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The Vancouver police force’s new gay liaison is straight — does it matter?

Constable Dale Quiring says he’s up for the job, but some observers are already concerned

Constable Dale Quiring stands in the heart of Vancouver's gay Village.
Constable Dale Quiring is the Vancouver police force's new liaison to the LGBT community. Credit: Derek Bedry/Xtra

There was one type of person Jim Deva didn’t want to see as a police liaison to Vancouver’s LGBT community.

“If he was a straight, white, six-foot-two officer taking on that position, I would be extremely concerned,” the late Little Sister’s co-owner and community mentor told Xtra in May 2004, when he was president of the board of the community policing centre in the gay Village.

If Deva were alive today, he might be taking a hard look at Constable Dale Quiring.

Quiring is the Vancouver Police Department’s (VPD) new full-time, official liaison to the LGBT community. And he’s a straight white guy around six feet tall.

The VPD says he’s well qualified for the job, but some queer activists are wary.

Police chief Adam Palmer announced the creation of a permanent, full-time LGBT liaison in the VPD’s annual report for 2016, which was released in May 2017.

In the report, Palmer says although police officers have liaised with the community in the past, it is the first time a dedicated, full-time position has existed.

But the position isn’t new. Previous incarnations bore different titles and took multiple tries to staff and fund before being derailed by budget cuts in 2007.

Detective Roz Shakespeare, an openly trans lesbian officer who has since retired, first called for the position after a fatal gaybashing in Stanley Park shook the community to its core in 2001 and raised significant questions about how well police protected and understood the LGBT community.

A series of mostly straight officers were then unofficially dubbed liaisons from 2001 to 2003, when they were posted to the community policing centre on Davie Street, but most were promoted about a year later, and one left just three months into the position.

Shakespeare was finally named GLBT Programs Coordinator in late 2002, only to be pushed out of the position prematurely by a pension fund change. An Indigenous straight officer from the Kwakiutl nation then applied and got the job in 2004, but by 2007 funding a dedicated liaison to the LGBT community was no longer a priority for the VPD. It cut the position and lumped it into a broader diversity and Aboriginal policing section.

Now, in the wake of Black Lives Matter challenging police forces across North America to better serve minority communities, Quiring helped resuscitate the position, renamed the LGBTQ2S+ Liaison Officer, and was selected to fill it after a hiring period from mid-March to late April 2017. The job was open to all members of the force, and there was a fair bit of interest, he says.

Quiring says he was already, unofficially, acting as a liaison to the community, when he worked with the diversity and Indigenous relations section’s hate crimes unit. In that capacity, he launched the VPD’s most recent Safe Place window decals program, which distributes rainbow decals for display to businesses promising help to victims of hate-fuelled incidents.

He also created the “Walk With Me” trans-sensitivity training video for police, and attended meetings between Black Lives Matter Vancouver and the Vancouver Pride Society to negotiate police involvement in the 2017 parade.

VPD spokesperson Jason Doucette confirmed on Sept 28, 2017, that Quiring has now moved into the liaison role full-time.

His expertise and training are assets to the department, Doucette says. “Dale is not only informative, he makes it so you leave there and you understand and get a feel for it.”

“If I have a question about the community, Dale is the first person I call,” Doucette says, “and if Dale doesn’t know the answer, he tells you, ‘I don’t know but let me get back to you on that,’ and I respect and I trust the answers that he’s provided me.”

Asked what training in particular qualifies Quiring to represent the LGBT community to the VPD, Doucette says he’s taken VPD courses on case management, leadership, negotiating, effective presentations, source handling, and mental health for first responders that demonstrate his “skills to learn, listen, research, lead, collect and manage various pieces of important information, and maintain confidentiality.”

Quiring has also sought LGBT training from Qmunity’s queer competency course, trans workshops around Vancouver, and the Toronto Police Service’s 2016 LGBT criminal justice conference, Doucette adds.

Quiring poor fit for the position, activists say

But some queer and trans activists who have worked with Quiring are concerned to hear he’s landed a permanent liaison role.

Xtra has previously reported that members of Black Lives Matter Vancouver (BLMV) and allies questioned Quiring’s suitability for such a role after they met with him in the lead-up to the 2017 Vancouver Pride season.

Fatima Jaffer, founder of queer South Asian support group Trikone, says based on those meetings, which she attended, she is disturbed to hear that Quiring’s role is permanent.

“I very definitely think it’s completely inappropriate to have a straight man in this position who has no apparent broader length or context for the community,” Jaffer says.

Fatima Jaffer sits at her desk.
“I was shocked that this was our LGBTQ liaison,” says Fatima Jaffer. Credit: Angelika Kagan/Xtra

“Having had a meeting with him and BLM and Vancouver Pride Society, I was shocked at how clueless he was at how to talk to people in the community, ordinary people who are not within positions of power,” she says.

“It was very arrogant in terms of what he knew — and I mean that he didn’t know much and had a very imperious way of talking. I was shocked that this was our LGBTQ liaison.”

