The purpose of the current operation, according to the police, was to shut down the activity of drug dealers in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. According to press reports, the operation was preceded by three weeks of undercover work during which the police drew up warrants for the arrest of alleged drug traffickers.39 The crackdown began with an intensive round of about ninety arrests of alleged drug traffickers on April 7 and 8, 2003, representing about half the number of persons for whom warrants were issued.40 In the process, the relatively dense presence of injection drug users on the sidewalks and in the numerous alleys of the Downtown Eastside, which had long been a characteristic of the neighborhood, was largely dispersed. While this dramatic change was welcomed by some business owners in the neighborhood,41 providers of health services and some government officials expressed concern that drug users had simply been driven to more unsafe and more "underground" locations and that they were more difficult to reach with life-saving preventive services such as needle exchange.42 In interviews with residents of the Downtown Eastside, Human Rights Watch documented numerous types of police misconduct committed in connection with the crackdown, including the excessive use of force, arbitrary detention, illegal search and seizure, and widespread harassment.
Excessive use of force
Gary L. said he was not only hit in the chest and head but also scraped by a police nightstick with a retractable blade, which produced the long wounds down his chest. He was taken to the hospital where he spent over two hours and was, by his account, handcuffed to the bed. He said he has filed a complaint against the police.
Fred R., forty-six, a resident of the Downtown Eastside, said that at about 4 a.m. on April 12, he observed from his apartment above an area of Carrall Street known as Pigeon Park three uniformed police officers who detained and put into handcuffs a man and made him lie face down on the ground with his legs spread. "There were three policemen right around him; the situation was obviously under control," he said.45 With the man in this position, a police car arrived to join the four police cars already at the site. "The door opened, the policeman comes out, and he steps on the guy's [leg] just above his ankles-you know, with both of his legs, and he starts going up and down-four, five times-until I yelled `Hey, this is police brutality'." Fred R. said this officer, who was in uniform, walked with his face down after he heard Fred R.'s shouts.
Juan M., forty-four, who is originally from El Salvador said that at 7 p.m. on April 8, the second day of the crackdown, he was walking to the Carnegie Community Center in the heart of the Downtown Eastside, where he does volunteer work. He said four undercover police officers accosted him on the sidewalk. The woman officer in the group said "I know you" and told the others that he was a drug dealer. Juan M. said he said "You're wrong, lady," a remark that apparently infuriated the officers. One of the male officers "grabbed my throat and threw me up against the wall," he said, and while keeping him in a throat-hold the officer told him to open his mouth for a drug search. He said one of the officers punched him on the leg while he was being kept by the throat against the wall, and the officers told him several times that he could be deported if he didn't cooperate. Eventually, they asked him for identification, and one of the officers told the others, "He's not our guy." Juan M. attributed the behavior of the police in this case partly to the fact that "a lot of the drug dealers are Latino."46
A number of persons interviewed by Human Rights Watch were nearby witnesses to acts of brutality. Lewis G., thirty, said he and his wife witnessed a violent incident on the second day of the crackdown that began when the police accosted a man in his thirties who had just injected drugs near the Carnegie Community Center. When the man threw his syringe down, according to this witness, two uniformed policemen nearby "started becoming a little abusive."
Human Rights Watch encountered Gerald B., thirty-five, soon after he had witnessed an arrest that he characterized as unnecessarily rough.
Richard F., forty-one, told Human Rights Watch that on the morning of April 12, 2003, he was drinking coffee in a McDonald's restaurant on the Downtown Eastside. Two uniformed police officers entered the restaurant and took the two shopping bags Richard F. had with him. Richard F. followed them as they left the store with his bags. He said they emptied his bags onto the sidewalk "looking for hot stuff." A person Richard F. knew passed on the sidewalk at that time and, according to him, "started mouthing off at the police and told them to go find the real criminals." According to Richard F., one of the officers shoved his acquaintance against the mailbox on the sidewalk, twisted his arm and put him into handcuffs. While in handcuffs, he said, the officer slammed his acquaintance against the police car. Richard F. was taken to the police station at this point. He heard later that his acquaintance, a drug user, was considering filing a complaint against the police.49
Pivot Legal Society, a local nongovernmental organization, has prepared cards summarizing the rights of a person stopped by the police, including a statement that a detained person could read to a police officer.50 Several injection drug users and other persons encountered on the streets of the Downtown Eastside told Human Rights Watch that possession of the card could lead to rougher treatment by the police. "One cop said to me, `Are you a smart ass? You think I don't know the rules? It's gonna go rough for you now'," said Cliff S., forty-eight, describing an incident during the second day of the crackdown.51 While a Human Rights Watch researcher was reading one of the rights cards on the street in the heart of the Downtown Eastside, a woman in her thirties approached and said, "Those cards get you beat up by the cops," and ran off. Others echoed the view that an assertion of rights was a likely way to inflame the police.
