4 min

Put to the test

Community-cop relations at a junction

Credit: Xtra West files

It was a “mess,” admits the West End’s top cop, in describing the interaction between two bashing victims and the police who responded and, it appears, let them down not once, but twice.

Sadly, it’s still a “mess.” That’s because the versions of what transpired between the victims and police differ radically. Our community has been down this road before. Because policing is a tough job and cops are human, too, even the best cops make mistakes. But in traditional police culture, there is an instinct, when a mistake occurs or even when questions arise, for cops to lie and protect each other.

I wasn’t there and so cannot personally speak confidently about the details of what transpired that night.

I do know, however, that one of the victims is Velvet Steel and that Velvet is one of the most beautiful gems that grace our community and I mean that in every sense (Velvet’s been on the cover of Xtra West for her leadership in the kink community). The other victim is her husband, Ray, a truly lovely man whose world view, including his strong sympathy for the police perspective, has been rocked by this incident.

These people must not be victimized again by the police themselves.

We’ve come a long way in gay-police relations in some 10 months. Our community expects a very high standard of professional conduct on the part of police in the West End. “Normal”-looking middle-class gays and lesbians have moved, in recent times, from being largely considered “unworthy victims” when we’re assaulted to being deemed “worthy victims” by most peace officers. We must absolutely demand that transgendered people, leather people, SM people come along to this new “legitimacy.” We must insist that none of us gets left behind because some police and Crown Attorneys feel uncomfortable or don’t understand our lives.

It’s time for serious education efforts aimed at cops now on the beat.

Velvet Steel’s assault, and her interaction with police, is also a test of Insp Dave Jones and of the sincerity of the Vancouver Police Department’s oft-stated desire to deal respectfully with our community. Jones has made a difference already in steadily reducing the problems that occur when gays and police interact. But even good cops make mistakes; now we need to see a demonstration of integrity in dealing with the situation when a problem does arise.

We’re watching.


There are days at Xtra West when we love every moment of what we do in bringing you important news. Like when we report on a new legal right won, or someone doing something heroic or a defeat of someone who has waged a campaign of some sort against our community.

But quality journalism isn’t really about good news. It’s mainly about bringing readers the news they need to know even if, sometimes, they’d rather not think about it. Other publications might choose to treat gays and lesbians like six-year-olds, incapable of handling tough stuff, too dull to think through the hard issues in our community and the world around us. At Xtra West, we know you can handle the tough stuff and we, respectfully, put it before you.

But that doesn’t mean we enjoy all aspects of our job. Take, for example, Robin Perelle’s report of the recent resignations from the Pride Society’s board of directors, and accusations of late financial reports and of a donated airline ticket being used to bring the president’s friend from Toronto to help out at Vancouver’s parade.

This is a small community. In writing about this, we’re sharing with you information about friends, people we like to have a beer with and spend time with gossiping away an afternoon or evening with. We get no joy out of bringing you an important report like this.

But it’s our job as journalists, committed to sharing the truth. Of course, the financial health of the group that throws the annual Pride party is important to all of us in Vancouver. That the board is deeply divided and people have resigned in frustration is clearly of public interest.

Now, there’s often a gut reaction in these instances of wanting to shoot the messenger. It would be wrong to blame the former board members for going public with their concerns. They should instead be applauded for understanding that public interest must come before matters like protecting their friends or somebody’s version of the Pride Society’s reputation. These matters must be discussed in public and the people quoted in this story have been the responsible ones. Irresponsible are the people who think it’s inappropriate to air the laundry of publicly registered societies and charities.

We at Xtra West are doing our job in displaying that laundry for you, the community, and so are the people we have quoted. But we’re not gloating.

In the past, this paper has exposed corruption and mismanagement within some of our community’s Societies. Vancouver’s gay Societies have experienced a spectrum of problems of a “public interest” nature: outright fraud; mismanagement of government funds and violation of contracts with government; and leadership that is very much out of its depth, well-meaning but incompetent. After our news reports, some people have resigned, some organizations crumbled, some were de-certified by the provincial government and others lost funding. Some bounced back healthier and more transparent.

Reporting the truth helps make our groups, and our community, more honest and healthier in the long run.

We will continue to follow closely the developments at the Pride Society and, like you, we wish them a future filled with integrity, transparency and throwing us great Pride parties. For your part, consider joining and turning out to the next Annual General Meeting of the Vancouver Pride Society, expected later this month or in November.

Like all of our groups, the VPS is as good, as well-managed, as the people who get involved in it.

Gareth Kirkby is Managing Editor for Xtra.