Over the past couple years I have become aware of Ivan Drury, mostly as a passionate and informed advocate of the poor and homeless who live in Vancouver's downtown eastside, sometimes as a poet. But never have I seen him so present in the city's media. This week he has appeared in Allen Garr's city hall watch (Vancouver Courier) and Pieta Woolley's food column (Georgia Straight). When someone achieves that level of saturation, that range, it is time to read further.
Two hours later I have my notes:
-Ivan is extreme. But so is the culture. Back in the 1980s, DERA's Jim Green was extreme; same with anti-poverty advocates Jean Swanson and Sheila Baxter. Not that I disagreed with them or thought them "wrong". The times were not as extreme as they are today -- but they were becoming so. Government de-regulation in the U.K. (Thatcher) and the U.S. (Reagan), likewise in B.C. (Bennett's Social Credit government) and in Canada (Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives). The welfare state was shrinking, and with it public space. (Developers have always run Vancouver; the difference now is that they care about what people think of them -- the Aquilinis notwithstanding.) We were bound to arrive at this point. And now that we have, an Ivan Drury is inevitable.
-To deny the extreme in our culture is to deny the ever-widening gulf between haves and have-nots. The extreme culture is underwritten by the material conditions that have helped to shape it, much like the days of Ancient Rome. Ivan Drury is a product of his time, a media tendency that was, in the 1980s, more common to The Right than The Left. Could we say that the achievement of The Right, in part, has been its ability to exchange the word "neo-conservative" for "neo-liberal"?
-Do I like Ivan Drury? That is another problem in our culture -- Do we have to "like" people or things in order to stop -- or continue -- thinking about them? Maybe a better question is, Do we need Ivan Drury? I say yes -- we need Ivan Drury to assist in exciting the range of response, resistance and critique in the cultural discourse; to provide us with a view to what lies beyond those edges we keep shrugging at, pretend are fuzzy; to force likable politicians such as Gregor Robertson and Sandy Garrosino to think deeper, work harder. An analogy might be Don Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada: if we take him seriously, he is a bigot; if we accept him for what he is -- a cartoon -- then he functions not as a journalist but as a trickster.
-Ivan Drury believes in what he says, knows something about what he says, and has the gall to say it. Of course he expresses himself in a way that people find frightening. But young men are like that these days, whether their rage is on the outside or on the inside. Something else I noticed in the 1980s: the way boys were being raised, as if their ability to one day manufacture testosterone was not an option. I think many young men under thirty are time-bombs. Witness the behaviour of young men at the end of last year's Stanley Cup final. Not only were these men (and some women) letting off steam, they were doing so in a city they resented -- a cosmopolitan city that has no use for that which they have been raised to repress.
-Ivan Drury is very possessive about the downtown eastside, and as such has provided me with yet another example of why I would never support a ward system in Vancouver. As a Vancouverite, I live in and care about all parts of the city, not just the four block radius around my East Vancouver home. I am also aware that while I have the means to experience different parts of the city, those with less than me do not. Last time I was in Kerrisdale I watched what some might call a homeless man take a seat on a public bench. Within minutes a cop was leaning over him, giving him the third degree. This is the kind of contradiction Ivan Drury is expert at pointing out -- again and again and again. Yes, some of us are tired of hearing it, but many more are tired of hearing about what Ian Gillespie is building, or what Bob Rennie is selling. To be extreme at one end only lengthens what lies at the other.
Downtown Eastside restaurants respond to antipoverty activists
By Pieta Woolley, May 2, 2012
Anywhere else, Cartems Donuterie could probably sell $3 pork-sprinkled pastries in peace. But at its pop-up location at 408 Carrall Street across from Pigeon Park on a recent Tuesday morning, area advocate Ivan Drury was causing a scene.
“The mere fact that this place exists is an aggression,” Drury hollered in the lineup, which was about eight people long, and mostly men in business attire. He stared down the line, asking people: “Excuse me, are you from this neighbourhood?”
Drury, who had never set foot in Cartems before, was there to tour new eateries in the Downtown Eastside. He’s been the most outspoken activist slamming the restaurants, including organizing a community meeting in March to raise awareness about what he characterizes as their “violent” impact on the residents of the neighbourhood.
In line, the man just ahead of him said, “Actually, I am from the neighbourhood.”
He explained that he was Tarry Giannakos, an owner of Revolver Coffee (325 Cambie Street), which opened last summer. “So I guess I’m one of the ones causing problems for you,” he said jovially. “Sorry about that.”
After an awkward silence, the line moved along and Drury selected a citrus doughnut. Later, Drury refused to eat it or have his photo taken with it, saying that he “felt dirty” having entered Cartems. “If people open a restaurant here, they should realize they’re part of a social cleansing and there’s nothing they can do to make it better,” Drury, a Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council board member, told the Georgia Straightthat morning.
He said a legacy of abusive foster care, residential schools, and prison shape the neighbourhood. It’s a place, he said, where those whose lives have been marked by constant violence can find a sense of stability and acceptance.
“The capitalist economy comes in with its restaurants, boutiques, and condos, and it’s hostile to those bonds. What can they do to make up for destroying that? Nothing. If restaurant owners want to help the neighbourhood, they should not open restaurants here.”
It’s a statement that comes after the fact. Over the past several years, plenty of eateries have opened, including Acme Cafe, Save On Meats, Catch 122, and Bitter Tasting Room on West Hastings Street; Au Petit Chavignol on East Hastings Street; Meat & Bread on Cambie Street; Big Lou’s Butcher Shop and Fat Dragon Bar-B-Que on Powell Street; Dunlevy Snackbar on Dunlevy Avenue, and Calabash Bistro on Carrall Street. More are opening soon.
