Renewed calls for sobering centres in Vancouver in restraint device abuse case

Vancouver, BC [June 1] — A case involving the alleged abuse of an Aboriginal woman resulting from the inappropriate use of a restraint device by Vancouver police has renewed calls for expanding sobering centres.

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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.

Bobbi O’Shea was apprehended by police in 2008 after suffering from an anxiety attack, for which she receives disability income. Vancouver Police Department officers were the first to the scene after she called for help and when she told them she had recently inhaled cocaine, they took her to jail for public intoxication rather than to a hospital. Once there, she was placed in a restraint device after having her request to use the washroom with a female guard present instead of a male guard watching her was denied.

The device involved O’Shea having her hands cuffed behind her back and her feet tied together with a strap while she was seated on the floor with her legs outstretched, the strap pulled under a door and tethered on the other side. She was held in the device for an hour and was released without charges.

Pivot Legal Society, who are representing O’Shea, says the use of a restraint device is an example of the disproportionate application of force and that O’Shea never should have been taken to jail to begin with.

“The findings from the Frank Paul inquest made strong recommendations for the use of sobering centres in situations just like this,” says Doug King, police accountability lawyer with Pivot Legal Society. “Like Paul, Bobbi O’Shea never should have been in jail in the first place. The subsequent use of a restraint device was over-and-above what was called for given that O’Shea never represented a physical threat to herself or others. It’s an experience that remains far too common and a practice that must end.”

Frank Paul was a 47-year-old Mi'kmaq man who was booked into the Vancouver Jail, then taken by police and left in an alleyway. He died from exposure within hours. Retired Judge William Davies lead the inquest into his death, making several recommendations including the establishment in Vancouver of a standalone, civilian-operated sobering centre where severely intoxicated individuals can spend the night instead of in jail or hospital. The Vancouver detox centre has a sobering centre attached to it, however, there are a limited number of beds and people continue to be taken to jail.

“There needs to be changes in how police treat Aboriginals,” says Bobbi O’Shea. "The abuse that has been inflicted upon us and continues to be inflicted upon us must end. I was just standing up for myself and I was punished for it. If Vancouver had a sobering centre and police had taken me to one, this never would have happened. It shouldn’t happen to anyone.”

O’Shea is seeking personal damages. Her case will be heard in a three-day trial by the Provincial Court of BC beginning June 2.

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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 award-winning work includes challenging laws and policies that force people to the margins of society and keep them there. Since 2002 Pivot Legal Society has won major victories for sex workers’ rights, police accountability, affordable housing, and health and drug policy.

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