Professor Marie-Eve Sylvestre is the lead researcher on a new report on “red zones”, court-imposed restrictions used against drug users, sex workers and the homeless. Focusing on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, the study finds that, not only are “red zones” not achieving their intended goals, they are also violating people’s rights.
A “red zone” or a “no-go” order is a condition of release imposed by the police or the court in a bail or probation order that prevents an individual from entering or being found within a specific perimeter or place. Red zones can range from a small restriction, such as “not being within the 300 block of East Hastings Street”, to something much larger, such as a restriction on entering a whole downtown area. While the law requires that individuals be released on bail unconditionally, the study found that 97% of all bail orders issued between 2005 and 2012 in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver contained some kind of condition.
Joining Professor Sylvestre on her research team is Nicholas Blomley of Simon Fraser University, Will Damon of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, and Céline Bellot of the Université de Montréal. The researchers found that red zones impact the access to vital resources for vulnerable populations, 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”, said Professor Sylvestre.
The authors of the report also found that red zones and other bail and sentencing conditions heavily affect drug offenders; set up marginalized people to fail, while putting additional pressure on the criminal justice system; and are likely to lead to multiple violations of important constitutional 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.
The project was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and conducted between 2012 and 2014 in Vancouver.