In Vancouver, Canada, the homeless are allegedly being targeted by uniformed security guards, hired and paid for by a city sponsored organisation. This is apparently in an effort to hide the city’s homelessness problem when the Winter Olympics is run in 2010.
Ambassadors sued: Poverty activists claim security guards harass homeless (Megaphone Magazine, Canada)
The Vancouver Ambassadors, clad in red and black outfits that invoke both the RCMP and municipal police, walk and bike through the downtown streets every day. They’re equipped with cameras to record criminal activities they see, maps to assist tourists with directions and cell phones so they can act as a quick link between emergency situations and the people who can help resolve them.
But three groups who work with the city’s marginalized population are alleging that the Ambassadors program is systematically discriminatory and are lodging a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal.
The charge is against the DVBIA (Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association), which runs the Ambassadors program with Genesis Security, under the guidance of Geoff Plant. Pivot Legal Society, VANDU and the United Native Nations are bringing the complaint forth on behalf of the city’s street homeless population.
“Our constituents have had some concerns about the program for a while,” said Pivot lawyer Laura Track in a statement.
David Dennis, vice president of the United Native Nations, said, “aboriginal people and disabled people are targeted by this program disproportionately.”
The alleged discrimination involves telling certain people to leave public spaces while they are sitting or sleeping and stopping individuals from searching for cans and bottles in garbage cans. The charges also claim that the Ambassadors have been “identifying particular individuals as undesirable and telling them that they are not allowed within a particular geographic area (“no go areas”) and following or taking notes and photographs of individuals identified as undesirable,” a statement from Pivot said.
The complainants ask the Tribunal to award $20 to individuals negatively affected by the Ambassadors, up to a maximum of 1,000 people and they seek an amendment in DVBIA policy to prohibit any discriminatory behavior. The complaint also seeks an order to establish a policy for dealing with grievances raised about the Ambassadors conduct.
In response, the DVBIA said in a press release that it is “confident its well-respected, eight-year-old program will pass the test of scrutiny.”
The complaint comes a week after an announcement that the privately run Ambassadors program secured $186,124 in taxpayer dollars to strengthen their presence in six other neighborhoods, including the West End, Cambie Village and Yaletown.
With the Olympic Games approaching, the city’s attempts to hide homelessness are becoming more obvious. When the Games were granted to Vancouver, the city made promises that increased help and stability for the city’s poorest would be a legacy of the 2010 Olympics.
However, while the city has added some social housing units, little is being done to actually improve and solve the root problems like drug addiction, mental illness and the lack of affordable housing that force people to live on the streets in the first place.
The Ambassadors’ mandate is “to address ‘quality of life’ issues such as panhandling, litter, illegal vending, and graffiti with the understanding that these issues not only affect the general quality of life in the downtown but also the overall crime rates.”
The Human Rights complaint claims the Ambassadors are concerned with the quality of life for those who already enjoy a comfortable standard of living – tourists, private business owners and patrons.
For those whose standards of living are already unacceptably low, being asked to leave the only space available to them increases the poverty gap and lessens their visibility, making it easier to ignore. With no solutions-based approaches, band-aid solutions are more easily justified, but not effective for the long-term.
By Elecia Chunik
Reprinted from Megaphone Magazine
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