Rather than genuinely listening to queer people of colour and being willing to learn and rethink his own position, Jaffer says, Quiring simply dismissed the concerns raised by people at the meeting and claimed their goals were impossible to achieve.

His demeanor also seemed threatening, she says. Jaffer describes a moment that crystallized her concerns about Quiring.

“He paused in the middle of something he was saying and turned around to me, upset with something I said, and he was starting to talk, and being civil, but then he paused and looked at me and said, ‘You’re not feeling unsafe with me right now are you?’” she recalls.

“I hadn’t said anything about safety, I don’t even use that kind of language. It was very odd and a member of the group started to cry,” Jaffer continues. “[Police officers] have a way of saying these innocuous things that can be very chilling. For a young person of colour, a Black woman, and have to have something like that, she felt it in her body. It was distressing.”

Transgender and sex-worker activist Jamie Lee Hamilton also has concerns about Quiring, but says she is cautiously optimistic.

“First of all, I think it’s good to have someone full time, I really do,” she says. “I think there are issues within our community that someone needs to be kept on top of.”

Even if he doesn’t identify as LGBT, if he has some connection and history within the community, he could, in theory, fulfill the position effectively, she says.

But, she says, issues she considers important have been pushed aside or forgotten under Quiring’s watch.

Hamilton wanted a community safety meeting called earlier this year after the beatings of men in Stanley Park near popular cruising spots and the unresolved death of gay Burnaby teenager Oliver Zamarripa, but she says the LGBTQ liaison committee Quiring created never held a meeting.

Quiring cancelled a planned safety meeting amid controversy, when a petition by BLMV to keep police out of the parade was met with a counter-petition by some members of the LGBT community. Hamilton says the meeting was never rescheduled.

“I felt he didn’t want to push his superiors,” Hamilton says. “If you’re going to be a liaison to our community, you need to push on behalf of the community. If you’re not willing to do that because you are worried about pissing off some of your superiors then fuck off, get out of the position. You’re no use to the community if the police institution comes first and foremost before the community’s needs.”

In a Facebook post on June 17, 2017, Hamilton called for Quiring to resign after he allegedly helped organize an event with the counter-petitioners scheduled for the same date as BLMV’s March on Pride. But the VPD backed down and cancelled the event, and Hamilton rescinded her call for Quiring’s resignation.

Still, she’s critical.

“At the end of the day I’m not saying he has to remove himself, but I think there has to be transparency and account of what he’s actually done for the community,” she says.

“If you’re going to be a liaison to our community, you need to push on behalf of the community,” says Jamie Lee Hamilton. Credit: Angelika Kagan/Xtra

So far she’s seen more self-promotion around the Safe Places program or trans training video than representation of community concerns to the police department, she says. “Hello, you’re supposed to be talking about broader community issues, but it’s all about self-promotion.”

She says she doesn’t get a sense that Quiring wants to do the real, hard work. But she adds she hopes he’ll find his footing in time.

Quiring says he’s committed to “meaningful discussion”

Quiring says he’s committed to being a strong liaison to the community. The position’s renewal shows the VPD recognizes that many hate incidents will continue to go unreported until trust is built with marginalized communities, he adds.

Throughout Xtra’s interview with Quiring, he is soft-spoken, and expressive gestures sometimes stand in for words. He seems wary at first, but soon talks easily and at length about his passion for the position.

“So this position, I think, is paramount in the community to say, ‘Yeah, I want you to find a way to do that and if I can be that conduit, if I can be that person, I’m there,’” he tells Xtra. “If there’s any way I can help facilitate better discussion, meaningful discussion, work on reconciliation, I’m there.”

He says hate incidents are on the rise, owing to the rhetoric coming out of the United States, but adds that the local LGBT community might be weathering the storm better than expected.

“We’ve had a really good summer in the LGBT community as a whole. That could be for a variety of reasons,” he says.

“You know the Safe Place program that we put out, those decals are all over. People know that, yeah, police are going to be there.”

He says seeing those decals may cause someone with ill will to reconsider doing harm.

“So actually, hate crimes and incidents throughout the summer was really good this year. And usually there is a spike.”

Quiring says the job is dedicated to dealing with LGBT issues and nothing else, but that ranges from one-on-one coffee meetings to providing sensitivity presentations across Canada to taking calls at his private number to assist individual community members with domestic disputes or looking up resources for them.

He says although he is a straight cisgender man who may not have lived experiences parallel to those of marginalized communities, he understands being targeted for bullying and harassment based on self-expression.

“Allies are something that I think the community has always strived for and pushed for, to say, ‘Yeah, I’m one,’” Quiring says. “So now I am proud to support the department and work in that role and work with as many people as possible even though I’m not a member of the community.”

When he was developing the proposal for the position, he says, he had discussions with community members and his LGBTQ liaison committee about the criteria.

