British Columbia

Vancouver police launch Safe Place program to help LGBTQ victims of hate crimes

Through the program, businesses, schools and other public places are encouraged to act as safe spaces for victims of anti-LGBTQ crimes and support them in calling for help.

Goal is for victims of anti-LGBTQ crimes to have safe locations where they can call the police

The Vancouver Police Department is launching the Safe Place program — where local businesses are encouraged to become safe havens for victims of anti-LGBTQ crime. (Simon Charland-Faucher/CBC)

Vancouver police are launching a new initiative they hope will provide a safe place to anyone experiencing anti-LGBTQ hate crimes.

The Safe Place initiative allows any business, school or public location to display a special decal to indicate it's a haven for victims — allowing them to enter the premises so they can call police and get support until help arrives.

Each location signs a pledge form saying it will support all victims of anti-LGBTQ crimes or incidents.

Vancouver police LGBTQ advisor Velvet Steele hopes the program will give people the courage to report these crimes.

"I'm no stranger to violence myself, and having been a victim, I can tell you it takes a lot of courage to come forward and report these crimes," she said.

Steele said she was encouraged by the number of businesses that have signed up to join the program.

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"We've had great support with the over 100 businesses so far that have come on board, and we're hopeful as awareness increases that the number of businesses will [also] increase," said VPD diversity officer Const. Dale Quiring.

Program started in Seattle

The program is based on a similar initiative in Seattle — the brainchild of James Ritter, a LGBTQ liason officer with the Seattle Police Department.

From left to right: Velvet Steele, who sits on VPD's LGBTQ advisory panel; VPD's diversity officer Const. Dale Quiring; and Seattle PD officer James Ritter, who first started the Safe Place program. (Simon Charland-Faucher/CBC)

Ritter said the symbolism of the program sends a strong message to victims and their supporters that police won't stand idly by in silence. 

He said when the program was first adopted in Seattle in June 2015, the police saw an increase in hate crimes reported.

They made seven arrests during Seattle's Pride week, two of which took place at a Safe Place location, where members of the public held the suspects until police came, Ritter said.

"This is not just for the victims of LGBTQ crimes," he said. "It's also to educate police officers in taking proper hate crimes reports, and re-engaging with community members that they may not be familiar with, whether they be gay, lesbian, or transgender."

A 'fantastic' initiative

Some of the businesses part of the program say they're thrilled to be on board.

Lisa Inglis works at Vera's Burger Shack — one of the businesses participating in the initiative. (CBC)

Lisa Inglis works at Vera's Burger Shack in the West End, which put up their decal yesterday.

"I think it's fantastic. I live in the neighbourhood and it's a touristy area. I'd like people to know if there's some weird person following them or whatever, they can come in here and feel safe," she said.