Over the past month, Vancouver police officers have been cracking down on street disorder in the Downtown Eastside by handing out tickets for everything from illegal vending and riding a bicycle on the sidewalk to jaywalking and spitting.
The normally chaotic makeshift market that takes up a half-block at the corner of East Hastings and Carrall has been deserted as police officers hand out tickets and arrest vendors with outstanding warrants.
Downtown Eastside residents and bottle binners often use the block to sell found goods. Drug dealers also operate in the dense crowd. Many of the vendors feel the ticket blitz is vindictive.
“I’m just trying to feed myself,” said Dawn, who was selling random hair care products on a blanket and received a ticket for “displaying merchandise on the sidewalk.”
“It’s better than robbing people. I found this stuff in the dumpster and I’m trying to do something positive. But the cops are a bunch of vultures who keep harassing us all the time.”
Vancouver Police Department spokesperson Const. Tim Fanning confirmed that the police are focusing their resources on street disorder in the neighborhood in order to make the “community more liveable.”
“Often we warn people before we give a ticket out,” said Fanning, who could not say how many tickets had been handed out. “Anybody that has ever got a ticket for street vending has probably got at least one warning before. I’d say we’re very good that way.”
However, many in the neighborhood complain that they can’t afford the bylaw fines, which range from $100 for jaywalking and riding a bicycle on the sidewalk to $250 for vending without a business license.
“How am I going to pay a $100 ticket when I’m on social assistance,” asked David Napio, who said he received two tickets for jaywalking and one for spitting in the past week. “There wasn’t a car on the street [when I jaywalked]. I’m not that stupid. The cops need to use some discretion.”
But Fanning said street disorder is the “thin edge of the wedge,” and if the police allow bylaw infractions to continue it could escalate into a “mess.” He added that the police must enforce the law regardless of a person’s income.
“We can’t do an economic assessment of everybody we’re giving a ticket to,” said Fanning. “If we went by [that] logic, we’d only give tickets to people who were driving Mercedes.”
Still, many in the neighborhood see the crackdown as part of an escalation against Downtown Eastside residents in the lead up to the Olympics. This past summer, police handed out tickets to homeless people for camping in Oppenheimer Park and have intermittently given out tickets to vendors and homeless people around Hastings and Carrall—either locking up people’s belongings or throwing them in a dump truck.
Gregor Robertson, who became Vancouver’s mayor and chair of the police board earlier this month, said he plans to “send a strong signal” to the VPD that officers should focus on violent crime and the hard drug trade, and not jaywalking and spitting.
“The real solution is to create a community that provides adequate affordable housing, detox facilities, mental health services and job opportunities in the DTES and across the city,” Robertson wrote in an email response. “We can’t ticket our way out of our problems.”
Robertson said he and Vision councilor George Chow are looking into the idea of starting an organization like Cheapskates in the Downtown Eastside where “reusable goods that are retrieved can be cleaned, repaired and be sold or exchanged in the community.”
United We Can executive director Ken Lyotier had floated the idea of a Binner’s Market in the past. Robertson said police could easily regulate the market to ensure there aren’t any stolen goods.
Reprinted from Megaphone Magazine through the Street News Service, www.street-papers.org