Here's the new VPD policy on the Province's Assistance to Shelter Act that purports to give police the power to force homeless people to the front doors of emergency shelters by using, um, force. The VPD policy appears to ignore the whole point of the Act by introducing the unique new section of the police use of force spectrum that contemplates "minimal, non-forceful touching".
There are two possible reasons for the VPD ignoring the intent of the Act to let them hustle the homeless out of the tourist areas and into the shelter areas. First, they, like most people who have worked with the homeless, don't think the Act does anything to make life easier in working with the homeless, and in fact increases risk to homeless populations. Or, second, they missed Minister Coleman's point.
I suspect strongly it is the first.
This, of course, does not spare the homeless from having force used against them, as any policy is only as good as implementation, the police already have the Mental Health Act and public intoxication arrest powers, and, as my colleague Micheal Vonn says, even kinder and gentler touching is still too much force. And lest we forget, the RCMP in B.C. has endorsed the plan, which means that it is in full effect for the majority of the province.
Here, for your reading pleasure, is the VPD policy that, depending on your reading and perspective, either misses the point or gets the point.
From: "Houghton, Lindsey"
Date: December 7, 2009 2:15:46 PM PST
To: undisclosed-recipients: ;
Subject: Statement of Chief Constable Jim Chu regarding the VPD's proposed policy for the Assistance to Shelter Act
Statement of Chief Constable Jim Chu regarding the VPD’s proposed policy for the Assistance to Shelter Act
The VPD is releasing publically [sic] our proposed policy to be used to enforce the Assistance to Shelter Act.
The interim policy will need to be approved by the Vancouver Police Board at their regular December 9th meeting.
Our understanding is that the Assistance to Shelter Act will be in force later this week.
The VPD respects and recognizes that the spirit of the Act is the preservation of life and the safety of the homeless, a goal the VPD has always shared. The VPD has always taken extraordinary steps to safeguard and shelter the homeless and will continue to do so as one our top priorities.
VPD assistance to the homeless has traditionally consisted of providing blankets, directions to shelters, transportation when appropriate and even arrangement for more permanent housing. This will not change.
The VPD can use existing legislation in the safeguarding of the homeless. If a person is suffering from a mental illness, heavily intoxicated, under the age of 19, or incapacitated, we have tools we can use to ensure a person’s safety.
The new legislation expands upon the above criteria to include any homeless person who prefers to stay outside in extreme weather conditions.
In the rare case that we encounter someone who does not want shelter, we will offer our regular assistance which includes blankets and warm clothing.
If these steps are not successful, and our officer believes that there is a risk of imminent serious injury or death, we will offer “further assistance” in the form of “minimal non-forceful touching” equivalent to the supporting hand one would use in helping an elderly person cross the street.
If the person refuses that assistance will we withdraw the contact immediately. We will continue to explore other tactics to ensure the person survives the extreme weather safely.
Our first rule in assisting the homeless will be as always; Do No Harm.
Our goal is to ensure that no person suffers needlessly for lack of shelter.
Constable 1920 Lindsey Houghton
Media Relations Officer
Public Affairs Section
Vancouver Police Department | Beyond the Call
E [email protected] | www.vpd.ca
FOI recommendation: For Public Release
Section 1.17 Extreme Weather Assistance