Pubdate: Wed, 22 Sep 2004
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2004 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Terri Theodore, and Krisendra Bisetty


Demonstrators Say It's Degrading For City's Poorest Area To Be Used As 
Backdrop For Politicians

VANCOUVER -- Gov.-Gen. Adrienne Clarkson toured Vancouver's gritty Downtown 
Eastside Tuesday amid howls of disapproval from protesters who accused her 
and local politicians of using the neighbourhood and its residents for 
political purposes.

A couple of dozen demonstrators screamed their displeasure, but most of 
their anger was aimed at Clarkson's escorts, Mayor Larry Campbell and Coun. 
Jim Green.

"The Downtown Eastside shouldn't be used as a backdrop for politicians," 
said anti-poverty activist Bill Cunningham. "It's degrading to see people 
come down here and walk all over us. The governor's visit is nothing but a 
symbolic gesture."

Clarkson and her husband, John Ralston Saul, pointed out they've visited 
the area several times.

"It's a very important thing to keep coming back to the Downtown Eastside, 
to see how it's evolving," Saul said.

Protesters offered to guide Clarkson through the neighbourhood, claiming 
she was getting a sanitized tour.

"We know the difference between this and Da Vinci's Inquest," Clarkson 
said, laughing.

She was referring to the Canadian television series about a crusading 
coroner loosely based on Campbell, Vancouver's onetime coroner, who probes 
deaths on the Downtown Eastside.

Protesters claimed the city under Campbell has cracked down on low-rent 
hotels and increased the number of police officers on area streets, which 
they claim has only aggravated the drug trade.

Campbell brushed off the complaints.

"I'll tell you about the protesters," he said. "If a lie will suit their 
purposes, they will do it."

Campbell said it's his job to greet the governor-general when she visits 
the city.

"I do whatever I want and if they don't like it they can vote me out," said 
Campbell, who faces re-election next fall.

Protesters claim police swept through the area overnight "sanitizing" it of 

Campbell agrees there was a cleanup.

"Was it hosed down? Sure it was. When I was brought up, when people came to 
visit my house, I had to clean the house."

An aboriginal drum thundered in support of the protesters. About a dozen 
police officers, including RCMP, looked on.

Clarkson visited a recycling depot and an area art gallery -- stops the 
protesters say gave no glimpse of the appalling conditions many residents 
face in one of Canada's poorest neighbourhoods.

The governor-general also visited Canada's only safe injection site for 
drug users, but before it was open to clients.

Clarkson defended her visit.

"I've been coming down to these kinds of areas in every part of Canada in 
Halifax, in Yarmouth, in St. John for five years," she said. "This is what 
we do and this is what the governor-general should be doing."

The Vancouver stop was the last of a year-long tour of Canadian cities 
aimed at finding out "what makes urban centres desirable as places to 
live," Clarkson said on her website.

Defending the choice of sites visited, Green said they were selected to 
show Clarkson the "successes" in the Downtown Eastside, not the problems. 
"This is not just a negative place, there are very positive people working 
very hard there.

"Both [Clarkson] and John Ralston Saul have visited the neighbourhood 
before. I hosted John three years ago and he spent two days there . . . The 
governor-general is very aware of the issues," Green said.

While it is probably not Clarkson's job to influence policy, it is 
important she is supportive of initiatives to develop the area, he said. 
The United We Can Bottle Depot she visited provides full refunds for 
bottles and helps low-income people and those on welfare, he said.

The East Hastings Street depot, according to its website, has recycled 
almost 25 million containers, paid out over $1.75 million in refunds to 
mostly poor customers and provided jobs to inner city residents who were 
previously receiving welfare.

The entourage was also shown the Woodward's department store building, 
where there are plans to build 100 units of social housing in what Green 
referred to as a "catalyst for the redevelopment" of the area.

Green said the protesters were mostly members of the Anti-Poverty Committee 
and were "not representative of the neighbourhood."

Mayors, politicians and housing experts from all over the world have toured 
the Downtown Eastside, especially the housing developments, he said. 
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart