“Jaywalking to jail” in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU)  – a people’s organization in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver made up of over 2000 drug users who live in the community – staged a protest at a meeting of the Vancouver Police Services Board last week, where a report was being tabled by Vancouver police “whitewashing the discriminatory ticketing” of the poor community’s residents for jaywalking and vending. The protest brought out 45 members of VANDU.

Vending is a local phenomenon and a survival strategy in the DTES, whereby residents sell used and recycled goods to supplement the grinding poverty of welfare rates in B.C.

VANDU reports that data obtained by the PIVOT Legal Society shows that 95% of all vending tickets and 75% of all jaywalking tickets for the City of Vancouver are issued in the Downtown Eastside, pointing to an active campaign of targeting by Vancouver police against the community’s poor residents, who are largely Onkwehon:we, but also contain a substantial portion of peoples of European, African, and east Asian origins.

The DTES consists of 5000 residents living in dilapidated Single-Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels that claim most of the residents’ monthly income.  SROs are the only affordable option for poor people in Vancouver, and a factor that leads people to vend small goods to survive in the city.

Yet, when residents are hit with $250 vending tickets, the options they face are either intensified poverty or criminalization.  VANDU has been bringing attention to the fact that unpaid tickets often lead to arrest warrants for failures to appear in court, which become increasingly difficult for poor people lacking computers, cell phones, fixed addresses, to track and coordinate, leading to arrest, charges, and a lot of time served in remand.  Over 40% of all people in prison in B.C. are in remand.

Recently, the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry recognized that warrants generated from non-criminal matters, such as vending and jaywalking, are a factor deterring Onkwehon:we women from approaching the police about more serious matters.

Jaywalking to Jail is the name of a forthcoming report written by DTES community member, Aiyanas Ormond, who is associated with the Canadian chapter of the International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS) and its Indigenous Commission. ILPS-Canada is the alliance which has been actively working with Haudenosaunee land defenders at Six Nations of the Grand River, and the project cabin build solidarity project ‘Biimadasahwin’ with Darlene Necan of the Ojibway Nation of the Saugeen No. 258.

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