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Councillor Jang Advises Downtown Eastside to Bug Him

Bylaw Infraction Tickets Remain a Problem

by Joseph Jones

A Demand to Suspend Enforcement [Flux Photo]
A Demand to Suspend Enforcement [Flux Photo]
Jang Seeks the "Full Story" [Flux Photo]
Jang Seeks the "Full Story" [Flux Photo]

Also posted by Joseph Jones:

[Click for More photos of Jang at VANDU]

City Councillor Kerry Jang brought along what he called "lots of staff" when he met with a crowd of about 70 at the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) space at 380 East Hastings on the afternoon of May 24. He said he wanted city staff to hear directly, not through him, and that he can't do anything unless he has the full story.

Police ticketing of bylaw infractions in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) — especially for street vending, jaywalking, and public urination/defecation — was the focus of the meeting.

The VANDU presentation started with a timeline for the ticketing issue.

    •  Ticketing blitz in 2008/2009 (over 1100 tickets issued)
    •  Issue brought to Police Board in 2009
    •  Direct action at City Council on 21 July 2009
    •  Prosecution withdrawn on 817 tickets
    •  City staff spend a day at VANDU checking over 130 instances of ticketing
    •  Downtown Eastside Pedestrian Safety Project final report in June 2010
    •  Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council starts street market in June 2010
    •  Toilet Project undertaken in Fall 2010
    •  Letter to Mayor Gregor Robertson in spring 2011

The DTES has initiated three separate projects on the ticketed offenses. The earliest and most formal result, a report on pedestrian safety, was said so far to have resulted only in the installation of a couple of countdown crossing signals. The street market (job description recently posted for fundraiser/coordinator) did not come in for a lot of discussion. Toilet inaccessibility drew by far the most comment.

The formal presentation ended with a demand that the City abandon criminalizations and act on the four recommendations being presented (see Appendix below).

More than half a dozen persons from the audience directed pithy comments and pointed questions to Jang. An inhabitant of an SRO stated flatly that he preferred using the alley to the disgusting facilities available in his dwelling. (A later comment cited 14% of surveyed low-rent accommodation lacking functional toilets.)

When presented with a straightforward question about City Council showing leadership by assigning priority to and directing financial resources toward improved DTES toilet facilities, Jang came back with a weird duck and weave and sidestep. First he said that it takes a lot of time to "do the project right." Then he counterattacked with an implicit accusation: "Will the community help us look after the washrooms?" Then Jang went technical about how money comes from a capital budget that has to be approved by voters in November.

After hesitating and conferring, a woman named a DTES nonprofit empire that "always takes credit" and asserted that VANDU with 2000 members should enjoy more agency. Jang responded with a contradictory platitude about how he fights all the time with a DTES leader — "but we work together."

Three men told Jang about the unresolved tickets they still face. A holder of two tickets pointed out that people with yards or garages to sell from do not get ticketed. A holder of three tickets (formerly eight, four of them in one day) now has two for technicalities related to failure to respond within prescribed time.

A third man said he worked for 34 years as an industrial meat cutter and tries to live on $7000 a year, with $4800 going for rent. He said his $250 ticket is beyond his means, and asked if the City wants to lock him up for that. He put the ticket into Jang's hand. Standing there with the hot potato, Jang flapped in two directions: about how the formalities of legal process must be observed, about how he did not have $250 in his pocket to help out with.

One woman quoted Sir Thomas More on society's role in creating beggars and thieves. Another woman stated that walking around with shitty pants was more embarrassing than going in an alley. She also mentioned how restaurants do not allow public use of their washrooms.

Speakers repeatedly pressed Jang about a timeline. Once Jang said, "We keep pushing." Another time he said, "Staff are consulting right now." A third time he said, "Keep bugging me." It all sounded like variations on mañana — like no time ahead of the November election. (Remember how that capital budget works?)

Near the end of the session, the nonperformance of CBS/Decaux automated public toilets (APTs) became a live topic. One commentator said simply, they don't work, so isn't the contract void by now? Then a city bureaucrat stepped in to talk about the Vancouver APTs: 17 included in a 20-year contract for street furniture, 7 located downtown. A DTES spokesperson cited 4 days of intermittently functional operation in a 30-day period. Discussion touched on failures in Seattle and successes in Los Angeles. It was said that the Los Angeles APTs are checked four times a day. (This hodgepodge of factoids suggests that these scarce hi-tech shitters suffer serious performance defects, perhaps due to lack of adequate maintenance by the contractor. Not least of the reported defects is locking up and refusing to let an unwary squatter return to the light of day!)

The encounter with Jang ended with a direct call for a moratorium on the issuing of bylaw infraction tickets in the DTES. A police officer who stood off to the side at the front during the entire hour stepped up to respond. Inspector Dean Robinson said he is in charge of District Two, with a complement of 75 on beat enforcement. "There has to be some intervention," he claimed, and went on to assure the audience that the Vancouver Police Department has been handing out jaywalking tickets in Shaughnessy and Point Grey. (Statistics were not forthcoming.)

Now that Jang has the full story, it remains to be seen if action will amount to anything more than yet another meeting in a month's time … and whether even that meeting will happen without a lot of "bugging."

Appendix: Four Recommendations

1 — Suspend enforcement and prosecution of City of Vancouver bylaws on vending, jaywalking, and public urination and defecation. Implement positive community solutions, including but not limited to:

2 — Providing support and funding to expand the DNC's street market to 7 days a week.

3 — Improve access to public toilets by extending the hours of the toilets at Main and Hastings, Victory Square, and Oppenheimer Park, and replacing the CBS/Decaux APTs [automated public toilets] at Pigeon Park and Main and Powell with public toilets that will actually work for our community.

4 — Implement recommendations of the Pedestrian Safety Project.

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