Downtown Eastside residents fear they’ll be jailed during Games
Some people can’t afford to pay fines given during ticketing sweep for civil disorder
William Dawson owes more than $ 200 for crossing the street, a debt he’s vowing to fight.
The 48-year-old East Hastings resident is a schizophrenic who lives on disability pay. He said Sunday he can’t afford to pay two jaywalking tickets he was issued in December and January, and he feels the police targeted him as a resident of the Downtown Eastside.
His predicament is a common one for residents of the neighbourhood, according to advocates for the Downtown Eastside’s poor.
A group including the Pivot Legal Society, the Carnegie Community Action Project and the B. C. Civil Liberties Association, brought home the point as they gathered at Pigeon Park on East Hastings on Sunday.
Pivot Legal Society lawyer Douglas King said the ticketing sweeps were instituted under Project Civil City, an initiative of the previous city council, and B. C.’ s Safe Streets Act, both of which recommend increased enforcement of bylaws dealing with civil disorder, such as spitting, jaywalking and vending items on sidewalks.
“ Neighbourhood residents are afraid this is a way to get as many warrants against people as possible, and put them in jail for the Olympics,” said King.
Dawson said that with the help of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users and Pivot Legal Society, he’ll take his tickets to court, and fight them, rather than risk jail time. “ I should have gone on the crosswalk, but this is my front yard,” he said Sunday, adding that one of his friends served a five-day jail sentence after not paying a jaywalking ticket. City councillor Geoff Meggs said increased bylaw enforcement is part of a draft business plan by the Vancouver police department, and reflects the province’s Safe Streets Act policies. He said Mayor Gregor Robertson will be discussing the issue with the Vancouver police board. “[ Downtown Eastside residents] aren’t wrong to worry about the Olympics because past Oly mpic Games have been marred by police activity that’s focused on some communities in a way that was disruptive and even discriminatory, and that’s nobody’s intention here,” he said. “ The neighbourhood focus is something we need to take a look at.”
Also on the weekend, hundreds of demonstrators marc hed through Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Saturday afternoon for the 18th annual Women’s Memorial March to honour missing and murdered women. The march began at t he Carnegie Centre after speeches from native leaders and family members and friends of the victims, many of whom worked in the sex trade. Protesters demanded a public inquiry into the murdered and missing women from aboriginal communities, the Downtown Eastside [ and] the Highway of Tears in northern British Columbia.