In some cases, police became even more abusive when individuals who had refused to consent to an illegal search were found to be carrying syringes. This made certain individuals even more apprehensive about asserting their rights, and indeed forced some to incriminate themselves by handing syringes to the police directly.52 "The first thing they ask is, `Do you have anything sharp?'," said a volunteer for the VANDU needle exchange who asked to remain anonymous. "If you say `no' and they put their hand in your pocket and find one, you're really in trouble."53
Dirk T., forty-two, said that police may also lash out against individuals who refuse to give their name or admit that they know there is a warrant out for their arrest-even in cases where the police are not in a legal position to demand such information. He said he had just been stopped that day outside a café on Hastings Avenue, when the police demanded to know his criminal history. "If you don't tell them . . . and they find out, they're twice as rough on you," he said. "I asked why I was being stopped, and they said, `Just shut up and give us your birthday'."54
The worst of these cases of abuse constitute a violation of article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Canada is a party and which protects against torture and "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."55 The Constitution of Canada includes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, of which section 12 states: "Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment."56 Canada is also party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which includes broad prohibitions against cruel and degrading actions on the part of law enforcement officers, even in cases in which they are following the orders of a superior.57
Arbitrary arrest and unreasonable or unlawful search and seizure
In Canada, searches by the police of a person's possessions or full searches of a person's body are legal when the person has been arrested or when there is a duly issued search warrant.61 In other cases, police must demonstrate either that the individual gave his informed consent to be searched or that exigent circumstances, such as a threat to the officers' safety, necessitated the search. Testimony from numerous witnesses during Human Rights Watch's brief stay in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver indicated actions on the part of the Vancouver police that violated all of these provisions.
On the night of April 12 a little before midnight, two Human Rights Watch researchers and a number of other onlookers witnessed the strip search of an African Canadian man on Hastings Street, a main thoroughfare, not far from the intersection of Hastings and Main, the heart of the Downtown Eastside. We were unable to see under what circumstances the man had been detained, but he was displayed publicly with his pants around his ankles, the headlights of a police car shining on him, his hands behind him in handcuffs. A police officer told passers-by that the police had used pepper spray62 to subdue the man and that "he was being non-compliant"; he was "a threat to our safety." The man vomited as he sat handcuffed with his pants down in full public view. There were seven police officers milling around him, including two women officers. Two of the male officers were wearing latex gloves.
The Supreme Court of Canada has described strip searches as "a significant invasion of privacy" and "often a humiliating, degrading and traumatic experience for individuals subject to them.63 Accordingly, the court has urged that strip searches only be conducted by officers of the same gender as the individual being searched. In addition, strip searches must be conducted at a police station unless there is a demonstrated necessity and urgency to search for weapons or objects that could be used to threaten someone's safety. Non-compliance, the Supreme Court has held, is not the same as a threat to safety: "We particularly disagree with the suggestion that an arrested person's non-cooperation and resistance necessarily entitles the police to engage in behavior that disregards or compromises his or her physical and psychological integrity and safety."64
While the search documented above was particularly degrading, many other searches recounted by witnesses reflected strong elements of disrespect for the law and for the person searched. Arnold L., forty-four, was one of several persons encountered by Human Rights Watch who made their living selling food or used items on the streets of the Downtown Eastside. He said he is a cocaine user but had had no criminal record and no trouble with the police for the last seven years. With the current crackdown, he said, police searches threaten his livelihood. "I can't carry my backpack around without being searched by the cops, and then two minutes later by different cops. Just today two cops came up to me and said, `Hey, goof, fuck off, you goof.' . . . They grabbed me, searched my pockets, asked me where I live. I told them, I sell clothes out of my cart. I was just sitting on the sidewalk with my cart."65
Like Arnold L., Gerald B. had not been arrested when police began going through his pockets without his consent. He said he was roughly searched by police on the street on April 11, 2003.
Other witnesses also reported having had their pockets searched by police without being informed why they were being stopped. On April 21, Christopher W. swore an affidavit describing an illegal search of his pockets in front of the Royal Bank on Main Street.
The police then told Christopher, a methadone patient, they had information he had been peddling narcotics. They pushed him against a wall, searched his pockets, and seized his prescription pain medication.
Christopher W. was then told by the officer not to carry his pills around with him, or else he would be charged with littering.
Thirty-three-year-old Robert B. described being arrested for shoplifting without the police's having reasonable or probable grounds to arrest, as is required under Canadian law. Robert B. said he supplemented his income by selling used goods that he found in garbage bins to a middleman who sold them in flea markets. He said he is an injection drug user and had never had trouble with the police until the recent crackdown. His informal commerce has kept him from having to steal to support his drug habit, he said. At noon on April 12, 2003, Robert B. said he was near Pigeon Park on Carrall Street and was sitting with an infant car seat that he had found discarded in an empty lot at the edge of the neighborhood. He said two uniformed police officers approached him and told him that the car seat "looked too clean to be thrown out" and told him he must have had to break into a car to get it.
Robert B. was released, but he was not allowed to keep the infant car seat. "Those guys are judge, jury and hangman; now everyone is guilty until proven innocent," he said.
Like Robert B. and Juan F., a number of witnesses said they thought some element of their outward appearance or racial or ethnic background was part of the motivation for their detention or search. Several witnesses, such as Gerald B., said they believed they were targeted because they are aboriginal or First Nations69 persons or belonged to other racial minorities. "I've been beaten up and harassed several times, just walking down the street at night and being asked if I'm someone-that's just being a black man in the neighborhood," said one resident.70
Harold P., a member of the Ojibway First Nation, said the police confiscated cash and drugs from him on the first day of the crackdown.
Harassment for alleged petty offenses
Under Canadian law, police can legally require a person to produce identification documents if a bylaw offense has been committed.75 In some cases, however, police stopped and demanded identification of individuals without informing them of any infraction. "I see cops jacking people up for a bag of chips," said Will T., who lives near the Downtown Eastside's Pigeon Park. Will T. went on to describe an incident he witnessed the afternoon of April 12 in which police began harassing someone who was selling expired potato chips for a quarter. "I was talking to him, and two cops were on us," he said. "Two cops jumped out, asked him his name, and said he was looking suspicious. They were just harassing him-he was being watched. They just looked inside his bag."76
Roger L., a forty-four year-old Métis man, told Human Rights Watch that two nights earlier he was attending a soup line with some friends when "the cops came over and jacked us up and wanted to run our names."77 He said that in twenty-eight years on the Downtown Eastside, he had never been stopped by the police "unless I caused trouble." That night, he said, "they just said `What's your name?' and asked me for ID. I thought they were allowed to ask for ID like that." Human Rights Watch researchers observed numerous instances of police stopping people, demanding their identification or interrogating them on the street or in the alleys of the Downtown Eastside without informing them why they were being detained. At about 9:30 p.m. on April 14, two uniformed policemen on horseback stopped two Human Rights Watch researchers and asked them to explain what they were doing on Hastings Avenue where they were chatting on the sidewalk with two apparently homeless people who had just been searched.
From testimony gathered by Human Rights Watch, it was evident that police were using the threat of a citation as a method of harassing Downtown Eastside residents and forcing them off the streets. Charles J. Parker, president of the British Columbia Association of People on Methadone, said the police threatened him with a vagrancy charge early in the crackdown when he was seated on the steps of the public library reading a book. "They were going to charge me with vagrancy for reading a book outside the library, twenty feet from where I work and right near where I live," he said.78 The police told him he was sitting in front of a fire exit, but, he said, there was no sign or other indication of a fire exit. "Poor people getting $55 [U.S.$38] jaywalking fines. . . . how can this be doing any good?" Several people said they have had to change the way they walk to and from their homes because of their fear of getting a ticket with a steep fine for a minor offense. "You know, this is where we live-we can't hang out, we take the long way around even to go home-they shouldn't chase us from our home," said Henry P., thirty-nine, a long-time resident.79
Although it took place on March 28, before the current crackdown began, another incident illustrates the way in which charges for petty offenses have contributed to an atmosphere of anxiety. Dolores N., thirty-seven, did volunteer work at the Health Contact Centre of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, a regional government body. She had suffered a stroke some months before and as a result walked haltingly. As she left the center after her shift late at night, she said she was stopped by two uniformed policemen. "You're either drunk or stoned," they told her. She said she tried to explain that she had had a stroke, which was why her speech and her gait were halting. "They made me turn my pockets out and turn my gloves out, and they wanted to pat me down. They said I would be charged with vagrancy," she said. She said one of the officers seemed to understand and believe that she had had a stroke but he could not make his colleague back off. She was let go only when she showed her house keys and challenged the officers to see how they fit into the door of her nearby home.80
Such accounts vindicate the concerns of many service providers that police have gone far beyond the stated purpose of the current police campaign, to clear the streets of drug dealers and traffickers, by catching drug users who do not sell drugs, homeless persons, sex workers and their clients, and others in their net. Thia Walter of the Life Is not Enough Society, a local NGO providing services to the homeless, said the large number of homeless persons who have been disrupted and in some cases detained by the police is proof that they are exceeding their stated mandate because it is well known that drug dealers do not sleep on the streets.81 "The police are not just hassling dealers-they're going after users, homeless people, sex trade workers and johns," said Ann Livingston, project coordinator of VANDU.82
40 Ibid. The police later reported the total number of traffickers arrested to be ninety-eight. See Bula and Morton, "Mayor kickstarts...," Vancouver Sun, April 16, 2003.
