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