Robertson floats trial balloon for new remand centre

Post by Mike Klassen in

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Reports say North Fraser Pretrial Centre is overcrowded

Today, CKNW's crack City Hall reporter Janet Brown interviewed Mayor Gregor Robertson and asked him about his pick for the location for a new remand centre. Now Robertson could have said, "staff are drawing up a list of locations, which we'll release to the public for their thoughts. Given the controversy generated by the location of the facility in Burnaby, we have to make sure Vancouver's neighbourhoods have a say about this."

But that's not what Mayor Robertson said, and he may indeed have put his foot in it again.

Remember the musing that Gregor had to pull back from in the past, such as increasing taxes on owners of empty condos? Well this trial balloon (no pun intended) for a remand centre includes a new expanded Vancouver Police station in the Downtown Eastside. Says Robertson:

"We're looking at somewhere close to the core where we can minimize the travel, the cost, the environmental impact of transporting criminals all over the Lower Mainland to get to the courthouse here in Vancouver. So close to the courthouse, a high density site is where we're trying to nail down the location for."

Now of course, the old remand centre did exist in the Downtown Eastside. And shortening travel times is a worthy goal. But to suggest that we put it in the DTES today feels a bit like kicking a man when he's down. Aren't we trying to provide positive incentives for this neighbourhood to revive itself? Does a big security complex feel like an inviting addition to this struggling part of the city?

Predictably, the reaction to this idea is mixed. CBC News talked to people in the Downtown Eastside who think that their community is the City's "dumping ground" for projects other parts of the City don't want.

"I am hoping they are not choosing this neighbourhood because it is low income and they're hoping the fight back won't be quite so strong, but I think there will be quite a fight back," said Jean Swanson with the Carnegie Community Action Project.

Donna Whalley, the strata manager of an apartment building in the neighbourhood, agreed.

"This is the area that all of sudden has become so popular for a dumping ground," she said.

Whalley said the area is not just filled with homelessness and crime; it's a community with families and residents trying to revitalize the area.

The comments that follow the Mayor's idea are even more to the point, such as this remark by "Alice666:"

I have lived in the DTES (now Strathcona) for ten years and it has not improved its sh*thole status at all during that time. Surprisingly though, maybe due to residential building projects like Woodwards, the demography has slightly shifted and now includes small business owners, artists and middle working class. I don't see how a jail will improve conditions here and allow for the existing diverse community to grow. We need services too! Not just detox centers and pharmacies.

Other comments are jeering, like why don't we put it in Point Grey or on the Burrard Bridge? But you get the feeling that the enthusiasm and the "great opportunities for jobs in Strathcona," as Councillor Anton frames it, isn't shared by locals.

More must be seen about this idea, of course, but given the fury about highrises in the DTES in the past, guardedness from poverty activists about heavy-handed policing, coupled with the painstaking revival of the economy of BC's poorest postal code, the Mayor's idea may meet with a lot of resistance from even traditional supporters.

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