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Responses to Shelly Fralic's Call for Downtown Eastside "Sty" to Be "Swept Clean"

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Responses to Shelly Fralic's Call for Downtown Eastside "Sty" to Be "Swept Clean"

You can put lipstick on a pig, but nothing will change until the sty is swept clean.

That is the closing line of what Vancouver Sun writer Shelley Fralic had to say about Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on 24 June 2011.

Four commenters have so far agreed to publication here of their responses. More may be coming. You are also invited to add your own direct comment to this posting.

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June 24, 2011

This Is My Community

Dear Shelly:

I live and work in the DTES. This is my community. The language you use to describe and the remedies you suggest (for the problems you perceive) are offensive to me.

I think your opinion could have been better received (by me) if you had proposed solutions.

I would like to suggest some solutions for your consideration.

Perhaps ending the war on drugs and directing resources to treatment and prevention. The war on drugs is a war on the poor and to continue to criminalize our poorest and most vulnerable citizens is what is criminal.

Good quality, affordable, resident-controlled housing might help.

I would invite you to come and tour the "pigsty" with me as your guide. The solutions to "problems" you perceive in our community are here with the people who live here.


Thank you,
Dave Murray

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June 24, 2011

Re: Will reclaiming the Eastside, one historic store at a time, work?

I hope Shelley Fralic regrets the last sentence in her column about the Downtown Eastside, because:

1)  Labeling it a "pigsty" dehumanizes everybody in the neighbourhood, including the thousands of residents who are not dope-dealers.

2)  Calling for it to be "swept clean" will be taken as another demand for further gentrification — meaning yet more displacement of people whose only crime is poverty.

Reporters, columnists, and editorialists — stop using carelessly vicious language about the DTES.

Rider Cooey

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June 24, 2011

Re: DTES Pig Sty article

Ms. Fralic and the editors of the Vancouver Sun,

I am writing to request that you retract and apologize for the hateful comment that closed the recent urban tourist article, "Will reclaiming the Eastside, one historic store at a time, work?". After establishing that Ms. Fralic's interest in the Downtown Eastside is limited to spectacle and that her spectrum of interest does not move much beyond her navel, not surprising from a journalist who focuses on celebrity writing, the article closes with a hateful, bigoted, violent, and erroneous assault on the most vulnerable people in the city. Ms. Fralic wrote, "You can put lipstick on a pig, but nothing will change until the sty is swept clean." In a correspondence with a Vancouver housing activist Rider Cooey the day this article was published, Ms. Fralic confirmed, "It is a pig sty."

The hateful bigotry is that Ms. Fralic uses an animal metaphor to talk about a group of people who she is advocating to be totally cleansed from the neighbourhood or the city. She argues that the gradual changes of gentrification will not work because the DTES is "dangerous and unseemly, and therefore not a place … that attracts shoppers and families or any of those who once flooded in from outside the area." She calls for a much more aggressive state organized removal plan. She says that the way to make the area attractive to shoppers (clearly the definition of a healthy neighbourhood) "authorities at all levels [must] conjure up the cojones to really clean it up, to stop enabling the crackheads and hookers, to purge the criminals from the streets." How Taxi-Driver.

The violence of Ms. Fralic's comments is what she proposes to be done to the poor who she hates. It is shocking that the animalistic metaphor she chooses is the "pig sty." When today's poor, including the "crackheads and hookers" she wants to sweep clean from the sty, were swept from other neighbourhoods into the industrial sections of the DTES, it had disastrous results. The lives of women who were most negatively stigmatized by these hateful social cleansing sweeps were devalued. SFU criminologist John Lowman argues that this stigmatization and devaluing produced a serial killer and resulted in the disappearance of more than 68 women from the Downtown Eastside. In this context, the violent callousness of Ms. Fralic's "pig sty" metaphor is shocking. Where was Ms. Fralic while the news told of police combing a pig sty in Coquitlam for remains of the beloved women lost from our communities and families? What did she feel when she heard that news and saw the excavators and forensic crews with mud and tools? Did she feel contempt?

