Archive for November, 2009
“Advocates label homeless shelter act Olympic ploy” Vancouver Sun
“Activists protest ‘kidnap the homeless act’” Metro News Vancouver
“Protesters say law allows ‘kidnapping’ of homeless” CBC
“Activists demand Vancouver mayor snub homeless ‘Kidnapping Act'” The Province
“Downtown Eastside advocates call for an end to the Assistance to Shelter Act” News 1130
Other Articles Nov 24 – 26:
“‘Assistance’ to What Shelter?’ Victoria Times Colonist
“Olympic Update: Assistance to Shelter Act” Homeless Nation
“BC’s Social Cleansing Policy (Bill-18)” Homeless Nation
WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 25 @ 11 AM POLICE STATION (312 MAIN, AT CORDOVA)
November 24 2009, Vancouver – A coalition of DTES community groups and allies are hosting a press conference to launch a campaign against what they are calling the “Olympic Kidnapping Act”. They are calling the Act, which allows police to detain and use force on homeless people to compel them into shelters, fundamentally undemocratic, unjust, and unconstitutional.
In response to the government’s claim that this Act helps the homeless, many homeless people refuse to be forcefully apprehended. “I can look after myself; I’ve been doing it for years,” states one such homeless man, who is afraid to be identified.
According to Stella August, member of Downtown Eastside Women Centre Power to Women group, “This Kidnapping Act creates a state of fear in the DTES. We are angered at the hypocrisy of a overnment that closes down emergency shelters, while allowing police to forcefully displace homeless people against their will. We have already witnessed waves of police crackdowns over the past year; we are not foolish enough to believe that this is another coincidence leading up to the Games.” During the 1996 Olympics, approximately 9000 homeless people in Atlanta were arrested in the months leading up to the Games and shunted up to 300 kilometres out of the city.
“We want Mayor Gregor Robertson, as Chair of the Police Board, to tell the police not to enforce this unconstitutional act. Is this part of the plan to cover up poverty before the Olympics?” asked Wendy Pedersen of Carnegie Community Action Project. Shelter providers such as Atira Women’s Resource Society, First United Church, Lookout Emergency Aid Society, PHS Community Service Society, as well as the Canadian Mental Health Association have all also publically expressed their significant and grave concerns with the Act.
According to Laura Track, housing campaign lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society who is planning a legal challenge against this Act, “The Minister knows this is an unconstitutional law; this is a cynical strategy by the Liberal government to force poor people off the streets for the Olympics before courts strike the legislation down, which will unfortunately take months if not years.”
Questions on Press Conference:
Tristan Markle, Vancouver Action (VanAct), 778-836-9877
Laura Track, PIVOT Legal Society, 604-721-6349
To coordinate interviews with DTES residents:
Harsha Walia, DTES Women’s Centre, 778-885-0040
This pamphlet engages with comments by Minister Rich Coleman, responsible for the Assistance to Shelter Act.
There is no justice in giving police the authority to coercively displace people against their will.
By forcibly removing the street homeless, the Assistance to Shelter Act violates the fundamental Charter right to “not be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned” (Section 9 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms).
Forceful police behavior is now sanctioned under the Act upon the occurrence of an ‘extreme weather emergency.’ Minister Coleman states* that in Vancouver, extreme weather means “temperatures near zero with rainfall that makes it difficult or impossible for homeless people to remain dry, and/or sleet, freezing rain; and/or snow accumulation; and/or sustained high winds.”
*[This Minister is responsible for the Assistance to Shelter Act. All quotations by the Minister are from Nov. 18, 2009 (3rd BC reading of Bill 18)]
Minister can Veto Community Representatives
Contrary to what is claimed, the Act is not ambiguous as to where final authority lies for the declaration of a weather emergency: Section 3 of the Act is direct in granting this authority to the Minister himself. ‘Community Representatives’ as designated in the Act are a politically distracting carry-over from old emergency weather procedures and are irrelevant to the Act’s implementation.
A Well-timed Wager
Minister Coleman has stated that himself and his advisors understand that the Act is vulnerable to a Charter challenge, with Coleman stating that an illegal Act is a “risk” his government is willing to take. Because of the timing of its passage, the illegality of the Act represents less a blind risk than a well-timed decision, since legal challenges filed by Pivot Legal Society will succeed only after the completion of the Olympic Games.
Breach of Olympic Contract
The Act undermines previous promises made by the State, including the Olympic Inner-City Inclusivity Commitment (ICIC),* which makes a direct commitment to “ensure residents are not involuntarily displaced.” Other sections of the ICIC include an unfulfilled commitment to a “timely public consultation that is accessible to inner-city neighbourhoods, before any security legislation or regulations are finalized.”
*[The ICIC, written jointly by all levels of government, was a document designed to persuade Vancouverites to support the Olympics in the lead-up to the Vancouver host-city referendum on the Olympics in 2003.]
Secretive Cabinet Regulations
Significant sections of the Act are established not through a democratic process, but through decisions made by the Government’s Cabinet. It is the Cabinet who establishes the Act’s regulations, including the meaning of ‘Extreme Weather.’ For this reason, organizations like the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association have passed resolutions requesting substantive consultation with the community on the development of the regulations.
Dignity against Police
The street homeless of Vancouver form a vibrant and diverse community of people. The community is resentful of all forms of State force, paternalistic threats, and the armed enforcement of disrespect. There is no dignity in being threatened with forceful displacement, especially for people who already struggle to get by from within the class system – a life marked by racism, sexism, poor-bashing, and the colonial legacy. ‘Assistance’ could never be delivered by armed acts of coercion.
