Canadian advocacy group seeks ban on private security guards

A Downtown Eastside advocacy group wants the city to cut funding for private security guards and ban them from patrolling public space.

Lawyers with the Pivot Legal Society say a new report shows private security guards are much more likely to interrogate or harass homeless people than those with shelter.

"They really have become the homeless police, pushing people along," said Pivot's Darcie Bennett.

Groups like Pivot have become increasingly vocal about a surge in private policing. It reached a boiling point last year when the City of Vancouver voted to kick in $872,000 of taxpayer money to expand the Downtown Ambassadors program, which had previously been funded by the Downtown Vancouver BIA.

"Private security doesn't reduce the problems they are dealing with. It simply moves them around," said Pivot lawyer Laura Track.

Left-of-centre Vision Vancouver swept into city hall in November's election with promises that included cutting off the Downtown Ambassadors funding. Coun. George Chow said his party won't renew funding for the program.

"There should not be public money for private security," Chow said.

But security consultant Dave Jones, who advises the DVBIA, says the Ambassadors program, which is run by Genesis Security, hasn't been accurately portrayed.

"The Ambassadors don't target individuals. They respond to behaviour," Jones said. "If a person is behaving in a manner that's illegal or inappropriate, any citizen can approach them and ask them to be more cooperative in a public space."