Pivot Writes to Provincial Party Leaders

October 20, 2020

Via Email

Premier John Horgan
BC New Democratic Party

Sonia Furstenau
BC Green Party

Andrew Wilkinson, QC
BC Liberal Party

 

RE: Identifying Priorities for the BC Provincial Government


Pivot Legal Society (“Pivot”) is a legal organization based in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, in the Vancouver-Mount Pleasant Electoral District. Our scope exceeds this district, however, as staff work in partnership with communities affected by poverty and social exclusion across Vancouver, BC, and Canada to identify priorities and develop solutions to complex human rights issues.

Pivot’s work is focused on four policy areas: ending homelessness, drug policy reform, sex workers’ rights, and police accountability. Our multidimensional approach to these policy areas includes but is not limited to challenging laws and policies that contribute to stigma and threaten the Charter rights of people who are criminalized for their social condition. Our work engages all levels of government, including provincial laws and policies.

2020 Provincial Election:
Areas of Action

We write to each of you, as party leaders, to outline our positions as they relate to the mandate of the next provincial government. We urge you to prioritize a platform that upholds the human rights and Charter rights of marginalized people in our province. We are looking to each of you to enshrine dignity and equity within your respective platforms, party, and public discourse.

We have identified the following recommendations based on our campaign work and advocacy. Each of these areas merits an urgent provincial response. Our recommendations have the potential to begin addressing longstanding oppression against Indigenous, racialized, low-income, and criminalized communities.

We have included recommendations in the following areas, all of which fall within Pivot’s direct mandate:

  1. Housing Policy
  2. Drug Policy
  3. Sex Workers’ Rights
  4. Police Accountability
  5. Strengthening Human Rights

1. HOUSING POLICY: HOUSING IS A HUMAN RIGHT

The scarcity of accessible and affordable housing in BC means that people who are losing their housing are being forced into precarious, inaccessible, and unsafe housing.[1] Without adequate support in an increasingly unaffordable province, many unhoused people rely on public space for survival.[2]

Recommendation 1:
Increase Income & Disability Assistance Rates

Poverty is preventable. No person in BC should be forced to exist in poverty – not just during a pandemic but as a matter of public policy. The initial $300 monthly crisis supplement made available following the onset of the COVID-19 public health emergency to all people receiving income and disability assistance was an important step, but it cannot substitute for permanent rate increases.[3] We look forward to an “Accountable, Bold and Comprehensive Poverty Reduction Plan,” as identified by the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition.[4] A comprehensive plan includes immediate rate increases to provincial disability and income assistance benefits, and ensuring rates are indexed to inflation and the cost of living.

Recommendation 2:
Build New Accessible Affordable Housing

A 2018 report on homelessness identified 7,655 individuals experiencing homelessness in 24 homeless counts conducted across BC.[5] This marks a conservative estimate, based on the limitations of point-in-time counts,[6] but the initial figure sheds light on drastic rates of homelessness and precarious housing across BC. Provincial leadership must actively build and create affordable, permanent, shelter- and pension-rate housing that is accessible and affords all the rights guaranteed to tenants under the Residential Tenancy Act. Housing that is contingent on abstinence programming is neither accessible nor a long-term solution to the complex issue of housing in our province.

Recommendation 3:
Ban Evictions

In the context of COVID-19, it is necessary to implement a continuing ban on evictions to prevent unnecessary displacement and homelessness. Due to public health measures, shelters and social supports are operating at reduced capacity in order to safely serve clients. Given the reductions in emergency supports available to people experiencing homelessness, allowing evictions to continue during a pandemic is an unconscionable risk to public health, safety, and human dignity.

2. DRUG POLICY: EVIDENCE-BASED, LIFE-SAVING INTERVENTIONS

Since 2016, BC has been in a public health emergency due to a toxic drug supply and attendant overdose fatalities.[7] COVID-19, along with guidelines related to social distancing and self-isolating, has crumbled an already fractured drug supply chain, reduced the scope of life-saving services available to people who use drugs, and led to record-setting fatalities.[8] These deaths are preventable. The provincial government must unequivocally commit to evidence-based solutions to prevent the devastating consequences of the overdose crisis and COVID-19. Drug prohibition has been an abject failure and we continue to await concrete change from government on this front.

