By David P. Ball
Three Downtown Eastside-based organizations have filed an official complaint against the Vancouver Police Department's controversial new Vancouver police "street disorder" squad.
Pivot Legal Society, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users and the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society launched a complaint against the so-called "neighbourhood response team" on Monday, saying it is an effort to "harass, bully and target our communities with violence and scare tactics," according to WAHRS member Flora Munroe.
"A lot of the money for policing can be used to support homeless people, and assistance programs for families and people on disability, mental health training, and youth mentorship," Munroe said in a statement. "We need to stop hiring more members of the Gang in Blue.”
The police effort comes after months of television news reports about homeowners and condominium residents outrages at public, open-air drug use — during a pandemic when a record number of residents are dying of overdoses, often alone, and when many low-income housing units have a no-guests policy.
The unit is gaining even more critics after its announcement just last week, with a Downtown Eastside drug policy advisor joining Pivot Legal Society calling the unit "anti-poor."
Karen Ward, a drug policy advisor with the City of Vancouver and DTES artist and resident, told The Pulse on CFRO that nobody should heed the cops' advice to call in the unit for "suspicious activity" and "mischiefs," to quote VPD deputy chief Howard Chow.
The people being targeted are not criminals, she said, and the history of policing suggests the unit will disproportionately harass people who use drugs, Indigenous residents and homeless people, Ward said.
Critics say the VPD's priorities should not be set by angry homeowners in the West Side, sensational media reports about poor people, or an internally commissioned opinion poll with just a few hundred respondents..
According to the complaint, the creation of the new unit is in direct conflict with Vancouver City Council’s unanimous resolution in July 2020 to “decriminalize poverty and instead support community-led safety initiatives”, as well as a breach in VPD’s own stated mandate as a part of their 2017-2021 Strategic Plan, Pivot Legal Society noted.