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Election 2022: Where the political parties stand on public safety in Vancouver

Mental illness, drug use intertwined with public safety concerns
Public safety has been identified by some candidates and parties as a top issue in this year’s Vancouver civic election. File photo Dan Toulgoet

Earlier this year, the Vancouver Police Department analyzed 44 assaults between March and June that were committed by people not known to the victim and found that mental health was a contributing factor in 73 per cent of the cases.

The increase in so-called “stranger assaults” — a term used frequently by the VPD since the pandemic was declared in March 2020 — has been unprecedented, according to Police Chief Adam Palmer, who has said publicly a few times that he’s never seen such random violence in his 30-plus years of policing.

The most recent data from police indicates an average of four of these types of assaults per day — a statistic repeated at recent political debates by some of the candidates running for mayor and others seeking council seats in the Oct. 15 election.

So what’s the solution to stop such violence?

More police?

Supports for people living with a mental illness?

More treatment and services for drug users?

Tougher penalties for offenders?


A review of the parties’ platforms, comments made during the campaign and interviews conducted with Mayor Kennedy Stewart and four of his challengers suggest it’s some, or all of the above.

Though violent crime has surged in the past couple of years, it’s important to point out that property crime has plummeted, particularly break-ins to homes, businesses and vehicles.

Whether crime is up or down in Vancouver also depends where a resident lives.

In August, for example, 188 assaults were recorded by police in the downtown business district, whereas one was reported in West Point Grey.

At the same time, homelessness has increased — as evidenced by the encampment along East Hastings Street — and the overdose crisis continues, with 535 Vancouverites dying last year; another 351 died between January and August of this year.

These social issues often get intertwined with public safety, although studies have shown vulnerable people are more likely to be victims of a crime than perpetrators.

The following are highlights from 10 parties on how they plan to best respond to public safety concerns, if elected Saturday.

Forward Together (mayoral candidate, Kennedy Stewart)

• Fully fund Vancouver Police Board budget requests.

• Create a Health and Addictions Response Team (HART) — a new non-police service enabling residents and businesses to call 311 to dispatch specially trained wellness teams to compassionately assist those in difficulty.

• Expand access to safe supply and peer-led compassion clubs.

• Continue to directly fund graffiti abatement work through business improvement associations.

• Create the mayor’s “permanent advisory committee to eliminate hate.”

• Open “new office for the nighttime economy” with a focus on safety for women, Indigenous, Black and People of Colour and 2SLGBTQ+ residents.

• Support Vancouver Fire and Rescue Service Darkhorse report recommendations to increase number of firefighters.

• Add 50 new public washrooms across the city.

ABC Vancouver (mayoral candidate, Ken Sim)

• Hire 100 police officers and 100 mental health nurses over the next four years.

• Body cameras on all patrol officers by 2025.

• Reinstate the police school liaison program.

• Support a VPD graffiti abatement program.

• Work to establish a free, low barrier, 24-hour recovery centre for people struggling with drug addiction.

• Develop a task force to address the dramatic rise in anti-Asian, anti-Semitic and anti-Indigenous hate crimes.

• Support Vancouver Fire and Rescue Service Darkhorse report recommendations to increase number of firefighters.

• Work with senior levels of government, First Nations and health authorities to create “a new mental health centre of excellence through a regional model of care that incorporates treatment and recovery.”

Progress Vancouver (mayoral candidate, Mark Marissen)

• Demand the federal government increase penalties for random, unprovoked stranger assaults.

• Negotiate a new Vancouver Agreement to provide adequate housing and support services to the most vulnerable with a unified strategy and funding model.

• Adopt the PACT (Peer-Assisted Care Teams) model, using community conflict resolution experts to triage the need for police dispatch on all mental health and homeless-adjacent 911 calls.

• Police resources should be going towards getting criminals off the streets, “not ineffectively trying to plug the gaps of our insufficient mental healthcare system.”

• Provide safe supply of drugs and get people on the path to recovery.

• Establish a citywide drug toxicity analysis service, with a lab in each major neighbourhood.

• Increase number of police officers if there is a demonstrated need.

• Build “community-centric” supportive social housing outside the downtown region.

TEAM for a Livable Vancouver (mayoral candidate, Colleen Hardwick)

• Review the adequacy of police, fire and other emergency services to meet future needs from increasing density and population, with new resources as required.

• Expand the police-led Car 87 program, which has police and nurses working together to respond to people in a mental health crisis.

• Create a full-time Downtown Eastside commissioner with a mandate to address “the out-of-control” social issues that impact the health and safety of the community, and ensure that resources are provided and properly distributed to those who need them.

• Establish a single coordinating body to ensure complex needs of people experiencing homelessness, addiction and mental health issues are effectively addressed with long-term, holistic solutions rather than through emergency services.

• Perform a detailed audit of the Downtown Eastside to determine the needs of the community, including those who are homeless, how much funding is being provided and who those resources are going to. 

• Increase support for community policing initiatives such as Block Watch.

• Work with senior governments, along with the First Nations Health Authority, to identify treatment programs which have proven to be successful in other countries (such as the Portuguese model) and can be implemented in Vancouver.

• Enforce bylaws that have been ignored.

NPA (mayoral candidate, Fred Harding)

• Ensure the Vancouver Police Department has staffing levels they need to run an efficient service.

• Reinstate the police school liaison program.

• Ensure there is “crisis-level leadership” on public safety at city hall.

• Ensure that treatment and prevention services are provided in addition to harm reduction, including models where those receiving harm reduction would also move forward in a treatment process.

