Today a Native Elder, who lives on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, received justice. It came from Small Claims Court in Vancouver. Margaret Willie was coming out of Army and Navy when she was approached by a member of the Vancouver Police Department. She was informed that this officer had been ‘watching’ her the previous night (Margaret had been playing Bingo at the time the officer supposedly saw her away from the DTES) and the officer proceeded to search her by taking off her coat, patting her down and then going through her purse. What did the officer find – some sudafed and aspirin. In her defence, the officer said that she had observed Ms. Willie talking to some ‘known drug dealers’ in front of a convenience store the previous evening and she suspected that Ms. Willie was ‘carrying.’ Well, Margaret Willie was not carrying. She did not even know what this term meant.
After being traumatized, Margaret engaged the help of the Pivot Legal Society who regularly helps residents of the Downtown Eastside when their legal rights are trampled. The VPD seems to feel that it is ok to suspend legal and constitutional rights on the DTES while they try to root out the drug problem. I guess it is our very own Gitmo.
Margaret was not seeking money when she decided to take her case to court. She just wanted to clear her name. The judge in the case stated that Margaret’s rights had been violated, she had been illegally detained and searched without just cause. She was given a $5500 award. She has been in counselling ever since this event as it traumatized her and activated childhood memories of similar abuses of power she endured.
Adding insult to injury, Margaret was interviewed on the CBC today. It was one of the most mean-spirited interviews I have ever heard. Basically the interviewer seemed to be blaming Ms. Willie because, after all, she does live on the DTES and the police are justified in trying to clean up the drug problems plaguing the area. The interviewer asked her why she was afraid of the police and then tried to get her to agree that the VPD’s actions were justified given the intractable drug dealing in the area. Margaret did not agree with her. In fact, Margaret seemed more aftraid of the police than of the criminal element in her neighbourhood. The interviewer seemed oblivious to Margaret’s pain.
Sadly, people who live on the DTES regularly endure this kind of treatment. As John Richardson from the Pivot Legal Society pointed out, law enforcement is done very differently in the DTES. Police actions which are normal for that area would not be tolerated anywhere else in Vancouver, BC or the country as a whole.
Shame on the VPD for targeting people this way.