Canada Post is temporarily resuming mail deliveries in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside after residents protested Tuesday the decision to suspend postal services on the grounds of “health and safety.”
Mail deliveries had not been made between the 0 and 100 blocks of East Hastings Street, the area between Carrall Street and Main Street, since March 23.
The corporation had said that postal staff had “health and safety concerns” about making deliveries in the area, and an email shared with CBC News by one resident said deliveries had stopped around mid-March because staff had faced “verbal assaults and drug use.”
Affected residents had been asked to pick up their mail at a Canada Post facility 14 blocks away, at 333 Woodland Drive, then open between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. PT from Monday to Friday.
But now, delivery operations are set to resume in the area on a temporary basis from Tuesday until Friday, according to a Canada Post spokesperson. The spokesperson did not say whether delivery would continue beyond that.
“We have also extended the hours of the Woodland Drive postal facility, which will be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to help residents to pick up any mail they may need,” said spokesperson Phil Legault.
“These measures are in place as we look to a more permanent solution to continue [to] provide service in a consistent, and safe manner.”
‘Mail is a human right,’ says advocate
At a rally on Tuesday, Downtown Eastside residents and advocates gathered at the intersection of Hastings Street and Main Street to protest the mail delivery suspension in their neighbourhood. Residents of the area have grappled with a range of overlapping issues for years, including poverty, homelessness and the drug poisoning crisis.
Advocates also said the suspension endangers the health and safety of those who rely on the mail to receive pay cheques, and social and disability assistance.
“It’s unconscionable. Mail is a human right,” said Hannah Dempsey, a community organizer with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users.
“People are waiting for their welfare checks … their disability checks, they’re waiting for letters from home. They’re waiting for essential goods to come to their place.”
Dempsey says the mail collection centre at Woodland Drive, which is 14 blocks away from the heart of the neighbourhood at Hastings and Main, was too far away for residents, given some of them have mobility issues.
Canada Post also said residents needed to show government-issued identification at the facility.
But that poses a significant barrier for many residents, including those with mobility challenges, says Elsa Boyd, who is with the advocacy group Our Homes Can’t Wait.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act are meant to protect people with disabilities from discrimination, Boyd said, adding that the suspension has affected an estimated 550 to 600 residents.
“I can’t really think of another place in the city that one incident would result in 600 other people’s mail getting cut off,” she says. “There’s been no incident that we’re aware of.”
Dempsey says many residents only found out through the media that deliveries were being suspended a few weeks ago, and it left some of them scrambling for options.
With the last week of the month being “cheque week” — the day on which disability and living assistance payments are mailed out in B.C. — Dempsey says the decision left many residents without answers.
“I’m glad to hear that the mail is resuming, but I think this is a larger pattern of a war against the poor on the Downtown Eastside, and it needs to stop,” Dempsey said.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers didn’t immediately respond to a request for more information about the safety concerns.
Boyd says members of Our Homes Can’t Wait, who include residents and supporters of the Downtown Eastside, met recently with union representatives and they’re hoping to work with the union on a solution.
When Canada Post suspended mail delivery to the neighbourhood in 2020 over concerns about COVID-19, Boyd says the union pushed to figure out how to resume service.
“They said daily mail delivery is a human right and we need to get it back in the Downtown Eastside, and they were able to help us get that decision reversed,” Boyd says of the suspension in the early days of the pandemic.