The number of drug-related arrests in Vancouver has more than doubled in the 11 days since police began cracking down on open-air drug use, police statistics show.
Ten charges have been laid, all for smoking crack in public places, including bus stops and parks. Police said they have also laid nine charges against people who allegedly were carrying drugs when they were arrested for something else.
Before Feb. 17, just using illegal drugs such as crack, heroin or marijuana wasn't enough to cause police to lay charges; the person would also have had to be suspected of doing something else illegal, such as driving impaired or being the subject of a warrant.
The Crown, so far, has not rejected any of those nine charges on the grounds that arresting addicts isn't in the public interest, as was the problem with previous crackdowns, said Inspector Bob Rolls, who commands District 2, which includes the Eastside. "We've had a level of success," he said.
But all of those arrests were in the several blocks that constitute the Downtown Eastside, police said. Though the crackdown was announced as being citywide, much of the enforcement has been in the troubled area.
If all the arrests are for crack, that means people are using Vancouver's supervised injection site and keeping heroin use inside, said Ann Livingston, executive director of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users.
But if local businesses want to keep crack users off the street, out of bus stops or Oppenheimer Park, they should support an inhalation room, where crack users can smoke safely, she said.
"For crack users, there just isn't anywhere to go," she said.
Al DesLauriers, who manages Save-On Meats on Hastings Street, said he hasn't seen many more police officers, but he has seen many new faces.
"There are lots of new dealers about," he said. "Maybe some are lying low or maybe this crackdown will take a little longer."