Some Vancouver social activists have recently expressed concerns that homeless people may be targeted by police as the 2010 Olympic Games draw nearer. These fears are rooted in recent experiences in Salt Lake City and Atlanta, where homeless people were arrested or shipped out of town by the authorities as the Olympic Games got under way.

I was invited to comment on this issue from a civil liberties perspective. Since my remarks may have been misinterpreted by some, including a newly appointed member of Canada’s Senate, I want to repeat my views here.

I am concerned that the Vancouver Police Department’s “breaching” policy may be abused. “Breaching” is police slang for taking people into custody for breach of the peace pursuant to s. 31 of the Criminal Code, then releasing them later in another part of the city. When six Vancouver police constables took three people from Granville Mall to Stanley Park and assaulted them in the middle of the night, they relied on the VPD’s “breaching” policy to attempt to justify their actions.

As long as the VPD condones the practice of “breaching”, there is a risk that police officers may feel that they have the authority to toss people into paddy wagons and drive them across town, whether or not any offence has been committed. We must all be vigilant to endure that the civil liberties of Vancouver residents, including the disadvantaged among us, are not infringed in this fashion, now or in the future.