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Rights complaint launched on behalf of Vancouver's homeless

Homeless advocacy groups in Vancouver launched a human-rights complaint Thursday on behalf of homeless people they say are discriminated against by the Downtown Ambassadors program.

The complaint against city commissioner Geoff Plant and the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association says the program, established in May, 2000, to patrol the downtown area and address "street disorder," further marginalizes a population that already struggles with poverty, addiction and disabilities.

By telling people sleeping or loitering on the street to "move along" and by identifying and monitoring "undesirable" people, the complaint asserts, the security guards acting as downtown ambassadors impair the dignity of protected populations - the aboriginal people and people with disabilities that comprise a disproportionate number of the city's homeless and addicts - and deny them equal access to public space.

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The complainants - Pivot Legal Society, the United Native Nations and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users - are calling on the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal to force the city and the business association to cease the program, ensure their staff receive "appropriate anti-discrimination training" and pay up to 1,000 homeless people $20 each as a token financial compensation.

The Downtown Ambassadors program is administered by the business association, which contracts out to Genesis Security. The city voted in April to contribute more than $230,000 towards the program, allowing the red-uniformed guards to patrol the downtown area 24 hours a day starting this summer.

Mr. Plant heads up Project Civil City, an initiative to reduce crime on city streets and get rid of "social disorder" problems such as panhandling and homelessness. The issue came to the fore this week following a Statistics Canada report that listed Vancouver as the least civil city in the country.

Project Civil City has been a major part of Mayor Sam Sullivan's term as mayor, and Non-Partisan Association mayoral candidate Peter Ladner has made it an integral part of his campaign.

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