DTES legal advocacy and peer organizations write to Canada Post about harm of service suspension

Canada Post (Head Office)
2701 Riverside Dr
Ottawa, ON, K1A 0B1


Doug Ettinger
President and CEO

Anjali Kapal
Vice-President, Product Management &  Customer Experience

Manon Fortin
Chief Operating Officer

Alice Lafferty
Vice-President, Operations Excellence

Via Email: [email protected]

April 25, 2022

Dear Members of Senior Management with Canada Post,

RE: Service Suspension in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver

We write concerning Canada Post’s decision to suspend mail delivery to two blocks of East Hastings Street, between Carrall Street and Main Street, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver (DTES).

We are a collection of legal advocacy and peer-based organizations who collectively live in, work in, and support people who survive in the DTES.

This service suspension is already causing immediate and concrete harm to people living in the neighbourhood

This service suspension is already causing immediate and concrete harm to people living in the neighbourhood. We write to request that Canada Post immediately return service to the community, and ensure Canada Post works closely with neighbourhood residents and advocates prior to contemplating future suspensions or service changes.

Canada Post’s Service Suspension is Causing Harm

The DTES is a community that has been intensely impacted by both oppression and neglect by colonial state actors. It is well known that the DTES has a high percentage of Indigenous residents, displaced here through land theft, child apprehension and a multitude of other acts of violence.[1] This is a community where incredible acts of resistance never stop but it is undeniable that people struggle under the weight of criminalization and poverty. This is not the first time that stigma and fear have resulted in the disruption of desperately needed services.[2]

The impact of Canada Post’s service suspension has to be considered against this backdrop, and with the reality that many residents do not have regular phone or internet access. In addition, in-person resources are still impacted by COVID-19.

Disruption in mail services means residents do not receive:

  • Government income assistance, rebates and tax returns
  • Financial support and care packages from friends and family
  • Time-sensitive notices, e.g. for legal and medical matters
  • Personal and sentimental mail
  • Items ordered online, including food, and medical, and personal supplies

Instead of mail delivery, Canada Post is telling residents to attend the Canada Post office at 333 Woodland Drive. This is not an adequate or appropriate solution for a number of reasons. First, residents will need to show government-issued identification, something many residents of the DTES do not have and cannot easily acquire. Second, many people cannot easily walk 28 to 30 blocks roundtrip for mail every day, not least of all many of those relying on disability assistance. Finally, Canada Post completely failed to provide adequate notice of this decision to those who would be impacted.

The harm caused by this service suspension is immediate and serious. The majority of people living in the DTES do not have expendable income. Disruption in the arrival of expected finances (for example, government benefits delivered by mail) puts people at immediate risk of being unable to meet basic needs, including food, clothing and shelter costs. Disruptions in finances can also force people who use substances to engage in higher risk behavior, an impact with clear life and death consequences as we enter our seventh year of the overdose crisis being declared a public health emergency.

While there is a special urgency with the upcoming “Welfare Wednesday”[3] on April 27th, 2022, the harms are ongoing. addition, many people receive routine financial support from friends or family, which is no less critical to survival given the abysmal rate of assistance in this Province.

None of this addresses the way in which residents rely on Canada Post for communications from family and loved ones. Poverty means many people cannot afford phone service or regular internet service and remain far more dependent on written correspondence to stay connected. This can be especially true for those connecting with family in remote and rural areas, including on First Nation reserves.

I don't know how I'll pay my bills and take care of my personal health. I may have to buy medications that aren't covered and this is all a problem because mailmen don't like us

Paul, a member of the Our Homes Can’t Wait Coalition and a Downtown Eastside resident affected by the mail delivery suspension, describes the devasting impact of Canada Post’s abrupt and cavalier service suspension:

“Personally, I can't get my bills and my debts paid. I need to get food and I need to buy hygiene products. My personal maintenance now is gutted due to this and it's causing more hardship than I already have being on a low-income that's below the standard level of the cost of living. This is just adding to it. And I'm going to struggle, I don't know how I'll pay my bills and take care of my personal health. I may have to buy medications that aren't covered and this is all a problem because mailmen don't like us... For the few bad people, you're taking it out on the whole society and community, which you know, if they have a problem with that, sit down and call a meeting and talk and we'll negotiate and see if we can work something out. Don't just abruptly say, we won't give you mail and punish the whole community."

