Women’s organizations denounce VPD spin on arrest outside women’s center; renew calls for real safety in face of increasing gender-based violence

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JAN. 19, 2022

Women’s organizations denounce VPD spin on arrest outside women’s center; renew calls for real safety in face of increasing gender-based violence

(Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh)/Vancouver, B.C – Women’s organizations in the Downtown Eastside renew calls for community-led safety following an arrest made outside the Downtown Eastside Women’s Center.

The calls for action come after the Vancouver Police Department sent a press release on January 17, sharing details of an arrest made near the Women’s Center where a man wielding a knife attempted to enter.

“It was our staff’s quick actions, experience, and training, not police action, that kept women safe from any potential harm, and we reject the VPD attempting to turn this into a media opportunity to look like heroes,” said Executive Director of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Center, Alice Kendall. “In their own press release, the VPD acknowledge that the man had already dropped the knife and walked away.”

Women’s organizations in the DTES continue to see sexualized and gender-based violence daily. Women and front-line staff respond and deal with, aggressive and violent predators and incidents that often remain unreported. When police say, “many violent crimes go unreported in the Downtown Eastside,” this is a painfully long-standing and well-known fact to women and women’s organizations. Fear of further retaliation, or of repercussion due to engagement in criminalized and stigmatized activities such as sex work or drug use, is real and extremely harmful.

The VPD’s press release is particularly egregious given that every day we witness how current policing practices, such as coordinated street sweeps, do not contribute to women’s safety and just waste municipal resources.

“We also witness how ongoing disappearances and reports of missing women, particularly Indigenous women and girls, muster grossly inadequate responses from the VPD and RCMP. Despite a provincial inquiry and a national inquiry into the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, trans and two-spirit people, there is no recognizable change in policing practices nor adequate supports for communities and families who are searching for their loved ones,” further states Kendall.

The Downtown Eastside Women’s Center, along with the WISH Drop-In Centre Society, Battered Women’s Support Services, and Atira Women’s Resource Society, are renewing calls for a community-led coordinated response. One year after expressing outrage of the ongoing sexualized and gender-based violence in the neighbourhood and no discernible outcome, we are once again calling on all levels of government for an action plan.

Access to safe spaces has been significantly reduced during the pandemic, with many spaces remaining closed or operating at reduced capacity. This is exacerbating the already existing, overlapping crises of homelessness, a deadly drug supply, worsening health conditions, lack of access to basic needs, and increased gender-based violence.

While there are multiple reports and recommendations, what continues to be absent is a coordinated and robust response to a shadow pandemic that pre-existed COVID: gender-based violence in the Downtown Eastside.

MEDIA CONTACTS:

Battered Women’s Support Services
Angela Marie MacDougall, Executive Director
604 808 0507
director@bwss.org

WISH Drop-In Centre Society
Mebrat Beyene, Executive Director
604 836 6464
604-669-9474 (Ext. 124)
Communications@wishdropincentre.org

Atira Women’s Resource Society
Janice Abbott, CEO
(604) 813 0851
media@atira.bc.ca

Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre
Alice Kendall, Executive Director
778-323-4594
centre@dewc.ca

Coalition on MMIWG2S+ Remembers Lillian Howard for her Legacy of Advocacy and Vision of Justice

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NOV. 24, 2021

Coalition on MMIWG2S+ Remembers Lillian Howard for her Legacy of Advocacy and Vision of Justice

Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ/sel̓ílwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh)/Vancouver, B.C. — Our hearts are heavy with the passing of Lillian Howard, who was an active and long-time member of the Coalition and fierce advocate for Indigenous women and peoples. The members of the Coalition share our heart-felt condolences with Lillian’s family, friends, relatives, and all whose lives were touched by her light and presence.

Lillian was a proud member of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation and was of Nuu-chah-nulth, Kwakwaka’wakw, and Tlingit ancestry. Lillian carried herself through life with an unwavering commitment to community and a dedication to justice. Lillian often reflected on the darkness she experienced through the residential school system, domestic violence, and the loss of family members to gender-based violence, and had an ardent commitment to helping others and overcoming injustice.

Lillian is remembered as a fierce social and environmental justice advocate who did not shy away from taking action in the name of justice for Indigenous people. Throughout decades of activism, she was known for having occupied the Indian Affairs office in Vancouver for 28 days in protest of inadequate housing, poor living conditions, and poverty among Indigenous communities in BC – as well as performing a 31-day hunger strike in support of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence who fought for a meeting with former prime minister Stephen Harper.

