Death of Curtis Brick triggers internal city review

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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City Hall will review its policies to see if more should have been done for Vancouver's homeless during recent heat wave

With cooler days now upon us in Metro Vancouver, thoughts will soon turn to preparing for the Fall/Winter season and the chilly weather that comes with it. It's hard to remember that only a few weeks ago Vancouver was in the grip of a record breaking heat wave. During that hot spell, a homeless man named Curtis Brick died in a Vancouver park while local residents sat nearby and didn't call for help.

We've previously written about the plight of Brick on this blog, and now we can report it will be the subject of both a council debate and internal review at Vancouver City Hall. Councillor Andrea Reimer, one of Vision's few bright lights, is spearheading an effort to support a coroner's inquest and review of city policies relating to Brick's tragic death.

While I support Reimer's efforts, I think it should have gone one step further. I think asking city staff to review their own policies related to whether the city's hot weather response played any role in Brick's death is insufficient. Although I have faith in Vancouver's public service, I don't think they should be put in a position to review their own actions in relation to this case. Rather, I think council should ask for an independent review in order to ensure there is no perception of the fox guarding the hen house.

I think it is worth noting that the Brick motion is being brought to council by Reimer, not councillor Kerry Jang, Vision's point person on homelessness and mental illness. Given Jang's abysmal performance in his role as Vancouver's Minister of Social and Community Services, I can't say I'm surprised that Reimer needed to come to his rescue.

The following is a copy Reimer's motion:

WHEREAS witnesses allege that Curtis Brick spent hours in the sun on the second 
hottest day of 2009 in Vancouver, with temperatures reaching over 34 degrees Celsius;

WHEREAS on May 5, 2009, this City Council unanimously endorsed the immediate 
implementation of all twelve recommendations from the Frank Paul Inquiry;

WHEREAS the Chief Coroner has the discretion to call a public coroner's inquest to 
answer public questions and prevent similar deaths;

WHEREAS individual members of the Aboriginal and broader community, the Union of 
B.C. Indian Chiefs, the Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society, the B.C. 
Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, the Lu'ma Native 
Housing Society, and the Pivot Legal Society have publicly called for a coroner's 
inquest to take place and asked this Council to endorse their call for an inquest in 
order to prevent similar deaths in the future;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED 

THAT Vancouver City Council endorses the request from the community for a coroner's
inquest into the death of Curtis Brick; and

FURTHER THAT Vancouver City Council requests the Mayor write a letter on behalf of 
the Mayor and Council to the Chief Coroner's Office, and instructs the City Manager to 
report back to this Council at the first available and appropriate public opportunity 
the response of the Coroner's Office; and

FURTHER THAT staff undertake a review of existing extreme weather emergency 
services offered by the City and make recommendations on these services that would 
further reduce the risk for street homeless and other vulnerable populations, such as 
homebound senior citizens, in the event of extreme heat or cold events.

I assume Reimer's motion will pass unanimously, but it will be interesting to see if anyone else on council shares my concern regarding the internal nature of this review. At a minimum, I think council should hold at least one public meeting to gather input from the public. This would allow citizens to provide suggestions on what more the mayor and city could have done (if anything) to raise public awareness about the plight of homeless people during periods of extreme heat. It would also help to ensure the review process is open and transparent.

In any event, give Reimer credit for being brave enough to put forward a motion that may result in some criticisms toward her mayor and caucus colleague as well as city staff. That takes a lot of guts.

Let's hope the city review of its policies and procedures is thorough and that a coroner's inquest helps to shed some light on the circumstances that lead to Brick's death. We'll continue to follow this story closely as events unfold.

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