Canada Post’s Decision Violates Human Rights and Constitutional Law

Canada Post is a federal Crown Corporation providing a service customarily available to the general public.[4] As such, Canada Post is bound by the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) and the Constitution and must take care not to discriminate against protected groups. The decision to suspend service appears to discriminate against several groups protected by these laws.

First, this decision negatively impacts people with disabilities. The DTES has a disproportionate number of people surviving on Persons With Disability (PWD) income support benefits from the provincial government. This is because the DTES contains some of the only housing stock affordable to people surviving on PWD income support benefits.[5] For obvious reasons, many people surviving on PWD cannot easily access postal service 14 blocks away from their homes. In 2008, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities informed Canada Post about how it must provide accessible and inclusive postal service free from systemic discrimination and shared that because of barriers in transportation and the existence of spaces that are not based on the principles of universal design, people with disabilities rely heavily on shopping online and having their purchases delivered directly to them.[6]

Second, while Canada Post has a responsibility towards their employees, it appears that at least part of this decision was predicated on employees witnessing drug use.[7] Canada Post legally cannot cave to anti-drug user stigma. Discriminating in the provision of service on the basis that people use drugs is directly contrary to human rights law, which specifically defines disability to include “previous or existing dependence on alcohol or a drug”.[8] Canada Post should also bear in mind that the majority of people who have died from overdose have done so behind closed doors, including in social and supportive housing and SROs.[9] Using drugs in public and with peers is a vital form of harm reduction.

Canada Post’s service suspension - which is based on stigma and disproportionately impacts protected groups - runs afoul of the Charter, as well as human rights law.

Third, as a Crown Corporation, Canada Post is bound by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter). Section 15 of the Charter protects equality and is specifically intended to protect those who suffer social, political, economic and historical disadvantage.[10] DTES residents have been and continue to be marginalized by law and government policy, and experience multiple overlapping and intersecting opressions. Accordingly, Canada Post’s service suspension - which is based on stigma and disproportionately impacts protected groups - runs afoul of the Charter, as well as human rights law. [11]

Fourth, Section 7 of the Charter protects the life, liberty, and security of the person. As has been set out above, this sudden service disruption is causing and will continue to cause concrete health and safety issues to the residents of the DTES - for example, to a person who cannot collect a time-sensitive message or package that affects their health.

Canada Post’s Actions are Contrary to the Accessible Canada Act

Canada Post is subject to the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) [12]. The purpose of the ACA is to ensure the economic, social, and civic participation of all persons, regardless of their disabilities, and to allow them to fully exercise their rights and responsibilities in a barrier-free Canada. The ACA requires Canada Post to identify, remove, and proactively prevent barriers to accessibility for people with disabilities. The decision to suspend service to the DTES goes against everything the ACA was supposed to accomplish. Instead of preventing barriers to accessibility, Canada Post is creating new ones based on harmful, stigmatizing beliefs about members of the DTES community.

Canada Post’s Negligence Towards its Customers

Finally, Canada Post may be negligent in breaching the duty of care it owes to those impacted by their operational decisions.[13] The harm resulting from this suspension is concrete and was easily foreseeable. Canada Post should have contemplated the impact of its actions on marginalized residents of the DTES in making this decision and could well be held liable for the suffering that results

Steps Going Forward

Moving forward, Canada Post must have closer consideration for those depending on their services in the DTES. Where there may be legitimate safety considerations, Canada Post should sit down with DTES community members to discuss solutions grounded in community wisdom and care.

Following this service suspension, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users and the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, both member organizations of the Our Homes Can’t Wait Coalition, have been facilitating community dialogue concerning the impact of the service suspension. Residents are willing to explore novel solutions – for instance, having community liaisons walk with mail carriers – but only if Canada Post is willing to meet with DTES members in good faith and mutual respect.

The first step in demonstrating good faith is lifting this service suspension so that residents can regain the basic safety and stability they are currently being denied.

The first step in demonstrating good faith is lifting this service suspension so that residents can regain the basic safety and stability they are currently being denied.

Poverty and social exclusion from services are not inevitable. Rather than contributing to stigma-driven, reactive policies which have long harmed residents in the DTES, Canada Post can help prevent further harm. We ask that Canada Post join us in supporting the decriminalization of poverty [15] and drug use [16] and the redirection of state funding from punitive measures to properly supporting peer-led supports [17] and solutions.

We look forward to your response and to the resumption of mail delivery in the neighbourhood.



