Frances Bula header image 2

Business association says Pivot has produced no evidence for discrimination complaint

September 21st, 2009 · 46 Comments

This got issued earlier today, but got a bit lost in the flurry today over Rich Coleman’s proposed new homelessness law. I haven’t had a chance to call Pivot, so don’t know what their side of the story is. But I thought this news release would be of interest to readers here, given the passionate debate there has been about the Downtown Ambassadors on this site.

Pivot and VANDU Fail to Produce Evidence Against Downtown Ambassadors®

(Vancouver – September 21, 2009) – Pivot Legal Society and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) have failed to disclose any documentary evidence to substantiate their Complaint against the Downtown Ambassadors®.

In July 2008, Pivot and VANDU filed a claim of systemic discrimination against the Downtown Ambassador® program alleging Ambassadors deny homeless people the right to access and enjoy public space.

Last week, after being directed in July 2009 by the Tribunal to disclose any documents which

they have or intend to rely upon to support the Complaint, both indicated in a letter to the Tribunal “that the complainants do not have any documents to disclose in this matter.” In the Complaint filed in July of last year, Pivot described itself as “in a unique position to…effectively…coordinate the accumulation of and presentation of evidence” to support the claims Pivot and VANDU advanced.

The DVBIA has maintained from the outset that the Complaint is unfounded.

Charles Gauthier, Executive Director of the DVBIA, expressed concern that Pivot and VANDU appear to be abusing the Tribunal’s processes solely for political purposes and at the expense of the Ambassador program’s reputation.

“The DVBIA will have to consider its next steps in light of this remarkable admission by Pivot that it has no documented proof of any of the claims which it has sought to advance over the past 15 months,” says Gauthier.

“We are thoroughly frustrated, as our members should be, that they and other BC taxpayers are funding this ill-conceived and unsubstantiated Tribunal hearing while scarce resources are being diverted away from ending homelessness and other pressing priorities,” says Gauthier.

To date, this case has cost the DVBIA and its members in excess of $30,000.

Downtown Ambassadors are paid, trained, staff who provide hospitality and safety & security services within the 90-blocks of the DVBIA area, as well as in Yaletown, the West End, Gastown and South Granville. The Ambassadors are funded solely by BIA members and operate up to 16 hours/day, 7 days a week. The program has been in operation since 2000 and is the highest rated program by members.

– 30 –

Media Inquiries:

Charles Gauthier

Executive Director


604-685-7811 ext. 203

Cell: 604-617-4565

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Sharon

    What a royal waste of time, energy and money. Can you imagine the uproar if the Crown laid charges against a homeless person without evidence – just the assumption that something occured. That is exactly what happened here only in a setting that has zero accounatability – the Human Rights Tribunal.

    $30,000 in defense costs to date could be much better spent on services to the homeless, litter pickup, shelter support but no… instead the DVBIA must spent thousands to defend itself against the modern day Don Quixote – Pivot Legal.

    To make it even worse, the press was all over this when Pivot made the charge – now, Frances seems to be the only one to pick up the story – and that is even without comment.

    Citizens should be outraged at this outrageous waste of taxpayers money and misuse of power.

  • Not Running for Mayor

    As someone that lives in Gastown, I’ve never seen any of the accusations take place, in fact all I’ve seen them do towards homeless people is give them little information maps booklets that list where the shelters and hot meals can be found. Before the ambassadors the Gastown BIA used to use Palladin guards to do the same thing and I never noticed any issues related then either although they did seem to spend more time hanging out and having coffee at the starbucks.
    While I understand Pivots reason for being even if I don’t agree with a large amount of their work, I can’t for the life of me understand the point of VANDU.

  • gmgw

    A couple of years ago I was walking to work at about 8 AM and came upon two of those red-shirted paramilitaries shouting threats of arrest at at a dazed guy who’d been sleeping in a doorway- a doorway in which homeless people had been bedding down for more than a year, almost every night (as it happens, the building houses a social services agency for new immigrants). Their tone and language was so abusive that I suggested that they cool it, and that politeness might achieve better results. At which point one of them turned and shouted: “If you don’t wanna go with him when the cops come, get outta here.” The other was speaking into a walkie-talkie. I don’t remember my response– I was in no mood for a confrontation and I think I simply walked away in disgust– but ever since I’ve had nothing but contempt for those sawed-off fascists in their stupid hats and ill-fitting uniforms. Poor training, pure ignorance and a even a tiny bit of power are a very bad combination.

