The Vancouver Police Department will not appeal a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal decision in March that ruled officers discriminated against a transgender woman for using male pronouns to describe her in a police report and failed to provide her with proper post-surgery care while in custody.
Instead, the department said in a report going before the Vancouver Police Board Wednesday that it will use the case involving Angela Dawson as an opportunity to improve its relationship and understanding of transgender persons.
In taking this approach, however, the department noted officers “were acting in good faith and were not being malicious” in the incidents involving Dawson, who underwent sex re-assignment surgery in 2010 and is often seen around the city on rollerblades directing traffic.
“The failure to respect Ms. Dawson’s gender identity was deemed to be discriminatory by the tribunal,” the report said. “The cause of this was attributed to a lack of training of police members and a lack of clear VPD policy as it relates to transgender identities.”
The report outlines four recommendations to assist police in its commitment to improve relations with transgender persons, including:
- Direct the department’s diversity and aboriginal policing section to “engage and partner with the transgender community for improving awareness.”
- Update “transgender awareness training” to all officers, including jail guards and community safety personnel.
- Have the department’s planning and research unit develop policy regarding transgender identification and the recording of a person’s gender in documents.
- Amend the VPD’s jail manual of operations to ensure medical concerns of a prisoner are brought to the attention of the officer in charge of the jail. Have that officer ensure steps are taken by medical staff to ascertain the validity of a prisoner’s medical concerns and address them.
The Courier contacted lawyer Melissa VanderHouwen, who acted on behalf of Dawson with Lindsay Lyster, to seek reaction regarding the department’s recommendations. VanderHouwen deferred to Lyster, who was at an unrelated hearing Monday and not immediately available to comment.
The VPD’s report is in response to the tribunal’s ruling March 24, 2015 that ordered the police board to pay Dawson $15,000 for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect.
Dawson’s complaints against police relate to being arrested in March 2010 on a warrant for breach of probation and in June 2010 for breach of the peace related to an incident in the street.
In the first incident, Dawson complained the jail’s nurse did not respond to her concerns about post-surgery requirements related to her sex re-assignment surgery, which she underwent in Montreal a few weeks before her arrest in Vancouver.
“I find that [the nurse] treated Ms. Dawson as a male and made no effort to investigate her claim any further,” said tribunal member Catherine McCreary in her ruling. “Apart from looking something up on the Internet, which information he did not share with Ms. Dawson, [the nurse] did nothing to ease Ms. Dawson’s concerns about her post-surgery care.”
Though McCreary singled out the nurse, she also concluded jail staff, particularly the officer in charge, bore responsibility to ensure proper care was provided.
In the second incident, police arrested Dawson to avoid her getting in a fight with another person or persons. Dawson told two officers on patrol that a person tried to trip her or fight with her and she wanted them to investigate.
Police testified at the ruling that an investigation would have been “fruitless” because Dawson provided no description of the assailant and officers had no evidence from bystanders.
Officers said Dawson was “agitated to the point of causing a disturbance.” When police told her she was under arrest, Dawson protested and officers “brought her to the ground using knee strikes, handcuffed her and arrested her for breach of the peace.”
The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner investigated Dawson’s complaint of excessive force and concluded reasonable force was used in the arrest.
In writing a report on the arrest, a constable with the surname Grewal (his first name was not published in the tribunal’s report) referred to Dawson as Jeffery in documents. Dawson’s legal name is Jeffery Allan Dawson.
“Cst. Grewal stated that he used the name Jeffery and male pronouns because of what he saw in PRIME, a police database that contains a person’s name, aliases and their criminal record,” McCreary said in her decision, adding that “notwithstanding that her legal name is Jeffrey, she advised the officers that she was a transsexual female and was not treated as such.”
The police report pointed out the tribunal ruling indicated that Dawson was not found to be a credible witness during the tribunal and many other allegations were dismissed.
The tribunal report said Dawson was born “intersex” in 1968 and assigned the male gender designation at birth at her father’s insistence. Dawson has identified as a female since her teens.
She said she had a difficult childhood, was abused by her father as a child and “escaped from her abusive home” at around 16 years old. She has limited education, never graduated from high school and reads at a grade six or seven level.
Dawson said in an affidavit that she is not violent or aggressive by nature. But her criminal record shows she has a history with police for violence, weapons, burglary, theft, drugs, fraud, sex, arson and served 10 years in a male penitentiary for manslaughter, according to the tribunal report
“While incarcerated, Ms. Dawson says she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and she began hormone therapy, “ said the ruling, which also included details on why Dawson is often seen in rollerblades directing traffic at intersections such as Cambie and Broadway, and Main and Hastings.
“She says that she began directing traffic after she saw a fatal accident between a truck and a pedestrian. She says she likes to help people cross the intersections and feels that her role in the community is important.”