03/05/2013 06:57 EST | Updated 05/05/2013 05:12 EDT

Downtown Eastside Police Discrimination Claims Denied


VANCOUVER - Two groups representing residents on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside plan to file a complaint with the police board over allegations of discriminatory policing.

The Pivot Legal Society and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users said Monday that 95 per cent of the tickets issued under the city's street and traffic bylaw during the past four years were handed out in the poor neighbourhood.

The groups want police to change their policies.

But Vancouver police say the groups issued a "misleading" news release and that their enforcement of the bylaw does not amount to discrimination.

"Tickets are given out where the offences occur," police spokesman Const. Brian Montague said in an email.

"The (Downtown Eastside) is where the majority of street vending happens. We don’t have a street vending problem in other areas of the city generating disorder, selling stolen property or unsafe food products, and acting as a cover for drug dealing."

He said most of the tickets for liquor offences, for example, are handed out in the entertainment district while certain areas of the city are known for speeding drivers.

The statistics on the Downtown Eastside were uncovered through several freedom of information requests, said Pivot spokesman Douglas King.

He said while police handed out 1,448 tickets in the community for the bylaw infraction, only 29 were handed out in the city's downtown core over the same period of time.

King said the bylaw is being used to target people who sell goods from the sidewalk, although it was originally meant to regulate businesses such as small grocery stores where fruit carts are put out on sidewalks.

The bylaw gives police broad powers and allows them to conduct "fishing expeditions," he said.

Once police issue somebody a ticket, they can run the name through their computers to see if the individual is facing any other offences, King said.

That type of behaviour wouldn't be tolerated in any other neighbourhood, he said.

"At the end of the day, it really is in our opinion, a form of discrimination. It's picking on a certain type of person."

"If they were doing this on the basis of race or on the basis of one gender or one religion, it would clearly be seen as discriminatory, but because it's on neighbourhood lines, on poverty lines and social conditions, in our society that's not seen as discrimination. I don't think that's right."

The complaint follows the final report of the missing women inquiry related to serial killer Robert Pickton.

The groups say that inquiry recommended "police forces limit the enforcement of minor offences, which have caused marginalized and vulnerable women to fear going to the police for protection due to outstanding fines and warrants."

But Montague said those recommendations addressed marginalized women and sex-trade workers but only an estimated two per cent of bylaw tickets are issued to women in the Downtown Eastside.

He also questioned how the complaint is relevant to the inquiry's recommendations.

Montague said Vancouver police are committed to implementing the inquiry's recommendations that are relevant to police, including a reduction in the number of warrants issued for minor offences.

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