I was going to use this space to review the first year of COPE’s control of city hall. Did they deliver what they promised the queer community? But then policing issues, urgent policing issues, reared their blue-capped heads.
So, we’ll dispense with the COPE review in a paragraph and get down to business. COPE has done more for our community in a year than the NPA did in the previous 16. But they’ve done very little for six months. And they’ve ignored needed changes to planning, licensing and taxing of sex-toy retailers and the video arcades in which many middle-aged gay men begin their coming-out journey. Their split vote on 4 am openings last week was greatly alarming; I sure hope a sort of leftwing puritanism is not emerging. But most worrisome of all is how little progress has been made on policing issues.
Larry Campbell held an election press conference at Little Sister’s to promise genuine community policing in this city. And while there are voices on COPE caucus calling for a new approach to policing, Campbell appears not to be listening, and moderate COPE councillors like Tim Stevenson are reluctant to call him on it.
Five years ago, this city was 15 years behind leading North American jurisdictions in applying community policing. Today we’re 20 years behind. The provincial government has no interest in improving policing by making it more accountable to minorities and more anchored in geographical communities-in fact, they’ve stopped the meagre funding that did exist for neighbourhood community policing centres in Vancouver.
City hall under COPE appears no better. They control the purse strings of the VPD. And yet they’ve allowed a major reduction in the number and scope of community policing centres. And nobody with any genuine understanding of community policing could argue that community policing centres are nearly enough anyway.
Larry Campbell chairs the Vancouver Police Board. During his tenure, each time the police have embarrassed themselves through alleged brutality or abuse of power-the Guns ‘N Roses concert fiasco, the Stanley Park beatings by six officers, for example-Mayor Campbell has backed the force.
“Don’t worry, be happy,” is his constant refrain as he supports the force and its chief through headline after headline.
It’s of great concern to the gay community when police mishandle a demonstration, use excessive force in handling a crowd, take people to a secluded place to beat them. Once upon a time but not long ago in Canada, our gay demonstrations were met with excessive violence, our bars were raided (yes, right here in Vancouver), individual gay people were beaten by cops for no reason. We have a vested interest in ensuring these abuses happen to nobody.
Policing that reflects the needs and priorities of minority communities within the city is the way forward. Specific programs and significant allocation of personnel and money are needed. Roz Shakespeare and her position of gay-programs coordinator at the Davie Community Policing Centre is a perfect example.
Shakespeare’s position is the one single concrete, new, tangible thing to come out of the last two years of discussions between the queer community and the VPD since Aaron Webster’s killing. Police have pointed to it as proof that they hear us, that they know we don’t yet trust them, that we need to build bridges, that we need policing to happen in a particular way in our community.
And now they’re on the verge of cancelling the position.
If they do so, we should react with the utmost anger. A fury they’ve not seen from our community. Because if they do so, it means that they took us for a ride after Webster’s death and didn’t mean anything they were saying. It means they just wanted to calm us, keep us from protesting, from expressing the rage we felt at seeing one of our own killed in the park. The rage we felt after a lifetime of personally experiencing the name-calling, the bullying, the bashing, the homophobia. Of seeing our friends beaten while there were no cops nearby.
It’s time all of COPE council quickly leans on Mayor Larry to make sure the gay-programs coordinator position is renewed and made permanent. And to get on with the job of reforming the VPD.
Gareth Kirkby is Managing Editor for Xtra.