Downtown Ambassadors: Subsidizing the Thug Class

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Well, it took a great deal of digging in the hopelessly inadequate free daily “newspapers” today, but it was eventually possible to get the full story on the city of Vancouver spending almost 3/4 of a million dollars to match the funding for the downtown’s Business Improvement Association’s private thug force.

The privatization-happy neoliberal Non-Partisan Association [sic]-dominated Vancouver city council finds it easier to use our money to fund a private security force than to just privatize the police. Vision City Councillor Tim Stevenson said public money should go to a public police force; the flip side is that public money should not be subsidizing a private security force accountable to the Business Improvement Association. Let them pay for their thugs to criminalize the poor.

But that makes us wonder if even that is such a good idea. In the article above, Irwin Loy “examines” the other side of the story by including Stevenson’s comment and another idea that the money should be spent helping the needy.

The real other side of the story, though, is that the Downtown Ambassadors are the thug class that Naomi Wolf is writing about in The End of America: a group of private enforcers for the business class to do more than just help tourists find the nearest Starbucks and ask the homeless to not spit in front of Roots on Robson Street.

The Downtown Ambassadors used to look like innocuous doormen from an almost swanky hotel in 1976, with garish red costumes and big hats. Today, as the picture above shows, they look like the rent-a-cops that they are, complete with red stripes down their pants. Their mandate includes tasks like “report crime and ‘quality of life’ concerns to appropriate agencies and assist in mitigating these from taking root.” Quality of life concerns have in the past been moving the homeless out of public lanes and alleys because that is too close to a business. Assisting in mitigating these from taking root is far more than reporting them to the real police. The Downtown Ambassadors have been roundly hated by the poor and their advocates for some time now.

And lackey Dave Jones explains that the real police are so professionally trained that they shouldn’t be bothered with asking those homeless to stop spitting. The flip side of that is that the Downtown Ambassadors are not so very professionally trained. And they are far from sufficiently trained to deal with the levels of mental illness among our street people. And why should they be…they aren’t being tasked with fixing that problem, just with sending them back to the Main and Hastings ghetto and off Robson and Granville.

But the rest of the story is to be found in the city’s other terrible free “newspaper” where David Eby from the Pivot Legal Society is announcing the plan to give blankets to the homeless. On those blankets are listed their rights as citizens of the country, though as the poor, their rights are being squashed by neoliberals like Lorne Mayencourt, Geoff Plant and Sam Sullivan in their plans to sanitize and criminalize the poor.

If you look carefully in the photograph you can actually read one of the rights of the homeless in our society. In distinguishing between private and public property, security guards are allowed to move people from private space, but they have no power to move people from sidewalks and alleys.

And that is the point of the whole mess. Pivot actually cares about the rights of the rapidly disenfranchised poor. The Downtown Ambassador thug class is all about tracking them to better shunt them out of the business realms.

But you had to actually read both rag “newspapers” to get the whole picture. Oh, the humanity.

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Stephen Elliott-Buckley

Post-partisan eco-socialist. at Politics, Re-Spun
Stephen Elliott-Buckley is a husband, father, professor, speaker, consultant, former suburban Vancouver high school English and Social Studies teacher who changed careers because the BC Liberal Party has been working hard to ruin public education. He has various English and Political Science degrees and has been writing political, social and economic editorials since November 2002. Stephen is in Twitter, Miro and iTunes, and the email thing, and at his website,

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4 thoughts on “Downtown Ambassadors: Subsidizing the Thug Class”

  1. It’s one thing when you read media and the ‘spin’ is about that which is factual and seen through the ‘lens’ of another person. It’s another when the ‘spin’ is a set of falsehoods that are borne of lazy journalism, and an oozing need to lay blame for the pressing humanitarian issues we face anywhere that’s easy.

    The ‘reporter’ even admits to relying heavily upon the two free Vancouver daily newspapers for info, then actually slams them for being garbage media. (Which they are, no doubt.) This only serves to enforce my point about lazy journalism and the truth on ‘spins’.