    I’ve since witnessed several more incidents– not as extreme– of the so-called “Ambassadors” harassing homeless and street people downtown, usually for the “crime” of sitting on sidewalks and the like. Anyone who denies that they engage in such harassment is either lying or living a very sheltered life. The DVBIA’s fondest wish, I’m sure, woulb be for all the visible street and homeless people downtown to simply vanish. They must feel terribly frustrated, the upstanding folk at the DVBIA, constrained as they are by laws that prevent them from achieving that goal by any means neccessary.

  • Not Running for Mayor

    Interesting how you’ve seen this but filed no offical complaint, nor do you have a date, id of those involved. It sounds exactly like the evidence presented by Vandu.
    As you claim you’ve seen it on numerous occasions, how come you can not provide concrete details.
    I know if I saw something that was wrong I’d be taking notes/recording it on my phone/complaning. Guess things like that are just more important to me.

  • mezzanine

    NRFM has a good point.

    gmgw, did you go to pivot/vandu with these issues?

  • Any complaint would boil down to ‘who do you believe?’, with GMGW’s story vs the two ambassadors. Pretty easy to write that ending.

    Also, not everyone carries a camera-phone. My phone doesn’t have a camera. I guess that makes me a bad citizen?

  • Not Running for Mayor

    The problem isn’t that you don’t carry a camera phone, the problem appears that people claim this is a routine occurence, yet it being so common how has not a single instance been recorded.
    It seems like sasquatch sighting or ufo sightings.

  • mezzanine

    I’m no lawyer, but I would think that a group like pivot would find info like that useful.

    and from gmgw’s description, one would worry that behaviour like this is endemic among ambassadors – with time, there will be a body of complaints with a cell phone pic or 2 to document this.

  • I don’t know about you guys, but my impression is that the homeless are invisible to most ‘regular’ people in Vancouver. I like to think of myself as compassionate and I blow by them with nary a thought 9 times out of ten. Not sure anyone is going to ruin their day by stepping up to the plate when some homeless person gets hassled by red caps and further, I would imagine any red caps who might engage in bully-tactics have enough brains not to be egregious about it with lots of witnesses about.

  • IanS

    I guess one might worry about such behavior and it’s certainly possible that the “red caps” are engaged in bully tactics on the sly, but I don’t see how such speculation can form the basis of a principled “Complaint”. Without any such evidence, how can the complainant’s hope to substantiate their complaint?

  • mezzanine

    @ Chris Keam, have you seen aggressive behaviours from the ambassadors? I haven’t – all anecdotal, but I personally haven’t.

    Think tinsletown mall – There has been precident in vancouver where there has been complaints against private security leading to reprimand.

  • Sharon

    With the stakes being so high, you would have thought Pivot and VANDU would have found their evidence to support their ‘complaint’ but they have yet to do so. What does that tell you? Did they file a complaint to arouse fear? Or perhaps purly as a provocation? Is this a case of ‘fart and run?’ Why is there no standard of conduct being applied to Pivot and VANDU?

    We are quick to find fault and assume guilt with the Ambassadors but where is the accountability from those who loudly cry wolf?

  • @mezzanine

    I haven’t personally, but I don’t frequent the places they work very much. I believe GMGW’s account of his experience however.

  • Sharon

    well, that is very strange because Ambassadors do not have the power of arrest so why would they make such a stupid threat?

    If that event actually happened, a formal complaint should have been made, with badge number, date, time and location and guess what – if the story had any credibility whatsovever, that Ambassador would have been fired. What more do you want?

    Again, where is the accountability.

  • Sharon:

    You’re construing my statement that I believe GMGW’s account to be a blanket approval of the complaint. I haven’t voiced that opinion.

  • Sharon

    so my question to you would be – is it appropriate for the Human Rights Tribunal to hear complaints and verdicts to be brought down by the public before evidence is produced? If your answer is no – what should be done to stop it from happening in the future?

