FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JUNE 22, 2021
Coalition of Organizations Boycott City Panel on Decriminalizing Poverty
The following open letter was issued to the City of Vancouver and representatives responsible for convening the City of Vancouver’s Community Panel on Decriminalizing Poverty and Supporting Community-led Initiatives. Organizational endorsements can be made by filling out the endorsement form.
Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ/sel̓ílwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh)/Vancouver, B.C. — We are a coalition of organizations that have been invited to support the formation of the Community Panel on Decriminalizing Poverty and Supporting Community-led Initiatives. This Community Panel is in response to the July 2020 Motion Decriminalizing Poverty and Supporting Community-led Safety Initiatives.
While we acknowledge and applaud the stated commitment to decriminalizing poverty, we share considerable concerns with the presented process.
Based on the presented process, we have decided to forego any participation in the Community Panel. We recognize and restate the urgency for defunding police while supporting community-led safety initiatives. We see the violence of policing and criminalization every single day: through the use of street sweeps, the surveillance of street stops, the targeting of overdose prevention sites, the inadequate attention or response to gender based and sexualized violence, and the inability to hold police accountable for illegal, unethical and dangerous conduct.
The proposal set forth by City staff outlines an unsafe process that does not respect the realities of people who have lived and living experience of the criminalization of poverty. Notably, the Community Panel involves a number of police and police-adjacent representatives that do not serve the interests of people living in poverty. Communities that experience marginalization are directly harmed by the police on a daily basis. Furthermore, the Vancouver Police Department—including senior force and union leadership—consistently refuse to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism in policing. This is an unsafe environment that lacks any provisions for safety, anonymity, and accountability. To reiterate, the focus must not be on tweaking this proposed panel but to return to the original request to defund the police while supporting community-based initiatives.
There have already been numerous recommendations set forth, and we believe the City is positioned to take immediate action on policies related to decriminalizing poverty, as outlined in reports such as:
- Act Now! Decriminalizing Drug Use in Vancouver (2020)
- Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (2019)
- Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (2019)
- Research 101: A Manifesto for Ethical Research in the Downtown Eastside (2019)
- Project Inclusion: Confronting Anti-Homeless and Anti-Substance User Stigma in BC (2018)
- Getting to the Roots: Exploring Systemic Violence Against Women in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver (2014)
- My Work Should Not Cost Me My Life: The Case Against Criminalizing the Purchase of Sex in Canada (2014)
- 15 years of research from Carnegie Community Action Project, including annual housing/SRO reports and the community vision for change reports
Previous City of Vancouver planning and consultation processes have failed to adequately meet the needs of the community. These processes (which took considerable time, energy, and labour on behalf of community members and organizations) each failed to engage with the realities shaping the livelihood and survival of the most adversely-impacted communities—women and people of marginalized genders, Black and Indigenous people, people who use illicit substances, people who work in criminalized economies including sex work, and people living at the intersections of these, and other, interlocking oppressions. Ultimately, most of the recommendations generated through each of these—and many other—processes remain unimplemented.
At this time, we are making the difficult decision to cease any involvement with the process. We have outlined our concerns here and to City staff and representatives of Reciprocal Consulting. In order to move forward with defunding police while supporting community-led initiatives, police and/or police-adjacent organizations cannot be at the table. We remain committed to this work and remain open to working with the City to ensure previously-made recommendations are fully implemented.
- Ash MacLeod – A Better Life Foundation
- Adriane King – A. King Law
- Janice Abbott – Atira Women’s Resource Society
- Angela Marie MacDougall – Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS)
- Harsha Walia – BC Civil Liberties Association
- Lizzie Howells – Binners’ Project – MakeWay Charitable Society
- Eris Nyx – The Black Lab Artists Society
- Udokam Iroegbu & Azuka Nduka-Agwu – Black Lives Matter-Vancouver
- Constance Barnes
- Ritica Ramesh – Centre for Gender and Sexual Health
- Eris Nyx – Coalition of Peers Dismantling the Drug War
- Alice Kendall – Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre
- Rory Sutherland & Tintin Yang – DTES Neighbourhood House
- Eris Nyx – Drug User Liberation Front
- Michelle Lackie –Exchange Inner City
- Sarah Common –Hives for Humanity
- Lama Mugabo –Hogan’s Alley Society
- Sarah Blyth & Trey Helten – Overdose Prevention Society
- Lyra McKee – PACE Society
- Meenakshi Mannoe – Pivot Legal Society
- Eris Nyx – Tenant Overdose Response Organizers
- Vince Tao –Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU)
- Tracey Axelsson – Vancouver Community Network
- France-Emmanuelle Joly – Vancouver Women’s Health Collective Society
- Irwin Oostindie – Voor Urban Labs
- Ingrid Mendez – Watari Counselling and Support Services
- Tracey Draper –Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS)
- Mebrat Beyene –WISH Drop-In Centre Society
Endorsements received after June 21
- Health Initiative for Men (HIM)
- Radical Access Mapping Project
- Bonfire Counselling
- Moms Stop The Harm (MSTH)
- hua foundation