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Police to consider retracting tickets from Downtown Eastside 'blitz'

VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Police Board will consider cancelling tickets issued in the Downtown Eastside this past winter and will announce their decision within a month, the board stated at a meeting yesterday.

Members of DTES advocacy groups urged the board to retract the tickets they say targeted the city's most marginalized residents. The offences included jaywalking, panhandling, illegal vending and loitering.

The groups, including the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, Pivot Legal Society and the Portland Hotel Society, encouraged the police to work towards alternative solutions to address these issues.

“There are legitimate concerns about safety, but there are also more positive and proactive solutions to those concerns than criminalizing people and handing them tickets that would cost them their entire monthly budget to pay,” Laura Track of Pivot Legal told The Tyee.

Last December and January, Vancouver police issued over 1000 tickets in the Downtown Eastside for minor offenses, in what members of the presenting organizations called a ticketing “blitz” of the area that was disproportionate to the numbers of tickets issued elsewhere in the city.

According to the Pivot, 80 per cent of all panhandling, loitering, and vending tickets issued in the city last year were handed out in the Downtown Eastside.

“The exact number is difficult to determine, but we know that within the month of December well over 1000 tickets were handed out in the Downtown Eastside,” said Track.

“We didn’t see crackdowns on jaywalking in the Granville entertainment district where people walk back and forth across the street all the time. We didn’t see a crackdown on illegal sidewalk sales in the West End. It was this community this neighborhood that was targeted for these offenses,” she said.

The focus of the presentation to the Vancouver Police Board was to encourage more consultation with the community and solutions-oriented discussion.

One option presented was a pedestrian safety program run by VANDU, where crossing guards would help and encourage people to safely and legally cross the street.

Another proposed idea focused on curbing illegal vending on the streets --a $250 fine -- by offering residents a safe place for people to vend, such as a designated outdoor space, or an indoor flea market.

Track said that such a space would help thin the sidewalk of the crowding and disorder caused by illegal vending, without denying many people an important part of their income.

Vancouver Police Department Chief Jim Chu will take the groups’ concerns into serious consideration and address them after significant discussions, said VPD spokesperson Jana McGuinness.

“He advised that he will study the problem, study their concerns, and get back to them in probably about a month.”

The VPD is open to any solutions proposed by groups coming forward, she said, and the police welcome discussion with VANDU and the other presenting organizations.

“We’re open to further discussions if groups want to bring suggestions to the table on ways to curb street disorder, and some of the problems like street vending -- maybe thinking outside the box. We’re open to studying those, and we’re happy to be part of any solution,” said McGuinness.

When asked if that means the tickets may be recalled, she replied, “we wouldn’t be able to say at this point.”

The next Vancouver Police Board meeting is scheduled for July 15.

Christine McLaren reports for The Tyee

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