    Vancouver, among many other places, needs to get real about helping people help themselves. All the advocates for marginalized populations need to shut up and actually be impartial to the reality in front of them, with regards to Ambassadors. If they are such an issue, then wasting time bashing the appearance of their uniforms is the political equivalent of schoolyard (elementary)teasing and rants.

    Swallow that absurd false pride and be willing to actually get out there as a JOURNALIST, to see the truth about what is working and what isn’t working with the Ambassador program. Because the truth is somewhere between that there are some great aspects of the program, and some not so great. You will be effective creating change only if you can aim to build bridges, not burn them.

    As well, as far as the Pivot ‘Legal Society’s’ human rights complaint, again, how is this helping anyone who needs help? Why are those LAWYERS even contemplating (let alone doing it) turning their wrath upon Ambassadors, who get paid about 11 bucks an hour, and ultimately ‘seeking’ systemic change to ease unfair burdens on the homeless? Do you have to be a friggin brain surgeon to see the ‘spin’ on that one? The bottom line one is left with is a feeling that the true motivating factor behind the complaint is related more to political election pathways than anything else. Which, if true, would be a real shame, but not much different from the level of ‘mainstream political integrity’ (what a joke in itself) that has landed us with such a large range of humanitarian issues to handle in the first place.

  2. Well, facts are spinnable because of how they are or aren’t presented.

    I have never believed I’m a journalist. I have no aspirations to journalism. I’m an editorialist. And I sign my posts with my name, not anonymous.

    I rely on the content of the free dailies to the extent that I have to read them to find out what they are presenting, good or bad. That’s often the focus of my analysis.

    Advocates shutting up seems counter-productive.

    My criticisms of their costumes is about how they were presented as being benign and now have a far more riot cop motif. That issues is their change of appearance and what it signifies.

    I would welcome you to submit what what is great about the ambassadors. I don’t deny that Nashville tourists unable to find their way back to Canada Place may have need for them.

    I have no intention of building bridges with a private, publicly-subsidized security force that violates human rights. If the city wished to fund such a group of people to help citizens and visitors and actually be accountable to public officials, I’d welcome it. That would not be the ambassadors, though.

    I think you have a right to think that their complaint and all the work from dozens of people who have ever worked with Pivot is designed to get David Eby elected to council–or whatever election pathway–you are referring to. While imaginable, I think that’s an unlikely interpretation.

    I’m glad we agree on the lack of mainstream political integrity. Oddly, Eby getting elected should help improve that.

  3. The thing I have the greatest problem with is this, when people have a standpoint, they tend to want so badly to prove themselves right in every possible way that they will mix facts with lies and manipulate any and all situations in order to win their argument. I’ve worked several types of jobs, one of them being security and I know first hand that certain reporters and crusaders will outright lie in order to win for their cause.
    I did some research on these Ambassadors and even talked to a few people about them and I found out a few things. First of all, they don’t harass anyone, they remove trespassers from sleeping in or on the property of the sites and businesses that they are contracted and requested to. If a property or place of business is not on their list of patrols, then they do not remove the individual. I can feel empathy for homeless people, however, it is the RIGHT of the business to have their premises clear of people sleeping in front of it. That may sound harsh, but reality wise, if you woke up in the morning and found someone sleeping on the side of your house in your yard, would you not be concerned? If you owned a business as I now do, would you not be upset to see someone sleeping there with their crack pipes and other things left all over? Not all people are like that and not all homeless people do drugs and by no means am I saying that there shouldn’t be sympathy and empathy towards these poor souls who have to brave the harsh conditions of the weather, but the reality is this, the business has a right to contract security personale for the purpose of loss prevention, and for the safety of themselves. My business isn’t in Vancouver anymore and for good reason. When I tried to wake up sleeping people in front of my doorway by myself, I ended up being told to fuck off, had cold coffee thrown at me and couldn’t even get inside to the point of where I had to call the police because these people somehow thought that they had a right to sleep in MY doorway and that somehow they weren’t trespassing on private property. I can also see from the very belligerent bashing and trashing of these Ambassadors that the so called journalist, if you can even call it that, is clearly basing using a great deal of basis in order to make up for the lack of evidence and facts. It seems to me that not much has changed since I did security some 30 years ago and I think it’s time that certain HUMAN rights indeed be recognized. Like the right to protect one’s business and the right to secure a premises through lawful manners and proper conducts, i.e Security patrol and removal of trespassers. Some people may have the ethical thinking that it’s okay for people to sleep at a business if the business is closed and that it’s somehow cruel to remove them, and in some instances I might agree, however I don’t to step over junkie and bums, nor do I want to face the danger of having to wake up an unpredictable person who may be on drugs, going through withdrawals, or have a mental health issue, each and every day. And I think that it’s time that better resources become available to these people, but under no circumstances should it become allowable for the homeless to sleep on the door steps of a property that is not theirs. Not everyone out there is a victim, and for myself, I work damn hard to earn a living and it would be nice to see business thrive through hard work ethics and not have to approach dangerous or unpredictable situations by themselves. Security is a required unit. Sorry to say it, but the bums need to move along….

