Police emails examined by homeless advocate

Ward Draper says that comments made in emails by police are "callous"

A local homeless advocate said that emails sent by police officers show a callous attitude towards the homeless.

A local homeless advocate said that emails sent by police officers show a callous attitude towards the homeless.

Emails among senior Abbotsford Police officers show a disappointing attitude towards the city’s homeless, according to a local advocate.

But the Abbotsford Police Department says the comments in emails are not directed towards the homeless, or the issue of homelessness.

The emails were released following a Freedom of Information request by Pivot Legal Society, a not-for-profit organization based in Vancouver.

Pivot lawyers are currently representing homeless individuals from Abbotsford in lawsuits that allege police illegally destroyed their personal property.

Pivot will also represent a group on behalf of Abbotsford’s homeless, led by the 5 and 2 Ministries, in a human rights complaint against the city and police regarding alleged harassment and discrimination.

A July 5 email from Const. Ian MacDonald, communications officer for the Abbotsford Police Department, to police chief Bob Rich and deputy chiefs Rick Lucy and Len Goerke, states that a French CBC reporter told MacDonald a lawyer was expected to announce a class-action lawsuit against the City of Abbotsford, for an incident that occurred a month earlier in which city staff dumped manure on a known homeless camp.

Rich responded to the email stating: “Oh please let it be so! I would need a copy of that writ. Damages would be what, hurt feelings, or?”

MacDonald responded to the email stating: “Attention over substance for sure. Lawyer looking to boost his/her profile. Very John Grisham novel – say The Litigators.”

Ward Draper, executive director of 5 and 2 Ministries, a local organization that supports and provides services to Abbotsford’s homeless, said he is “disappointed” by the comments made in the emails by police, adding that Abbotsford’s leadership has a “constant disregard for the marginalized and vulnerable in our community.”

But MacDonald said that to read the emails as insensitive against the homeless or Pivot Legal Society is a misreading.

He said the emails regarding the class-action lawsuit are from July 5, about two weeks before Pivot announced on July 24 in a press release its plans to file lawsuits.

MacDonald said the emails pertain to a previous report that a for-profit lawyer was planning to file a class-action suit and seek damages, which MacDonald said is very different from Pivot’s intent.

“{Pivot is} driven more from a human-rights standpoint, as opposed to a lawyer who says that they are going to be seeking damages on behalf of these people.”

But Draper is concerned by other related emails from police. The July 5 emails continue, with an email from Rich stating: “Let us know if you think of something funny! (Please.)”

Among other emails, Goerke wrote: “I will freely range hunting and pecking for something you can cluck about.”

MacDonald added that to say the emails are insensitive to the homeless is also out of context. MacDonald said the emails were sent a month after the manure was dumped, and though the officers make puns regarding chicken manure, the jokes are directed at the lawsuit.

“The emails, in context, occurred over a month after the manure dump and are not directed at homeless people… They were directed at a lawsuit, not the Pivot claim.”

But Draper said that to see Rich, the chief of police, making a comment about the potential damages of the lawsuit being “hurt feelings” is insensitive to the homeless.

“He’s talking about a population that has not ceased to be tormented by our civic government… and this is what he has to say?”

Police were cleared of any wrongdoing in the chicken manure incident after internal city documents revealed multiple departments were involved in the decision to dump the manure, but police played no role in the decision.

MacDonald said in hindsight, police should not have made puns, but hopes that people put the comments in context.

Draper said he was pleased to see police were not involved in the manure dump and he understands the need for humour in the workplace, but the comments are “callous.”

Draper said Rich has made comments in the past about the need to disperse the homeless in Abbotsford, and the emails add “to the disheartening attitude of our leadership and the total disregard for the vulnerable in Abbotsford.”