A Pivot Legal Society letter urges elected officials to "press pause" on using the incident to justify efforts to remove the tent city.
Updated: December 13, 2019
The day after police swarmed the Oppenheimer Park tent city following a shooting that put one man in hospital, a Vancouver advocacy group is urging elected officials not to use the incident as justification for putting its occupants in further harm’s way.
Vancouver police went to the park just after 5:30 p.m. on Thursday after shots were reported. A man with a non-life-threatening gunshot wound was taken to hospital by ambulance and is expected to recover, Const. Tania Visintin said. No one has yet been charged.
On Friday, Pivot Legal Society held a press conference at the park followed by a party to mark the tent city’s first anniversary.
Pivot staff lawyer Anna Cooper said that while few details about the shooting have been released, her society is concerned by the huge police response.
“This is a typical case, in point, where we’re very responsive to what are actually extremely rare situations of shootings and people getting injured, and then we’re really slow to respond to the daily grind of exposure and displacement, which is what is actually killing people,” Cooper said.
On Friday, Pivot sent a letter to the mayor, council and park commissioners asking them to consider how the heavy police response may have made things worse for the tent city occupants.
“VPD officers slashed open many residents’ tents last night in the course of their operations,” Cooper wrote in the letter. “Setting aside for the moment whether those actions were a reasonable exercise of police authority, the result is that many people’s homes and shelters are now exposed to wind, rain, and a lack of privacy. This is both a health and safety issue.”
Pivot’s letter also urges elected officials to “press pause” on using the shooting to justify efforts to remove the tent city.
She pointed to an October police statement that linked the shooting of a woman in a car near the park to a rise in violence “as gangs compete for territory around the park.” A month later, police said their investigation revealed that a son had actually accidentally shot his mother.
“If you look at what is actually risking the lives of homeless people, it’s not homicide,” Cooper said. “I’m not saying that gun incidents don’t matter. Obviously they’re very scary. But they are not the thing that people living on the streets are most scared of because they’re not the thing the majority of them know and love are dying from.”
A B.C. Coroners Service report released this year found that 56 per cent of deaths of homeless people between 2007 and 2016 were accidental, compared to three per cent by homicide.
Police could not be reached for further comment late Friday afternoon.
Earlier this week, park commissioner Stuart Mackinnon said the park board’s goal is to help people move out through a respectful “decampment.”
Mackinnon said Friday that he has been concerned about the safety of those living in the tent city since it formed a year ago. He stressed the urgent need to find them adequate housing.
“Crime is a fact of city life and that neighbourhood is particularly prone to it, so of course I’m concerned for people who are living in the park, always,” Mackinnon said.
“If there was adequate shelter available people wouldn’t be living in the park. This is why they’re there, this is why we’ve taken this route because we don’t feel that putting people onto the street is the answer.”
At a meeting Monday, park commissioners directed staff to find an independent third-party organization to assess what the needs are of the homeless population there and make recommendations how to meet them.
Police are asking anyone who has information about or witnessed the shooting to call the major crime section at 604-717-2541 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
With files from Derrick Penner