Downtown Eastside's exclusion from park drinking pilot a 'policy failure', advocate says
Park board says inaccessibility of certain parks and geography meant neighborhood missed out
The Vancouver Park Board's decision to exclude parks in the city's poorest neighbourhood from a new public drinking pilot may further marginalize low-income people, advocates say.
Public drinking is now legally allowed in certain sections of 22 Vancouver parks as part of a pilot project, nearly two and a half years after the issue was first brought to the park board.
While most neighbourhoods have at least one park where the pilot project is underway, one of the most densely populated ones is absent — Strathcona, in East Vancouver, has no parks where public drinking is now allowed.
Strathcona is adjacent to Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Vancouver's poorest neighbourhood, and drug user advocates on social media said the decision to exclude it from the pilot is discriminatory.
I noticed that. Its discrimination. Why else would we not be included?—@CosmopolitanCa4
Vancouver <a href="https://twitter.com/ParkBoard?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ParkBoard</a>: Is it your position that people in the lowest income area of the city are incapable of drinking responsibly?<br><br>Asking for some friends. <a href="https://t.co/5eQx7xE2kE">https://t.co/5eQx7xE2kE</a> <a href="https://t.co/k9K4uILm9S">pic.twitter.com/k9K4uILm9S</a>—@BreenOuellette
Aaron Bailey, a member of The Right to Remain Research Collective and researcher at Queen's University, says not extending the pilot to the Downtown Eastside could mean an increase in police enforcement of the area.
Bailey said Strathcona's exclusion from the park drinking pilot constituted a policy failure and hopes future drinking policy from the city comes from drinkers and low-income residents themselves.
"As spaces are sanctioned, drinkers and their advocacy groups really want to avoid that being used as justification to ramp up the harassment of people who can't or won't use those spaces," said Bailey.
"Because there is a legal sanction placed to go somewhere else in the city [where public drinking is allowed], that gives them [police officers] reason to crack down even harder on folks who can't or just won't use those spaces, which shouldn't be happening."
Under B.C.'s Liquor Control Act, you can be fined for drinking in a public place. Vancouver's park board had to wait for provincial approval before it could start the pilot project.
The Vancouver Police Department says it does not collect information on specific parks where public intoxication tickets are issued, so CBC News was unable to verify if certain parks produced more tickets than others. But a VPD spokesman said ticketing is unlikely in poor neighbourhoods.
"It is extremely rare for officers to issue intoxication tickets to Downtown Eastside residents, or to anyone who does not appear to have the means to pay a ticket," explained Sgt. Steve Addison.
Bailey says he isn't aware how common it is for drinkers in the neighborhood to get tickets, but said 7 out of 10 members of his peer group had interactions with police, and alcohol seizures by police were "quite common".
Decision due to park inaccessibility, park board says
Amit Gandha, acting director of Vancouver's parks, says the Downtown Eastside's exclusion was due to two Strathcona parks being inaccessible when staff were making assessments for the project.
"When we were putting this together, Oppenheimer Park was not open. We were still doing the remediation work at the time due to the encampment that happened at Oppenheimer," Gandha said.
"Strathcona Park, same thing. We had the encampment there as well. So, you know, it was very difficult to try to put any kind of pilots at those two venues."
While both Oppenheimer and Strathcona parks had tent encampments during the park board's research period, they also would meet the criteria that the park board used to select parks for the pilot project.
Those criteria, according to Gandha, include a highly visible park location with emergency access, washroom facilities, accessibility by cycling, public transit or car and proximity to food and beverage facilities.
Some other parks in or near the Downtown Eastside that would meet this criteria are CRAB Park, Grandview Park and Victoria Park.
Gandha says those locations were not included in the pilot because the park board wanted to spread out the 22 park locations where legal drinking is allowed, and that there were enough parks close to Strathcona that met the criteria.
"The idea was to make sure there were parks across the city as a whole," he said.
He said the two downtown parks included in the pilot, David Lam Park on Pacific Boulevard and Harbour Green Park near Canada Place, would be the closest parks to the Downtown Eastside. The two parks are three kilometres away from the core of the neighborhood.
In Kitsilano, three parks where the pilot project is underway (Kitsilano Beach, Vanier Park and Volunteer Park) are within three kilometres of each other.