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Sullivan Draws New Fire for Supporting Addicts' Habits

Mayor, police union head call candidate a bad fit to chair Police Board.

David Beers 8 Nov

David Beers is the founding editor of The Tyee and serves as current editor-in-chief.

He started the publication in 2003 as an experiment in new ways of doing online journalism in the public interest, including solutions-focused reporting, crowd-funded support and a humane work culture. He loves what The Tyee has become thanks to amazing colleagues and readers.

He has lived in Vancouver since 1991. Before The Tyee he was a senior editor at Mother Jones Magazine and the Vancouver Sun, and his writing has appeared in many U.S. and Canadian outlets. He is an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia's graduate school of journalism.

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Does the fact that NPA councilor Sam Sullivan once helped addicts pay for narcotics make him unfit to chair the Police Board should he be elected Vancouver's next mayor?

Current mayor Larry Campbell says yes. And the president of the Vancouver Police Union, Tom Stamatakis, believes it's a legitimate concern, as well.

But Sullivan says the opposite. Paying for the drugs, and in one case allowing them to be consumed in his presence, makes him "more fit" to handle the duties of Police Board chair that are part of the mayor's job description, Sullivan explained, because he made an extra effort to understand drug addiction.

Make 'an exception'?

Sullivan has admitted in news reports that he gave a prostitute acquaintance hundreds of dollars to support her habit for several weeks and later paid for some crack, which an addict acquaintance smoked in his van. Sullivan is not known to be under investigation by any law enforcement branch, but his acts could fall under the criminal category of aiding and abetting the use of narcotics.

The Vancouver Police Board is made up of one person appointed by the city council and up to five people appointed by the Lieutenant Governor, plus the mayor as chair. As police employers, the board's responsibilities include steering department policy while overseeing finances and complaints. Members are privy to information shielded from wider public scrutiny.

In an interview with The Tyee, Mayor Campbell noted that appointees to the Police Board must undergo background checks for criminal records. If Sullivan were to be elected mayor, Campbell said, he feared "for the integrity of the Police Board".

"If I admitted to the things that Sam did, would I be still eligible as someone chosen by the city or the province? I think the answer is no," said Campbell, who claimed many police and other citizens have shared similar concerns with him.

Stamatakis echoed those concerns in a separate interview with The Tyee. "If you make an exception for Sam Sullivan or anyone else who might be the mayor, and they've made an admission that they participated in illegal activity, how do you insure that other police board members meet that same standard? What if we get other applicants for the Police Board who have a record of committing a crime?"

Safety concern

Campbell is leaving office after splitting off from the COPE party to form Vision Vancouver with mayoral candidate Jim Green and two other members of the current city council. Campbell is adamant that raising the Police Board issue isn't a political ploy to help Green's campaign.

"It doesn't matter to me one way or another. I'm the outgoing mayor," Campbell said.

He also disagreed that Sullivan acted in the same spirit that drove Campbell to push through the heroin safe injection clinic in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

"The difference here is the word safe," Campbell said. "I would never, ever allow anyone to [smoke crack cocaine] in my vehicle. What if the guy had a great big coronary, or went into cocaine psychosis?"

At the Insite safe injection clinic, Campbell said, "there is all clean equipment, a medical staff standing by, and the narcotics aren't being consumed in a private vehicle. That's a huge difference."

In various news accounts, Sullivan has related that he gave 40 dollars a day to a prostitute in his Collingwood neighbourhood in order to free her from the need to turn tricks so that she might seek treatment, but that after three weeks he stopped because most of his money likely was going to organized crime.

"His giving money for drugs to the sex trade worker, that's a big concern to me," Campbell said. "It puts you in a terrible position. What happens if she dies? Why didn't he tell these addicts, 'I'm really concerned about you, let me get you into rehab'? What this really goes to is common sense."

Campbell said he has seen a legal opinion prepared by Leo McGrady, a senior partner in the Vancouver law firm of McGrady Baugh & Whyte, that concludes Sullivan, based on press accounts, may have committed the crime of aiding and abetting the use of narcotics up to 24 times. Among his many clients, McGrady is legal counsel to Vision Vancouver. (McGrady has done some pro bono work for The Tyee, as well.)

The legal opinion "confirms my concerns. And it confirms a lot of concerns expressed to me by members of the police community," said Campbell.

'Everyone understands'

Sullivan rejected the idea that his actions might keep him from chairing the Police Board. "I attempted to understand the problem and I have really made an effort to meet with and grasp the terrible tragedy of drug addiction," he told The Tyee. "I would think that would make me more fit for such a position."

"No one has ever approached me from the police or made any attempt to bring this forward," Sullivan continued. "I think everyone understands the spirit with which I went into these situations. I have expressed regret, and they were many years ago, and I think it shows the desperation of the Vision party that they would feel this is the only way they can reduce the obvious support I have in the community."

But Stamatakis said his fellow law enforcement officers may take a very different view of Sullivan's admissions.

"If you have public official dealing with issues around criminal activity or drug use in a very casual manner, that sends the wrong message to the community," Stamatakis said. "It creates almost an atmosphere of permissiveness with makes it more difficult for our police officers to enforce the law."

Already, Downtown Eastside drug dealers and buyers exhibit "quite a sense of entitlement that they should be allowed to go about that activity without the police interfering in it. We've become too casual," said Stamatakis.

Sullivan has said he funded drug scores in part to learn about the social reality of addictions. That doesn't wash with Stamatakis. He invited Sullivan to accompany police officers on their rounds or meet with constituents rather than "participating in illegal activities."

Built-in 'conflict'?

The flare-up over Sullivan's suitability as Police Board chair adds more heat to a municipal election so far focused largely on issues of public safety - a central message, by design, of Sullivan's NPA. Yet Sullivan is an unorthodox law and order candidate, given that, unlike his opponent Green, he voted against expanding the police force this year.

Sullivan hinted his firmness on past police budgets may have motivated the police union president to take a swipe at him. Stamatakis said that's not the case: "I'm not interested in backing a particular candidate or party." Besides, on the campaign trail Sullivan has softened his opposition to expanding the police force in 2006, Stamatakis noted.

After serving as mayor and chair of the Police Board, Campbell has come to the conclusion that, no matter who wins the election, the same person should not hold both jobs.

The current arrangement creates "a conflict", Campbell said, because as Police Board chair, he helps prepare the police department budget, yet citizens expect him as mayor to case a skeptical eye on that same budget and make decisions for the common good. Campbell thinks the Police Board should elect its own chair from among its members.

Sullivan, however, wants both jobs. "If the citizens of Vancouver feel that I am not fit to be chair of the Police Board, they will not vote for me," he said. "I believe the decisions should be made by the citizens of this city, and not by the head of our police union or our new senator."

David Beers is founding editor of The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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