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Elected officials, expert slam Vancouver police report as a 'sensational,' 'useless,' 'mess'

Just hours after Vancouver police struggled to defend a controversial study they commissioned at taxpayer expense, high-profile critics and experts dismissed the eye-popping figures and conclusions as sloppy with little value to policymakers or the public.

The Vancouver Police Department paid $149,000 to Alberta-based HelpSeeker Technologies to conduct a report into the city’s “social safety net.” It concluded the city sees approximately $5 billion per year in government and charitable support.

On its Twitter account, the force layered slick graphics with the jaw-dropping numbers on top of gritty black and white images from the Downtown Eastside – focusing on that neighbourhood even though $2 billion of the money is distributed by senior governments to people all over Vancouver in the form of Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, child tax credits and other direct payments.

The balance is made up of government funding and charities providing everything from immigrant settlement services to shopping assistance for seniors to drug rehab facilities.

HelpSeeker co-founder Alina Turner explained the company used publicly available information and Canada Revenue Agency data to compile the statistic, complaining repeatedly about gaps in information that meant they “missed a whole bunch of stuff.” Her report acknowledges “it is not known how large the social safety net truly is at this time because of data availability limitations.”

By early afternoon, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth had sent a scathing statement to journalists, insisting that no one had asked the province for any information and denouncing the report as “spreading sensationalized and misleading numbers.”

Vancouver’s mayor, who’s only been on the job a few days and campaigned heavily on his support for increased policing resources dismissed the document.

“I don't think it's very useful,” said Ken Sim during his first news conference at city hall. “I think one of the good things of any report that promotes transparency, accountability and collaboration is something that we would look at but besides that it didn't really help us too much.”


Politicians, anti-poverty advocates, and others slammed the report as biased and misleading on social media, so CTV News went to an expert for analysis of the report and the methodologies used.

“Honestly, it's pretty much useless; it's a series of summary statistics,” said Rob Gillezeau, assistant professor of economic analysis and policy at the University of Toronto, after reviewing the document.

“Typically, when you run an audit, you want to find out if something is working, and this is about adding as many numbers as possible and having a big round number and saying, 'Look how much money is going into these things' and, 'Gosh, is there a problem.'” 

Gillezeau, who has conducted complex economic studies outside of academia and spent years teaching at the University of Victoria, is very familiar with the Downtown Eastside and its complex, long-running challenges. He pointed out while it’s important to address issues in that part of Vancouver, conflating supports for all Vancouverites does nothing to solve the problems there. Further, he says genuine analysis would take years.

“Everything about this report is a mess,” he added. “This is a political document – it doesn’t have the empirical rigour we'd expect out of a study and it's entirely out of the scope of what a police department should be using its resources on.”


The VPD invited journalists to a technical briefing Wednesday morning with Turner and a staff sergeant, who were peppered with questions about the methodology behind the report and the many gaps in information and assumptions made; private charities, for example, are excluded entirely.

For example, the report found 13 per cent of the “social safety net” dollars were spent in the Downtown Eastside, but buried deep in the document is a fairly significant caveat.

“Caution should be taken when interpreting a neighbourhood-based financial analysis. For instance, the service catchment areas of the organizations and programs in the DTES are unknown; many agencies provide services for residents living in other neighbourhoods and other communities.” 

VPD Staff Sgt. Eugene Lum insisted that police “realize there are limitations," but said "the HelpSeeker SIA is a starting point for conversations,” a talking point repeated several times by Turner and the police chief.

CTV News asked him how he could establish a foundation for discussion when the numbers were wildly over- or under-counted.

“I think it's a really good foundation. We've been talking about these issues for many years,” replied Chief Const. Adam Palmer, who insisted he is apolitical and insinuated he was speaking truth to power.

“Despite more talk than ever and more money than ever in the system, it is now bleaker than ever for a growing number of people in places like the Downtown Eastside.”

But the report does not assess quality of life, housing availability, root cauess of poverty, or any other core issues in that area. It is predominantly a city-wide analysis with a broad range of information, including that Vancouver has the greatest police expenditures per capita among major Canadian cities.

The report also noted that in other respects, Vancouver is not an outlier at all.

“The distribution of different service categories in Vancouver is similar to the provincial and national averages in most categories,” it reads. Top Stories

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