VPD says guns have ‘infiltrated’ DTES tent city, four arrested

Vancouver police say they are “increasingly concerned” about public safety in and around the encampment on East Hastings Street on the Downtown Eastside.

This comes amid heightened scrutiny around the force in recent weeks, and follows an in-custody death Monday.

The VPD says the discovery of guns was made when officers when to the area Sunday morning after receiving reports about firearms and drugs inside a tent near Carrall Street. According to police, two guns — including a loaded shotgun — were found inside that tent. Four people were arrested.

“Investigators believe the weapons were being used for protection and to intimidate other people in the encampment,” police said in a statement titled “VPD makes arrests as guns infiltrate tent city.”

That statement was issued minutes after another sent by the force, advising that a man in the neighbourhood had died in police custody. That incident happened Monday morning. Police said the man was seen “acting erratically” near East Hastings and Dunlevy Avenue.

“Following an interaction with police, the man was taken into custody. He then went into medical distress and lost consciousness,” the force stated.

Read more: Man dies after ‘interaction’ with Vancouver police

Few other details have been shared about the in-custody death. The Independent Investigations Office has been called in.

Various reports from witnesses in the area had earlier suggested shots had been fired, though that was never confirmed.

The Vancouver Police Department has received its share of criticism for its presence on the Downtown Eastside during the city’s move to decamp the area, on the orders of the city’s fire chief.

Various women’s groups spoke out against the VPD on Aug. 16, a week after police were present while tents were being dismantled.

In a statement the groups said, in part, that police “violently dismantled the encampment along East Hastings” and that the groups “condemn the absence of any consideration for women’s safety despite our organizations’ perpetual warnings about the escalation of gender-based violence in ‘tent cities.’”

On Wednesday night, the VPD responded on Twitter, saying, “Your suggestion that a police operation violently dismantled the Hastings Street encampment is intentionally misleading and only stokes division at a time when we should be working together to solve complex community problems.”

Two weeks ago, a woman was charged with assault with a weapon after a confrontation between police and Downtown Eastside residents in the area of East Hastings and Main streets. Police allege the woman struck the officer in the head with an object.

That incident occurred after City of Vancouver workers had wrapped up their work for the day in decamping East Hastings Street.

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Advocates for people living along East Hastings have blasted the City of Vancouver and its police and fire departments for their actions in decamping the area. They say people are being evicted with no place to go, and are highly critical of what they say is a lack of support from BC Housing.

Last week, Vancouver police said they were investigating violent and threatening flyers that had been shared in the neighbourhood, targeting unhoused people.

An unknown person or people began distributing the threatening flyers along East Hastings Street over the weekend, claiming tents and belongings on sidewalks will be burned with gasoline and propane canisters if not moved. Insite, North America’s first supervised consumption site, was directly mentioned in the flyer and threatened with arson.

Police have said they are working to identify who is responsible for the flyers and urged people living along the corridor to be “vigilant.”

With files from Hana Mae Nassar, Kier Junos, Charlie Carey, and John Ackermann

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