Ms. Fralic is sympathetic to a once-upon-a-time DTES and her charming Dickensian poor that she imagines/remembers as "disenfranchised men, many injured or laid off by the resource industries that fuelled the provincial economy." But Ms Fralic clearly hates today's non-white-male-former-resource-worker poor in the deindustrialized city. The poor she hates are disproportionately Indigenous people who have been displaced over and over again through colonization efforts that started with militaristic removals and continued with residential schools and child apprehension. They are people who have been abused and stigmatized by physical, mental, and addictions medical systems and attacked by the accompanying daily violence of systemic poverty. They are the Latino men and Chinese senior women who the Conservative government denies citizenship status, the queer and transgender low-income folks who don't feel comfortable in any other place in the city, the low-income people who feel at home in the Downtown Eastside. Many of these residents feel that the rest of the city is the dangerous and inhospitable place exactly because of the over valuing of consumer nostalgia that Ms. Fralic mis-identifies as "neighbourhood." Ms. Fralic's suggestion that these people be displaced though state action again is hateful and bigoted.

And Ms. Fralic's comments are also just factually wrong. The empty hotels, storefronts, and buildings that Ms. Fralic refers to are not owned by any poor people. They are all owned by property owning rich people who have emptied them out in order to make themselves richer. The gated doorways of the empty buildings that fill with garbage and can't be cleaned by people without keys to the gates are owned and kept filthy by people who do not live in the DTES and who are not poor. The Stadium hotel on Cambie St, the Argyle on Hastings and Abbott, and the apartment building at 334 Carrall St were all made empty through evictions that were decided on and ordered by the property owners who do not live in the DTES and who have lots of money.

Today I spent an hour and a half on the phone with the police, the Vancouver building inspections department, and Worksafe BC because the Pantages theatre was being demolished in a very unsafe way. Workers hired from the neighbourhood were tearing at the facade five stories up with crowbars. They leaned over the edge and pried at the bricks, none of them wore safety harnesses, or respirators and the building frontage was not netted or protected from falling into the street. On the street below a lone flag person looked up, waiting for rubble to fall, then leaping forward and shepherding passers-by out of harm's way. Rather than the full plywood tunnels I've seen beneath construction sites in other neighbourhoods, the 100-block of east Hastings got only a cobbled together scaffold and a precariously balanced fence that cut off part of the sidewalk. Rubble from the demolition fell on the scaffold, fractured, and bounced into the street. When I complained to the site supervisor he told me to shut up and said, "It's just little bits of rock."

The doors of adjoining buildings had been torn off in previous days' demolitions and rubble poured out onto the sidewalk. The rubble is a mixture of brick, asbestos, lead paint, rat droppings, cockroach casings, and ancient dust. I walked around to the alley and saw men from the neighbourhood working with pick hammers chipping asbestos and fibrous fillers off antique brick without eye protection for $25 a pallet of 500 bricks. I looked up and on each side of the open demolition site, without even a fixed fence on the back side of the open lot, were the open windows of the Regent and Brandiz hotel rooms. The only windows in tiny rooms are tonight looking out on a site that reeks so badly of mold, mildew, and rot that my nose bled and my eyes swelled up from standing nearby for half an hour.

By day's end the City building inspections department had not called me back, despite calls to three separate contacts in their department, and Worksafe BC had assured me they will do an inspection on Monday.

These toxic ruins were not made by the low-income community in the Downtown Eastside. They were made by Marc Williams and the Worthington Property Management company who bought Pantages for four hundred thousand dollars in 2004 and are now planning to build 80% condos on the site because no one has bought it for their 2010 asking price of nine million dollars.

