Dear Mayor and Council:
We are writing to protest the proposed municipal budget for 2021 and to urge you to adopt an alternative budget that allocates a smaller proportion of our city’s public funds towards policing and the Vancouver Police Department.
In the context of a global uprising against police brutality and abuses of their institutional power, we are critical that the City has dismissed the substantial efforts of grassroots activists and communities to draw attention to the failings and harms perpetrated by police, and instead recommending a small increase of funds.
As a Vancouver-based feminist anti-violence organization that formed 47 years ago and has operated an anti-rape centre and transition house for women and their children continually since then, we understand that men’s violence against women is one force that greatly interferes with women’s ability to participate and thrive in our community. As a group, we have long pressed all levels of government to uphold women’s guaranteed equality rights – one mechanism for doing so is the enforcement of laws that criminalize rape, incest, battery, pimping and sexual exploitation.
Reviewing the Vancouver Budget and Five-Year Financial Plan, we note that the Vancouver Police Department lists “sexual offence awareness” as one of its top accomplishments in 2020. While we agree that providing outreach, support, and guidance to victims of sexual violence is crucial, the police have a mandate that goes beyond this. Referencing the 2018 crime statistics, less than 20% of sexual assaults reported to the VPD resulted in a charge. This statistic makes it clear that the VPD, along with other Criminal Justice System actors, are failing victims of sexual violence by refusing to hold the men who attack them accountable.
Although the VPD are keen to showcase their so-called efforts on sexual violence, for front-line anti-violence workers, it rings hollow and doesn’t square with what we hear every day from women who’ve been raped and/or beaten. Many are discouraged from using the police because they know it will not result in a charge, never mind a conviction, and that the toll on them will be costly. Some do choose to use the police in seeking accountability, to protect themselves and other women from a violent man, and are more often than not disappointed and disillusioned from the process.
The police’s complicity in men’s violence against women extends beyond their refusal to arrest. We continue to follow public cases of male officers who themselves commit acts of violence against women. We attended the criminal proceedings of former VPD detective James Fisher as we recognized his predatory, violent behaviour against young women in the sex industry as the pinnacle of police abuse. Though little has been made public, we remain outraged by his actions and the policing culture that enabled and protected him.
This refusal on the part of the police to take substantial action on violence against women is one of political will, set by those in leadership of the VPD. This is a problem that cannot be remedied through more funds or trauma-informed training for constables, rather, it requires a complete reorganization of priorities.
Looking to the other noted accomplishments in 2020, we are further troubled by the inclusion of the category referred to as “disorder.” There is little contention that Vancouver is a city burdened by a high cost living and stark wealth inequality. We firmly believe that tackling this ought to be one of council’s top priorities. However, we strongly disagree that the criminalization of the dispossessed via the rollout of neighborhood response teams is an effective, and certainly not a humane, means of doing so. We join the call for an immediate end to the harassment of the poor carried out through street checks, disproportionally affecting Indigenous and Black members of our community.
A decision to redirect funds intended for the Vancouver Police Department represents an investment in the potential of Vancouver, one that is consistent with City of Vancouver’s vision of a place that prioritizes women’s safety, and is a healthy and equitable place for all.
The City of Vancouver, in partnership with the Provincial and Federal governments, can make serious progress toward this goal through ensuring that detox and recovery beds that are available on demand (including facilities dedicated to women-only); access for all to safe, long-term, affordable housing that is available at the welfare rate; establishing a guaranteed and livable income; and free public transportation.
For the collective of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter