FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 27, 2021
Vancouver, BC, xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Skwxwú7mesh, and səl̓ílwətaʔɬ Territories – Residents, housing and harm reduction workers in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) continue to collectively seek accountability for abuse of power and harms caused by two specific Vancouver Police Department (VPD) officers.
The group of 17 complainants, represented by Pivot Legal Society, launched the first of its kind “group complaint” to the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner (OPCC) back in March 2019. The complainants collectively decided to attempt a mediation. In a show of good faith, the complainants largely abstained from speaking publicly concerning the group complaint during the mediation process. The mediation concluded unsuccessfully in January 2021.
Pursuant to the Police Act the mediation is confidential and nothing that was said can be shared. Many of the complainants participated in person and spoke bravely to the officers concerning the impact of their conduct. The officers, who were represented by legal counsel, refused to speak directly to any of the complainants during the mediation, only speaking through counsel. In the end, the complainants did not feel the two officers negotiated in good faith or were prepared to agree to a meaningful resolution. As a result, the mediation failed, and the complaints were returned to the investigative process.
The group complaint is a result of a need for complainants to have a sense of safety in numbers. Despite this, some of the complainants continued to experience further intimidation and harassment after the complaint was accepted by the OPCC, by the officers in question and also by other VPD members. Now that the complaints are returning to the investigative process, the complainants are relaunching a public campaign to ensure their voices are heard and their safety isn’t further jeopardized by retaliatory behaviour.
The complaints document a pattern of abusive behaviour by the two VPD officers, including harassment, intimidation, targeting Indigenous and Black people and interference in harm reduction responses in the DTES. Although 17 people filed official complaints, there were many more people who shared their stories but declined to file indicating fears of retaliation and further targeting. Those who did file complaints are still waiting for accountability and justice over 2 years later.
They are supposed to protect us but instead they are the ones that are harassing and intimidating us
Gunargie O’Sullivan describes her experiences of feeling more vulnerable because of her encounters with police: “They are supposed to protect us but instead they are the ones that are harassing and intimidating us. We didn’t do anything wrong but we’re still being punished by a failed system. Our survival depends on us keeping up the fight until something changes and they can’t ignore us anymore.”
I don’t think the police officers heard us at all or understood the consequences of their actions on our lives.
Marie-Louise Harpe, one of the 17 complainants, states: “The mediation was such a disappointing process. I came in with an open mind and with hopes that there would be some accountability. But I don’t think the police officers heard us at all or understood the consequences of their actions on our lives.”
Despite the unsatisfactory mediation outcome, and fears for a continued lack of safety, many complainants have committed to moving forward with the formal investigation.
If 17 people coming together to demand justice does not result in any meaningful change, that will be a resounding indictment of the existing complaint process and its ability to protect people from police oppression.
According to Anna Cooper, lawyer at Pivot Legal Society and counsel for the complainants “My clients have very little faith in the systems that are supposed to ensure police accountability. We don’t know if there will be any measure of justice here. But if 17 people coming together to demand justice does not result in any meaningful change, that will be a resounding indictment of the existing complaint process and its ability to protect people from police oppression.”
The official investigations, conducted by the External Investigative Agency, the New Westminister Police Department, began in March 2021 and are expected to conclude within 6 months to a year. Ultimately, the External Discipline Authority, the Delta Police Department, will make findings of misconduct and oversee disciplinary hearings.
Direct: 604-255-9700 ext. 154
Notes for Media:
- In accordance with mediation rules agreed to by all parties, the contents of mediation will not be discussed by complainants.
- Please consider reading the public statements provided by complainants If you’d like to speak to one of the complainants, email [email protected] to arrange.
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Information about the Complaint
Gunargie is a community media and radio producer, and a stalwart advocate for Indigenous voices in media. Read about Gunargie's experience of police brutality in the Downtown Eastside.
Read Gunargie's story.
Derrick has had a long-time association with the Downtown Eastside. In his complaint, Derrick recounts several incidents of police violence, slurs and misconduct towards him by two particular officers.
Read Derrick’s story.
Mari-Louise is a mother, a fighter, a survivor and a resident of the DTES. Read about her experience dealing with police violence and harassment.
Read Mari-Louise's story
Ronnie is a long-time frontline harm reduction worker and resident in the DTES. Here's his story of the police misconduct and harassment he has witnessed in the neighbourhood.
Read Ronnie's story
Nikida is a mother, grandmother and mentor in her community- She talks about the impact of her experiences dealing with the VPD and the two officers.
Read Nikida's Story
Don is a community television volunteer and activist who has produced, directed, and played in a whole host of productions roles over the last 23 years. Read about Don's experience with police harassment in the DTES.
Read Don's story
Robert is a housing worker and a program manager with many years of experience in the Downtown Eastside. They recount instances of police misconduct in the course of doing their job.
Read Robert's story
Throughout 2018 there were increasingly disturbing reports of misconducts and abuse of power by two specific VPD officers. Residents and workers in the neighborhood described instances of physical and verbal intimidation, destruction of property, life threatening interference with overdose prevention response and excessive use of force.
Pivot and the Overdose Prevention Society held a community safety rally in September 2018. People were invited to share stories of their interactions with VPD officers #3066 and #3108. The complaints were officially filed in March 2019.
These complaints were deemed admissible by the OPCC. This marked the first time that a “group complaint” was overseen by the OPCC. Following admission of the 17 complainants’ group complaint, the matter was referred to mediation.
Mediation is an informal means of dispute resolution offered within the police complaint process facilitated by the OPCC. If mediation fails, such as in this case, the complaints revert back to the formal process of investigation.
The New Westminster Police Department has been appointed as the External Investigative Agency in this matter and is responsible for determining if there is evidence of misconduct by the two identified VPD Officers.
The Delta Police Department has been appointed as the External Discipline Authority in this matter, and if misconduct is found, the Discipline Authority will oversee the determination of what discipline or corrective measures should be imposed.
About Pivot Legal Society
Pivot Legal Society is a leading Canadian human rights organization that uses the law to address the root causes of poverty and social exclusion in Canada. Pivot’s work includes challenging laws and policies that force people to the margins of society and keep them there. Since 2002 Pivot has won major victories for sex workers’ rights, police accountability, affordable housing, and health and drug policy.
Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.