Vancouver to create two positions to improve safety for sex-trade workers in response to Oppal report
The City of Vancouver will implement two community liaison workers with experience in the sex trade by June, in response to a recommendation stemming from B.C.’s missing women inquiry.
Mary Clare Zak, Vancouver’s director of social policy, told council today (January 29) that the city is seeking input from the members of a municipal task force to select the two positions.
“The intent around this is to have positions that would be able to work with community, with police, with the City of Vancouver, to prevent violence, to reduce the vulnerability of women, and to improve those communications and relationships,” Zak told council. “And what we’re doing right now is we’re seeking some input from our task force members, from other community members, just to ensure that the intent of that recommendation is being met.”
The city established a task force last year on the sex trade and the prevention of sexual exploitation. Zak said the members of the group, including representatives of women, youth, aboriginal and sex work organizations, will be involved in selecting the liaison positions that commissioner Wally Oppal recommended be filled by people who have experience in the survival sex trade.
“There’s certainly a need for it, and we see a very good opportunity for the position to be working closely with the VPD, people like Linda Malcolm, the sex industry liaison officer,” Zak told council.
In his report released on December 17, Oppal also recommended that the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Police Department take “proactive measures” to reduce the number of court warrants issued for minor offences.
“What tends to happen is if people have been issued a ticket, for example, they may not feel comfortable going to police to report assault, to report abuse, to report a crime,” Zak told media following the council meeting. She said the city has seen an initial reduction in the number of tickets, and is doing further assessment of the issue.
“We have ongoing efforts to ensure that we have more constructive approaches to address the issues that might result in a bylaw infraction in the Downtown Eastside,” she said.
Zak also noted that Oppal’s report included five recommendations directed at the B.C. government designed to address the safety of vulnerable urban and aboriginal women, including a call for the funding of existing centres that provide emergency services to women in the sex trade to enable them to remain open 24 hours a day.
Marlene George of the February 14th Women’s Memorial March Committee told council today that the $750,000 allocated by the B.C. government for the WISH Drop-In Centre on December 17 will not be enough to keep the facility open 24 hours a day for survival sex workers. Mayor Gregor Robertson called the apparent gap in service hours a concern.
“The city does significant granting to women’s organizations, including WISH,” he told reporters. “This recommendation was specific to the province to ensure there was funding for a 24/7 safe place for vulnerable women in the Downtown Eastside. So the province needs to follow through and ensure the dollars are there, and we’ll keep the pressure on from the city side.”
The Vancouver Police Board indicated its support for the majority of Oppal’s recommendations last week, including his call for a regional police force.
“Our position has been that we support regional policing…but we also recognize that we have to work in the structure that we have,” LePard told council today.
Zak said city staff will report back in June on the status of the inquiry recommendations and on the work of the Vancouver task force.