3 min

No word yet

Det Roz Shakespeare waits-and wonders

Credit: Robin Perelle

Det Roz Shakespeare slips the retirement ring off her finger, turns it over and sighs.

She’s still waiting to hear if the Vancouver police union will accept her proposal to finish the work she began as the force’s first-ever gay programs coordinator or not.

Late last week, union executives rejected Shakespeare’s fourth proposal in a row.

And Shakespeare is having a hard time hiding her disappointment and anger. “I’ve written this proposal four times now and each time the union has said no. I’m only prepared to bang my head against the wall so many times before I move on,” she says.

Negotiations to re-hire Shakespeare began nine months ago, immediately after a surprise pension board decision prompted more than 100 police officers to apply for early retirement-or risk losing $500 a month in pension payments.

Shakespeare took the retirement option, but not before writing a proposal to come back for a year to firmly entrench the coordinator position within the force, and mentor a successor.

She’s been waiting for an answer ever since. And she’s getting tired of holding her breath.

So is Charles Stansfield, and he’s angry.

Stansfield is one of many gay men in the city who turned to Shakespeare for help and support in the last year. He called Shakespeare after a man hit on him, then threatened him with a blowtorch and robbed him in Yaletown four months ago.

Stansfield lost his money, his papers, his briefcase and his bus pass. But he didn’t want to call the police. He says he just can’t shake the feeling from the “old days” that the police are still anti-gay, and he can’t bring himself to trust them.

The Centre suggested he call Shakespeare instead.

To say he was surprised with the results would be an understatement. “Roz and I just immediately struck it off,” Stansfield recalls, a smile suddenly lighting up his face. “She’s the only person that I trust in the whole world. I can tell Roz anything.”

Stansfield is “horrified” by the union’s reluctance to re-hire Shakespeare on short-term contract. And he’s planning to launch a petition to get her back.

“She is my voice, my liaison [to the police],” he explains.

Who else is there? he asks. Nobody else is going to listen to the gay community and speak up for its needs the way Shakespeare does, he says.

Insp Val Harrison, now the top cop in the West End, says she knows how important Shakespeare is to the gay community. She helped write Shakespeare’s last proposal and presented it to the union.

If it were up to her, Harrison says, she’d hire Shakespeare back in a second.

“I think it’s very important that she be able to continue in this position,” Harrison says. “She’s performing a valuable service to a community we haven’t always had a strong relationship with in the past.

“She’s building a bridge that wasn’t there before.”

Shakespeare says Harrison, and her predecessor, Insp Dave Jones, have both been supportive throughout the re-hiring negotiations.

It’s the union that’s resisting, Shakespeare says.

The union is “not receptive” to hiring back retired officers to fill union positions, Harrison agrees. Though she can understand its reluctance, she hopes the union will accept Shakespeare’s next proposal-and soon. “I was hoping we’d be done already and we’re not,” she notes.

Union president Tom Stamatakis offers few clues to the union’s position.

The union is negotiating with Shakespeare right now to see if its re-hiring criteria can be met, Stamatakis confirms. Some of the questions include how short the contract will be, and whether or not the retired person’s return would take opportunities away from existing officers.

When asked how Shakespeare’s last proposal to return for one year and mentor a successor measures up against the union’s short-term criteria, Stamatakis veers off in a different direction. He blames Shakespeare and police management for not bringing the proposal forth sooner.

Xtra West called Stamatakis back after it learned that Shakespeare submitted her first proposal in March, but got no answer.

Of the 178 officers who retired this year, only 22 applied for re-hire on contract, Shakespeare notes.

And of those, the union has only accepted 11, Harrison adds. The selected few will mainly help staff the front-line patrols, though some will work in recruitment and a few will go to the sex offence squad, she says.

“I’m just perplexed,” says Shakespeare. “If they’re allowing some members to go into niche positions, why are they so reluctant to allow me to go back into my position?” she asks.

Though obviously losing patience, Shakespeare says she won’t give up on the negotiations yet. “You know me. I’m passionate about this work,” she says.

Besides, she adds, if the union doesn’t allow her to come back, she’s worried the gay programs coordinator position will sit vacant for at least a year while the force deals with its staffing shortages.

And that, Stansfield says, would be devastating.