Report Raises Ire
The current police crackdown in
the impoverished downtown eastside of Vancouver is causing a clash between the
city’s mayor and police chief and human rights activists who say police
activities are dong way more harm than good.
Last month’s report by the
international civil rights agency Human Rights Watch caused a stir up
after it claimed that police drug enforcement tactics, supposedly
directed at the drug traffickers in the area, are being employed and
against drug users and innocent bystanders.
The report is especially
concerned about what it calls “excessive force” by police, including an
incident where a man was allegedly tackled to the ground and pummelled
without warning. It also cites claims that people are being stopped for
minor infractions, such as jaywalking.
Jonathan Cohen, a New York-based
researcher with the group, who summed up the report, wants the police
to stop using these measures and has asked the city council to hold
public hearings into recent police conduct in the area.
"Such harassment is
of course problematic in itself, but the point I want to emphasize is
that it belies the stated intent of this crackdown which is to target
high-level drug trafficking,” he said at a press conference.
But Vancouver Mayor Larry
Campbell says the report is far too shallow and inconclusive to warrant
any city intervention at this time. He also says that enforcement is
part of the Four Pillars Strategy on the city’s drug problem, a key
policy of the Coalition of Progressive Electors and a focal point of
the mayor’s electoral campaign last fall.
"In lots of cases what you see
is not necessarily what is happening," he says. "I think that perhaps
in those instances, more investigation could be done."
He adds that there is already an
independent police commission in BC, set up by the former NDP
government, which is more than capable of handling complaints about
Meanwhile, Police Chief Jamie
Graham sees no reason to stop the current crackdown, claiming there is
no evidence of any excessive force or wrongdoing by the police, and
that the report is short on fact and long on hearsay accounts.
"The visiting New Yorkers did
not take the time to interview the true victims of human rights
abuses,” he says. “These were the innocent people who are trapped in
their homes and deprived of their safety and liberty because of the