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The Columbia Journal
P.O. Box 2633 MPO,
Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada V6B 3W8
Phone: 604-266-6552
Fax: 604-267-3342

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June 2003

    Drug Crackdown 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 police activity.

    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 drug traffickers."

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