    And what should be done to deter bases complaints such as this from grabbing headlines, wasting resources and damaging reputations?

  • IanS

    Sharon, it’s unfortunate, but there’s not a lot to deter people or organizations from commencing frivolous proceedings, either for publicity or for other purposes.

    (In saying that, I’m not suggesting that this is what was done in this instance.)

    IIRC, the Humans Rights complaint process does have a procedure for winnowing out unfounded complaints, but I don’t know how effective it is. Further, even where a complaint is dismissed at an early stage, it can still cause embarrassment and damage.

    Similar processes exist in court proceedings, but, again, the damage is often done by the time the action is dismissed. The Court can order costs, but they usually don’t amount to a full indemnity.

  • gmgw

    God, you all sound so *shocked*. It’s almost comical. You mean it actually *surprises* you that such things go on, here in our fair city? Some of you need to venture downtown a bit more often…

    NRFM: I agree with you, in retrospect, that my response could be said to be lame.(I did write a letter about it to, I think, the Sun, and they printed it.) I was hurrying to work. I’d just been threatened with, potentially, arrest. How was I supposed to know how much clout those goons had with the police? Lastly, there was nothing especially unusual about the situation. You may not have noticed it through your rose-coloured glasses, but it’s common knowledge at street level in this city that the homeless and street people in general are routinely subject to harassment by the paramilitaries– the private security forces whose services the DVBIA and its assorted members retain to keep undesirables away from their premises. Take a downtown security guard out for a couple of drinks sometime and encourage him to tell you some stories about his job. As Chris Keam suggested, if this sort of thing can take place on a busy street (1300 block Seymour, if you want to know), god knows what these goons get away with when there’s no “citizens” around to take pictures, In the meantime, go ahead and call me a candy-ass liberal, if you want. In this case, I probably deserve it.

    Mezzanine: I was, at the time, unaware of the existence of Pivot and not aware of VANDU’s attempts to document such incidents. (This incident took place prior to the legal action launched by both groups in 2008.)

    Sharon: If you’ll go back and read my post more carefully, you’ll notice that the Ambassadors were not threatening to arrest me themselves; they were calling the cops on the sleeper and were offering to make it a 2-for-1 deal, so to speak.

    Lastly, to those of you who’ve called my credibility into question, openly or by implication: I don’t really give a rat’s ass if you believe me or not. I know what I saw, and furthermore, I’m not in the habit of fabricating stories for public consumption and presenting them as truth. If the anecdote I’ve related makes you uncomfortable, too damn bad. It happened in *your* city, and incidents like it continue to happen. Like the man said: “Where you stand depends on where you sit”. Sorry about that tack on your plush velvet chair, folks.

  • SV

    I don’t know about the ambassadors but I have seen both the Chinatown security guards and the Genesis guards hired by the Strathcona Business Association threaten people with arrest. I find that if you let them know you’re watching them and prepared to call the cops they back right down, though not without a little posturing.

  • Stephanie

    The Tribunal hears witnesses as well as considering documentary evidence. All one can reasonably conclude from Pivot’s indication that it will not rely on documentary evidence is that Pivot intends to rely on witness testimony to make its case.

    I think the BIAs are trying to make political hay out of what might be nothing much at all. The last time this subject came up on this blog, Sharon Townsend and Dave Jones responded to commenters’ accounts of DA misconduct as evidence of witch hunting and wingnuttery, so this isn’t particularly surprising.

  • Stephanie

    And actually, Frances, I have to say that I’m disappointed. I think you should have called Pivot. The wording of the press release is manipulative – it’s designed to get a reaction out of people who don’t understand how proceedings of the BCHRT are conducted.

  • Frances Bula


    I wouldn’t do this for a MSM story, but I do count on people on this blog to provide critical analysis — which you have done. I’ve also put up other people’s news releases up without comment or phone calls, e.g. Wendy Pedersen, and let this alert crowd dissect them.

    And, okay, here’s my other rationale. I worked 16-hour days yesterday and today where I was going flat out the whole time. So it was put it up as is or do nothing.

  • mezzanine

    ^ true, after reading the tinseltown precident and the DVBIA press release again, the press release seems to be making hay – a judgement was made against henderson with people’s testimony and a review of the security company’s policy.

    The judgement did say that there was a fair amount of ‘non-impartialness’ when interpreting security policy.

  • Stephanie

    Hey Frances: thanks for the response. Fair enough. I think my irritation is based in part on the fact that Sharon (who is presumably Sharon Townsend of the South Granville BIA) picked up that nonsense and ran with it. Her position (and Dave Jones’s) seems to be that any complaint about the conduct of the DAs that is not made directly to the BIA is without credibility. It’s bizarre. And given the way they’ve approached the topic on this blog, I can certainly see why someone who believed they had been mistreated by the DAs would prefer to have their credibility assessed by an impartial body like the Tribunal.

    While we’re on that topic: I would be grateful if Ms. Townsend would clarify whether her condemnation of the BC Human Rights Tribunal as a “setting that has zero accountability” is her personal opinion, or whether it’s the official position of the South Granville BIA.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    The “highest approval” rating noted by Gautier in the press release is no doubt based on the survey of BIA members that I understand had questions heavily loaded in favour of the Ambassadors. This “evidence” of overwhelming program success was, of course, presented to council when the City funding for the program was up for vote last winter.

    Gautier and Sharon now state with unshakeable certainly that all the claims are baseless, even though the hearing hasn’t even happened yet. Sharon then goes on to admonish everyone for rushing to judgment? I guess that’s to be expected, since she also called my eyewitness account “hearsay” the last time the Ambassadors were debated, and as Stephanie noted, claimed anyone who offered negative accounts was a witch hunter.

    Ignoring due process, ignorance of the rules of evidence, name-calling and bullying don’t exactly help the BIA’s case. After all, isn’t that the very essence of the complaint?

    To be fair, I will say that I haven’t personally witnessed any bad behavior by the Ambassadors over the last six months or so, and I do see them pretty much every day around Gastown. Hopefully, this is the result of the BIA making a better effort to train the Ambassadors and issue clear rules of conduct. It may, in fact, be a positive outcome of the Pivot/VANDU case (and resulting press) regardless of the hearing.

    And I also assume that the issuance of about 1100 tickets in 2008 and another 1200 so far this year in the DTES has made it much, much easier for the Ambassadors to persuade people to move along from storefronts. There’s no real need to verbally abuse and bully nowadays when, for a whole lot of poor folks, jail time is just a phone call away….

  • Sharon

    my opinions are my own – if I was speaking on behalf of the BIA, I would have used my full name and the name of the organization.

    That said, I can also say that 99% of the time our organization is more than satisfied with the balance that has been struck between our community security concerns, our social responsibility and the accountability to the law. The 1% tends to err on the side of caution.

  • Sharon

    by the way Stephanie, given your desire to attach my name to a surname and attribute my comments to my employer, perhaps it is only appropriate that you do the same!

    again, why is the accountability only one way?

  • IanS

    “The Tribunal hears witnesses as well as
    considering documentary evidence. All one can
    reasonably conclude from Pivot’s indication that it
    will not rely on documentary evidence is that
    Pivot intends to rely on witness testimony to make
    its case.”

    That’s correct, as the tribunal can hear testimony.

    Having said that, the lack of any written documentation, even complaints or witness statements, does seem somewhat inconsistent with a bona fide intention to advance a case.

  • Not a fan of pivot or vandu

    I think Pivot and Vandu should pour their resources into getting help for those addicted and/or mentally ill.
    Maintaining the status quo means another day of imprisonment for those who cannot care for themselves.
    Their actions are testament that they cannot care for themselves.
    Safety trumps personal rights in my opinion. You should not ahve the right to kill yourself-quickly by a gun or slowly by drugs or self neglect.

  • Sharon

    I would think the witnesses would have to offer dates, times, circumstances, locations, etc. rather than theoretical global statements. If so, then written evidence would be easy to accumulate and present.

    I tend to agree with Ian.

  • Stephanie

    Sharon: you posted several comments to the previous thread on this issue using your full name, which is why I made the connection. Your BIA contributes funding to the DA program. I, on the other hand, do not work for Pivot, and I interact with the DAs in no capacity other than as a private citizen.

