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Police accused of targeting Downtown Eastside vendors

A man walks past 35-year-old Shawn Cossaboom, who has received more than 70 bylaw infraction tickets from Vancouver police.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Two Downtown Eastside advocacy groups have filed a complaint with the Vancouver Police Department over what they say is discriminatory policing of the low-income neighbourhood.

Pointing to recently obtained bylaw ticketing statistics as evidence, Pivot Legal Society and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) are accusing police of disproportionately targeting Downtown Eastside residents for bylaw infractions – a practice they say fuels tension between police and residents. Pivot and VANDU presented their findings at a joint news conference held Wednesday.

"We've been able to obtain statistics related specifically to the street vending bylaw, and to the street traffic bylaw, which show that 95 per cent of all [vending-related] tickets have been issued in the Downtown Eastside," said Douglas King, a lawyer at Pivot. "There's no way to spin that other than the fact that the Vancouver Police Department is enforcing bylaws more heavily in the Downtown Eastside than in other neighbourhoods." In the past four years, police handed out 1,448 street vending tickets in the Downtown Eastside, according to Pivot. This compared to 28 downtown, 24 in the West End and less than 30 in the rest of Vancouver.

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Among the ticketed but undeterred was Kerry Everard, who on Wednesday stood along East Hastings Street with a small selection of food for sale: a jar of Dijon mustard, cans of beans and cut carrots, a bag of miscellaneous produce. Other days he will have electronics or clothing; VHS tapes are popular "because we can't afford cable, you know, or computers."

Mr. Everard has worked as a vendor for three years and says he has been ticketed six times. He is remorseless, he says, because affordable food and clothing are items his community needs. None of his items are stolen – he is a binner, he says – and his prices are reasonable. And he is just trying to get by.

"It's kind of like being victimized by [police]," he said. "We're doing work here. There are people dealing drugs next to me, and people who make a living stealing out of stores, and they don't get picked [on] as we do."

Added his friend and fellow vendor, Jaeme Grosvenor: "They are making people who already feel miserable about themselves feel even worse."

Constable Brian Montague, a spokesman for the VPD, says officers already use "a great deal of discretion" when issuing such tickets but, ultimately, the public expects bylaws to be enforced. Regarding Pivot and VANDU's allegation that officers are targeting the Downtown Eastside, Constable Montague said tickets are simply issued where offences occur, and for street vending and other similar offences, that is the Downtown Eastside.

"It is not discriminatory at all," he said. "The Downtown Eastside is where the majority of street vending happens. We don't have a street vending problem in other areas of the city generating disorder, selling stolen property or unsafe food products and acting as a cover for drug dealing."

Most liquor offences, Constable Montague said, are handed out in the downtown entertainment district, and most traffic tickets are handed out on Knight Street and Marine Drive. "Different policing doesn't mean that it is discriminatory," he said.

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Meanwhile, Pivot and VANDU are calling for an extension of the weekly market at Pigeon Park, organized by the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council, where vendors can legally peddle their wares on Sundays.

"People are just trying to make ends meet," Mr. King said.

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Based in Vancouver, Andrea Woo is a general assignment reporter with a focus on multimedia journalism. More

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