An open letter to Charlottetown police on drink-spiking cases

We want solutions. We want accountability. We want to FEEL and BE safe in our community. We want more than just being told to watch our drinks, writes Carlie Howell.

We want solutions. We want accountability. We want action.

'You have offered little to no support to those who have been victimized, and you’ve offered zero solutions,' writes Carlie Howell. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

This column is an opinion from Carlie Howell, a musician and educator based in P.E.I. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

EDITOR'S NOTE |  The author of this piece intentionally uses the "womxn" spelling throughout. This spelling denotes inclusion of trans women and gender queer females, and seeks to combat the prevalence of male-gendered terms in the English language.

The following is an open letter to the Charlottetown Police Department about their handling of a series of alleged drink spiking incidents in Charlottetown.

I am a newcomer to this Island. I am a professional bass player, composer, and artist educator. I moved here last year to be with my girlfriend, and also out of a desire to be closer to the land, to the water, to good food and good people. 

Last month, I had a break between soundcheck and performing in a local holiday production. I had scheduled a call with my stepdaughter to help with her resumé, so I popped into a local pub to set up my computer and chat. Even as a newcomer to this Island, this particular venue feels cozy, comfortable, and safe. It's the kind of place where the bartenders know your name and you're bound to run into some friends. I ordered a beer, found a hightop, and set down my stuff. 

I was about to pop into the bathroom when I stopped dead in my tracks. It wasn't the expensive laptop, the fancy phone, or my wallet that gave me pause. It was my beer, and your words of advice on an investigation into spiked drinks warning people to "keep a close eye" on their drinks.

All of a sudden, this cozy community establishment became a little less comfortable, a little less familiar. I glanced around at the six other patrons. Why? I don't know, because spiking people's drinks isn't something one wears on their sleeve. 

Should I take my beer with me? Seems a bit gross. Take it back to the bar? Seems a bit excessive. I opted for a quick exchange of eye contact with the bartender and a nod to my drink. A drink that had, a moment ago, appeared delicious now looked … vulnerable.

No progress, no arrests

The article published by CBC P.E.I. on Nov. 16 about a series of alleged drink-spiking incidents, as well as several sexual assaults, was not the first time I had heard about these alleged incidents.

Moving here, I was not naive to the fact that bad behaviour exists everywhere, but coming from a big city to a small place, I suppose I hoped it would be better. I had hoped that people would have each other's backs, that those meant to protect us would know us, care about us, do their job and take ownership of their responsibilities.

For the record, I support defunding the police. 

As a queer person with a mental health diagnosis who lives in community with folks across the spectrum of gender, sexuality, race, and mental and physical ability, I am well aware that policing is not synonymous with safety for all people. 

'We want solutions. We want answers. We want to FEEL and BE safe in our community.' (CBC)

I am also aware that the budgets for valuable programming that have positive and preventative impacts on these communities are being cut while police budgets grow. And the situation we are currently experiencing is a perfect example.

You're not preventing anything. These crimes are happening, and womxn are being harmed. You say you care, but you have been unable to make any progress in this case or make a single arrest. 

Prevention is a community endeavour

You have offered little to no support to those who have been victimized, and you've offered zero solutions, except for, "Keep a close eye on [your] drinks." This is classic victim-blaming. You are making us responsible for preventing an assault from happening by urging us to be constantly vigilant, constantly alert, constantly in fear. 

I would like to firmly disagree with the statement of, "Keep a close eye on [your] drinks." Assault is NEVER the victim's fault, and prevention is a community endeavour.

I want to be clear about the message you are sending: If in the moment I went to wash my hands the bartender got busy and someone slipped something into my drink, and IF I was brave enough to come report this, you would ask, "Did you leave your drink unattended?" If I answered yes, that would be the end of the conversation. That's the message you are sending. I didn't heed your advice, and therefore it's my fault, your job is done here.

But it wouldn't be my fault, and your job is just beginning. 

We want solutions. We want answers. We want to FEEL and BE safe in our community. There are a few individuals creating havoc and causing harm to the rest of us. Not just womxn who are being victimized, but every person in that bar who became a suspect when I was told to "keep a close eye" on my drink.

Here's how you can serve us

Here are some of the ways your could use your resources to address the critical issue of drugging and sexual assault in our community. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but considers institutional, workplace, educational and community contexts.

  • Host and/or sponsor professionally facilitated, properly resourced restorative and/or transformative justice circles to create space for those who are made vulnerable to speak their truth in a safe, supportive environment, and to build relationships of trust between community members and community leaders.

  • With proper consultation, work to improve the way womxn who have been victimized are treated when coming forward and ensure your reporting process doesn't further victimize them.

  • Create a training program for servers, bartenders, event hosts, and other community leaders to help them look for signs of misconduct, recognize when patrons of any gender identity are experiencing distress, and to create safer environments both inside and outside their establishments and events.

  • Support the creation of a community-based Watch My Drink program, a buddy system akin to Designated Driver programs, where people (who are screened and trained) volunteer to stay sober and watch drinks at a designated safe table.

  • Purchase and distribute drink test kits that are discreet, easy to use, and commercially available.

  • Create a community information campaign that dismantles rape culture, promotes accountability, and puts the focus on ALL community members to create safe environments (as opposed to the focus being only on womxn to keep themselves safe.

  • Work with provincial leaders to encourage age-appropriate instruction about consent from elementary through post-secondary, as well as in the work-place.

Womxn on this Island shouldn't have to do your job for you. But when we do, the very least you can do is listen. I'm hoping, however, you'll do more than the least, and take real action.


Carlie Howell is a professional bassist, composer, and artist educator, as well as a bonus parent, writer, social and environmental activist. They live with their partner, Tanya, and cats Chicken and Duck Duck, with gratitude, on Epekwitk in Mi’kma’ki, the traditional and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq.