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VPD's 'hooker' task force plagued by racism, discrimination, inquiry hears

BY SUZANNE FOURNIER, THE PROVINCE  NOVEMBER 29, 2011


The early days of the Vancouver police investigation into dozens of missing women appear to have been hampered by “racism and discriminatory attitudes” on the part of some VPD staff and even officers.

That charge was levelled at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry Tuesday by Vancouver lawyer Jason Gratl, acting for “affected individuals on the Downtown Eastside.” Reading from a voluminous stack of internal VPD files and reports, Gratl has been cross-examining VPD Vice-Chief Doug LePard in a bid to get LePard to read and agree to certain points, such as the “discriminatory attitudes” displayed on occasion by the VPD’s Missing Persons civilian clerk Sandy Cameron.

The inquiry has heard that Cameron, who will be called to testify later in the inquiry, could be curt and dismissive to the families of some missing women, especially families who appeared to her to be marginalized, or of First Nations descent. On one occasion, the inquiry heard, Cameron rebuffed the mother of Tanya Holyk — later discovered to have been murderd by Robert Pickton — by telling her that her daughter wouldn’t be missing if she had only been a better parent.

LePard said that sworn officers were supposed to uphold policies against racism, bias and discrimination, and to act “without favour or malice toward anyone,” but that civilian staff were not covered by such a solemn oath. They were supposed to uphold workplace policies against harassment.

Gratl noted that such a worksite policy likely would not help people who approached the VPD looking for help in finding missing loved ones. “That would not cover racist and bigoted conduct insofar as it affected the families, and it wouldn’t do anything to assist the families of missing women,” Gratl asserted, and LePard agreed.

LePard had no immediate authority over the staff currently under discussion at the inquiry but did prepare, after Pickton was arrested in 2002, a massive report on the VPD and RCMP handling of the missing women in which the VPD apologized for its failure to halt the deaths of so many women. The report has been publicly released and is an exhibit at the inquiry.

LePard also agreed that VPD Det.-Const. Lori Shenher, whom he called “heroic” for her efforts to locate the missing women starting in the late 1990s, was appalled by the behaviour of two VPD members assigned to the missing women investigation in 1999. Shenher told LePard that she was “shocked” by the assignment of “renegade” detective team Det.-Const. Doug Fell and Det.-Const. Mark Wolthers to a search for missing sex-trade workers. LePard concurred with portions of Shenher’s interview with him, in which she told him that Fell and Wolthers didn’t share information, were arrogant and referred habitually to survival sex-trade workers as “whores”and “f---ing whores.” The two male officers also are alleged to have openly made racist and homophobic remarks.

LePard admitted “those were assertions that several people made about Fell and Wolthers.” LePard’s report did not deal with disparaging comments the duo also allegedly made about female police officers, or criticize them for their ways of referring to survival sex-trade workers.”

Fell and Wolthers allegedly were loud and openly disparaging in the office and in front of other police officers of both Shenher and Sgt. Geramy Field, opining the two women were “incompetent” and not doing a good job.

LePard did not agree with Gratl that the Missing Women investigation was widely referred to within the VPD as the “hooker” task force.

“In fact, isolated incidents aside, on the whole, the record is clear that the VPD has taken crimes against sex-trade workers seriously,” LePard concluded in his report. He emphasized on the stand today that he still believes that is true, testifying that the conduct of either Cameron or the detective team of Fell and Wolthers was not typical of most officers and in fact many officers “told him they were “disgusted” by such attitudes. LePard admitted Shenher complained she had to regularly apologize to DTES women for the behaviour of the two male detectives.

LePard told the inquiry that he sought legal advice while preparing his report on what to write, or do, about the alleged conduct of the two male detectives. LePard pointed out he wrote his report many years after the alleged racist, homophobic and discriminatory remarks were made. LePard did discuss the detectives’ behaviour with top VPD managers, but discipline was difficult “because we were discussing something that had happened many years ago.

“I agree with you it was appalling,” said LePard, but in defence of Wolthers and Fell, he added: “But they were totally focused on catching a serial killer, they badly wanted to solve the case.”

LePard went on: “I agree those individuals were biassed (to sex workers) but I don’t think that the behaviour of two officers that all other officers were appalled by is indicative of systemic bias or racism in the Vancouver Police Department,” LePard insisted. |

The inquiry is sitting until Dec. 1, resuming for two days in later December and then adjourning until 2012. Formal hearings will continue from January until the end of April. Commissioner Wallly Oppal has pledged to hand in his final report by the end of June 2012.

sfournier@theprovince.com

 

 

Email: wleng#missingpeople.net 

Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016