For Immediate Release: November 24 2009, Vancouver
A coalition of DTES community groups and supporters hosted a press conference to launch a campaign against what they are calling the “Olympic Kidnapping Act”. They are calling the Act, which allows police to detain and use force on homeless people to compel them into shelters, fundamentally undemocratic, unjust, and unconstitutional.
In response to the government’s claim that this Act helps the homeless, many homeless people refuse to be forcefully apprehended. “I can look after myself; I’ve been doing it for years,” states one such homeless man, who is afraid to be identified.
According to Stella August, member of Downtown Eastside Women Centre Power to Women group, “This Kidnapping Act creates a state of fear in the DTES.
“We are angered at the hypocrisy of a government that closes down emergency shelters, while allowing police to forcefully displace homeless people against their will. We have already witnessed waves of police crackdowns over the past year; we are not foolish enough to believe that this is another coincidence leading up to the Games.” During the 1996 Olympics, approximately 9000 homeless people in Atlanta were arrested in the months leading up to the Games and shunted up to 300 kilometres out of the city.
“We want Mayor Gregor Robertson, as Chair of the Police Board, to tell the police not to enforce this unconstitutional act. Is this part of the plan to cover up poverty before the Olympics?” asked Wendy Pedersen of Carnegie Community Action Project. Shelter providers such as Atira Women’s Resource Society, First United Church, Lookout Emergency Aid Society, PHS Community Service Society, as well as the Canadian Mental Health Association have all also publically expressed their significant and grave concerns with the Act.
According to Laura Track, housing campaign lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society who is planning a legal challenge against this Act, “The Minister knows this is an unconstitutional law; this is a cynical strategy by the Liberal government to force poor people off the streets for the Olympics before courts strike the legislation down, which will unfortunately take months if not years.”