Will the Vancouver Police Recommendations on Treatment of Trans Persons Have An Effect?

When the Vancouver Sun interviewed me recently asking me about the new Vancouver Police Department (VPD) April 7 report’s recommendations for addressing the Human Rights Tribunal decision about systemic transgender discrimination against Ms Dawson, there were two messages I hoped to convey.

On the one hand I wished to share my belief that any policy change that leads to better treatment of Transgender persons by police is welcome and should be applauded. That has VPD recognized on paper that they have been acting badly is a positive start. That they commit to concrete actions is encouraging. There is little doubt that having policy in place will assist the trans advocacy and support organizations when they work to encourage our community to speak up when they feel they have been mistreated.

On the other hand, however, we know that Vancouver Police Department have made this sort of promise before. We understand from knowledgeable persons have told us that the Police Department have been down this road before but managed to get away without a judgement against them.  And as result, nothing has actually changed.

Policy… or feet on the ground?

Past experience leaves us wondering whether this policy will actually change things when a transgender persons interacts with a police officer. Can the trans person actually rely on the officer knowing BC law as it applies to gender identity? Can we expect to be treated with dignity and not have our gender identity questioned or dominating the mindspace of an officer when we deal with them? Can we even actually trust that VPD training on gender identity is up to date?

It is unlikely that we can.

The training course mentioned in the police report dates back to 2008. Police departments that use this training module have been subject to a number of valid human rights complaints. Maybe offering LGBTQ training is not the same as taking into account the needs of the trans community.

The main reason ms. Dawson’s discrimination complaint was even heard at all is that it occurred in a prison setting where the miscreants helpfully took notes of their ideas and statements. This sort of confirmation is strikingly rare.

In every day policing, however, the transgender population of Vancouver do not have access to trusted documentation, video footage, or collaborating bonded persons. In fact, we question in our hearts why more often than not, the arrival of a police officer signal that things have taken a turn for the worse for the trans person in an altercation. Ms Dawson ran into a number of transphobic events at the hands of provincial and city authorities which led to her incarceration and thus gave her the ability to be heard.

All her previous complaints were ignored, including the one that led to her losing her housing.

Before the transgender and gender variant community can learn to trust VPD and other service providers, there is a need for the forces of orders to demonstrate to us that they have changed their world view on where we fit into society.

For now, I am waiting to see results. The city of Vancouver has an LGBTQ2+ advisory committee on which I sit. The mayor gets my tweets. There are numerous ways for the city of Vancouver to atone for what it’s police force has done.

To date, nothing has happened. Maybe the city and the Vancouver Police Departmet would do well to reach out to the transgender community before they lose our trust further.

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