41 See, for example, Amy O'Brian and Petti Fong, "Drug crackdown to continue: VPD chief," Vancouver Sun, April 10.2003.
42 See, for example, Canadian Broadcast Company British Columbia, "Police crackdown raises health concerns," April 16, 2003 [online], at http://vancouver.cbc.ca/template /servlet/View?filename=bc_nurses20030416 (retrieved April 18, 2003), as well as testimony below.
43 The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provides that law enforcement officials shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force. When the use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials should only use force proportionate to the seriousness of the offense and the legitimate objective to be achieved; act to minimize damage and injury; and, ensure that medical assistance is rendered to those in need at the earliest possible moment. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, August 27 to September 17, 1990, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.144/28/Rev.1 at 112 (1990), principles 4 & 5.
44 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside, April 12, 2003.
45 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside, April 14, 2003.
46 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside, April 14, 2003. Many persons encountered by Human Rights Watch remarked on the case of Jose Cardona, a Honduran claiming refugee status in Canada who was allegedly kicked in the groin by a Vancouver police officer in the period of undercover work preceding the current crackdown. It was reported that Cardona was told he was at high risk of losing his testicle because of the injury. One week into the crackdown, the press quoted Byron Cruz, president of the British Columbia Multicultural Health Services Society as asserting that police harassment of Hispanic men in the Downtown Eastside was "running unchecked." See Adrienne Tanner, "Another abuse allegation for city police," The Province, April 14, 2003, at A11.
47 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside, April 14, 2003.
48 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside, April 12, 2003.
49 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside, April 14, 2003.
50 The statement on the card says, "Officer, if I am under arrest or being detained, please tell me so. If I am free to go, please tell me so. If I am under arrest, please tell me why. I want to exercise my right to silence and my right to speak to a lawyer before I say anything to you. I do not consent to be searched. If you need me to do something, you must first command me and explain why. I will not willingly talk to you until I speak to a lawyer. Thank you for respecting my rights." The other half of the card summarizes briefly the rights of detained persons in Canadian law.
51 Human Rights Watch interview, alleyway in the Downtown Eastside, April 12, 2003.
52 Unlike in much of the United States, possession of hypodermic syringes without a prescription is not illegal in Canada unless the syringes contain controlled substances. However, restrictions on sterile syringe possession may be stipulated in bail, probation or parole orders.
53 Human Rights Watch interview, VANDU needle exchange program, Washington Hotel, April 13, 2003.
54 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside, April 13, 2003.
55 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), G.A. res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force Mar. 23, 1976. Canada became a party to the ICCPR in 1976.
57 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), G.A. res. 39/46, annex, 39 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 51) at 197, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984), entered into force June 26, 1987. Canada became a party to the CAT in 1987.
58 ICCPR, article 9.
59 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, sections 8 and 9.
60 Ibid., section 10.
61 See Hunter v. Southam Inc.,  2 S.C.R. 145. Police may conduct a "pat down" search for weapons when they have "articulable cause" to detain someone for investigative purposes: R. v. Ferris,  B.C.J. No. 1415. Strip searches are a special category of body search and are discussed below.
62 Oleoresin capsicum or pepper spray is used to control crowds, threatening individuals or wild animals by blinding and immobilizing them.
63 R. v. Golden,  3 S.C.R. 679, at para. 83.
64 Ibid., para. 116.
65 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside, April 12, 2003.
66 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside, April 12, 2003.
67 Affidavit of Christopher Watkins, Vancouver, April 21, 2003.
68 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside, April 14, 2003.
69 First Nations or First Peoples are terms used to describe the aboriginal societies that existed in Canada before the arrival of Europeans.
70 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside, April 15, 2003.
71 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside, April 15, 2003.
72 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside, April 13, 2003.
73 "Jacked up" is a common local term referring to detention, often arbitrary, without formal arrest.
74 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside, April 15, 2003.
75 See R. v. Moore (1979), 5 C.R. (3d) 289 (S.C.C.). Bylaws in Vancouver are enforced pursuant to sec. 482.1 of the Vancouver Charter, S.B.C. 1953.
76 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside, April 15, 2003.
77 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside, April 15, 2003.
78 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside, April 12, 2003.
79 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside April 14, 2003.
80 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside April 13, 2003.
81 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside April 12, 2003.
82 Human Rights Watch interview, Downtown Eastside April 12, 2003.