VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A Vancouver real estate developer’s $1 million donation to the Vancouver Police Foundation for mental health and addiction services is raising the eyebrows of city councillors and homeless advocates.
In a bid to improve police services in areas including the Downtown Eastside, real estate developer Peter Wall donated the money for services delivered by police and for five community policing centres, but not everybody is convinced this cash will actually contribute to improving safety.
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City Councillor Jean Swanson says it’s not appropriate for millionaires and corporations to donate to the police and potentially influence how they approach things.
“That can skew what gets done by police and the direction of what they want, rather than what the general public wants,” Swanson said.
She said she didn’t know this was happening, and “was pretty horrified that corporations and rich people were donating to the police foundation.”
"We don't make decisions about police deployment" — we hear that from @VanPoliceFnd on @NEWS1130 as critics question recent $1-million donation from developer Peter Wall intended to give cops a boost in areas like Downtown Eastside. But @pivotlegal doesn't feel it's appropriate.
— Martin MacMahon (@martinmacmahon) February 22, 2021
Meenakshi Mannoe with PIVOT Legal Society echoes Swanson’s concerns.
“A donation like Peter Wall’s can ultimately influence not only how policing is done but where it is done. And this is also completely at odds with the priorities of the city that has been outlined in their decriminalizing poverty motion,” she said.
“A $1 million donation that is made directly to the police for the expressed purpose of police aid, mental health, and substance use in the Downtown Eastside unfortunately, fails to accomplish that. If we talk to the advocates, the drug use organizers in the Downtown Eastside, we hear that what safety looks like is meaningful access to safe supply, the decriminalization of substance use and possession, [and] available and accessible housing options. It doesn’t look like more frontline police.”
She notes she would prefer to see the money go towards peer-led access to safe supply or community-led crisis response.
But Andrea Wright with the Vancouver Police Foundation believes there is a role for officers in providing this support.
“I’d say that the VPD and its officers are essential partners in our community and the police foundation’s mandate is to help support them and their efforts to build bridges with the community and to support those who are most vulnerable and at risk,” she said.
While the Vancouver Police Foundation insists it does not have a say in terms of how police are deployed, Downtown Eastside community advocate Karen Ward points to Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer’s position on the foundation’s board.
“The police are not helping in this situation of trying to end overdoses,” Ward insisted. “It’s disingenuous to suggest the police foundation doesn’t impact policy. There are people on the board who are directing policy .. it’s right there.”
Ward believes police are ill-equipped to provide mental health support, and in her view, officers can escalate situations simply by showing up. She feels the money would be better directed toward housing and peer-based mental health support.
As a Downtown Eastside resident herself, Ward generally rejects Wall’s involvement and takes exception to a recent comment he made in an interview with the Vancouver Sun, in which he discussed a housing project he wishes to build in the neighbourhood.
“I want to read you the last line. ‘Wall’s stated desire is to “help people get back on their feet and help them restore their dignity to the point where we could respect them and they could respect us.”‘ That’s appalling,” Ward said.
“We’re all human right now. It’s just insulting and it tells you everything about how he thinks about it. So, yeah, get out of our neighbourhood.”
NEWS 1130 has reached out to the Wall family to get their perspective on this criticism.