Pivot Legal calls for the VPD to immediately cease practices undermining public health in DTES amid COVID-19


April 2, 2020

Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories - In an April 2, 2020, letter to the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), Pivot Legal Society is urgently demanding that the VPD immediately cease all law enforcement that jeopardizes Downtown Eastside (DTES) residents’ health, livelihood, and security amid simultaneous public health emergencies.

Download the letter in full

The VPD’s response to COVID-19 has been unacceptable. Over-policing the DTES during a pandemic is inconsistent not only with Charter and human rights, but also prevailing public health advisories. At a time when DTES residents are particularly vulnerable in terms of their health, safety, and economic condition, VPD are doubling down on the criminal law at direct cost to the DTES and the community at large.

Pivot Legal Society is calling on the VPD to do the following:

1. Cease over-policing people who use drugs

2. Minimize policing of informal economies

3. Cease over-policing of unsheltered people

4. Minimize contact with the criminal justice system

According to Pivot Staff Lawyer Caitlin Shane:

Vancouver-based research shows that VPD practices routinely jeopardize access to health and harm reduction services. Continued police disruption of these activities amid overlapping public health emergencies is not only Constitutionally suspect, but directly at odds with the messaging of nearly every level of government to ensure harm reduction access during COVID-19.

In relation to calls for increased enforcement during COVID-19 in the DTES, Meenakshi Mannoe, Pivot’s Criminalization and Policing Campaigner, states:

These calls for enforcement are gravely concerning. In other crises of health and inequality such as the drug poisoning crisis, the mental health crisis, or the HIV/AIDS pandemic, we have witnessed how policing and criminalization directly undermine health and harm reduction initiatives. Police should play no role in responding to public health emergencies, and we call on the VPD to immediately de-prioritize a number of their current strategies, so that folks can at least navigate their everyday survival without fear of police enforcement and interference.

In addition to the above concerns, the letter discourages against VPD’s chronic practices of displacing unhoused and precariously sheltered people, and surveilling and displacing sex workers at cost to their safety and livelihood.

Media Contact

Sozan Savehilaghi
Communications & Digital Engagement Manager
Pivot Legal Society

604-255-9700 ext.154

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Background Information and Documents

Position Paper & Recommendations: Practical Drug Decriminalization
August 30, 2019

Pivot Legal Society’s Memo on Street Checks Moratorium
July 8, 2019

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.

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Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.