Heartbreak on Hastings | Foreign interference | Ending at-large elections | The making of decrim

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Forward Together News
May 15, 2023

Jeanette, Fergus, and I have been taking time to reconnect with family, friends, and supporters. It’s been heartwarming to chat with so many folks who worked with us over the last few years and who supported the Forward Together campaign. However, many of you have shared your deep concerns about the state of Vancouver.

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Your top issue of concern has been the brutal police-led East Hastings Street clearances. As you may recall, as mayor I signed a memorandum of understanding on behalf of Vancouver City Council with the provincial government and Vancouver Park Board concerning Strathcona Park and all future encampments. The key premise of this agreement is that government action surrounding encampments would not be police-led and by-laws would only be enforced “when suitable spaces are available for people to move indoors.”

Along with this MOU came my work with the federal and provincial governments to secure the largest social housing investment – over $1 billion -- in the city’s history. I negotiated hotel and modular home purchases, and secured money for new shelter spaces to produce hundreds of new units that were up and running and in place for people to voluntarily occupy in place of their tents. We didn’t call in the police on families sheltering in tents in Strathcona Park, as that would be inhuman. Instead, we built them homes, as fast as we could.

Mayor Sim and ABC have recklessly disregarded the City’s signed agreement with the Province and are supporting the Vancouver Police Department in targeting Vancouver’s most vulnerable residents. This criminalization of poverty – being threatened with arrest, having most or all your possessions thrown in the garbage and pushed out of your community without anywhere to go – is cruel.

Sim’s hyper-colonial approach to poverty is especially distressing considering at least 40 per cent of those living without homes in Vancouver are survivors of the Canadian Indigenous Genocide – including many Indigenous people living in the Downtown Eastside. And Sim’s police-led sweeps have led many shelter operators to remark “women aren’t safer after Hastings camp cleared.”

Sim continues to claim there was adequate housing for the people whose shelters and belongings were destroyed, even while City Manager Paul Mochrie and non-profit housing providers say this is not the case. Sim is simply not telling the truth. 

Sim has the support of far-right pundits such as Bruce Allen who, without shame, states the city should “hose down the streets every three or four hours on Hastings” calling those in need “freeloaders and junkies.” But the action has been condemned by CUPE BC and the British Columbia Federation of Labour who call the clearances “callous” and “dehumanizing,” as well as the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate who states the action is “a violation of human rights” that increase risks to people’s health and safety due to isolation, exposure, fire, overdose, and violence.”

This move goes too far for even Kareem Allam – Kevin Falcon’s campaign manager and Sim’s former chief-of-staff -- who denounced Sim’s callous action on what I think has been one of the most shocking breaks with Vancouver's core value of compassion that we relied on to support each other through the pandemic. Welcome to the new, cruel Vancouver.

For those of you who have been emailing me about the foreign interference story broken by the Globe and Mail in March (China’s Vancouver consulate interfered in 2022 municipal election, according to CSIS), you may be interested to know the New York Times has done an in-depth follow up piece which adds even more information (Did China Help Vancouver’s Mayor Win Election?). 

When coupled with what we have been hearing about threats to local Vancouver residents (Chinese communities in Vancouver tell public safety minister about intimidation by foreign powers and proxies) and against my friend Michael Chong’s family (CSIS head tells MP Michael Chong that he and family were targeted by China) it is clear David Johnston has his work cut out for him, as he prepares to advise the Prime Minister on next steps. 

Considering other CBC stories about interference in Montreal (Alleged Chinese police stations still open in Quebec, despite minister's claims), any complete inquiry needs to include Canada’s largest cities.

Thanks as well to those asking about my book about decriminalization which is currently at press and hits the shelves in July.

My hope is that Decrim: How We Decriminalized Drugs in British Columbia will push governments to do even more, as illicit-drug related deaths continue to be Canada's most pressing public health care disaster. Don’t look for help on this file from City Hall, as the ABC council gears up to close a critical Yaletown overdose prevention site just when we need it most. I fear our 20 years of harm reduction is also going in the bin, sadly to the satisfaction of Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre!

Stay tuned for news about our upcoming electoral reform legal case which I hinted about in my last newsletter. We continue to gather the research we need to file our paperwork.That’s all I’ll say at the moment, but it is worth knowing U.S. courts have struck down dozens of municipal at-large electoral systems, due to minority groups being systematically underrepresented. In other words, at-large systems have been found by the courts to be systemically racist. Jean Swanson and I tried to get rid of the at-large system during the last council, but the move was defeated by NPA, OneCity, Green and now-ABC councillors. Check out this summary of Thornburg v. Gingles for a primer.

Lastly, there have been some recent news stories about our election debt. While it is true we have a debt from the campaign, we have already fully paid most of the service providers to whom we owed small amounts and have payment plans in place to manage the remainder. It’s not unusual for left-of-centre parties to carry some post-election debt, especially when we are up against deep-pocketed right-wing parties like ABC, which spent twice as much as Forward Together – over $2 million  – in the 2022 election.

A deep thank you to those who saw the media stories and donated to help us out. We really appreciate it. If you would like to make a donation to help with this work, please click here.

That’s it for now. Thanks to everyone for sticking with us. 

Stay tuned for another newsletter next month and remember, the 2026 municipal elections are only 180 weeks away!