A public meeting with the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) to discuss safety concerns impacting the city’s LGBT community has been cancelled, with organizers blaming its cancellation on the debate over police participation in this year’s Pride parade.
The two-hour event, originally scheduled for Feb 16, 2017, at Gordon Neighbourhood House, was organized by the VPD LGBTQ advisory committee and was going to address issues of community safety, specifically the suspicious death of Oliver Zamarripa last fall, assaults in Stanley Park, and the anti-trans posters that have appeared in the Davie Village. The meeting was also going to have a question period, during which community members could raise other safety issues important to them.
However, the event was cancelled just two days prior.
Jamie Lee Hamilton, one of the organizers and a member of the LGBTQ advisory committee, says there was an outcry over a new petition supporting VPD participation in the 2017 Vancouver Pride parade which prompted the meeting’s cancellation.
“It’s now stirred everyone up, and people are angry,” she says. “There were a lot of people who thought the VPD were behind it, but they weren’t. But there was talk that [Black Lives Matter supporters] were going to come and shut down the meeting, which is really unfortunate.”
This recent petition, which currently has more than 2,500 signatures, was created in response to Black Lives Matter Vancouver’s call for the Vancouver Pride Society to bar uniformed police officers from marching in future Pride parades.
Xtra reached out to Black Lives Matter Vancouver for comment but did not receive a response by publication time.
Hamilton says she called Dale Quiring, the VPD’s LGBTQ2 liaison officer, “and we talked about it and then his recommendation was to not move ahead at this time,” she says.
In an email to Xtra, VPD spokesperson Jason Doucette said he had “not yet been advised of the details of the meeting cancellation,” and that an interview with Quiring would not be possible.
Hamilton says that part of the reason this latest petition had potential implications for the community safety meeting is because one of the meeting’s co-hosts, Velvet Steele, is a signatory to the pro-VPD petition.
Steele acknowledges she signed the petition but says she is not one of its creators.
“I didn’t start it. The petition was already started when I was asked to come on board and talk about it, because I am in support of the VPD being in the parade,” Steele says. “I’m working with them and I’m trying to build bridges.”
Steele says she and fellow organizers were unsure if the controversy surrounding the petition might create a heated environment and it was “safety concerns” that led them to cancel the event. She says she did not read any online comments explicitly stating plans to hijack the event, but rather the organizers were responding to rumours, discussions and “a general feeling” that the meeting could get out of hand.
“We didn’t want people to have altercations or yelling matches. That wasn’t the intent of the whole thing,” Steele says. “It was just a precautionary measure.”
Both Steele and Hamilton say the community safety meeting will be rescheduled; however the details have yet to be determined.