Officer as ‘Social Worker’
In promoting the Act, Minister Coleman has depicted police officers as “front-line social workers and front-line caregivers in many communities.” When asked why the police must act as social workers, rather than social workers themselves, Coleman stated that the police are “the body that has authority for, basically, other forms of incarceration or arrest or compelling people to go to things, and who were also trained to handle situations if they become difficult.” Minister Coleman cannot see that there will be ‘difficulties’ precisely because of coercive enforcement.
Mental Health Act
When Minister Colemen introduced the Assistance to Shelter Act to parliament, he argued that, “we need to try and add more seamless services for mental health and addictions.” However, any reference to mental illness in the course of defending the Assistance to Shelter Act is profoundly misleading. As the Minister himself remarks, section 28 of the Mental Health Act already gives authorities the ability to move people against their will. Rather than working for those with mental illness, the purpose of the Assistance to Shelter Act is to expand, without any limit, the range of individuals who can be moved against their will.
Bad for shelter providers
Shelter providers will be left to accommodate people who have been coercively brought to their doorstep; those captured may have been violated, abused, or deprived of their possessions, and may as a result be agitated, require medical attention, or wish to file a complaint. Underfunded and understaffed shelters cannot be expected to handle such challenges – note that some Vancouver shelters have no guarantee of funding beginning in March 2009, after the Olympic Games.
Once at the Shelter
Minister Coleman claims that coerced persons can “choose to stay or leave the shelter is at their own discretion.” The reality is that there is no mention of this in the Act. More importantly, the Act does not present a “choice” of any kind whatsoever. Instead, shelters are now virtual prisons: one can choose to leave a shelter only by re-entering the social cleansing landscape itself. It is significant that early drafts of Bill 18 designated prisons as emergency shelters.
Currently there are not enough shelters in Vancouver to accommodate the homeless population, and there are even less barrier-free shelters, i.e. shelters than can accommodate the pets and possessions of guests. Minister Coleman claims that these issues will be ‘considered.’ However, authorities in Vancouver routinely discard the possessions of people living on city streets. Therefore, even if the legislation is to include new provisions for guarding possessions, there is no basis for people to trust that their possessions will not be discarded by the police, who for many street homeless are identified as armed intimidators.
Clarifying the facts about Tracey’s Death
The government has cited the case of Tracey in order to strengthen arguments for the Act. However, Tracey did not die of extreme weather. Tracey died from a lack of safe cooking facilities. Tracey was being asked by police to move to a shelter that would not take her possessions and was therefore forced to cook in an unsafe space. Now, in an act of hypocrisy, the government has recently closed down two shelters in Vancouver, the two closest to where Tracey died.
written by NC
This callout was sent to several groups in the Vancouver area. Since then, the Carnegie Community Action Project, Impact on Communities Coalition, Pivot Legal Society, Streams of Justice, DTES Women’s Center, UBC Social Justice Center, and VANACT have formed a working coalition. To join the coalition, email email@example.com
To Whom it May Concern:
This is a callout for support and coalition-building against the proposed Assistance to Shelter Act, Provincial Bill 18. We invite you to work with us and other coalition members towards stopping the passage and subsequent implementation of this highly unjust legislation. This callout comes with great urgency: the bill has passed its second reading (Nov. 7) and will be going into its 3rd and final reading in the next week. It is extremely important for us to respond to this tool of gentrification with a swift, coordinated response.
We hope to build on the open letter sent by Pivot Legal Society to the Minster of Housing on Nov. 5, signed by a coalition of signatories. Our goal is to expand opposition to include active campaigning and community organizing.
There will be two ways for groups and individuals to contribute to the coalition: first, in the capacity of signatory to coalition documents, petitions and callouts; secondly, as an active member of the coalition, with an active representative at coalition meetings. We hope the coalition will harness the collective creativity of its members, and use all the tools in the activist toolkit – including community mobilization, marches, letter-writing campaigns, etc.
As there is, unfortunately, no time to lose, we propose an initial meeting at 5:30pm, Thursday November 19 in the 3rd Floor Gallery of the Carnegie Centre (401 Main St, corner of Main & Hastings).
Should the proposed legislation pass its 3rd reading, the coalition can continue to organize against the Act’s enforcement in the lead-up to the Olympics. A cohesive network of organizations will be needed to respond to ongoing displacement and criminalization of poverty.
Problems with the legislation
Unjust: There is no justice in legislation that grants enforcement officers the authority to coercively displace persons against their will.
Unconstitutional: By forcibly sheltering the street homeless, the proposed law violates Canadians’ fundamental Charter rights to “not be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned” (Section 9 of Charter of Rights and Freedoms).
Breach of Olympic contract: The proposed legislation undermines the Olympic Inner-City Inclusivity Commitment to “Ensure residents are not involuntarily displaced”.
Open to abuse: The proposed legislation grants the Minister the power to declare a weather emergency at his discretion and to direct police to round people up during the Olympics, and contains no language to explicitly guard against such abuse.
Bad for the homeless: reasonable force is not defined in the legislation, leaving open the possibility of increased violence against those perceived to be homeless. The legislation does not explicitly protect the property or belongings of those captured. The law would push British Columbia’s street homeless and most marginalized into harder-to-find locations, and place them at an increased risk of abuse.
Bad for shelter providers: shelter providers will be left to accommodate people who have been coercively brought to their doorstep; those captured may have been violated or deprived of their possessions, and may as a result: be agitated, require medical attention, or wish to file a complaint.
We look forward to your response, and to working together.
Vancouver Action (VANACT)