  4. Well, if you think there are lies in the facts I’ve presented, please correct them. If you just suspect they are lies, then your suspicions are invalid without proof.

    Talking to a few people cannot prove that none of the Ambassadors ever harass anyone. Google them and see what kind of information there is out there on their abuses. If you can prove them all incorrect, I would be glad to hear it.

    The security of private property in Canada is a contentious issue. One of the features of the debate is what is the legitimate means of securing it. If the Ambassadors had been solid, upstanding security personnel, I doubt they’d be in this mess.

    I’m glad you aren’t arguing that all homeless have crackpipes and are similarly “disposable” people. And even if they had substance addiction problems, they are not beyond compassion.

    Security forces that lack transparent accountability are a dangerous thug class, regardless of how legitimate their servicing contract is with private individuals and corporations.

    Well, your experience with your local homeless sure has introduced you to the simmering class war in our society. They likely saw you as a member of the capitalist class, which as a business owner you are. The political parties that your class has established are prime culprits in why those folks have no home. This is also an indication of why even the anti-social NPA were even campaigning in this last election on solving the homeless problem that their party and their neoliberal political masters exacerbate.

    Honestly, I don’t think they care whose property they were sleeping in or about the trespassing laws established by the capitalist class that is quite belligerent towards any kind of squatting rights. I wouldn’t take it personally that they slept in YOUR doorway. You may be as anonymous to them as each of them is to the many who find it easy to consider them disposable.

    Well, I’ll say again that I’m not a journalist and have no plans to be such. The anonymous commenter referred, inaccurately, to me as a journalist. I write commentary on the media, the facts and opinions they do and don’t present.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “basing using a great deal of basis in order to make up for the lack of evidence and facts.” But if you can demonstrate to me that all the facts I’ve referred to in my piece are incorrect, I’d welcome the correction.

    I’m curious in which cases you’d agree that it’s ok for the homeless to sleep at a closed business. Ok, never mind. A few sentences later you say there are no circumstances in which that is ok.

    Junkies and bums are really unfortunate, dismissive choices of words. They reflect thinking that considers people disposable.

    “It’s time that better resources become available to these people”? True! Then maybe the $750,000 that the NPA council spent to buy more black uniforms for the Ambassadors should have been spent fixing the causes of homelessness instead of addressing the consequences in helping clear them from businesses who can afford to contract security services?

    I’m sure you do work hard. So do many of the homeless folks who get up in the morning and leave their alleys or shelters, go to work, then come “home” to whatever they do or do not live in. Many homeless have jobs. Lots of people don’t know that. Maybe you did. I don’t know.

    Yikes, then you end with bums again. Too bad.

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