4 min

Loyal to whom?

Lesbian police advisors have police for partners

CO-CHAIR OF DIVERSITY ADVISORY COMMITTEE. Leslie Muir is the second queer co-chair in as many years. But some activists want to keep an eye on her work because her partner is a VPD cop. Credit: Vancouver Police Department

The new co-chair of the Vancouver Police Department’s (VPD) diversity advisory committee is a lesbian named Leslie Muir.

Muir is the second queer co-chair in two years-the first was gay representative Bill Coleman. But Muir’s partner is a police officer with the VPD and some community activists say that’s a problem. That could potentially undermine her ability to represent the needs of the gay and lesbian community to the force, they say.

Jim Deva, of the gay safety committee, says he’s worried Muir will put her loyalty to her partner ahead of her loyalty to the community she’s supposed to represent.

“I want representatives whose primary focus is the lesbian and gay community,” Deva says. “I want to know that our particular diversity is properly, strongly represented-and that it’s first and foremost in their minds.”

Deva misses Coleman, the committee’s outspoken gay representative who moved to Amsterdam in August after pushing for a number of policing changes, including recruitment at Pride. “He stood up and said what he had to say for the good of the gay and lesbian community and that’s what I respected about him,” Deva says. Coleman didn’t always say what the VPD wanted to hear but he said things that “had to be said.”

Can a representative with a cop for a partner do the same? Deva’s not so sure. “It gives them an alliance to the police,” he suggests. “If they can be objective through that, all the more power to them. I think it would be difficult.”

Muir says she is more than capable of representing lesbian and gay needs to the advisory committee. If anything, she says, having a cop for a partner gives her an advantage into understanding the police-not to mention the lives of its gay and lesbian officers.

“If this committee dealt with anything on an operational level, I think it would be a conflict because I would be directing people who are directing my partner,” says Muir, who is starting her second year on the committee. The police advisory committee generally offers suggestions on policy rather than specific cases.

Muir says she is more than willing to be critical of the VPD when necessary. When asked if she thinks her partner figured prominently in her selection for the committee, Muir says no. If anything, she says, the fact that she’s been with Sgt Fiona Weller for the last 27 years probably counted against her. “Fiona is known for speaking her mind,” Muir explains. Weller, an out lesbian, was one of the first VPD officers to march in the Pride Parade five years ago.

Barb Thomas, the other lesbian on the police advisory committee, says she sees no conflict with Muir. Thomas’ partner is also a police officer, though in a different municipality. (Thomas won’t specify which one for fear of outing her against her will.)

Thomas, also, rejects the suggestion that her partner undermines her ability to represent gay and lesbian needs. On the contrary, her partner gives her added insight and a more balanced perspective, Thomas says, allowing her to understand both police and gay culture. This is Thomas’ second year on the committee as well.

Change is slow, Thomas admits, but the gay community is very well represented on the diversity relations committee.

But when asked to gauge the level of police distrust among gays and lesbians, Thomas’ answer reveals a gap between her own views and the queer community’s repeatedly expressed concerns about policing-concerns she is supposed to champion at the committee. Thomas blames the rise in distrust on negative press coverage of gay-bashings and says she feels frustrated by some people’s refusal to see the positive changes that are taking place.

“Police bashing is always in season,” she says. A lot of older gays and lesbians are still “fighting the battles we fought 20 years ago. [But] we aren’t experiencing those kinds of things anymore.”

Muir agrees. The VPD is constantly improving, she says, and people like herself, with ties to the force, tend to feel more secure. She is not sure how confident the rest of the gay community feels, but blames reported examples of some officers’ alleged bashing mishandlings for “erod[ing] the confidence that police are trying to build in the community.”

The VPD “is light years ahead of where it was 10 years ago,” Muir insists.

Deva does not feel reassured. That’s a public relations answer, he says. That’s not what the community needs. “We’ve got enough public relations.”

Deva says this situation calls for careful monitoring to make sure the community is getting the kind of representation it needs with the VPD.

Lawyer Garth Barriere says he can understand why some members of the gay community are upset. Though he doesn’t personally see a conflict of interest per se, he can’t rule out the potential for influence by Thomas and Muir’s partners. “There is a danger that [Muir and Thomas] may favour the police force,” he says.

Still, Barriere is not too concerned. Though Muir and Thomas may be influenced by pillow talk, one has to assume that they are capable of separating their personal lives from their public duties. It’s not as if they are judges ruling on their partners’ cases, he says. This is an advisory committee without any direct power.

The head of the VPD’s diversity relations unit, says he is more than satisfied with Muir and Thomas and sees no conflict whatsoever. Having partners on the force gives them a better understanding of police culture and how to work within the system for change, Sgt Don Cayer says. “They’re both outstanding people and I’m thrilled they’re on this committee.”

Barriere says the best course of action would be to monitor Thomas and Muir’s actions and hold them accountable for their behaviour, like everybody else.

“We have to very closely monitor what happens,” Deva agrees.

Cayer says he doesn’t know why Muir and Thomas were originally selected to sit on the advisory committee since they joined before he did. But he is now interviewing potential gay advisors to fill Coleman’s position. As far as he knows, none of the men on his shortlist have police officers for partners.

The composition of the advisory committee has drawn the attention of the queer candidates running municipally under the COPE banner. Ellen Woodsworth says that if her party comes to power it will look for ways to democratize the selection of queer-and other minority-representatives on the advisory committee.