    I think that instead of demanding to know my name and employer you might consider how to articulate your position more responsibly and represent your organization more professionally.

  • I think finding homeless people and then getting statements regarding the Ambassadors might present quite a challenge. I think getting non-homeless people to participate in an investigation of the issue is equally problematic. I would suggest that the inability to achieve either of those aims doesn’t necessarily mean a problem doesn’t exist. Is it likely that PIVOT or VANDU or any non-profit agency with limited resources is going to engage in ‘fishing expeditions’? That’s typically the tactic of organizations with deep pockets. Have their previous complaints on other issues been proven credible? I think both organizations have a pretty good track record of bringing forth legitimate (if unpopular) concerns. I think without considering those questions it’s presumptuous to jump to a conclusion w/r/t to the downtown ambassadors treatment of homeless people and the current complaint.

  • mezzanine

    i’m agreeing with GJG, that perhaps due to the BC human rights tribunal it does encourage a clear set of rules and promotes organizations such as the ambassadors to be transparent.

    If standards are strict and rules of conduct are clear and enforced, then the ambassadors would be on-side. If they aren’t….

  • Sharon

    Stephanie, my position in this conversation is as a private citizen who takes issue with how the Human Rights Tribunal gets used to further causes that would never survive in a standard court of law. Pivot is using an institution to further their unique agenda (good, bad or otherwise) with impunity.

    In this case it involves the DA. As a citizen and taxpayer, I have a problem with it regardless of who it involves. I also have a problem with selective media coverage. Guilty by accusation alone is not appropriate and the process should be challenged.

  • IanS


    “I think finding homeless people and then getting statements regarding the Ambassadors might present quite a challenge. I think getting
    non-homeless people to participate in an
    investigation of the issue is equally problematic.”

    I agree with you on both counts. But, if those organizations have brought a complaint before the Human Rights Tribunal, then they have to be in a position to substantiate it. How else is the tribunal to make a decision?

    “I would suggest that the inability to achieve
    either of those aims doesn’t necessarily mean a
    problem doesn’t exist.”

    I agree again. But it will make the Complaint and allegations impossible to substantiate before the tribunal.

    “Is it likely that PIVOT or VANDU or any
    non-profit agency with limited resources is
    going to engage in ‘fishing expeditions’?”

    If those organizations don’t have the resources to advance evidence in support of their complaint, then maybe they shouldn’t have made it in the first place.

  • Ian:

    “If those organizations don’t have the resources to advance evidence in support of their complaint, then maybe they shouldn’t have made it in the first place.”

    Couldn’t we say somewhat the same thing about the BC Rail investigation? Yet I doubt many of us would doubt it’s a good thing that we are looking into the matter.

  • Stephanie

    Witness testimony *is* evidence.

    Look, consider this scenario. A homeless guy sleeping in an alley is approached by a DA. The DA tells him to move, or he’s calling the cops. The homeless guy moves. Or this one: a person is asking for spare change on public property. A DA comes along and tells her to move off the block. After disagreement, the DA threatens to call the police. The woman moves on.

    Now: what documentary evidence would you expect them to produce in support of their complaints? They won’t have any.

    The only documentary evidence before the Tribunal will be the BIA’s. And if I were a betting woman I’d take wagers that they knew that perfectly well in advance of the deadline. This is cynical politicking. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • IanS


    “Couldn’t we say somewhat the same thing about
    the BC Rail investigation? Yet I doubt many of us
    would doubt it’s a good thing that we are looking
    into the matter.”

    Fair enough, but, unless I’m missing the boat entirely, the process before the tribunal is not an investigation, it’s a Complaint. I don’t have any recent experience with the human rights process, but typically the entity making the complaint must advance evidence at a hearing in order to establish the facts necessary to substantiate the allegations. It’s not a case of putting the matter out there and letting the tribunal investigate; they are obliged to prepare and advance evidence at a hearing.

    If they cannot do that, they shouldn’t be making the complaint in the first place.

    (While, I should add, is not to say that such entities should not raise their concerns, if such concerns exist, only that the complaint process might not be the appropriate way to do it.)

