The Vancouver Police Board will consider new guidelines this week designed to significantly improve the safety and wellbeing of sex trade workers.
Senior officers have been meeting with groups representing the industry since the Missing Women Inquiry began in October. They have been trying to find ways to improve relations that have become increasingly tense since serial killer Robert Pickton started murdering women on the Downtown Eastside in the ‘90s.
The guidelines, which were drafted with the help of Pivot Legal Society Litigation Director Katrina Pacey, state that all cases of violence or abuse of sex workers must be taken seriously, and that as soon as a worker makes an allegation an officer must be assigned to her case and ask whether she is connected to support services.
“This is the police department really acknowledging a major shift, saying, ‘look, we take violence against sex workers very seriously, in fact, it’s a priority,’” said Pacey.
“The second thing that’s of importance is the fact that police talk about all of the, what I would call, informal measures that can be taken before they go and arrest anyone.”
The report calls for police to exercise respect and discretion when investigating complaints about brothels, even going so far as to provide robes to workers they are questioning.
“That’s a very important statement coming out of a department that obviously has had decades of very problematic policing practices,” said Pacey, who has launched a constitutional challenge against the laws that criminalize certain aspects of sex work.
She said if the draft report passes inspection on Wednesday, Pivot will launch a large-scale campaign to educate sex workers about their rights under the new policy.
The Missing Women Inquiry is currently on a break after a lawyer appointed to represent aboriginal interests resigned, and will resume on April 2.
You can download the guidelines here.