British Columbia

'We see serious progress': Activist welcomes new VPD rules for processing transgender community members

The Vancouver Police Department adopted new rules Thursday to define how its members are to interact with transgender people who end up in police custody.

Changes come two years after the force lost at the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and had to pay $15K in damages

Morgane Oger says the VPD has come a long way since it was found to have violated the rights of trans community member Angela Dawson in 2015. (Belle Ancel Photography)

The Vancouver Police Department adopted new rules Thursday to define how its members are to interact with transgender people who end up in police custody.

The new rules specifically address the point at which a suspect is taken into custody, searched and transported to jail and the period immediately following arrest.

"Sadly, there have been numerous problems in a number of police departments … like people not believing you when you say you're a woman or you say you're a man, like the Angela Dawson case," said Morgane Oger, the chair of the Trans Alliance Society of British Columbia.

Seeing 'serious progress'

The move is, in part, a reaction to the 2015 B.C. Human Rights Tribunal decision which awarded trans community member Angela Dawson $15,000 in damages and rebuked the VPD for its repeated violations of Dawson's rights.

A year after that ruling, the Vancouver Police Board adopted a policy that officers refer to trans individuals by their preferred names and pronouns.

Thursday's changes go further by allowing transgender people to maintain access to prosthetics such as wigs or breast forms and letting trans people decide the gender with which they'd like to be housed.

"This is going to spread across Metro Vancouver," Oger told Gloria Macarenko, guest host of CBC's On the Coast.

The new policy also asks that conversations involving a suspect's gender identity are handled discreetly. It sets out expectations around what trans people can request to help make them more comfortable during a search, such as which gender they would prefer for the individual that is searching them.

That's an important policy update according to Oger, because people may have sensitivities due to past traumas that affect how they feel about interacting with an officer of a specific gender.

Oger helped draft the rules and said she is happy with the changes and that the culture of the VPD has improved dramatically since the 2015 ruling.

"We see serious progress in respect and empathy, and that's a really good sign," she said.

However, she added that the VPD should be held responsible for it's worst-behaved members, especially if the policy is not adhered to.

"There's a difference between the rules and the culture," said Oger.