Advocates laud new Vancouver police 'sex work' guidelines

Lawyer recommends cop trainees interact with sex workers

Police need to talk to sex workers as part of their training, says Katrina Pacey, litigation director and campaigner for the Pivot Legal Society.

Its one thing for there to be guidelines in place directing police officers on how to deal with these sex work-related calls, its another thing for police to be able to make that response and actually have a conversation with a sex worker where the history of intimidation and history of disparaging attitudes does not come across in the context of that communication, Pacey said at a Vancouver Police Board meeting, March 21.

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She and representatives of organizations involved with sex trade workers expressed their support for the departments draft guidelines on how to carry out enforcement related to the sex trade. They also provided additional recommendations.

Insp. Cita Airth, officer in charge of the Vancouver police special investigation section and co-author of the guidelines, said afterward that the departments vice unit trains recruits at the Justice Institute of B.C. She said that training is being discussed in relation to the guidelines.

I dont know what thats going to look like, but it will probably most certainly involve more consultation with the community so that we get it right, she said.

The draft guidelines are about protection over punishment, noted Susan Davis, an active sex worker of 26 years and a representative of various organizations including the B.C. Coalition of Experiential Communities. Concerns she expressed to the board in October 2010 prompted development of the guidelines.

Deputy Chief Const. Warren Lemcke agreed with her assessment.

Once its a finalized document, youre going to be able to hold the Vancouver Police Department accountable, he said.

The guidelines emphasize a need for police to build trust and communication so sex workers would be more likely to call police when theyre in trouble or when they are aware of human trafficking and involvement of gangs or youth in prostitution. Enforcement action would be taken in such cases, but enforcement would be the last resort in cases of nuisance complaints about survival sex trade workers.

Airth said the guidelines differ little from current practice. Instead, they clarify the Vancouver Police Departments policies for the community and officers.

Police havent arrested sex workers on the street for three years.

We still do enforce against the customers, Airth said. We are very thoughtful and mindful of the potential displacement, so that is still under discussion, how we want to continue to approach that.

The guidelines were developed in consultation with five agencies working with sex trade workers. Airth noted the work started before the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. Further input will be sought before the guidelines return to the police board for approval. Airth wasnt sure when this would occur.

Itll also be important for us to take this policy, which I think is going to be unique in Canada, and talk to other policing agencies, as well, Lemcke said.

crossi@vancourier.com

Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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