Comox Valley police start Safe Place initiative for LGBTQ community
Rainbow decals on storefronts indicate doors are open for hate crime victims
Phyllis Katcher says that while her Comox Valley community is more accepting nowadays, there's still work to be done.
Katcher, the president of the Comox Valley Pride Society, says she supports recent efforts by local RCMP to implement a new Safe Place Program for members of the LGBTQ community, where businesses can agree to open their doors to victims of hate crimes, bullying, and harassment.
"We live in a community where there are still hate crimes, there's still the bullying...," said Katcher.
Const. Monika Terragni from the Comox RCMP said the program "offers people shelter if they're feeling unsafe" to call the police and wait for officers to arrive. Businesses indicate they are welcoming by placing a rainbow-coloured decal at their storefront.
The Vancouver police began the program in 2016, and Prince Rupert became the first community with an RCMP detachment to establish the program in 2018. The Comox Valley is the first location on Vancouver Island to take part. Safe Place programs have also been established in other B.C. communities including Mission, Chilliwack, Langley and Fort St. John.
Hate crimes underreported
"Many crimes involving the community aren't reported or are underreported," said Terragni. "We want all members of our community to feel safe coming to the police."
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Katcher said this could be due to a distrust that many older members of the LGBTQ community have for the police because of past disagreements with authorities. "I think it's a good initiative," she explained, "but not everybody is going to feel the same way."
Christopher Kelsey, a lawyer at Swift Datoo Law Corporation in Courtenay, said pledging his firm to the program was the "responsible thing to do as a downtown company." The business is one of a handful that have already signed on.
'It doesn't matter who it is'
"It's about providing a message of support and compassion to our neighbours," said Kelsey, adding that the safe space is open to people from outside of the LGBTQ community as well. "It doesn't matter who it is, if they're someone in need … then this is a place they can come to," he said.
Katcher said she'll be encouraged to see rainbow stickers on the storefronts. "I'm more apt to give them my business because I know I'm not going to be judged by walking in," she said.
Hateful sentiments are still alive
Katcher said that while groups in the Comox Valley have taken efforts to be more inclusive, hateful sentiments are "absolutely" still alive. Last summer the City of Courtenay painted its first rainbow crosswalk, but it was vandalised soon after.
The local library also held its first drag queen story hour during last year's Pride Week which she said was mostly a success with the exception of a bystander who caused a "kerfuffle" and was removed from the building.
Instances like this, she said, make the Safe Place program a good step toward strengthening relationships and trust with the police and local businesses.
Currently the small, six-person Pride Society of the Comox Valley will be working to spread the message about the initiative to local businesses and has discussed putting together a list of the companies that have signed on.
Katcher said she's looking for more volunteers to help the society spread the word to the rest of the valley.