A Vancouver Police Department media spokesperson has rejected allegations that law-enforcement officials are turning a blind eye to gender crimes in the Downtown Eastside.
In a phone interview with the Straight, Const. Lindsey Houghton said that the VPD has "dramatically" increased its police strength in the neighbourhood.
"The presence down there is greater than it has ever been," he said. "We have dedicated squads of investigators, such as those in our domestic violence and criminal harassment unit, that are ready to assist officers with investigations—whether it's in the Downtown Eastside or in any part of the city."
Earlier today, the director of Battered Women's Support Services, Angela Marie MacDougall, told the Straight that the VPD is not paying sufficient attention to drug-debt collectors throwing women out of windows and shaving women's heads. She alleged that a 22-year-old aboriginal woman, Ashley Mashisknic, was murdered on September 15 after being raped by three men and then tossed out of a window at the Regent Hotel.
Houghton, however, said investigators have found no evidence to indicate that Maschisknic's death was the result of foul play. Furthermore, he said that police have been unable to corroborate that any women in the neighbourhood have been thrown out of windows.
"We have seen a few cases in the past of hair-cutting or head-shaving," Houghton acknowledged. "With respect to the claims that women are being thrown out of windows, we've looked at that. We want to be able to investigate these claims....But to this date, there hasn't been any information that our investigators have received."
He stated that Vancouver police Chief Jim Chu has agreed to sit down and talk with a representative of the February 14th Women's Memorial March, which held a protest outside the police station on October 4.
MacDougall was one of three women who were arrested inside the downtown police station that evening and charged with assault by trespass after demanding a meeting with Chu.
"Certainly, a representative of the Battered Women's Support Service group is absolutely welcome to contact the Vancouver Police Department," Houghton said. "We want to be able to sit down with all of the community stakeholders and hear people's concerns."
He also pointed out that while police are aware that women have been the targets of violence in the Downtown Eastside, they have also, on occasion, been the instigators of violence.
"A couple of weeks ago, we had a very serious stabbing allegedly perpetrated by two women at Columbia and East Hastings, where the gentleman almost died," Houghton said. "If it wasn't for the efforts of the emergency services people, he would have died."
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.