• Seek federal funds to increase integrated specialized teams responsible for downtown public safety and separate from “the already stretched divisional resources.”

• Re-evaluate the process of the Downtown Community Court to mitigate the “revolving door” of petty crime offences.

• Work with other levels of government to increase mental health workers.

• Require social service agencies in the city that receive more than $100,000 in government funds come together to review their effectiveness and increase collaboration.

OneCity (no mayoral candidate)

• Invest in community-based organizations and non-police experts trained in de-escalation and crisis response.

• Create a Peer Assisted Care Team (PACT) program to dispatch a mental health professional and peer crisis responder to people experiencing a mental health crisis.

• Fund mental health first-aid training and make courses available for free or low cost to train members of the public to assist someone experiencing a crisis.

• Support Indigenous-led justice and community safety initiatives, such as the Bear Clan Patrol called for in the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre’s Red Women Rising report.

• Support restorative justice initiatives that aim to repair harm and promote meaningful accountability for offenders.

• Encourage community-based responses to racism, hate and other forms of discrimination.

• Promote neighbourhood street safety organizations such as safe walks, especially in underserved neighbourhoods and nightlife hubs.

 • Demand greater municipal control and democratic oversight over the VPD’s annual budget and training related to equity, diversity and inclusion.

• Advocate for safe supply and mental health supports.

Greens (no mayoral candidate)

• New investment and approaches to frontline mental health interventions in partnership with the province and health authority so that police are not necessarily the first and only responders for mental health calls.

• Continue Green-led work to create sanctioned graffiti areas, eliminate nuisance tags on private property and track and identify prolific taggers for restorative community service.

• Increase funds to Vancouver Fire Rescue Services as identified in the Darkhorse strategic growth report to meet growth-related and new challenges such as dense high-rise buildings and the poisoned drug crisis.

• Develop more inclusive and safe public spaces in each neighbourhood, using urban design guidelines for streetscapes that promote safety, social engagement and accessibility. 

• Promote Indigenous and peer-led opportunities for outreach, safe walk programs and harm reduction.

• Develop restorative justice alternatives to otherwise ineffectual criminal justice approaches for repeat and chronic offenders.

• Ensure adequate wrap-around services and staff in supportive housing units by making tenanting, staffing and operational agreements a condition of occupancy permits.

• Expand the Green-initiated 30 km/hr slower safer streets program and hasten work to eliminate traffic-related fatalities.

COPE (no mayoral candidate)

• “COPE candidates are extremely worried about the safety of people who are being killed by toxic drugs. In B.C. and Vancouver, more people were killed by toxic drugs than by COVID-19. Therefore, our public health and safety approach should be at least as robust toward this crisis.” 

• COPE will immediately use the maximum power of the city to promote the safe supply of drugs for adults using advocacy to senior governments, bylaws and budget.

• Protecting drug users' safety increases everyone's safety.  

• “Toxic drugs are a huge safety issue that we have the tools to prevent, so long as there is the political will to do the right thing. Our neighbours are dying from the failure to provide consumer protection and market oversight for people who use drugs.”

• Safe supply is an effective measure toward public safety because it prevents deaths and reduces illicit drug-related crime. Conditions in the Downtown Eastside and across the province would get better with oversight of the illicit drug market.

• COPE is committed to creating a legal framework for safe supply to put an end to the devastating crisis caused by the poisoned supply. (COPE was to release more details of its “city-led safe supply policy approach” Oct. 13). 

Vision Vancouver (endorsed Kennedy Stewart for mayor)

• Push the city towards progressive policing approaches that avoid criminalizing a person living with a mental illness, in poverty, homeless or a drug user.

• Provide neighbourhood support to minimize issues related to substance use or mental health concerns.

• Redirect police resources to social workers and trauma-informed workers within the VPD to diffuse situations.

• Declare a state of crisis with respect to the number of people without homes.

• Convene a “stakeholder group” to focus on solutions such as tiny homes, with the goal of ensuring anyone who wants or needs a home has one.

• Support ongoing work to “decriminalize opioids, support and advocate for the expansion of safe supply, expanded treatment options and for people with serious mental illness.”

• Ensure there is a public bathroom within a 15-minute walk or roll within the city.

• Challenge the stigma around substance use and mental health across all city departments.

VOTE Socialist (no mayoral candidate)

• Eliminate over-policing and the harm caused by police, who are largely tasked with being the first line of defence “between property owners and oppressed peoples.”

• Reduce funds to the Vancouver Police Department by 50 per cent initially, redirecting funds and new revenue to a mix of public housing, Indigenous and community-led non-violent mental health and addiction services.

• “Defunding the VPD will take time and VOTE Socialist is committed to researching and finding strategies to make this happen by identifying the city services people think are working well, and envisioning how these services could be improved by defunding various police activities and reallocating those funds.”

• Review existing city procedures, programs, and relationships with the police to eliminate police involvement where the city has control.

• Create a complaints policy and process independent of police control for victims of police violence to submit complaints and implement independent civilian oversight for all investigations of police wrongdoing, with no connections or conflicts of interest to police forces, unions or lobbying organizations.

• “De-task” police by redirecting the defunded portion of the police budget to public non-market housing and peer-led support networks, such as Indigenous and community-led health programs and alternative public health outreach, including non-violent mental health and wellness supports and wellness checks.

• Eliminate bylaws that criminalize homelessness such as prohibiting overnight parking/camping through cooperation between the city and the park board.

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