Brian O'Donnell
British Columbia Association People on Opiate Maintenance

Helaine Boyd & Andrew Robb
Disability Alliance BC

Elsa Boyd
Our Homes Can’t Wait Coalition

Anna Cooper
Pivot Legal Society

Dave Hamm
Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users

Elli Taylor
Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society



[1] Jen St. Denis, “Meet the Indigenous-Led Organizations Saving Lives in the Downtown Eastside”, The Tyee (1 Sep 2021), online: <https://thetyee.ca/News/2021/09/01/Indigenous-Led-Organizations-Saving-Lives-DTES/>; Celine Maboules, Homelessness & Supportive Housing Strategy, (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2020), p. 28,  online: <https://council.vancouver.ca/20201007/documents/pspc1presentation.pdf>

[2] Ibid (“Meet the Indigenous-Led…”); Jen St. Denis, “‘Blatant Discrimination.’ Canada Post Cuts Delivery to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside”, The Tyee (23 Sep 2020), online:
<https://thetyee.ca/News/2020/09/23/Canada-Post-Cuts-Delivery-DTES/>; Travis Lupick, “TransLink restores Downtown Eastside bus stop after residents voice concerns for mobility”, The Georgia Straight (13 Sep 2017), online: <https://www.straight.com/news/964136/translink-restores-downtown-eastside-bus-stop-after-residents-voice-concerns-mobility>.

[3] The day on which many income assistance checks are received.

[4] Canada Post Corporation Act, (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-10), s. 5(1).

[5] City of Vancouver, Local Area Planning Process Committee, Local Area Plan for the Downtown Eastside (DTES), (Second Amended Edition 2018), pp. 17, 19, 9, online: https://vancouver.ca/files/cov/downtown-eastside-plan.pdf

[6] Council of Canadians with Disabilities, “Council of Canadians with Disabilities Submission to the Canada Post Corporation Strategic Review”, 29 August 2008, online: <www.ccdonline.ca/en/socialpolicy/access-inclusion/strategic-review-submission>.

[7] St. John Alexander, “'Safety concerns' prompt Canada Post to suspend service to Vancouver neighbourhood”, CTV News (11 April 2022), online: <https://bc.ctvnews.ca/safety-concerns-prompt-canada-post-to-suspend-service-to-vancouver-neighbourhood-1.5858249>;
The Canadian Press, “Canada Post pauses deliveries in 2 blocks of Downtown Eastside due to 'health and safety concerns'”, CBC (13 April 2022), online: <www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/canada-post-pauses-deliveries-in-part-of-downtown-eastside-1.6419310>.

[8] Note on language: Here we separate out people who use drugs from other people with disabilities both for clarity and the recognition that not all people who use substances have addictions. Medicalizing all substance users as people with addictions is in itself stigmatizing. Not all people who meet the medical criteria for having an addiction identify as “addicts” or people with disabilities.

[9] British Columbia, Coroners Services, Illicit Drug Toxicity Deaths in BC January 1, 2012 – February 28, 2022, p. 2, online:  <https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/birth-adoption-death-marriage-and-divorce/deaths/coroners-service/statistical/illicit-drug.pdf>.

[10] Withler v. Canada (Attorney General), 2011 SCC 12 (CanLII), [2011] 1 SCR 396, <https://canlii.ca/t/2g0mf>.

[11] Rural Dignity of Canada v. Canada Post Corp., 1991 CanLII 8274 (FC), <https://canlii.ca/t/g96q3>.

[12] S.C. 2019, c. 10.

[13] Nelson (City) v Marchi, 2021 SCC 41 (CanLII), <https://canlii.ca/t/jjs98>.

[14] Williams v Toronto (City), 2016 ONCA 666 (CanLII), <https://canlii.ca/t/gtnkg>; cited with approval by the BC Supreme Court in Wu v Vancouver (City), 2017 BCSC 2072 (CanLII), <https://canlii.ca/t/hnr0t>.

[15] Pivot Legal Society, “Joint Open Letter on Decriminalizing Poverty”, 11 March 2021, online: <https://www.pivotlegal.org/joint_open_letter_on_decriminalizing_poverty>.

[16] Pivot Legal Society, “Decriminalization Done Rights: A Rights-Based Path for Drug Policy”, online: https://www.pivotlegal.org/decriminalization_done_right_report.

[17] Pivot Legal Society, “Project Inclusion”, online: https://www.pivotlegal.org/project_inclusion_full.

Photo by Colby Winfield on Unsplash

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