In the same period, several restaurants serving resident-affordable food have closed, including Uncle Henry’s Restaurant and Flowers Café on East Hastings Street, and Vic’s Restaurant on Main Street. However, many of the new restaurants are giving back to the community. The most famous is Save On Meats, owned by Mark Brand. Each day, his kitchen makes 480 meals for residents of Atira Women’s Resource Society buildings. He says that he “subsidizes” mammoth $1.50 breakfast sandwiches—which include generous ham and real Cheddar—and sells about 200 per day.
Brand also employs 30 residents of the neighbourhood, a model based on the West Hastings’ Potluck Café & Catering’s social enterprise, which accommodates a wider range of behaviours on the job. And, he told the Straight in a phone interview, he’s helping Grandview elementary start a breakfast program.
“It’s always a good idea to work with the community you’re in,” he said, pointing out that he attended the entire, hostile, antirestaurant meeting that Drury organized. “But it’s unfair for restaurants to be polarized like this. Mostly, they’re independent operations just trying to do their thing, and for a small group to rally against this is really unfair.”
Indeed, Wes Regan, executive director of the Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association, said restaurants have no ethical obligation to provide food security in the area—although many restaurateurs are going above and beyond.
“The new breed of business owner down here does this stuff,” he told the Straight in a phone interview, noting that he’s heard Drury’s complaints about how stale, leftover food is given to residents. “We’re not always going to be successful, but we’re getting better and better about how to fit the social components into the business model. The more we do this, the more we learn.”
Sean Heather, who owns nine eateries and pubs within a five-minute walk from his office at Hastings and Carrall, said no one loses when the drug dealers leave the streets—except the drug dealers. He’s watched them disappear from in front of his businesses since he opened the Irish Heather more than a decade ago.
“Very few people open down here with the idea that they’re going to change the neighbourhood,” he said in an interview in the lobby of the old B.C. Electric Building, mentioning that he doesn’t like to promote his own charitable activities. “Those that do don’t last long. If your attitude is, ‘Don’t assimilate, dominate’, there’s always a backlash.”
At this point, though, there’s simply generalized backlash. Heather said Drury recently followed him up the street, shouting, “You’ve got the blood of the poor on your hands!”
At Cartems, home of Drury’s uneaten snack, owner Jordan Cash donates doughnuts to shelters and works with the Salvation Army’s historical Donut Day fundraiser, among other initiatives.
“We’re not blind to where we are,” Cash said in a phone interview with the Straight. “Drury is entitled to his feelings, and we welcome a discussion with him. Ultimately, we’re just a business trying to make an honest product, and we’re doing our best to coexist in the area.”
Neighbourhood bully harms Downtown Eastside planning process
Vancouver city manager Penny Ballem moved this week to clip the wings of our most notorious Downtown Eastside bully, Ivan Drury.
This follows the meeting last week of the Development Permit Board where, according to witnesses, Drury and a crowd he was leading crashed the meeting in an attempt to block approval of a mixed housing development on the site of the former Pantages Theatre at 138 East Hasting.
According to Foad Rafii who sits on the board’s advisory panel, folks were being shouted down by Drury and his crew even before they could speak. Then there was the threat Rafii heard that there “would be blood in the streets.”
This is typical of the intimidation strategy Drury has employed. Coun. Kerry Jang said that in 2010 the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council (DNC) chaired by Drury launched an attack on Mayor Gregor Robertson and Jang. It ultimately led to threatening late-night phone calls to Jang’s home which, he says, has his two kids on edge to this day.
Drury’s bullying and intimidation were also evident during city council hearings last year when the Chinatown community was making presentations regarding height restrictions.
When Fern Jeffries, representing the False Creek Residents and the Crosstown Residents associations, rose to speak at the Development Permit Board hearing, she says, “There were all sorts of things being shouted at me” including “racist pig.”
When Jeffries decided to leave the meeting, she says three police officers suggested she would be safer if they accompanied her to her car. She says that many people have been “traumatized” by Drury’s behaviour to the point they will no longer appear at public meetings. (I’ll get back to this in a moment.)
In a letter to the Courier published online from Drury ally Jean Swanson on Monday, the veteran anti-poverty campaigner disputes the role Drury played at the meeting: “I didn’t hear anyone threatening anyone when I was there. Not once.”
One can only conclude she was conveniently deaf.
I wasn’t there, but aside from Rafii and Jeffries, of those willing to speak up, there is this from city manager Ballem: “I was there. My staff was threatened. I was threatened. I was called all sorts of things.” For the people in that room “it was very scary.”
But the Development Permit Board is just a sideshow. The real action is taking place at the Local Area Planning Process (LAPP) set up by the city to develop a community plan for the Downtown Eastside (which includes Gastown, Victory Square, Strathcona, Chinatown, industrial lands, and the Oppenheimer and Thornton Park areas).
While there are many organizations and interests within that area, the city decided the process “will be developed in partnership with the DTES Neighbourhood Council (DNC), Building Community Society (BCS) headed by Mike Harcourt, and the Local Area Planning Committee which will include residents of the community.”
But here’s the catch: The meetings would be co-chaired by Wendy Pedersen from the DNC and Michael Clague from BCS. And that put DNC member Drury right at the centre of the action. He was on the advisory committee.
And that meant a whole lot of people decided they would be better off staying away, although a few have sent their submissions directly to council.
That was until Ballem stepped in on Monday and bluntly told Clague and Pedersen if they wanted a community planning process, Drury had to go. The fact that he had managed to do as much damage as he had done was on them.
“He cannot be part of the committee. We will not give him the legitimacy of being part of a formal city process. I just said, ‘Out.’”
Clague told me the next day that “all of Vancouver has a stake in the Downtown Eastside.”
That is exactly why the decision to neuter Drury should be applauded.
Now let’s see if it works.
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