David Eby in 2008: son of lawyer and teacher makes first political bid
David Eby, 32, tells me to meet him at the Wilder Snail, a neighbourhood grocery and café at the corner of Keefer and Hawk, at the southeastern corner of Mclean Park in Strathcona. I arrive to find him hurrying down the sidewalk with an armful of boxes. George Maltais, a large man who wears a big round David Eby for City Council button, pushes a trolley stacked with more boxes of food that clatters loudly against the sidewalk as Maltais keeps pace with Eby, who, by the way, has very long legs. Packs of English muffins stick out of the box on top. The sun blazes down.
Eby is bent over with the weight.
“These are the leftovers from the fund-raising breakfast that just finished,” he explains. “We’re donating it to Triage.” Triage is transition housing for the homeless, and fighting homelessness defines David Eby as much as his exceptional tallness. He has fought tirelessly for the homeless as a lawyer for the Pivot Legal Society and if elected, he says, he will bring his years of experience and exceptional knowledge of policy solutions to solving homelessness in the city.
Eby and Maltais head down the block to Hastings. A few blocks along, they turn and go through a door, into a courtyard, where a Triage worker directs them back to the industrial kitchen. The cook examines the stack of boxed food, fingers the bags of lettuce and then looks up and smiles.
“This is great,” he says. “Wow. Where did this come from.”
Mathias explains about the fundraiser and the cook shakes his head in wonderment at the food as if a miracle has just taken place.
“You’re running for city council?”
Eby smiles and in a firm, direct voice answers, “Yes, I am.
“Can I have one of those buttons?”
Maltais reaches into a pocket and places an Eby button in the cook’s hand.
A vote for David Eby.
He will need every one he can get in the hotly contested Vision Vancouver nomination process that will be decided on Saturday. He faces a tough challenge, but Eby says, he has always like a good fight.
In Strathcona, where Eby works at the Pivot Society, and lives in the same block, he is a popular figure. People greet him on the street and he knows just about everyone. “It’s like a small town here,” he explains. But, he points out, it's going to take more than neighborhood popularity to win.
David Eby grew up in Kichener, the son of a personal injury lawyer and a grade school teacher. He has two brothers and a sister, all of whom are over six feet tall. He is the tallest at six foot seven inches. “My mother’s tiny,” he says and notes that she’s “only” five foot four. Being tall had advantages. “Nobody makes fun of you at school for being different, because you’re bigger than they are.”
His brothers are both six four and his sister is six one. "When we all get together, it looks like the basketball team’s come to town," he says.The family enjoyed debating issues around the dinner table and, because of this practice, Eby says developed a “long fuse.”
“It takes a lot to get me mad."
He met his (then) wife, Meghan Savigny, when they were both in university. After graduating, he became a technical writer, found it boring, and then went to law school. He admired his father but wanted to forge a different path in law, and hoped to use it for environmental or social activism.
He found his life’s work after moving with Savigny to Vancouver.
“We were walking down Main street through Chinatown towards Hastings and that was before they’d done the rebuilding of Main and Hastings to shorten the sidewalks and it was like nothing I had ever seen before. The condition that people were in, the open drug use, such obvious and apparent misery stunned me. That moment changed my life. I had already known I was going to do legal work that related to the environment or human rights, but as soon as I saw the DTES, I realized that I would be working on homelessness.”
Called to the British Columbia bar in June of 2005, Eby articled with the Federal Department of Justice and graduated in 2004 from Dalhousie Law School in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is the author of The Arrest Handbook: A Guide to Your Rights, published in 2003 by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
His article “The Political Power of Police and Crackdowns: Vancouver's Example” was published in the International Journal of Drug Law and Policy in 2006.
Also in 2006, he was the co-lead author of Pivot’s report Cracks in the Foundation: Solving the Low-Income Housing Crisis in Canada’s Poorest Neighbourhood and lead editor of Cultural Divide: A Neighbourhood Study of Immigrant Rental Housing in North Mount Pleasant.
He is a Research Associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. He now works with the Pivot Legal Society on Pivot’s Housing and Policing campaigns and is a board member of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the Urban Core Community Coalition, the Impact of the Olympics on Community Coalition, and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.
Eby says his advocacy work with Pivot has contributed to the biggest provincial social housing investment in Vancouver in over 10 years, 91 recommendations from a provincial auditor for reform of the complaints process under the Police Act in British Columbia, increases in municipal fines for converting low-income rental housing to condominiums, the resurrection of a long unused City of Vancouver power to repair rental buildings that are neglected and bill those repairs to the building’s owners, and protecting the tenants of 4 low-income rental buildings in the Downtown Eastside from mass illegal evictions in the last year.
Gregor Robertson’s nomination by Vision Vancouver for mayor inspired Eby to run for city council. “Gregor made it clear he cares about homelessness,” Eby says. “There’s a report that’s associated with the capital plan for the City of Vancouver that dictates how the city will spend its funds for the next three years and the number one issue for Vancouverites, they found by polling citizens, is homelessness. The survey was commissioned by the city to help inform the decisions around the capital plan. 34% of those polled voted for social issues and 19% for transportation."
But the city didn't pay attention to their own poll results, he said. And this also inspired him to run. He says that instead, the city opted to spend money on a dog pound. "In this capital plan, they’re spending around 18 million dollars on a dog pound. That’s in the capital plan for this year. Nobody on that survey said that they cared about dog pounds." Despite his long fuse, this made him very angry, he says and if he wins, he will attempt to shift policy towards responding to the things Vancouverites say they care about. He will spend time meeting with people throughout the city and listening to their concerns and then doing something about them.
A young bleached blond in white t shirt and jeans wanders into the Wilder Snail, as Eby gets ready to go home for an organizational meeting leading up to the last week of the nomination campaign. The blond wears an Eby pin. Eby doesn’t know her, but they exchange a smile. “Nice pin,” he says.