Ms. Fralic's article is not just-an-article, it is a programmatic call-to-arms to the far-right in Vancouver based on a whitewashed and nostalgic vision of a 1950s culture that never existed. It is the responsibility of Ms. Fralic to educate herself, to be careful and responsible in her journalism, and to retract her article and apologize. It is the responsibility of the editors of the Vancouver Sun to distance themselves from this article, and to fire Ms. Fralic if she will not retract and apologize.

For justice in the media and in Vancouver,

Ivan Drury
Member of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council board of directors

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June 25, 2011

Response to Shelley Fralic's opinion piece "Will reclaiming the Eastside, one historic store at a time, work?"

Ms. Fralic's use of the terms "pigs" and "pigsty" as a description of the people and community of the Downtown Eastside is outrageous. Such dehumanizing discourse using animal imagery has preceded the implementation of various strategies of mass displacement and genocide throughout history, and the murderous reality of the Pickton "pig farm" associates these terms with unspeakable horror. Ms. Fralic and the Vancouver Sun must apologize for this rhetoric of hateful poor-bashing.

I do agree, however, with removing the violent criminals from the Downtown Eastside. I would suggest that we start with the slumlord property owners who constantly violate the Standards of Maintenance By-Laws, charge excessive rents, leave buildings empty during a homelessness crisis, and put tenants' health and safety at risk through negligence and greed. Then we might turn our attention to the police, who bust poor people for petty crimes like jaywalking or vending without a license, yet fail to investigate adequately the murder and disappearance of dozens of women in the community, and whose tactics of coercive force leave people in that community bruised, bloodied or dead. And finally we should remove political leaders whose social policies perpetuate the violence of legislated poverty, developers whose schemes of condo construction and gentrification displace people from their neighbourhood and increase homelessness, and city planners who aid and abet the destruction of this community through the forced imposition of social mix.

Once we get rid of these criminals and perpetrators of systemic violence, the way will be opened up for the implementation of the community's own vision for its neighbourhood, a vision that embraces justice, dignity and human flourishing for those who call this place home.

Dave Diewert
Natural Community Member
Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council

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Reply from Vancouver Sun editor Patricia Graham

Mr. Drury,
Thank you for your comments. We correct factual errors but with respect I do not agree there are factual errors in the column.
We support the free expression of honest opinion, especially in matters of public interest.
Ms. Fralic did express an opinion that  a particular area is a pig sty.
As a columnist, she is paid to express her opinion, and to be brave enough to do so honestly. Clearly her opinion is offensive to you. But it represents the free expression of opinion, and is recognized legally as fair comment on a matter of public interest, a fundamental aspect of a democratic society.
The Vancouver Sun has published hundreds of stories, columns and editorials intended to improve the circumstances of vulnerable people. Some of this work has in fact benefited those you speak of, for example our work on the missing women case, so I hope you are familiar with it.
Patricia Graham
Editor in Chief

Reply to Ivan Drury from Vancouver sun editor Harold Munro

Mr. Drury,

Your description of the theatre demolition indeed represents unsafe practices that should be investigated.
Do you know if anyone collected video or photo evidence of the scene you described? That would be a big help for a reporter looking for answers from the property owner and worksafe.
I must, however, take offense at your description of the poor as all broken and marginalized. This is a disservice to the vast majority of working poor in the DTES and many other communities who contribute daily to society.
I can assure you these people do not want crackheads on their street corners any more than the residents of Dunbar.

Sent from my iPhone

These people ...

God damnit ... seems nobody can fill me with seething rage faster than people who work for the sun and the province, its uncanny. Bunch of yuppie scum ...

Munro "takes offense" at the suggestion that the working poor are marginalized?!


With "sent from my iphone" as the punchline to the joke of course.

The original column by Fralic as well as these responses from the staff at the paper just goes to show the huge reality gap here. These people live in an alternate universe where nobody ever calls them on their shit.

Dear Shelly,

Instead of picking apart what you said, which I feel is much too generous to your position, I would refer you to a real writer, Mr. Mark Twain, who said, 

"Write what you know."

as in, take your ass back to planet UBC you bubblehead infotainment hack.



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