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Downtown Eastside residents unfairly targeted for ticketing, advocates allege

Vancouver policer officers leave for patrol from an alley outside the old Main Street police headquarters in the Downtown Eastside in March 2013.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

A dispute has emerged over why police issue so many jaywalking tickets in the Downtown Eastside, a neighbourhood where substance abuse is rampant and the pedestrian-vehicle accident rate is high.

In a report issued Thursday, Pivot Legal Society and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) state 76 per cent of all the jaywalking tickets in Vancouver are issued in the Downtown Eastside.

Pivot and VANDU feel police are unfairly targeting people so officers can verify identities and run criminal checks on individuals.

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But the Vancouver Police Department says its officers are only going where they are needed most – and that increasingly takes them to the Downtown Eastside, a hot spot for pedestrian accidents where it is common to see people running through moving traffic on busy East Hastings Street.

Douglas King, a staff lawyer with Pivot, said the statistics paint a clear picture of targeted over-enforcement in the community.

"There's an equality issue there for sure," he said.

Mr. King said statistics on the number of jaywalking tickets issued by police were obtained through a Freedom of Information request. The data cover the past four years.

He said previous city studies have shown jaywalking occurs in all neighbourhoods in the city, but according to police data, during the four-year period, no jaywalking tickets were issued in several affluent neighbourhoods, such as Point Grey and Oakridge.

"We believe these statistics confirm our fears that city bylaws are not being enforced for reasons of public safety, but to circumvent the constitutional protections in this country against profiling and arbitrary detention," he said.

Pivot and VANDU are urging police to issue fewer tickets in the Downtown Eastside.

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Constable Brian Montague, however, said police are only doing their job.

"The tickets are given where the offences occur … that's not to say there isn't jaywalking in other parts of Vancouver. Of course there is. But there's a lot of people getting struck in the Downtown Eastside. And there's a lot of officers in the Downtown Eastside, so our officers are obviously going to observe the offence more often in the Downtown Eastside," he said.

Constable Montague noted that the Downtown Eastside has emerged in studies as a hot spot for pedestrian accidents and, at the same time, the high crime rate in the area means there are more police in the streets.

Put the two together and the result is more tickets.

"We write tickets to educate and try and deter people from jaywalking because jaywalking is extremely dangerous," he said. "We do enforcement where we see a problem, just like we'd do speed enforcement on Knight Street or Marine."

Sergeant Randy Fincham said police can't turn a blind eye to jaywalking because it is extremely dangerous, especially in the Downtown Eastside.

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"We saw earlier in the week that tragically a man did lose his life crossing the street where he was struck by a car. It's too early in the investigation to determine if that individual was jaywalking or not, but that is another solemn reminder that jaywalking does kill people," he said.

He rejected the Pivot complaint that police are issuing tickets just so they can run checks on people.

"The police are not utilizing the issuing of jaywalking tickets and any other tickets to identify individuals or to gather information on people," he said. "This is strictly a matter of police providing enforcement and education strategies … to prevent people in that neighbourhood from being injured."

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National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

News reporter

Daniel Bitonti is a Vancouver-based reporter with The Globe and Mail. Before joining the bureau, Daniel spent six months on the copy desk in the Globe’s Toronto newsroom after completing a journalism degree at Carleton University. More

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