Recommendation 1:
Expand Peer-Led Safe Supply

The interim safe supply guidelines initiated in BC last April are a necessary first step to address the poisoned drug supply.[9] [10] However, people who use drugs and numerous agencies have identified limitations with prescribers, prescriptions, and urban/rural/remote disparities, and access to safe supply must evidently be expanded.[11] This is necessary to ensure safe, rapid, and flexible options to meet the needs of drug users. Improving accessibility entails increased peer-led programming, as people who use drugs are best-positioned to understand what safe supply entails.[12] The provincial government must also continue to fund harm reduction programming throughout the province, including programs run by drug users themselves, ensuring all staff receive a living wage and access to extended health benefits.

Recommendation 2:
Decriminalize Simple Possession

In 2019, Provincial Health Officer (“PHO”) Dr. Bonnie Henry called for decriminalization in her report Stopping the Harm: Decriminalization of People Who Use Drugs[13], a call which she recently reiterated.[14] Despite the PHO’s recommendation, the provincial government has failed to follow through beyond merely “calling on” the federal government to act.  We urge the provincial government, along with municipal governments, to take meaningful action and actively apply for a federal exemption to fully decriminalize simple drug possession.[15] Lives depend on full decriminalization now, without penalties or sanctions.

3. SEX WORKERS’ RIGHTS: UPHOLDING SAFETY & SUPPORT

Despite COVID-19 having a profoundly negative impact on the safety and wellbeing of sex workers, assistance from the provincial government remains insufficient. Due to the lack of robust funding from the provincial government for workers in this sector, sex workers must navigate inappropriate and inadequate housing, limited health and social services, and inadequate violence prevention programming.[16] Sex work is work, and although some transactions occur in the informal economy, we cannot ignore the occupational health and safety needs of this community.

Recommendation 1:
Fund ‘Bad Date’ Tracking Systems

To understand the nature and scope of violence against sex workers, the province must commit to funding a bad date tracking system, as advocated for by Living in Community, WISH Drop-In Centre Society, PACE Society, SWAN Vancouver, and Peers Victoria Resources Society.[17] This database would make a significant difference in the lives of many sex workers, who, because of the criminalization of their profession, are forced to work in unsafe conditions and cannot adequately screen clients. This database would particularly benefit street-based and migrant sex workers, as well as the agencies that serve them.

Recommendation 2:
Create Emergency Income Support for Informal Workers

While numerous workers have been profoundly impacted by drastic changes to their working conditions since March, many sex workers have faced a loss of earnings coupled with an inability to access programs such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.[18]  Adequate, low-barrier income supports must be made available to ensure the safety and wellbeing of sex workers during and after the pandemic.

4. POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY: ENDING CRIMINALIZATION AND POLICE HARM

Longstanding and profound issues with policing require fundamental changes to how we, as a society, address safety, harm, and accountability. 2020 has intensified the urgent need for systemic change, in light of fatal police incidents.[19] In particular, we know that police violence (including fatal force) continues to disproportionately impact Black and Indigenous people, as well as people impacted by mental distress.

Recommendation 1:
Divest from Police Harm, Invest in Community Safety

Pivot urges the province to prioritize community safety over the violent, colonial institution of policing. This includes divesting from police and investing in non-lethal and non-violent community safety solutions, and heeding calls to “defund the police,” including RCMP and municipal police forces throughout BC.

These steps require a commitment to transparent pathways and support for community-led safety initiatives, led by directly impacted communities, namely people who are Black, Indigenous, racialized, Two-Spirit, Indigiqueer, queer, trans, disabled, (im)migrants, substance users, low-income, and engaged in criminalized economies. This work will require strident advocacy on the part of the provincial government, including lobbying the federal government to repeal Criminal Code provisions relating to the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act[20] (criminalizing sex workers) and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act[21] (criminalizing people who use drugs). Stigma and criminalization cannot be offered as viable solutions to the social and economic conditions that produce inequality.

