Police investigation shows integrity, says advocate for the homeless

Ward Draper is pleased with the launch of a police investigation following allegations of officers slashing tents of the homeless

Jesse Wegenast and Ward Draper of 5 and 2 Ministries brought forward allegations of police slashing the tents of homeless people that led to the launch of an investigation.

Jesse Wegenast and Ward Draper of 5 and 2 Ministries brought forward allegations of police slashing the tents of homeless people that led to the launch of an investigation.

The Abbotsford Police Department (APD) showed “courage” and “integrity” by launching an investigation into allegations that its officers damaged the tents of homeless people and used pepper spray in areas where tents were placed, according to a local advocate for the homeless.

Ward Draper, executive director of the 5 and 2 Ministries – a group that supports and provides services to Abbotsford’s homeless – said he was surprised, but very impressed by the APD’s decision to launch an investigation.

The investigation stems from complaints made by homeless people that were relayed by representatives from 5 and 2 Ministries at a meeting of the Abbotsford Social Development Advisory Committee (ASDAC).

Draper said allegations of police using pepper spray and slashing the tents of the homeless have been made for years, and he always takes such allegations “with a grain of salt.” However, the week before the city dumped manure on Gladys Avenue, Draper said two tents were slashed and three were pepper sprayed, with some alleging that police were present.

Draper said in the past 60 to 90 days, he had heard that about a dozen tents had been destroyed. He said because camps are occasionally destroyed and even pepper sprayed by citizens, he generally hesitates to make allegations against police.

“There was enough evidence, enough reliable sources, that we felt it was safe enough to really make an official statement.”

Draper said that he didn’t anticipate sparking a police investigation, but thinks it’s a positive step. Draper said he has a level of trepidation, because he wants to maintain the very positive relationship between the 5 and 2 Ministries and the APD.

“(We) don’t want to burn bridges with the APD, but at the same time we’ve got to make sure we find ways to get everyone on the same page in this community, and we’re trying to do this the best we can.”

The APD’s professional standards branch is conducting an investigation into the matter, with oversight by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.

Const. Ian MacDonald said that APD respects the work done by the 5 and 2 Ministries.

“We weren’t going to let that just sit there as an allegation without it being (looked into).”

MacDonald said if the allegations prove true, they could be considered an abuse of authority, and the officers involved could face disciplinary measures.

Draper was informed that the investigation would take place by representatives of APD, and said he is impressed by how seriously they are taking the issue.

“To me, they’ve taken a braver (step) – a move with more integrity – than our city government has done in addressing their faults with the chicken manure.”

He said APD’s decision to hold themselves accountable is an act of integrity.

“To do this publicly, for a group that is so marginalized… it speaks volumes about the APD and their leadership.”

Draper added that he pleased with the sudden and mostly positive response to issues of homelessness in Abbotsford by the community, and hopes that it can spark changes in Abbotsford and other communities.

APD launched the investigation even though no one has come forward to report the alleged incidents. Though he said it is unusual for police to conduct an investigation with no complainant, APD were concerned enough they felt it necessary.

Police hope that anyone with information calls the APD at 604-859-5225 or texts abbypd (222973), or those without access to a phone can come to the police department in person and ask someone to assist them.