The lesson is: Every human life really matters

The case of the missing women means changes are needed

Courtesy of the Vancouver Sun
Thursday, September 27, 2001

The Vancouver Sun's Missing Women series on the disappearance of at least 31 sex-trade workers offers a compelling case that the police department has failed them.

These failures are complex and not entirely of the police department's making. But they're failures nevertheless.

The department has to ask some hard questions of itself, and civic and provincial governments have to rethink how our police forces are organized and funded.

Let's start with the police. Take the case of an unnamed prostitute who says she was brutally assaulted in a car near Clark and Hastings. She identified her attacker as Lance Clare Dove, from a photo, and provided the licence-plate number of a car traced to the attacker's brother. Was it enough for police to simply phone Lance Dove repeatedly on his cell phone to ask him to come in for a chat?

For the family of Kimberly Ann Tracey, whom Mr. Dove murdered a couple of months after police began trying to contact him and 31/2 months after the complaint, the answer's a resounding "No."

Families of the disappeared, who feel police were slow and clumsy in responding to the possibility that a serial killer is at work on the Downtown Eastside, also answer "No." As does, obviously, the prostitute who made the complaint.

Although most police do their best to protect us all, it's also clear that crimes against prostitutes and drug addicts aren't always taken as seriously as crimes against others. And infighting, short-staffing, poor training and administrative failures were rife in this investigation.

So how do we move forward now?

It's important to view the failures in context, not to excuse them but to understand the problem and begin to shape solutions.

The Vancouver police department has serious staffing difficulties. The calculations are complex because of organizational changes, but it's fair to say the number of officers in Vancouver effectively fell between 1993 and 2000. At the same time, the demands on police have risen enormously, dictating the creation of 89 specific new positions. Staffing was reduced in existing units to meet those needs.

Many of those demands involve police responding to violence against women, i.e. creating an anti-stalking unit or charging men who abuse their spouses even if the victims won't give evidence. Other demands result from civil liberties issues.

The work required in response to court rulings -- providing transcripts of wiretaps rather than excerpts, obtaining search warrants where they weren't previously required -- is enormous. There are many other factors: Deinstitutionalizing mental health patients, increased use of forensic video, new threats from organized crime, the proliferation of marijuana-growing operations, and more.

These are outlined in a confidential report on police workload changes between 1993 and 2000, obtained by The Sun through a freedom of information request. It shows how hard the police are working on many fronts to do a better job. It also shows that the city's police department is poorly staffed compared to most similar Canadian jurisdictions.

Part of the problem is that Vancouver must provide services for the hundreds of thousands of people who come to the city each day. Many reside and pay taxes in other municipalities, but they come downtown to watch the fireworks and crash their cars.

However, the department waited too long to appeal to Vancouver city council for more staff. The workload report was used earlier this year to win 50 new permanent positions.

Why didn't that appeal come sooner? Where was our mayor and police board chair, Philip Owen, as the department was starved of the officers it needed?

Of course, demands on police are increasing everywhere. Ever-more sophisticated tools are developed to fight crime, like a planned DNA bank, but money's tight. For example, the provincial government recently refused to cover a $10-million shortfall in the RCMP's B.C. budget.

So we need to ensure resources are deployed efficiently, especially given the new range of terrorism-related security concerns. That means examining the viability of regional police forces -- the Lower Mainland currently has six municipal forces plus several RCMP detachments. We need more sophisticated, integrated computer systems to connect various forces. We need to better manage complex criminal investigations.

But there's still the overarching concern of how we treat the disadvantaged. A society has a duty to protect every citizen. People in the sex trade are already victims. We diminish them further, and we degrade ourselves, when we fail to adequately protect them from rape and murder.

The lives of prostitutes may be fractured and desperate, but they have hopes and dreams. They have families who love them. They love their families in return.

Virtually all our social and political institutions are guilty of marginalizing "junkies" and "whores." And all our institutions -- the police most particularly, where these disappeared women are concerned -- must never forget that every human life really matters.

How the investigation was flawed-Sept 22, 2001
DNA Samples not used-Sept 24, 2001
Police didn't pick up suspect who later murdered-Sept 25, 2001
B.C. slow to adopt lessons from Bernardo case-Sept 26, 2001
A killer's slip-up gave police a break-Sept 28, 2001
Sexual predator case prompts review-Sept 28
Police build a bridge to families-Oct 4, 2001




Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016