In addition to her presence on the Coalition, and belonging to the Butterflies in Spirit dance group, Lillian held a number of roles and worked with multiple organizations. She worked at the Union of BC Indian Chiefs throughout the 1970s and played a foundational role in supporting the UBCIC’s work on the MMIWG2S+ crisis. During her time at the WISH Drop-In Centre as the Aboriginal Program Coordinator for the Aboriginal Health and Safety Program she shared care and compassion in her work with women living and working in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and advocated for sustained supports for Indigenous women on the Downtown Eastside. Working on the frontline, Lillian incorporated cultural teachings and life skills in support of the community’s most vulnerable. She served as co-chair for the Vancouver Urban Indigenous Peoples Advisory Committee, sat on the Vancouver Police Department Aboriginal Advisory Committee, was Executive Director of the Aboriginal Policing Centre, and was the co-founder of the Uplifting Indigenous Families Fund which raises funds to assist families during and after the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG2S+).

Lillian’s presence warmed and empowered countless lives and she leaves behind an impressive legacy that will continue to grow as it ripples across community through those who will carry her passion and vision forward in their work and advocacy. We raise our hands to Lillian and thank her for her contribution, for all of us were truly made better by her mighty spirit.
Donations are being accepted via go fund me to support Lillian’s family with funeral expenses during this
difficult time.

With love and respect,

Battered Women’s Support Service
BC Assembly of First Nations
BC Association of BC Friendship Centres
BC Civil Liberties Association
BC First Nations Justice Council
Cheryl Bear, Director of Community Ministry, First United Church
Christina Entrekin, IVAH Consulting
Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre
Ending Violence Association of BC
Feminists Deliver
Gladys Radek, Advocate for MMIWG + LGBTQ
Indian Residential School Survivor Society
Lorelei Williams, Butterflies in Spirit
Melanie Mark, MLA
Myrna Cranmer, February 14th Memorial March
Pacific Association of First Nations Women
Rhaea Bailey
Saa-ust Centre
Union of BC Indian Chiefs
Vancouver Aboriginal Community Policing Centre
West Coast LEAF
WISH Drop-In Centre Society

One year after Canada’s first 24/7 shelter for sex workers opened overwhelming demand continues

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
OCT. 26, 2021

One year after Canada’s first 24/7 shelter for sex workers opened overwhelming demand continues

Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ/sel̓ílwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh)/Vancouver, B.C. — It’s been one year since Canada’s first 24/7 emergency shelter for street-based sex workers opened its doors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and the overwhelming demand for the space continues.

The low-barrier shelter has been operating at capacity since day one. Sadly, this means participants are turned away every single day, highlighting the critical need for shelter and safe spaces in the DTES, particularly for women and gender-diverse people.

Run by the WISH Drop-In Centre Society, the low-barrier shelter provides respite and a warm, safe place to sleep to precariously housed and unhoused women and gender diverse people in Vancouver’s sex trade.

“I feel safe sleeping…grateful just to have a place to sleep,” shared a Shelter resident. “I don’t have to exchange low-cost sex work for a place to stay,” shared another.

Thanks to the shelter, more than 70% of residents surveyed reported fewer instances of violence and the ability to turn down dangerous work.

Since opening day:

  • Crash beds have been used more than 1,100 times
  • More than 1,000 participants have been turned away due to high demand
  • More than 15 residents have been in the shelter for more than 4 months
  • The average length of stay is 105 days
  • Only 6 shelter residents have been placed in longer-term housing
  • Staff have done more than 1,541 loads of laundry
  • A total of 119 participants have used the 23 beds available over the last year

The temporary shelter opened its doors thanks to the critical support of BC Housing and the City of Vancouver. The space provides 23 beds along with hot showers, laundry, meals, and critical access to WISH’s supporting programs and services.

“Celebrating this milestone is bittersweet,” said WISH’s Executive Director Mebrat Beyene. “The need for a shelter like this has existed for years and we’re thrilled to have brought it to fruition. But, there is still so much need for additional shelter spaces and housing options for sex workers; particularly women and gender diverse people. A year from now, we hope to celebrate that a significant number of street-based sex workers have secured safe, affordable, and appropriate longer-term housing.”

Spaces like the shelter continue to be critical—now more than ever. We continue to advocate for and work towards a larger, permanent, and purpose-built shelter for street-based sex workers.

About WISH Drop-In Centre Society

For almost 40 years, WISH has been a refuge and an essential point of contact for street-based sex workers who have been made vulnerable due to poverty, homelessness, trauma, violence, stigma, and a lack of access to supports and opportunities. It is the largest organization in Canada supporting street-based sex workers and the only drop-in centre and shelter in the region supporting them 365 nights a year.

Media Contact:

Estefania Duran

Email: communications[at]wishdropincentre.org

Phone: 604-669-9474 (Ext. 124)

Coalition of Organizations Boycott City Panel on Decriminalizing Poverty

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JUNE 22, 2021

Coalition of Organizations Boycott City Panel on Decriminalizing Poverty

The following open letter was issued to the City of Vancouver and representatives responsible for convening the City of Vancouver’s Community Panel on Decriminalizing Poverty and Supporting Community-led Initiatives. Organizational endorsements can be made by filling out the endorsement form.


Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ/sel̓ílwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh)/Vancouver, B.C.We are a coalition of organizations that have been invited to support the formation of the Community Panel on Decriminalizing Poverty and Supporting Community-led Initiatives. This Community Panel is in response to the July 2020 Motion Decriminalizing Poverty and Supporting Community-led Safety Initiatives.

While we acknowledge and applaud the stated commitment to decriminalizing poverty, we share considerable concerns with the presented process.

Based on the presented process, we have decided to forego any participation in the Community Panel. We recognize and restate the urgency for defunding police while supporting community-led safety initiatives. We see the violence of policing and criminalization every single day: through the use of street sweeps, the surveillance of street stops, the targeting of overdose prevention sites, the inadequate attention or response to gender based and sexualized violence, and the inability to hold police accountable for illegal, unethical and dangerous conduct.

The proposal set forth by City staff outlines an unsafe process that does not respect the realities of people who have lived and living experience of the criminalization of poverty. Notably, the Community Panel involves a number of police and police-adjacent representatives that do not serve the interests of people living in poverty. Communities that experience marginalization are directly harmed by the police on a daily basis. Furthermore, the Vancouver Police Department—including senior force and union leadership—consistently refuse to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism in policing. This is an unsafe environment that lacks any provisions for safety, anonymity, and accountability. To reiterate, the focus must not be on tweaking this proposed panel but to return to the original request to defund the police while supporting community-based initiatives.

There have already been numerous recommendations set forth, and we believe the City is positioned to take immediate action on policies related to decriminalizing poverty, as outlined in reports such as:

Previous City of Vancouver planning and consultation processes have failed to adequately meet the needs of the community. These processes (which took considerable time, energy, and labour on behalf of community members and organizations) each failed to engage with the realities shaping the livelihood and survival of the most adversely-impacted communities—women and people of marginalized genders, Black and Indigenous people, people who use illicit substances, people who work in criminalized economies including sex work, and people living at the intersections of these, and other, interlocking oppressions. Ultimately, most of the recommendations generated through each of these—and many other—processes remain unimplemented.

At this time, we are making the difficult decision to cease any involvement with the process. We have outlined our concerns here and to City staff and representatives of Reciprocal Consulting. In order to move forward with defunding police while supporting community-led initiatives, police and/or police-adjacent organizations cannot be at the table. We remain committed to this work and remain open to working with the City to ensure previously-made recommendations are fully implemented.

Sincerely,

  • Ash MacLeod – A Better Life Foundation
  • Adriane King – A. King Law
  • Janice Abbott – Atira Women’s Resource Society
  • Angela Marie MacDougall – Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS)
  • Harsha Walia – BC Civil Liberties Association
  • Lizzie Howells – Binners’ Project – MakeWay Charitable Society
  • Eris Nyx – The Black Lab Artists Society
  • Udokam Iroegbu & Azuka Nduka-Agwu – Black Lives Matter-Vancouver
  • Constance Barnes
  • Ritica Ramesh – Centre for Gender and Sexual Health
  • Eris Nyx – Coalition of Peers Dismantling the Drug War
  • Alice Kendall – Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre
  • Rory Sutherland & Tintin Yang – DTES Neighbourhood House
  • Eris Nyx – Drug User Liberation Front
  • Michelle Lackie –Exchange Inner City
  • Sarah Common –Hives for Humanity
  • Lama Mugabo –Hogan’s Alley Society
  • Sarah Blyth & Trey Helten – Overdose Prevention Society
  • Lyra McKee – PACE Society
  • Meenakshi Mannoe – Pivot Legal Society
  • Eris Nyx – Tenant Overdose Response Organizers
  • Vince Tao –Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU)
  • Tracey Axelsson – Vancouver Community Network
  • France-Emmanuelle Joly – Vancouver Women’s Health Collective Society
  • Irwin Oostindie – Voor Urban Labs
  • Ingrid Mendez – Watari Counselling and Support Services
  • Tracey Draper –Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS)
  • Mebrat Beyene –WISH Drop-In Centre Society
Endorsements received after June 21
  • Health Initiative for Men (HIM)
  • Radical Access Mapping Project
  • Bonfire Counselling
  • Moms Stop The Harm (MSTH)
  • Megaphone
  • hua foundation

Coalition of Organizations Boycott City Panel on Decriminalizing Poverty

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

JUNE 22, 2021

Coalition of Organizations Boycott City Panel on Decriminalizing Poverty

The following open letter was issued to the City of Vancouver and representatives responsible for convening the City of Vancouver’s Community Panel on Decriminalizing Poverty and Supporting Community-led Initiatives. Organizational endorsements can be made by filling out the endorsement form.


Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ/sel̓ílwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh)/Vancouver, B.C.We are a coalition of organizations that have been invited to support the formation of the Community Panel on Decriminalizing Poverty and Supporting Community-led Initiatives. This Community Panel is in response to the July 2020 Motion Decriminalizing Poverty and Supporting Community-led Safety Initiatives.

While we acknowledge and applaud the stated commitment to decriminalizing poverty, we share considerable concerns with the presented process.

Based on the presented process, we have decided to forego any participation in the Community Panel. We recognize and restate the urgency for defunding police while supporting community-led safety initiatives. We see the violence of policing and criminalization every single day: through the use of street sweeps, the surveillance of street stops, the targeting of overdose prevention sites, the inadequate attention or response to gender based and sexualized violence, and the inability to hold police accountable for illegal, unethical and dangerous conduct.

The proposal set forth by City staff outlines an unsafe process that does not respect the realities of people who have lived and living experience of the criminalization of poverty. Notably, the Community Panel involves a number of police and police-adjacent representatives that do not serve the interests of people living in poverty. Communities that experience marginalization are directly harmed by the police on a daily basis. Furthermore, the Vancouver Police Department—including senior force and union leadership—consistently refuse to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism in policing. This is an unsafe environment that lacks any provisions for safety, anonymity, and accountability. To reiterate, the focus must not be on tweaking this proposed panel but to return to the original request to defund the police while supporting community-based initiatives.

There have already been numerous recommendations set forth, and we believe the City is positioned to take immediate action on policies related to decriminalizing poverty, as outlined in reports such as:

Previous City of Vancouver planning and consultation processes have failed to adequately meet the needs of the community. These processes (which took considerable time, energy, and labour on behalf of community members and organizations) each failed to engage with the realities shaping the livelihood and survival of the most adversely-impacted communities—women and people of marginalized genders, Black and Indigenous people, people who use illicit substances, people who work in criminalized economies including sex work, and people living at the intersections of these, and other, interlocking oppressions. Ultimately, most of the recommendations generated through each of these—and many other—processes remain unimplemented.

At this time, we are making the difficult decision to cease any involvement with the process. We have outlined our concerns here and to City staff and representatives of Reciprocal Consulting. In order to move forward with defunding police while supporting community-led initiatives, police and/or police-adjacent organizations cannot be at the table. We remain committed to this work and remain open to working with the City to ensure previously-made recommendations are fully implemented.

Sincerely,

  • Ash MacLeod – A Better Life Foundation
  • Adriane King – A. King Law
  • Janice Abbott – Atira Women’s Resource Society
  • Angela Marie MacDougall – Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS)
  • Harsha Walia – BC Civil Liberties Association
  • Lizzie Howells – Binners’ Project – MakeWay Charitable Society
  • Eris Nyx – The Black Lab Artists Society
  • Udokam Iroegbu & Azuka Nduka-Agwu – Black Lives Matter-Vancouver
  • Constance Barnes
  • Ritica Ramesh – Centre for Gender and Sexual Health
  • Eris Nyx – Coalition of Peers Dismantling the Drug War
  • Alice Kendall – Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre
  • Rory Sutherland & Tintin Yang – DTES Neighbourhood House
  • Eris Nyx – Drug User Liberation Front
  • Michelle Lackie –Exchange Inner City
  • Sarah Common –Hives for Humanity
  • Lama Mugabo –Hogan’s Alley Society
  • Sarah Blyth & Trey Helten – Overdose Prevention Society
  • Lyra McKee – PACE Society
  • Meenakshi Mannoe – Pivot Legal Society
  • Eris Nyx – Tenant Overdose Response Organizers
  • Vince Tao –Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU)
  • Tracey Axelsson – Vancouver Community Network
  • France-Emmanuelle Joly – Vancouver Women’s Health Collective Society
  • Irwin Oostindie – Voor Urban Labs
  • Ingrid Mendez – Watari Counselling and Support Services
  • Tracey Draper –Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS)
  • Mebrat Beyene –WISH Drop-In Centre Society
Endorsements received after June 21
  • Health Initiative for Men (HIM)
  • Radical Access Mapping Project
  • Bonfire Counselling
  • Moms Stop The Harm (MSTH)
  • Megaphone
  • hua foundation

WISH recognizes June 21st as a statutory holiday

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
APR. 22, 2022

Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ/sel̓ílwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh)/Vancouver, B.C. —June 21 marks the 25th annual recognition of National Indigenous Peoples Day. The day was first created back in 1996. However, 25 years later, no further action has been taken to formalize this day.  

Due to the lack of action from the federal government to mark June 21 as an official statutory holiday, WISH has decided to officially recognize the day as an additional paid holiday within our organization 

Although there is still much work to be done, WISH has taken this step as part of our ongoing commitment to recognize and honour the unique heritage, diverse cultures, and outstanding achievements and contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. 

We continue to call on the federal government to officially recognize June 21 as a statutory holidayDecolonization is key. We can only move forward if Indigenous peoples can prosper.  

Canada still has a long way to go when it comes to justice recognition and reconciliation. We need to do better. We stand in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples. 

Human Rights Complainants Give New VPD Street Check Audit a Failing Grade in Annotated Response

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

FEB 18, 2021

Human Rights Complainants Give New VPD Street Check Audit a Failing Grade in Annotated Response; Call on Vancouver Police Board to Ban Street Checks

Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh)/Vancouver, B.C – A coalition of organizations is giving the Vancouver Police Department’s first annual audit of street checks a failing grade. The VPD audit is being presented to the Vancouver Police Board on Thursday February 18, 2021 at 1 pm.

The groups are releasing their own annotated response, pointing out the many inaccuracies in the summary section of the VPD Street Check Audit and the accompanying memo by the Vancovuer Police Board Governance Committee, available here: https://bccla.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Annotated-Governance-Report-and-VPD-Street-Check-Audit.pdf

Hogan’s Alley Society, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, WISH Drop-In Centre Society, and the BC Civil Liberties Association are also calling on the Vancouver Police Board to stop monitoring and regulating the practice of police street checks and to, instead, ban police street checks.

According to the coalition, “The VPD’s first annual audit of street checks normalizes the practice of street checks. The issue is not whether there are 10 street checks or 10,000 street checks – the issue remains that there is no legal basis for street checks. Even according to the audit, street checks continue to disproportionately harm Indigenous and Black communities. In 2020, Black people were 1.0% of the city’s population, but constituted 5.9% of all street checks; Indigenous people were 2.2% of the population in Vancouver, but constituted 15% of all street checks. The Police Board must ban the racist and illegal practice of street checks once and for all.”

The Vancouver Police Department’s 2020 policy on “Conducting and Documenting Street Checks,” based on the Provincial Policing Standards on Police Stops, begins by stating: “When members are operating without lawful authority to detain or arrest, this policy provides direction to members with regards to the completion of a Street Check.” This statement acknowledges that police officers have no lawful authority under statute or common law to conduct street checks. The policy further defines street checks as “any voluntary interaction between a police officer and a person that is more than a casual conversation and which impedes the person’s movement.” However, due to the inherent power imbalance between a police officer and a member of the public, people may feel they have no choice but to obey the police and are effectively detained—especially when the person stopped is racialized or is homeless.

Over 8,983 individuals on a petition, 92 organizational signatories to an open letter, and a Vancouver City Council motion all call on the Vancouver Police Board to ban street checks.

MEDIA STATEMENTS:

Harsha Walia, Executive Director, BC Civil Liberties Association, “The Vancouver Police Board is currently the subject of a provincial review for its gross mishandling of our policy complaint against street checks and its own street check review. Since the media leaked how the Vancouver Police Board authorized the censorship of details regarding racism and inappropriate behavior by VPD officers from their street check report, we have serious concerns about the Board’s governance capabilities and lack of independence from the VPD. The Police Board is supposed to provide independent and civilian oversight over the VPD, but they seem to take everything the VPD says about street checks at face-value. Street checks are not authorized by law and allow for illegal detentions, racism, and invasion of privacy; they must be banned.”

Lama Mugabo, Director, Hogan’s Alley Society, “We cannot rely on any of the VPD reports or even the Vancouver Police Board’s own street check review. All these studies say the same thing: that streets are valuable, even though there is no evidence for that claim. The studies also ridiculously suggest that there is no racism in street checks, even though all the data and our experiences are clear that street checks are harmful for Black, Indigenous and low-income communities. Our city must take immediate action to end the policing of marginalized communities. The Vancouver Police Board must ban racist street checks once and for all.”

Mebrat Beyene, Executive Director, WISH Drop-In Centre Society, “The VPD claims that street checks are not arbitrary or discriminatory and are apparently decreasing in number. But street-based sex workers continue to report being targeted by police for street checks. Street checks are, by their very nature, arbitrary because they are outside of an actual investigation and create a climate of criminalization and harassment for sex workers. Street-based sex workers report being followed, stopped, and questioned by police officers, which can push the trade further underground and jeopardize sex worker safety. Police street checks can make street-based sex workers even more vulnerable to risk of violence and exploitation, and must be banned.”

Chief Don Tom, Vice President, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, “Indigenous Nations are tired of going through these endless reviews and audits that all do nothing. Slapping ‘voluntary’ on a street check policy does not change the fact that it is threatening to be questioned by a person with a gun in a uniform. Indigenous people continue to experience institutional racism in the justice system and a high level of interaction with police, which is clearly and objectively furthered by street checks. It is unconscionable that despite all data and calls for accountability, the Police Board continues to support police authority to conduct street checks. In an era of reconciliation, this is simply unacceptable. The prohibition on street checks is long overdue.”

 

MEDIA CONTACTS:

Harsha Walia, Executive Director, BC Civil Liberties Association: 778-885-0040

Lama Mugabo, Director, Hogan’s Alley Society: 604-715-9565

Estefania Duran, Communications and Media Manager, WISH Drop-In Centre Society: 604-669-9474 (Ext. 124)

Chief Don Tom, Vice President, Union of BC Indian Chiefs: 604-290-6083

 

Annotated version of the VPD Street Check Audit: https://bccla.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Annotated-Governance-Report-and-VPD-Street-Check-Audit.pdf

First of its kind B.C.-wide Bad Date Reporting system for sex workers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

FEB 2, 2021

First of its kind provincial Bad Date Reporting system for sex workers to be created in B.C.

Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ/sel̓ílwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh)/Vancouver, B.C. — A province-wide Bad Date Reporting system for sex workers in B.C. is now one step closer to becoming a reality. Making it a first of its kind in Canada.  

Sex workers in British Columbia experience substantially higher rates of violence than the general population, and this vulnerability is often higher for Indigenous, homeless, im/migrant, and trans sex workers.  

Due to stigma, criminalization, and other legal barriers, the vast majority of the violence toward sex workers is not reported to authorities—forcing sex workers to take safety into their own hands.  

Bad Date and Aggressor Reporting (BDAR)—commonly called Bad Date Reporting—refers to systems where sex workers report violent incidents or safety concerns to peers or outreach workers, or track them in online databases. BDAR was born out of the necessity for sex workers to help keep each other safe. However, existing BDAR systems are not available in most of the province, with a notable gap in rural and remote areas. The reports also have very limited distribution and aren’t connected with each other. 

Creating a sex worker-informed, sex worker-designed, searchable database of bad date reports would create a reliable province-wide tool to allow sex workers to quickly look for keywords, licence plates, and other descriptions so they can take informed steps to protect themselves. 

The provincial BDAR system will be the first of its kind in Canada, and one of a select few geographically linked reporting systems that exist internationally. The project will also include province-wide community consultations with a diverse range of sex workers and sex work support organizations. In particular, the BC Sex Work Support Service Network—a group of over 20 sex work service and support organizations from all regions of B.C.—will be a key hub for consultation, input, and design, to ensure this system will meet the needs of the diversity of sex workers across rural and urban areas of the province. 

“As a current sex worker, I am very excited by the idea of a provincial Bad Date Reporting system. When I have experienced bad dates in the past, I have never gone to police,” shared a current sex worker and member of the Peers Victoria Resources Society. “Sex workers and our allies know that police are most often not a safe option to turn to. It is our community and other sex workers who keep us safe and support us in the aftermath of violence.” 

A province-wide reporting system will help address a critical gap in gender-based violence prevention and response work. The project, which has for years been identified as a need, has only now become possible thanks to the financial support of the Law Foundation of British Columbia and an anonymous B.C.-based family foundation. The working group supporting this project to get underway are Peers Victoria, PACE Society, WISH Drop-In Centre Society, SWAN Vancouver, and Living in Community, along with support from Dr. Cecilia Benoit, at the University of Victoria.   

We have secured funding for the first three years of the project. Afterwards, it is our hope that the provincial government will see the need to address the disproportionate rates of violence that sex workers experience and offer its support. 

QUOTES: 

“A province-wide Bad Date reporting tool has been a critical need for quite some time. All of us that work with and alongside sex workers have long been distressed by targeted violence that largely goes unreported, unseen and that allow predators to operate with impunity. We’re extremely grateful to the Law Foundation for this tremendous support.  We look forward to learning what kind of needs will be identified and what kind of reporting tool the community of sex workers and allies across BC will co-create.” — Mebrat Beyene, Executive Director at WISH Drop-In Centre Society 

“A provincial Bad Date Reporting system that is designed and led by sex workers is an alternative to relying on colonial and oppressive structures such as policing for safety. Further, it contributes to the broader movement to defund the police and shift away from carceral feminism within the sex worker rights movement. This is necessary if we aim to be engaged in the work of anti-colonialism and decolonization in our activism and support work.”— Marina Bochar, Program Coordinator at Peers Victoria Resource Society 

“As a trans woman sex worker, I can speak personally to the isolation and precarious working conditions many sex workers face. I am happy to say that a central focus of this project has been making sure that it is led and implemented by sex workers and reflects the needs and experiences of our diverse communities.” — Lyra McKee, Co-Executive Directorat PACE Society 

“Predators target migrant and immigrant sex workers calculating that they will not report violence to police. The BDAR system will provide racialized sex workers a protection mechanism in lieu of reporting to police, which has shown time and time again is woefully inadequate in addressing their safety needs.” — Alison Clancey, Executive Director at SWAN Vancouver Society 

“At Living in Community, we have heard loud and clear from BC Sex Work Support Service Network members that a provincial BDAR system is essential to improving sex workers’ safety. One such member is Positive Living North in Fort St. John, an organization offering programs and services designed to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS/HCV, reduce stigma and discrimination, and improve sexual health and safety across Northeast BC.” — Halena Seiferling, Director of Community Engagement at Living in Community 

“Northeast BC has the highest levels of resource extraction in the country and, therefore, is flooded with transient, temporary workers. The power imbalance and transitory nature of resource-based economies put women who sell or trade sex at increased risk, while providing nothing to keep them safe. A BDAR system will allow women to track predators within and between communities and alert one another to otherwise unavoidable danger.” — Heather Paddison, Community Health Educator at Positive Living North 

“The Law Foundation is proud to support this provincial Bad Date Reporting project. It is an important opportunity to address the unequal access to safety and justice that sex workers throughout British Columbia face. We know, all too well, that sex workers face targeted violence and a deep reluctance to report that violence. We also know that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased violence and vulnerability. This is a timely and important project, and we applaud the Bad Date Reporting Working group for embarking on a province-wide response to violence and access to justice.” — Josh Paterson, Executive Director, The Law Foundation of British Columbia 

 

MEDIA CONTACT:  

Estefania Duran 

Phone: 604-669-9474 (Ext. 124)  

Email: Communications@wishdropincentre.org 

Coalition of organizations call for end to Vancouver Police Department Trespass Prevention Program

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jan. 28, 2021

Coalition of organizations call for end to Vancouver Police Department Trespass Prevention Program

Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ/sel̓ílwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh)/Vancouver, B.C. — A coalition of Indigenous, women, Downtown Eastside, and legal organizations are voicing their opposition to the Vancouver Police Department’s Trespass Prevention Program, which authorizes police officers to remove people without a call for 911 service if they have allegedly violated the provincial Trespass Act.

According to Downtown Eastside resident and advocate Karen Ward, “This is a horrible program and escalates the war on the poor. Homeless people, people who are unhoused, drug users, and poor people who have nowhere to go will be unfairly targeted by the Trespass Prevention Program. This program must be fully withdrawn. ”

“Programs such as the Trespass Prevention Program further criminalize and stigmatize poverty, plain and simple. Furthermore, this program gives more power to the police to harass and criminalize street-based sex workers at any time, even if there is no actual public safety issue. A sex worker may take temporary shelter under closed storefronts or building entryways to stay safe, avoid predators, or get out of the rain, yet this program would allow the police to target, street check and ticket her for doing so. This is appalling,” further states Mebrat Beyene, Executive Director of WISH Drop-In Centre.

Since 2016, the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner has repeatedly noted conflict of interest issues arising when Vancouver police officers act as agents for the private sector. In a VPD program known as the Restaurant Watch/Bar Watch Agreement that similarly derives authority from the Trespass Act, the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner has emphasized “this relationship places them [police officers] in a conflict of interest whereby they are simultaneously acting as private citizens and peace officers.” Additionally, the Commissioner has raised police accountability concerns, including the practice of demanding identification akin to street checks, and the use of police databases to record and collect identifying information.

According to Meghan McDermott, a lawyer at the BC Civil Liberties Association, “We are so disturbed to see the police roll out a program seeking to expand their jurisdiction to displace, arrest and gather information about people.   The fact that the police department has to enter into a series of private agreements is a major problem here, as it highlights that this overly broad and arbitrary use of the Trespass Act is not at all what our legislature intended. In addition to the undemocratic aspect of the program, it also severely undermines local and provincial efforts to promote unbiased policing and to limit unjustifiable police stops.”

Since 1981, the BCCLA has been raising concerns about BC’s Trespass Act, including the use of policing and penal processes for the minor and non-harmful intrusion of trespass, which is a civil (not Criminal Code) offense. The Act authorizes the extreme powers of police questioning and arrest without a warrant, while removing the presumption of innocence for the person accused of trespass.

States Chief Don Tom, Vice President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, “We are appalled by the Vancouver Police Department’s Trespass Prevention Program. Indigenous people already experience institutionalized racism in the justice system and a disproportionately high level of stereotyping, surveillance and violence by police. For Indigenous people, especially our Indigenous unhoused relatives, to now be criminalized as trespassers on our own lands is a cruel legal fiction. During an era of reconciliation, in which BC has committed to fully implementing and championing its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, this is simply unacceptable. We call on the Vancouver Police Department, the Vancouver Police Board, the City of Vancouver, and the Province of BC to all act immediately to withdraw this discriminatory program.”

Adds Alice Kendall, Executive Director of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, “For years, we have been calling for immediate and emergency responses to escalating violence against women in the Downtown Eastside and the crisis of homelessness. Instead, we see more attention and resources going to unacceptable programs like the Trespass Prevention Program to protect the interests of private property owners and to put more money into policing. This is a shameful response in a city experiencing so many overlapping crisis – a homelessness crisis, a crisis of violence against women, an overdose crisis, and a pandemic.”

Meenakshi Mannoe, Criminalization and Policing Campaigner at Pivot Legal Society, observes that “The Vancouver Police Department continues to develop programming that criminalizes poverty, by deploying initiatives that specifically target people who rely on public space. Two recent VPD initiatives, the Neigbourhood Response Teams and Trespass Prevention Program, enshrine public safety measures which are rooted in anti-homeless and anti-drug user stigma. These programs divert public funds towards criminalization, despite tremendous public pressure to defund the VPD and invest in community-led safety initiatives and infrastructure to eradicate poverty, inequality and homelessness.”

Eris Nyx, member of the Coalition of Peers Dismantling the Drug War, also denounces this latest VPD initiative, “Fundamentally harmful and ineffective policies instituted by the VPD in our community, including the Trespass Prevention Program and now-defunct Neighbourhood Response Teams, are rooted in systematic racism and anti-poor NIMBY hatred towards houseless neighbours. Actual safety and security for houseless folks does not rely on state-sanctioned violence and displacement, augmented by the prison-industrial complex. The CPDDW has nothing but disdain for a police service that believes they can leverage incarceration and fines against the urban poor, while a housing crisis rages on. Shame on the city of Vancouver for allowing this to happen. The VPD should be abolished.”

Media Contacts:

  • Karen Ward, DTES resident and advocate: 604-655-0276
  • Estefania Duran, Communications & Media Manager, WISH Drop-In Centre Society: 604-669-9474 (Ext. 124) or communications@wishdropincentre.org
  • Meghan McDermott, Policy Staff Counsel at BC Civil Liberties Association: 778-679-8906
  • Chief Don Tom, Vice President of Union of BC Indian Chiefs: 250-813-3315
  • Andrea Glickman, Board member, Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre: 604-842-2977
  • Meenakshi Manoe, Criminalization and Policing Campaigner at Pivot Legal Society: 604-255-9700 (Ext. 164) or meenakshi@pivotlegal.org
  • Eris Nyx, Coalition of Peers Dismantling the Drug War: erissassafrasnyx@gmail.com.

Women’s organizations call for an immediate action plan to end pandemic of gender-based violence in the DTES

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DEC. 2, 2020

Women’s organizations express outrage, call for an immediate action plan to end pandemic of gender-based violence in the DTES

Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ/sel̓ílwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh)/Vancouver, B.C. — The surfacing of a video in which a man appears to be sexually assaulting a semi-conscious woman in broad daylight while pedestrians, buses and cars pass by, starkly highlights the rampant culture of gendered and sexualized violence in the DTES.

We have said it before and we will say it again: Gendered and sexualized violence continues to be normalized and accepted in our community by those in positions to make change.

We are calling on all levels of government for a coordinated action plan in response to the ongoing gendered and sexualized violence in Vancouver’s DTES—where Indigenous women and girls are made particularly vulnerable. While there are multiple reports, inquiries and recommendations, what continues to be absent is a coordinated and robust response to a pandemic that pre-exists COVID: gender-based violence. This pandemic continues unabated in our neighbourhood and yet, no meaningful action has been taken.

“The ability to access safety and support has been drastically reduced or eliminated for many women in the community as a result of COVID-19,” said Alice Kendall, Executive Director of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre. “We have been struggling for months seeking out and securing additional space to ensure women have access to safe respite, basic-need services, and specialized supports. In the meantime, women who are made vulnerable are outside on the same streets where it seems a woman was publicly sexually assaulted with no support whatsoever– this has to change.”

This week, it was a video of an apparent rape. Last week, a street-based sex worker called WISH’s bad date line after she heard a woman screaming in a car while other people walked by. Three months ago, it was hours before the body of a woman was found outside the city-sanctioned street market. Back in April, the body of a dead baby was found inside a portable toilet, where a woman gave birth and no one noticed. And this, regrettably, is just the tip of the iceberg.

“Even more troubling is the fact that the majority of violent acts against women and gender-diverse folks in the DTES go unreported,” said Mebrat Beyene, the Executive Director of WISH Drop-In Centre. “We continue to receive horrible accounts of gendered and sexualized violence through Bad Date Reporting. No one should ever have to fear for their safety while trying to work and survive or simply exist in the community yet women and gender diverse people in the DTES are being left to fend for themselves.”

”Gendered violence continues, even within our own programs, because there are so few choices available for women and gender-diverse women in terms of housing, employment, income security, safe, appropriate services and other opportunities that allow women to keep themselves safe,” says Janice Abbott, CEO, Atira Women’s Resource Society. “As long as women and gender-diverse women are forced to work in the unsanctioned economy, as long as they are criminalized, as long as they are forced to compromise their health and safety for a place to sleep and a way to put food on the table, they will continue to experience disproportionate levels of violence and exploitation.”

Media Contact 

WISH Drop-In Centre  

Estefania Duran – Communications Manager 

604-669-9474 (Ext. 124) 

Communications@wishdropincentre.org  

 

Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre  

Alice Kendall – Executive Director 

604-681-8480 (Ext. 229) 

centre@dewc.ca 

 

Atira 

Janice Abbott – CEO  

(604) 681-4437 

media@atira.bc.ca