Recommendation 2:
Ensure Access to
Police Accountability Systems

The provincial government must ensure police accountability mechanisms are transparent and functional. Specifically, the Attorney General of BC must facilitate dedicated legal aid funding for police complaint clinics, provide public legal education to help people navigate the process of bringing a lawsuit against a police officer or police force, and ensure representation for families and/or victims in instances of police-involved serious injury or death in order to facilitate full participation in Coroners’ Inquests and civil actions.[22] Survivors of police violence are currently navigating a confusing, inaccessible system without necessary legal supports.

Recommendation 3:
Prohibit Street Stops

Since 2019, Pivot has participated in the Street Stops Sub-committee, convened by the provincial Director of Police Services. It is our legal opinion that prohibiting street stops is the only constitutional response to an otherwise illegal policing practice, and we have in turn recommended a full moratorium.[23] Over 70 organizations across BC have similarly called for an absolute ban on street stops.[24] We recognize the particular harms of street stops on Indigenous women[25] and recognize this practice erodes trust. In addition, street stops have been inappropriately characterized as “wellness checks” for sex workers.[26] The provincial government must set forth an absolute ban on street stops and amend the existing Provincial Policing Standard 6.2.1.[27]

Recommendation 4:
Re-Establish the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act

Residents of BC need to ensure police accountability is transparent, responsive, and well-understood. This requires immediate reforms to the Police Act, directed by communities that are subject to over-policing and criminalization. The Special Committee established in July was dissolved with the announcement of the provincial election, and there should be no delay in reconstituting it once government forms. The committee must prioritize specific outreach to Black, Indigenous, low-income, street-involved, and substance-using communities and individuals.

5. STRENGTHENING HUMAN RIGHTS: UPSTREAM SOLUTIONS

The next provincial government has the opportunity to respond to human rights issues through upstream interventions. Pivot recognizes that systemic change has the potential to advance social justice issues related to our core campaign work and we have identified key upstream interventions.

Recommendation 1:
Implement All Recommendations from the National Inquiry into Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Indigenous women, trans and cis, as well as Indigenous folks from diverse gender identities and sexual orientations, continue to be subject to systemic violence. [28] Indigenous people are disproportionately surveilled and discriminated against and face consistent displacement on their own lands by the State and private actors. To combat violence and take decisive action to address the catastrophic impacts of violence against all Indigenous people impacted by gender discrimination, the provincial government must implement the Calls for Justice of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.[29] [30] We urge any prospective provincial leadership to prioritize the voices and lives of Indigenous peoples. 

Recommendation 2:
Fund and Listen to the Experts

People with living and lived experience of housing precarity, homelessness, and criminalized substance use must be designated as leaders in policies that relate to their livelihood and survival. Pivot continues to advocate for a provincial stigma-auditing program to inform policymakers and advocates and eliminate laws and policies premised on stigma.[31] The province must fund peer-led stigma audits, beginning with a review of all bylaws that regulate people who rely on public space. Rather than stigmatizing attitudes and ill-informed solutions, we need a provincial government committed to realistic, functional and peer-led solutions. This begins with understanding how existing policies impact the experiences of unhoused communities and contribute to the spectrum of criminalization.

Recommendation 3:
Prohibit Discrimination Based on Social Condition

Those who are homeless or living in deep and chronic poverty are among the most vulnerable members of our society. Rather than allow this inequality to continue, the BC Human Rights Code (BCHRC) must be amended to include protections from discrimination on the basis of “social condition.” [32] Amending the BCHRC will shine a light on the impact of discrimination against people living in poverty. By amending the BCHRC, the provincial government makes a clear declaration: it is not acceptable to discriminate against people based on their social condition and we share the clear legal duty to treat everyone, regardless of income and social condition, with fairness and decency.

Conclusion: The next provincial government must prioritize decriminalizing poverty to protect human rights

We look forward to working alongside government to fully realize the recommendations we have set forth. Pivot will continue its longstanding campaign work and continue to refine our mandate in response to emerging social justice issues. We look forward to seeing how the next provincial government will ensure concrete action and life-saving interventions are made available and accessible to the communities we serve.

