“Red zones” are violating people’s rights and aren’t working new study shows.
Vancouver, BC – In a new report released today, researchers from the University of Ottawa, Simon Fraser University and the University of Montreal, found that ‘red zones’ are widely used against drug users, sex workers and the homeless in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, impacting their access to vital resources including access to food, shelter and harm-reduction services amid B.C.’s overdose crisis. “Our study reveals that conditions of release are too frequently used in Vancouver in ways that are counterproductive, punitive, and frankly unlawful, threatening fundamental constitutional rights,” noted lead researcher, Marie Eve Sylvestre.
A ‘red zone’ or a ‘no-go’ order are conditions of release imposed by the police or the court in a bail or probation order that prevent an individual from entering or being found within a specific perimeter or place. Red zones can range from “not being within the 300 block of East Hastings Street” to the whole DTES area. While the law requires that individuals be released on bail unconditionally, 97% of all bail orders issued between 2005 and 2012 contained some kind of conditions.
The research team, comprising of Marie-Eve Sylvestre, Nicholas Blomley, Will Damon and Céline Bellot, found that:
Red zones heavily affect drug offenders in the DTES
Data from the report shows that 53% of all bail orders issued in drug offences included a red zone. Further, 92% of all the red zones related to drug offences were concentrated in the DTES. One woman interviewed in the project described being red zoned from ‘all of Hastings St’ in the Downtown Eastside while on bail for possession of drugs for the purposes of trafficking, noting that for her, “it didn’t make sense, … my bank was there, my home was there, my probation was there, my doctor was there. Come on guys! All of Hastings Street? Hello! My whole life is there!”
Red zones set up marginalized people to fail, while putting additional pressure on the criminal justice system
Court data analyzed in the report showed that between 12%-37% of the court orders were breached, and that those breaches in turn generated on average 1.5 to 2 additional breaches, creating a ‘revolving door’ effect. For instance, a woman reported that she “used to get arrested and put in jail for 3 to 4 days at a time, every couple of weeks, because of [red zones] and charges.”
“So my criminal record is 3 months. Nothing is for anything criminal, it is always for breaching, possession, breaching, breaching, breaching. They would kick in your door and get you for breach, so you would have a possession and a breach.”
In 2014, 40% of all criminal court cases in B.C. included an offence against the administration of justice, with failure to comply with a bail order and breach of probation being the top ranked offences.
Red zones violate important constitutional rights
The authors of the report also found that red zones and other bail and sentencing conditions are likely to lead to multiple violations of rights, from the right to presumption of innocence and the right to reasonable bail to the right to life, security and integrity of the person. Yet, these conditions are rarely challenged and with limited success.
The project was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and conducted between 2012 and 2014 in Vancouver. Researchers obtained access to court record information for all adult criminal court cases granted bail or sentenced to probation or a conditional sentence between 2005 and 2012 in the Vancouver Provincial Court, Drug Court, and Downtown Community Court. They also interviewed 36 individuals subject to court orders as well as six legal actors involved in the criminal justice system in 2013-2014.
For more information, contact
Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Professor, Geography, Simon Fraser University