“I asked them, I said I’m an ally, what’s your feedback, what would be the comments from the community that you would think,” he says. “And I had a great deal of support of: you’re willing to do the job, you’re willing to support people, there’s no bias, there’s no judgment. Active listening, empathy, love.”

He also knows that some community members will disapprove of him.

“The ability to listen — got to be able to listen and understand that people will have harsh viewpoints, strong viewpoints and supportive viewpoints,” he says.

“And how do you internalize that? And how does that motivate you to keep going back, because there is negativity and there is pushback but a lot of that is because of the lived experiences people have, and you’ve got to understand that and work with them.”

Dale Quiring says truly listening to a variety of views is key to his job. Credit: Derek Bedry/Xtra

Jaffer says this attitude was not evident at the meeting with BLMV and Vancouver Pride in March 2017.

“For me, Dale’s behavior was consistent throughout the meeting in that he very much did not want to talk about the racism of cops or inappropriate violence,” Jaffer says.

Though she did not expect Quiring to answer for racist policing incidents, she says the issue is important because some queer people of colour feel their negative experiences are invalidated when the LGBT community, and society at large, treats them as irrelevant in conversations around police involvement with the community. This allows racism to continue, she says.

A particular sticking point at the meeting was when BLMV members brought up the excessive force allegedly used by police against Somali man Solomon Akintoye in 2011 as a recent example of racism. (A judge later dismissed Akintoye’s lawsuit against the police.) BLMV members said Quiring dismissed Akintoye’s case as irrelevant. Jaffer argues it was relevant to illustrating the mistrust that many people of colour, queer or not, have for police.

Quiring says he wanted to keep the meeting on track before it got emotional.

“Things were probably said at the meeting where I was like, we are kind of going off on tangents and can we stay focused on the issue at hand, so as we went off on different things, and they had a lot of emotion,” he says.

“So it might have been seen as, we don’t want to talk about this. Well, we can talk about those things, but tonight the focus should be on the objective of Pride and where we’re at and where we’re going, but they’re very passionate. Very emotional.”

He suggests some advocates’ own agendas were causing the talks to veer off course.

Quiring says he invited members of the group to call or email him for further discussion, but none followed up.

“I will meet with anybody. I’ve had people shout me down at meetings. I’m not the victim. I’ve got big shoulders. I’m a strong guy. But I’m also sensitive, right? I’m a human being, right? But I’ll still meet with them,” he says.

He questions that some people will say they want to build a relationship, but decide not to follow through and then blame him for the failure to connect.

“I’m an open book. I will do it,” he says. “But at the same time when you’re kind of at a meeting and many different topics will fly around and I’m the only representative there — and I went there alone, I wanted to be alone.”

“I could have brought four or five different people with me but then I’m thinking, what’s the point,” he continues. “Because I don’t want to get into that, ‘oh no that’s wrong,’ because it’s about listening.”

Can Quiring do the job?

Roz Shakespeare says she created the LGBT programs coordinator role 15 years ago to be an intermediary between the police and the community. She says she thinks a straight person could fill the role effectively — “as long as they have some understanding of the community.”

“Ideally in any of these liaison positions, it would be perfect to have a member of the community to fit that position,” she says, “but if that’s not available, then somebody that’s willing to learn and understand about the community, and have a pretty decent grasp, is suitable as well.”

Detective Roz Shakespeare in March 2003. Credit: Robin Perelle/Xtra

Shakespeare says even she had to learn about some facets of LGBT culture during her tenure and, until she did, some people in the community saw her as an outsider.

“I spent a weekend at a BDSM event to learn more about it,” she says. “So it was always a learning curve for me, and the more I know, the better equipped I am to speak to and represent these people as best I could at police meetings and in the broader community.”

“So that if they didn’t come forward with a voice, I could perhaps provide a better perspective of their voice to the larger community,” she says. “That was the whole focus for me.”

Quiring echoes that view in describing his approach to the role.

“It’s one thing to say but you have to be out there working with the community. I’ve got to listen to it. If you don’t, you’re going to fail,” he says.

“You are the ones who help shape policy. I don’t make it; you shape it, you bring it, I take your feedback and I bring it in, and I do what I can to get the executive to listen.”

But Jaffer says the community should have had more input into who could best fill the role of liaison.

“We have to have some input because in order to address the power imbalances in the room — but also between the police and community, there has to be some kind of input into what kind of person we want in there,” she says.

“I wouldn’t say they should just be queer, although there is a logic to that,” she continues. “It could be a straight person who has some connection to us in some way, who we feel some trust and some mutual ground.”

Constable Cheryl Leggett, an openly lesbian officer formerly posted to the community policing centre on Davie Street, says Quiring is the man to build those bridges.

“Years ago I used to believe that only another gay person could understand, but I really truly believe that Dale has the skills as well as any gay person,” Leggett says.

“And he does, he really is a good policeman and he has spent time getting to know key members of the community that can make better decisions when it comes to policing.”