The Centre and the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) hosted the next in its series of community forums on violence Nov 21-25, this time aimed specifically at gathering feedback from queer youth, trans people, two-spirit and queers of colour on barriers they face with regard to reporting assaults.
Only seven people attended the trans forum, another seven showed up for the two-spirit/queers of colour forum, and 15 people participated in the youth forum. The first public forum in the series drew less than 30 community members, Nov 17.
Inspector John de Haas, of the VPD’s Diversity and Aboriginal Policing Section, attended two of the three most recent forums and felt they went “really, really well,” adding that he was able to grasp some of these communities’ unique concerns that he had not previously understood.
Though participants at each of the meetings raised concerns that were unique to their personal experiences, several common themes emerged between the groups.
The fear of being outed as queer or trans through cooperation with the police was especially a concern to those who felt their family’s religious background, their participation within a small community of immigrants or refugees, or employment and personal security rested on keeping their sexual orientation or birth-assigned gender private.
While de Haas and his colleagues tried to convince attendees that the community’s historical mistrust of police officers has been partly based on misconceptions, several participants spoke of personal histories with law enforcement that reinforced their opinions.
“I thought it was kind of ambiguous,” says local Aboriginal health activist Ken Chambers, “because as much as the police department does the good things, I sometimes react to how the police department responds. It’s almost like —what do you call it? -PR.”
Chambers and others emphasized that participation by officers in events like the Trans Day of Remembrance and Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Day would help bridge connections between marginalized communities and legal authorities.
“I think their actions in the future will determine the outcome of these forums,” says trans activist Raigen D’Angelo.
At one point in the trans forum Deputy Chief Constable Doug LePard was quickly corrected by attendees for using an incorrect pronoun when referring to a now-retired male-to-female trans colleague who transitioned on the job. While speaking with Xtra West, de Haas made the same mistake; both men pointed to 20 years of pre-transition history with their former colleague as reason for the error.
“I was very disappointed [by that],” says D’Angelo. “[LePard] almost, almost rejected calling the fellow police officer that was a transwoman as a ‘she’ and it really angered me when I got home, when I thought of that instance, because this is something that trans people go through every f’in day.”
Yet the forum did seem to lead to greater understanding. “I really began to understand how when one is trans, or visibly so,” says de Haas, “you’re in the spotlight all the time. All day, everywhere. And that’s a tremendous amount of stress.”
He and several of the other officers present at the forum, including two who walk the Commercial Dr beat, noted that in future dealings with trans people they will ask which pronoun the individual prefers.
On all three nights, Det Tim Houchen of the VPD’s hate crimes unit told participants that he believes hate crimes and domestic violence are reported at rates much lower than they actually occur.
But many expressed uneasiness at the prospect of reporting crimes, especially as a witness. Questions about the process of reporting, such as how to determine whether an incident warrants a 911 call, or whether a person can be compelled to testify (thus including their name and resulting testimony in the public record), and what kind of treatment those involved will receive by police, were at the forefront of attendees’ minds.
Detectives and participants at all three forums agreed that domestic violence is often a particularly difficult crime for victims to report.
Questions about the treatment of trans people who are suspects, especially with regard to bodily search and incarceration, were also raised.
According to officers in attendance, an arrested trans person has the right to state whether they prefer a male or female officer to search them, and that concern for the safety of a trans person in a gender-segregated jail often results in separate holding arrangements.
Included among the suggestions for reducing barriers to reporting were more community-police dialogue and a greater ability to see the community reflected in the VPD itself.
“If they really want to spruce up their image,” suggests D’Angelo, “I really like the idea that part of their policy of employment would include that they respect gender identity along with gender orientation. That would speak volumes to the community.”
“Too frequently we seem to run into the police on a need basis,” says Chambers. “Authority needs to come to our level, to the lay level, to the community level.”
The installation of an ongoing community consultation mechanism is likely to be among the recommendations in The Centre’s final report from the forums, due to be released in the new year.