Vancouver cops may amend missing person policy

Amendments target aboriginals, the homeless, sex trade workers


The Vancouver Police Department wants its missing persons policy amended to clearly state the importance of handling cases involving aboriginal people, the homeless and sex trade workers.

The VPD's current policy does not provide guidance on what a police officer should do when working on missing persons cases involving this category of people.

The amendments call for specific language to be written into the policy that underlies the well-documented fact that aboriginals and others "face challenges that increase their risk of going missing and may be barriers to reporting" their disappearance.

"It is important that the principles of respect, compassion and empathy be emphasized and guide all missing person investigations," the proposed policy reads. "Some aboriginal persons and specifically some aboriginal women and children and marginalized persons are in a group who have a statistically higher risk of suffering violence. As a result, missing persons complaints must be evaluated to determine if persons belonging to any of these groups should be investigated as a high risk missing person."

The current policy lists "high risk people" as those under 12 years old, the elderly or persons with mental or physical disabilities.

Changes to the VPD's missing persons policy includes a definition of marginalized people: the homeless, those with alcohol or drug addictions, mental disorders, sex trade workers "and anyone who may be subject of a cultural bias."

The proposed amendments, which were approved by Police Chief Jim Chu and the VPD's executive committee, need approval from the Vancouver Police Board. The board meets Wednesday to discuss the request.

The amendments are based on a 2006 resolution adopted by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police that recommended all police forces in the country consider changes to their missing persons policies.

The request comes as the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry continues to examine how so many women, many of whom were aboriginal sex trade workers, went missing from the Downtown Eastside and were murdered.

Robert Pickton, a former Port Coquitlam pig farmer, was convicted in six murders. Police have said remains or DNA of 33 women were found on Pickton's farm.

Mona Woodward, executive director of the Aboriginal Front Door Society, said the amendments to the VPD's missing persons policy are long overdue but the timing of the policy review is more than coincidental.

Woodward noted VPD Deputy Chief Doug LePard recently testified in the inquiry and resumes his testimony next week. LePard has revealed how a litany of police mistakes failed to earlier target Pickton.

"This is a new development and the first time I've heard they were doing this," Woodward said Monday of the policy change. "But it's a positive initiative by the VPD to address the missing and murdered women, aboriginal women and aboriginal girls."

The police board meeting will be held at the VPD's Cambie Street station and begins at 1 p.m. The missing women inquiry resumes Nov. 21 at 10 a.m. in the federal courthouse at 701 West Georgia St.

Twitter: @Howellings




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

Updated: August 21, 2016