Private security brutality sparks legal action
This morning we filed a BC Human Rights Complaint and a lawsuit on behalf of three men who were allegedly brutalized in the Harbour Centre mall by guards contracted from Fusion Security.
Shawn Alexander, Richard Kreke and Luis Larrain were severely beaten in the mall in two separate incidents. Mr. Alexander and Mr. Kreke allege that on October 28, 2010 two guards dragged them from in front of the mall’s BC Liquor Store into a stairwell where they were both beaten. Photos of the stairwell after the alleged attack show blood strewn across the landing. Mr. Alexander received 13 stitches to his head and both he and Mr. Kreke had serious bruising. Mr. Larrain alleges that on December 24, 2010, he was walking to use the mall’s washroom when he was knocked down from behind and also dragged into a stairwell. Mr. Larrain says he was handcuffed and so badly by two guards that he defecated himself.
Uniformed private security guards are an increasingly visible presence on Vancouver streets, in malls and in other public spaces and spaces that most of us experience as public. Private security companies operate with nominal formal oversight and guards are often sent out on patrol after less than two weeks of training.
In 2007, we talked to more than 150 people from the Downtown Eastside about their interactions with private security guards. We were pretty shocked to learn how much interaction there is between local residents and guards. We also found a direct relationship between individuals’ housing status and the frequency of their interactions with private security personnel with homeless people and under-housed people having more frequent, and more problematic, interactions. Finally, we found that guards routinely overstepped the bounds of their authority but that because most people didn’t know anything about their rights when dealing with private security, or where to go to make a complaint, nothing was being done to hold guards, their companies or the businesses that hire them, to account.
Since then, we’ve heard a lot of stories about harassment and abuse by private security guards, and after hearing several similar stories about negative interactions between private security guards at Harbour Centre from both mall employees and low-income people, we knew we needed to take action on this case. It turns out that Harbour Centre has changed security providers, replacing Concord Security with Fusion Security. On Fusion’s website they explain that clients often come to them when they are looking for a higher level of pro-active service and no longer perceive value from their existing security providers. We are concerned that the alleged violence perpetrated by Fusion’s employees is part of a strategy to keep people who look homeless, disabled or addicted out of the mall.
This isn’t the fist time we’ve been taken legal action related to private security. In 2009, we got together with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users to file a human rights complaint against the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association’s Downtown Ambassador Program. In the complaint we allege that the program is discriminatory and violates the human rights of people who are homeless or addicted. The tribunal has heard that case and we are hoping for a decision later this year. In the meantime, we are continuing to talk to people who have been abused or harassed by private security and will take action to ensure that private security companies and the businesses that hire them know they will be held accountable if they violate the human rights of marginalized people.