Poverty advocates fear amalgamation

Despite the still-healing wounds from last year’s brawl with the Municipality of Esquimalt, recent weeks have seen...

Despite the still-healing wounds from last year’s brawl with the Municipality of Esquimalt, recent weeks have seen Victoria’s much-maligned chief of police hitting the streets to trumpet once again for the cause of regional police amalgamation. If only — the argument seems to go — we could amass all law and order under the shining banner of the VicPD, streets would be safer, taxes would fall and kittens would cease getting stuck in trees.

While it’s becoming increasingly difficult to avoid facing the music when it comes to the efficiencies and regional coherence that amalgamation could bring, not everyone seems happy with Chief Jamie Graham’s tune.

It’s been just over a year since the Vancouver Island Public Interest Resource Group (VIPIRG) released Out of Sight — a report detailing the selective enforcement of the street community by the Victoria Police Department — and member Seb Bonet says racial and social profiling is as much a problem today.

Bonet is helping to collect affidavits from members of the street community who are willing to share their stories in the hopes that the City of Victoria will alter two bylaws which enable police to target transients.

The bylaws — named unassumingly Streets and Traffic 10-061 and 09-079 — prohibit  “squatting, kneeling, sitting, or lying down” on traffic medians like Pandora Green, or leaving “an object, obstruction or other thing that is or is likely to be a nuisance” in any public space, severely limiting the mobility of anyone living on the street and inviting fines, citations and impounded possessions.

After only a month of searching, VIPIRG has uncovered a enlightening array of experiences. One woman had an encounter with the police that cost her a job after officers violated her privacy by calling her employer.

Another man was hounded with tickets and citations for weeks on end after provoking the attentions of one particular officer. The latter, says Bonet, is “one instance where bylaws are giving cops the means to move people along and to criminalize their means for survival.”

Police amalgamation is a tempting thought for some in The Capital, but for the members of our community whose interactions with the police lack a degree of compassion, standing up under Chief Graham’s banner may be too much to bear. M

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