VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The Vancouver Police Department’s Tresspass Prevention Program — which was quietly launched last fall — is being condemned by a coalition of organizations who say it criminalizes and punishes people who are poor and homeless.
No information about the program is available on the VPD website, but a report to the police board from October of 2020 indicates it was launched last fall.
“A Trespass Prevention Program initiative was recently launched which gives police written consent from the property owner to move along unwanted parties from private property. Custom designed decals are used to visibly identify these remises,” the report says.
Downtown Eastside resident and advocate Karen Ward posted about its existence last weekend, pointing out police can take action without receiving a complaint.
“The Trespass Prevention Program is an initiative that allows VPD officers to remove Trespass Act violators from private properties without the need of a call for service…”
defund to dismantle. this is horrible.
— karen ward (@kwardvancouver) January 23, 2021
In an open letter Thursday from a coalition that includes organizations like the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the BC Civil Liberties Association, Ward explains why she thinks this program needs to be immediately halted.
“This is a horrible program and escalates the war on the poor. Homeless people, people who are unhoused, drug users, and poor people who have nowhere to go will be unfairly targeted by the Trespass Prevention Program. This program must be fully withdrawn,” she writes.
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Mebrat Beyene, Executive Director of WISH Drop-In Centre Society, who has signed the letter, says when she saw the original post she was shocked.
“It’s really disappointing it was actually quite appalling. The first time I saw it, I actually thought it was fake. It’s just such an egregious response to issues that are really fundamentally related to poverty,” she says.
“A trespass program like this makes it clear that the VPD, or elements of our society, care more about property than about people.”
She notes the street-based sex workers supported by the programs at WISH will likely be targeted whie trying to seek some measure of shelter or safety while outdoors. Beyene adds launching this program during the pandemic when indoor spaces are closed or limited in capacity seems particularly cruel.
“We see women who have been kicked out of housing or have been kicked out of spaces where they might have been trading sex for a place to stay. The types of violence against women that has increased and the types of violence against sex workers that have increased means that there are more people on the streets, more people that are relying on doorways, entryways, public spaces to try to stay safe, or to get away from predators and predatory behaviour, to get out of the rain to get out of the weather,” she says.
“It puts even more power in the hands of cops on the street to act, to be quite aggressive with residents of our community. And of course, it’s an unequal approach. It’s going to be people who are poor and unhoused, that are going to be significantly affected by this.”
Coalition of Organizations Call for End to Vancouver Police Department Trespass Prevention Program "For Indigenous people, especially our Indigenous unhoused relatives, to now be criminalized as trespassers on our own lands is a cruel legal fiction." https://t.co/dHjJRz30fU pic.twitter.com/czBeSDYu5g
— UBCIC (@UBCIC) January 28, 2021
Beyene says she knows residents and property owners have decried a rise in what they call “street disorder” amid the pandemic, but thinks increased policing should not be seen as a solution to deep-rooted issues of poverty, homelessness, and inequality.
“Why are we not collectively addressing the root issues of poverty? And why are we not addressing the root issues of homelessness?” Why are we not banding together to ensure that people are housed, and to ensure that people don’t have to use alleyways as their bathrooms, and to ensure that people don’t have to use doorways and alleyways as a place to sleep?” she asks.
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“This is one of those instances where we’re yet again seeing this assumption that we’re going to be able to police our way out of poverty and police our way out of really significant issues.”
Meenakshi Mannoe with Pivot Legal Society, which also signed on to the letter, agrees this program will allow police to target people who have not committed any crime.
“It is effectively designing ways for the police to arbitrarily interact with people who are simply experiencing poverty. They’re not doing anything criminal there, they might be looking for shelter from the rain, they might be in an awning because there’s nowhere else to go. There are very few spots for people to access public amenities,” she says.
“This kind of program really allows the police to effectively displace and shuffle people who rely on public space throughout the city. We shouldn’t be using enforcement and criminalization as the response.”