Should you wish to follow up with our organization, please contact Sozan Savehilaghi, Communications & Digital Engagement Manager.

Sincerely,
Pivot Legal Society    

 

CC:      Vancouver-Mount Pleasant Candidates       

Melanie Mark, BC NDP
Kelly Tatham, BC Green Party
George Vassilas, BC Liberal Party

 

1] Homelessness Services Association of BC, Urban Matters & BC Non-Profit Housing Association, Report on Homeless Counts in B.C. (2018), online: HSABC https://hsa-bc.ca/_Library/Report_on_Homeless_Counts/Final-2018-Report-on_Homeless-Counts-in_BCV4.pdf

[2] Kendra Milne, “Dismantling tent cities – why choice matters” (2020, April 28), online: CCPA BC Office https://www.policynote.ca/dismantling-tent-cities/

[3] Iglika Ivanova & Viveca Ellis, “BC’s relief measures for people on income assistance are welcome but more is needed” (2020, April 4), online: CCPA BC Office https://www.policynote.ca/income-assistance-relief/

[4] BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, “An Effective Poverty Reduction Plan: It’s as simple as ABC” (2020), online: BCPRC http://bcpovertyreduction.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Policy-Brief.pdf

[5] Homelessness Services Association of BC, Urban Matters & BC Non-Profit Housing Association, Report on Homeless Counts in B.C. (2018), online: HSABC https://hsa-bc.ca/_Library/Report_on_Homeless_Counts/Final-2018-Report-on_Homeless-Counts-in_BCV4.pdf

[6] Jesse Donaldson, Point in Time Count Toolkit (2017), online: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness https://homelesshub.ca/sites/default/files/Point-in-Time_Count_Toolkit.pdf

[7] Government of BC, “Provincial health officer declares public health emergency” (2016, April 14), online: BC Gov News https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2016HLTH0026-000568

[8] Joanne Lee-Young & Rob Shaw, “B.C. sets annual record for overdose deaths — and there's still four months to go” (2020, September 23), online: Vancouver Sun https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/b-c-records-most-overdose-deaths-for-the-past-6-months

[9] BC Centre on Substance Use, “What Prescribers Should Know About COVID-19, Substance Use, and Safe Supply” (2020, April), online: BCCSU https://www.bccsu.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Provincial-Webinars-Prescribers-Final.pdf

[10] BC Centre on Substance Use, Risk Mitigation In the Context of Dual Public Health Emergencies: Interim Clinical Guidance (2020, March), online: BCCSU https://www.bccsu.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Risk-Mitigation-in-the-Context-of-Dual-Public-Health-Emergencies-v1.5.pdf

[11] Pacific AIDS Network, “PAN Members & Safe Supply: Results from the Summer 2020 Safe Supply Survey” (2020, October), online: PAN https://pacificaidsnetwork.org/files/2020/10/PAN-Safe-Supply-Survey-Results-2020-Oct.pdf

[12] Matthew Bonn, Sheila Wildeman & Matthew Herder, “Expertise of people who use drugs must be central to design of safe supply” (2020, October 2), online: Institute for Research on Public Policy https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/october-2020/expertise-of-people-who-use-drugs-must-be-central-to-design-of-safe-supply/

[13] Provincial Health Officer Special Report, Stopping The Harm: Decriminalization of People Who Use Drugs In BC (2019), online: PHOBC https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/health/about-bc-s-health-care-system/office-of-the-provincial-health-officer/reports-publications/special-reports/stopping-the-harm-report.pdf

[14] Jon Azpiri, “It’s personal to me’: Dr. Bonnie Henry on why we can’t afford to ignore B.C.’s overdose crisis” (2020, September 30), online: Global News https://globalnews.ca/news/7369410/dr-bonnie-henry-overdose-crisis/

[15] Caitlin Shane, Act Now! Decriminalizing Drugs in Vancouver (2020), online: Pivot Legal Society https://www.pivotlegal.org/act_now_decriminalizing_drugs_in_vancouver

