KELOWNA - Some people think Kelowna’s red zone doesn’t work but Chris Reimer begs to differ.
Reimer is a street-involved 19-year-old formerly from West Kelowna who was red-zoned himself in early May for trafficking and possession for the purpose of trafficking. He goes to court in August for selling crystal meth to an undercover police officer.
“It does exactly what they intended it for which is to stop the dealing and people doing drugs and clean up the streets for the tourists,” Reimer says. “I mean, it looks way better down there on Leon. People aren’t sitting in the back selling drugs anymore or using."
Until his case is dealt with, where he eats and sleeps, how he looks for work and makes medical appointments are all governed by a release condition administered by the provincial Ministry of Justice called the 'red zone' forbidding him from entering an area downtown.
The red zone makes a big chunk of downtown Kelowna — Doyle Avenue out to Ethel Street and back along Rowcliffe Avenue to Okanagan Lake — out of bounds and strictly defines when and where he can go and how long he can stay there.
He’s homeless right now, sleeping rough in what he says is one of the few places Kelowna RCMP and city bylaw officers tend to leave him be — on a patch of lawn a stone’s throw from the RCMP station and Kelowna Law Courts.
Reimer could sleep at the Kelowna Gospel Mission — it’s one of the exemptions on his red zone probation order — but says his strategy is to avoid the red zone as much as possible after watching other people he knows pile up breaches of court orders trying to get to and from the Gospel Mission for meals or breaking the overnight curfew that’s in place if they do choose to sleep there.
The Red Zone impacts neighbours of the downtown as well. For that story and more of our exploration, see all our stories here.
Reimer’s allowed 30 minutes for breakfast and dinner plus another 20 minutes for lunch to eat at the Gospel Mission but that must include travel time from the zone’s boundaries and makes no provision for delays.
If he does decide to sleep at the Gospel MIssion, he must be there shortly after 8:30 p.m. and must stay inside until 7:45 the next morning. If he doesn’t make that time or chooses to leave the building, he cannot enter or re-enter and is technically in breach of the red zone.
If Reimer requires medical treatment, it must be by appointment only at the Outreach Urban Health clinic on Leon Avenue. He’s allowed 90 minutes each Thursday to look for work at Work B.C. and anytime he enters the red zone he must have his exemption letter available to show police or bylaw officers.
If found in the red zone outside those terms and times or without his exemption letter, Reimer will be charged with breach his release. Three breaches and you’re facing three months in prison, he says.
Reimer is proud he’s so far been able to avoid even a single breach but says it’s forced him at times to sleep on the street.
“The problem is that everything I need to get to is in the red zone. The Gospel Mission is my source of food. Constructive Solutions is where I look for work. They are all in the red zone. Even my bank is in the red zone,” he says. “I know there are other branches but it just makes it exra hard to live, especially when you’re trying to stay clean."
Reimer says he’s just an addict caught up in the spring sweep, an annual operation by police aimed at low-level street dealers and users where police make undercover buys and then arrest them.
Most are released from city cells within hours but all are required to sign a release order that excludes them from the red zone.
“You don’t have the option of not signing. If you don’t sign, you go back to the cells,” Reimer says.
Reimer’s first stint on the street was when he was just 13. He says has a strained relationship with his adoptive parents and a diagnosis of ADHD and fetal alcohol syndrome.
He admits he’s not been a boy scout in the past but says red zone exclusion is now standing in the way of getting on with his life, forcing him to live in limbo in Kelowna while he awaits the outcome of his charges.
“This was my first ever offence (as an adult). I was an addict feeding my habit. I want to be clean, I’m done with drugs but this makes it so difficult,” Reimer adds.
Some people question the efficacy of the red zone and the effect it has of pushing those under order to the residential neigbhourhoods which border it.
Surprisingly, Reimer doesn’t think it should be abolished, although he thinks it needs a major overhaul.
“There are people who should be red-zoned. I see them all the time but they’ve mixed us all together, the people who want to be clean, who want off the street with the drug dealers who don’t care."
His solution would be to allow people like himself, who don’t breach the zone and can show they are clean, a way to get out from under its restrictive clauses.
“If I haven’t breached in 30 days and I have no other charges, then bring me in and test me,” Reimer says. “If I’m still on drugs, then it’s the red zone reapplied, but if I’m clean the red zone should be dropped."
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