VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Bright yellow billboards with the phrase “Be cautious of strangers getting close or asking for help” have been popping up across Vancouver and it’s struck a chord with residents and led to one city councillor calling the messaging divisive and harmful to marginalized people.
The billboards are part of a public awareness campaign from the Vancouver Police and are meant to highlight distraction thefts in the city.
But people on social media questioned how effective that message really is, including Boyle, who says her first impression of the message is confusing and potentially harmful.
“They’re confusing, people really do need help from strangers. We’ve seen that most recently in the heat dome. I worry about a senior feeling faint and falling over and people receiving the message that they should be wary, when for the most part, people are good, and we should help each other,” she says. “Of course, people should use their judgment in every situation, and I’m not suggesting being totally Pollyanna about this. But I do think that throughout the pandemic, we’ve received this clear message that our safety and well-being depend on those around us. And I hope we maintain that because that social solidarity has gotten us through some pretty tough times.”
“We see the increased extreme weather events from climate change, we likely have more hard times ahead and we need each other to get through it,” she says.
She adds vulnerable people who may reach out for help deserve to be treated with compassion and care, adding the billboards aren’t clear they are meant to address distraction thefts.
“It could cause more harm than good. Reminding people about distraction theft is one thing but as many people pointed out these signs don’t mention distraction thefts so I think they missed the mark entirely on that front.”
She says part of getting through the pandemic as well as the recent heatwave has been relying on each other and community members to check in on vulnerable people.
“All of us have seen how important that is, how much we rely on others. I hope Vancouverites can continue to be kind and supportive and help one another around town, it’s so important for all of us to get through these challenging times,” Boyle adds. “We have spent a year and a half really stepping up for each other and making choices that are in the best interest of not just of ourselves but for complete strangers. That has been such an important piece of surviving this pandemic and so this message of being cautious of strangers is counter to everything that so far has gotten us through the pandemic.”
Meantime, the VPD says seniors are being targeted in these distraction thefts adding the billboards were supposed to spark conversation, not cause division.