[16] West Coast LEAF, BC GENDER EQUALITY REPORT CARD 2019/2020 (2020), online; West Coast LEAF http://www.westcoastleaf.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/West-Coast-LEAF-gender-equality-report-card-2020-May-26-web-lower-resolution.pdf

[17] Living in Community, Report from A SAFER PROVINCE FOR EVERYONE: Responding to Violence Against Sex Workers (2019), online: Living in Community https://livingincommunity.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/FINAL-REPORT-Living-In-Community_Safer-Province-Conference-Report.pdf

[18] Jacqueline Lewis, “Sex workers are criminalized and left without government support during the coronavirus pandemic” (2020, July 20), online: Academic Journalism Society https://theconversation.com/sex-workers-are-criminalized-and-left-without-government-support-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-141746

[19] Caitlin Shane & Meenakshi Mannoe, “Letter to Provincial Leadership on Addressing Anti-Black Racism in Policing” (2020, June 19), online: Pivot Legal Society https://www.pivotlegal.org/anti_black_racism_in_policing

[20] Pivot Legal Society, Evaluating Canada’s Sex Work Laws: The Case for Repeal (2016), online: Pivot Legal Society https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/pivotlegal/pages/1960/attachments/original/1480910826/PIVOT_Sex_workers_Report_FINAL_hires_ONLINE.pdf?1480910826

[21] Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Pivot Legal Society & Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, “LETTER TO CANADIAN GOVERNMENT: DECRIMINALIZE SIMPLE DRUG POSSESSION IMMEDIATELY” (2020, May 13), online: HIV Legal Network http://www.hivlegalnetwork.ca/site/letter-to-canadian-government-decriminalize-simple-drug-possession-immediately/?lang=en

[22] Pivot Legal Society, “Project Inclusion Recommendations” (2018), online: Pivot Legal Society https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/pivotlegal/pages/3288/attachments/original/1543612473/Project_Inclusion_Recommendations.pdf?1543612473

[23] Pivot Legal Society, “Memo on Street Checks Moratorium” (2019, July 8), online: Pivot Legal Society https://www.pivotlegal.org/street_check_moratorium

[24] Hogan’s Alley Society, BC Civil Liberties Association, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Black Lives Matter – Vancouver, WISH Drop-In Centre Society, “Immediate Municipal and Provincial Ban on Police Street Checks“ (2020, July 6), online: BC Civil Liberties Association https://bccla.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Open-Letter-Ban-on-Street-Checks-July-2020-FINAL.pdf

[25] Carol Muree Martin &Harsha Walia, Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in the Downtown Eastside (2019), online: Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre https://dewc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/MMIW-ReportFinal-March-10-WEB.pdf

[26] Jen St. Denis, “BC’s Police Act Needs Urgent Reform, but the Election Halted It” (2020, October 14), online: The Star https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2020/10/14/bcs-police-act-needs-urgent-reform-but-the-election-halted-it.html

[27] Government of BC, “Provincial Policing Standards 6.2.1 Police Stops” (2020, January 15), online: Provincial Policing Standards https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/law-crime-and-justice/criminal-justice/police/standards/6-2-1-police-stops.pdf

[28] Vancouver Sex Workers Rights Collective, “Written Submissions - National Inquiry into the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls” (2018, December 14), online: MMIWG-FFADA https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Van-Sex-Worker-Rights-Collective-Final-written-submission.pdf

[29] National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (2019), online: MMIWG-FFADA https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/final-report/

[30] Coalition on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls in BC, “OPEN LETTER: Call for a BC Action Plan on MMIWG2S” (2020 October 14), online: UBCIC https://www.ubcic.bc.ca/open_letter_call_for_a_bc_action_plan_on_mmiwg2s

[31] Pivot Legal Society, “Project Inclusion Recommendations” (2018), online: Pivot Legal Society https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/pivotlegal/pages/3288/attachments/original/1543612473/Project_Inclusion_Recommendations.pdf?1543612473

[32] Pivot Legal Society, “Prohibiting Discrimination Based on Social Condition Under BC’s Human Rights Code” (2019)
online: Pivot Legal Society https://www.pivotlegal.org/social_condition


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