  • IanS


    “Witness testimony *is* evidence. ”

    Absolutely. I agree that, if there are no documented complaints or written witness statements, the evidence will based entirely on witness testimony.

    But the lack of written documentation isn’t irrelevant or, as you suggest, cynical politicking. At the very least, one would expect there to be some record or compilation of complaints or, at the very least, a list of people who have complained.

    How will the complainant be able to find or call witnesses without at least a list of people who have complained?

  • Stephanie

    Huh? The disclosure demand was for “documents which they have or intend to rely upon to support the Complaint.” That doesn’t refer to things like witness lists. As for “a record or compilation of complaints” – the complaint is being made *to the Tribunal*. The Tribunal will hear the evidence verbally. The record of the complaints will be the record of the Tribunal.

    It sounds like you’re suggesting that Pivot disclose their witness interview notes. That’s not how these things work.

    As for the cynical politicking – it’s absolutely cynical for the BIA to express outrage and dismay that Pivot didn’t produce documents that couldn’t reasonably be expected to exist in advance of a proceeding that both parties knew would rely largely on witness testimony. The BIA is playing silly buggers here.

  • IanS


    I’m not certain how a list identifying or describing complaints which have been received would not fall within the category of “documents which they have or intend to rely upon to support the Complaint.” At the very least, it would be a document which they have.

    As for a formal list of witnesses, it is not unusual for parties in legal proceedings, including administrative proceedings, to be required to exchange lists of witnesses in advance of the hearing. I’m not sure if that it the case in proceedings before the Human Rights tribunal.

    As for not disclosing witness interview notes, in the absence of a claim for privilege, I’m not certain why witness interview notes would not be producible. Obviously, it’s different if legal counsel is involved and the documents are privileged.

    As for the cynical politicking point, I do agree that disputes should not be “litigated” through press releases. However, my guess (and I stand to be corrected) is that the complaint itself was also marked by press releases and public pronouncements by the complainants.

  • Stephanie

    I’m not suggesting that it’s unusual to exchange witness lists. What I’m saying is that not having done so as part of this request for disclosure doesn’t appear to be in any way remarkable.

    I’m also not clear about your comment “if legal counsel is involved”. Laura Track of Pivot is counsel for the complainant(s). I’d also hazard a guess that the witnesses are members of the Class. But this is supposition – I’m not clear about the process in this kind of detail.

    One last thing that folks might want to consider: the DVBIA already asked the Tribunal to dismiss the complaint, and their application was denied. The Tribunal’s decision makes reference at paragraph 79 to “studies and statistics” that have already been provided by the complainant. So unless I’m totally out to lunch – because I’ve hit the limit of my understanding of this process – it appears that Pivot has already provided the Tribunal with the documents it intends to rely on, and intends to have witnesses provide the remainder.

    So I really don’t think that it’s fair to suggest that there isn’t an intention to proceed with a bona fide complaint.

    And as my many posts to this thread have probably already tested the limits of everyone’s patience, I’ll bow out here.

  • IanS


    It seems we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    If legal counsel take memos of evidence, those memos will be privileged. A witness statement taken by legal counsel will be privileged. However, if the statement is a simply a record of a complaint made by a witness kept by one of the organizations, it should be produced. It appears that no such documents, or even lists of complainants, exist.

    I’m not sure what you mean by a member of the Class. AFAIK, this is a human rights complaint, not a class action.

    In any event, I’m sure the process will continue and the parties will have their respective chances to advance evidence and argument.

  • Local resident

    As a local resident, I am glad that the DA are out there doing what they do on a daily basis.

    I would ideally prefer to see beat cops doing the job, but I don’t think the police union nor city budgets have an appetite for that.

  • Stephanie

    The reference to the Class is in the decision. It’s here:

  • IanS


    I read the decision. I hadn’t realized it was a representative proceeding, which explains the use of the “class” designation.

    On another point, if the allegations in para. 111 of the decision are accurate, I don’t think the Complainants have any real cause to object to the BIA issuing a press release. As I suspected, the issues in the complaint have a political aspect and all parties are trying to make political points.