April 13, 2024


Iris Yong was sitting in a meeting room when her colleague became distracted by something outside. Yong looked out the window at 312 Main St., and recognized two health-care workers she knew in handcuffs.


“They had about four or five cop cars pulled over, blocking the street and cops all over the place,” Yong said.


One of the individuals handcuffed was Laura MacDonald, an outreach worker in the Downtown Eastside. On Nov. 16, around 2 p.m., MacDonald and a colleague who both work for Vancouver Coastal Health, had picked up a client in a car-share and were bringing them to a health care appointment.


As they turned onto Cordova St., MacDonald said a police car pulled in front of them, cutting them off. According to a police report obtained by CTV News, an officer drew a firearm while approaching the vehicle.


MacDonald said an officer told everyone to get out of the car, searched each person and then placed them in handcuffs.


“I don’t seem to be able to talk about it without getting emotional,” MacDonald said. “I felt very unsafe in that moment.”


‘A lot of fear’


In a statement to CTV News, Vancouver Coastal Health said it was aware of the incident and that it was working with the Vancouver Police Department to look further into the incident.


MacDonald said she feels there’s not a lot of trust between police and health-care workers in the neighborhood for a number of complex reasons – including what happened to her in November.


“I think it’s important for police to be held accountable when quite a lot of force is used and things like this happen,” she said.


Since January, CTV News repeatedly contacted the VPD for information as to why this happened. It wasn’t until CTV News provided the organization with their own report that an explanation was provided.


In a statement, the VPD said it was a high-risk traffic stop and that they arrested a man who was wanted province-wide for possession of a dangerous weapon, uttering threats, and unlawful possession of identity documents.


The VPD added the man was taken to jail and two others in the car were permitted to leave after a brief detention.


MacDonald said part of her job in working with clients is gauging safety.


“We wouldn’t have gotten into a vehicle with this person if we hadn’t assessed this was a safe thing to be doing and that the benefits of getting someone to health care weren’t significant,” she said.


Calls for more outreach


Green Party Leader Sonia Fursteneau called the incident concerning.


“This is, I think, an instance where we can see that treatment of those healthcare workers, we don’t find that acceptable,” she said. “We shouldn’t find that acceptable for anybody.”


In a statement to CTV News, the BC Nurses’ Union said the work of community nurses on the Downtown Eastside is incredibly valuable and diverse.


“This incident is a reminder of the importance of communication and trust amongst first responders and health-care professionals working together to advance the social determinants of health in the community,” the statement read.


Those who work in the DTES, such as Yong, who is the managing director at 312 Main, worry about how this will impact community members.


“Community members are watching this, and how are they going to trust us to support them if the staff are being arrested?” she said.


MacDonald said she’d like to see better collaboration between law enforcement and community health services.


“I think there needs to be a lot more robust outreach and mental health services in the area,” she said.


Mayor Ken Sim campaigned on a promise to hire 100 mental health nurses to work alongside 100 police officers in the city. That plan changed once he was in office, after input from Vancouver Coastal Health, and now includes more options where police are not involved in the response at all. 

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