mental health victims being "responsible for" or "choosing" drug addiction and homelessness, I'll simply chalk up up your lack of understanding and sympathy to the fact that you've obviously never really gotten to know a number of people who live in the DTES.

jailed for jay-walking?

I live in Toronto, a friend of mine who lives and owns a business in the Parliment and Queen st. area(known for its street people,shelters and soup kitchens) said that he heard on the street that homeless people in Vancouver were being sent to Toronto in an attempt to clean the streets during the Olympics.
Have you heard anything about this?

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