Sean Bickerton, a Non-Partisan Association (NPA) candidate running for the Vancouver City Council, believes putting more police on the streets in Davie Village on Friday and Saturday nights would help curb gay bashing in the area.
Twenty-eight years ago, two men attacked 27-year-old Bickerton on Davie Street as he walked home after a night of dancing. They beat him unconscious in the parking lot in front of Shoppers Drug Mart.
“I woke up in the emergency room as they were stitching up my face,” says Bickerton. “The police told me I should consider myself lucky.” Back then, he added, the term “gay bashing” wasn’t even around.
Despite subsequent efforts to address incidents of gay bashing, Bickerton said that he doesn’t think they’re enough. “I appreciate the added resources but there needs to be a very visible and targeted program,” he said.
The gay-bashing capital
According to Pink Blood: Homophobic Violence in Canada, a study of anti-gay violence by Douglas Victor Janoff published in 2005, the Vancouver Police Department began actively working on targeting gay bashings in 1997.
That year, the VPD opened an office off Davie Street, now known as the West End-Coal Harbour Community Policing center. The police also set up drop-in hours at the West End Community Centre.
But Vancouver went on to be dubbed Canada’s gay bashing capital after statistics showed that in 2008 it had 34 reported incidents of hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation, the highest per-capita ratio in the country.
And incidents of gay bashing in the West End continue. Just last month, Travis James Johnston was assaulted on Davie Street while walking home with friends after a night at the pub.
According to Spencer Chandra Herbert, the MLA for Vancouver-West End, more uniformed and plainclothes officers have, in fact, been put on the streets of the neighbourhood, starting with last year’s Vancouver Pride Parade & Festival.
“Perhaps Bickerton hasn’t spent a lot of time in the neighborhood,” he said. Bickerton lived in the West End for two and a half years, from 1982-1983 and in 2007; he currently lives in the International Village.
John Bates, a West End resident since 1973, said that he hasn’t noticed that there are more police in the neighbourhood. “I only see the police when they drive by in their cars,” he said. “You could be the biggest crook in Vancouver and they wouldn’t know.”
Bates said that he would welcome more foot patrols, as putting police on the ground means that they get to know the residents.
This is Bickerton’s second bid to be elected to the city council; he ran unsuccessfully in 2008. The move to increase the police presence in David Village, part of his platform for public safety, would be funded through the VPD’s budget.
“No new funds are needed; it would just be a reprioritization,” he said. However, he did not specify exactly who or what in the Vancouver Police Department would get their funding cut.
When Mayor Gregor Robertson was asked recently about his plans to deal with gay bashing, he said he wanted to increase the VPD’s budget to hire more 30 police officers.
These officers would be used to create metro teams, which would target trouble hot spots around the city.
Curt Allison, minister at the St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church and West End resident, thinks Vancouver’s a progressive city when it comes to gay rights.
“But gay bashing still happens,” he said, “right here in Gayville.”
Allison said he is not sure how the issue of gay bashing should be solved, but that for him — and many of his friends — when it comes to choosing a candidate to vote for in the municipal election, it’s an important one.