VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Lawyer urges fewer arrests of women reporting violent crimes
BY SUZANNE FOURNIER, THE PROVINCE MARCH 14, 2012
The missing women inquiry is being asked to recommend that a woman who is the victim of a violent crime should not be arrested herself if she goes to police.
“Any person who is a victim of violence, or who wants to report a crime, should be permitted to do so without fear of arrest,” said lawyer Jason Gratl, who was appointed by the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry to represent the Downtown Eastside.
“That would be a very good practical outcome of the Oppal inquiry, to recommend a temporary moratorium on arrests of women who have been assaulted themselves and wish to report that or any other crime.”
Gratl argues that police have “a great deal of discretion” over which laws to arrest and which warrants to exercise.
In fact, VPD spokesman Const. Lindsey Houghton confirmed that there has been a dramatic change in police enforcement of criminal laws against prostitution.
Statistics show that there were 398 prostitution charges in 2006 in the Downtown Eastside alone.
But Houghton noted, “since 2007 three females have been arrested and charged with [soliciting], one in 2008, one in 2009, and one in 2011. No females were charged in 2007 or 2010.” No women were convicted in 2008, 2009 and 2011.
“Enforcement is only considered as a last-resort option if the risks and dangers to a female or public are so great that we need to compel her out of the situation through enforcement/court enforceable measures,” said Houghton.
Advocates for Downtown Eastside residents and sex-trade workers say that almost everyone has a warrant out for their arrest at any given time, so women don’t want to go near police, even if they’ve been viciously assaulted.
Vancouver police patrol officers make at least three “street checks” per block while on patrol, residents say. That means those checked must produce identification and their names are “run” through CPIC to check for warrants.
If the unlucky woman’s name pops up on the Canadian Police Information Centre database, she could be warned or, more often, arrested and taken into custody.
“Women are picked up right off the street into jail on remand, which could be for a very long time, so a woman will choose to stay quiet about an assault rather than approach police,” says VANDU founder Ann Livingston.
Dolores Jury and Tracey Morrison, who walk Downtown Eastside streets handing out condoms to sex workers and checking on their safety, say that women won’t go to police because they fear either being arrested or “being called a rat.”
“The cops run your name through the computer and go ‘oh I’m supposed to arrest you’ but we have no way of finding out if we do have warrants,” said Morrison, who lives in a DTES hotel room.
Residents often lack a permanent address, phone and computer access.
“You get a ticket for vending, or spitting, which is like $167, and when you can’t pay or don’t know to go to court, they issue a warrant,” said Morrison.
Jury, who said she is an alcoholic but doesn’t do drugs, said some drug dealers resent their advocacy and can target them, but police won’t help.
Jury said she was so terrified recently by a group of Caribbean, Toronto-based drug dealers coming toward her that she ran into traffic to escape them.
Jury said a police officer then gave her a ticket for jaywalking.
“If you’re being chased, you run to a drug dealer, because he’ll know your face and protect you, but the police will just pick on you,” says Jury.
“I told the cop that I was scared of those men and to go after the drug dealers and he said they weren’t doing anything illegal, but I was.”
In a VANDU meeting this week, more than half of about 60 people in the room held up their hands when asked if they suspected or knew they had a warrant out for their arrest.
Charges ranged from spitting or drinking in public, or were drug-related.
Few of the women interviewed knew that the VPD is not arresting women for prostitution. “They still threaten that all the time,” said an older woman.
The same group, asked whether they believe police will protect them, indicated through a show of hands, and in interviews, that people consider police the enemy rather than their friends.
“There are exactly two cops down here who trust as friends,” said Morrison.
“I had a man in here recently who saw an older man beaten badly on the street and had a big gash on his chin, so the witness called 911,” says Hugh Lampkin, president of VANDU. “The police got there before the ambulance and the first thing they did was run the names of the victim and witness through CPIC, even though the man was lying there bleeding.”
Gratl said the VPD is being “disingenuous” in saying it is no longer targeting sex workers. “There is still total disempowerment, because the warrants or threat of charges are held over the women’s heads by police,” said Gratl.
“We need a clear statement of policy by the VPD that they won’t arrest a woman who has been assaulted or been a witness to a violent crime.”
VPD spokeswoman Cst. Jana McGuinness said police are trying to work with women in the DTES to build trust through programs such as Sister Watch, where community leaders meet regularly with police.
© Copyright (c) The Province
Updated: August 21, 2016