Missing women were considered ‘scum of the Earth,’ inquiry hears

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/Missing+women+were+considered+scum+Earth+inquiry+hears/6508611/story.html

Vancouver police were racist and sexist, former 911 operator testifies

By Suzanne Fournier, Postmedia News April 24, 2012

A former 911 operator told the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry Monday that Vancouver police officers viewed missing sex workers as “scum of the earth” who weren’t worth “wasting valuable time and money trying to find.”

Rae-Lynn Dicks, now in a criminology master’s degree program, testified that she believes many officers held “both sexist and racist” attitudes that prevented them from halting an active serial killer preying on sex trade workers.

The inquiry is supposed to determine why it took police so long to stop a decades-long killing spree by now-convicted serial killer Robert Pickton.

Dicks agreed with Cameron Ward, the lawyer for 25 missing and murdered women, that “this was a pervasive culture, within the ranks of male [Vancouver Police Department] officers, of a demeaning attitude toward women, people of other races and toward people less fortunate.”

Dicks said that she does not blame all officers but noted it was “systemic.”

“Sergeants made sexist jokes and remarks and the corporals remained silent.”

Dicks testified that the Vancouver police policy was to not take a missing persons report about a homeless person or anyone who had “no fixed address.”

She said a sergeant “got mad” at her for taking a report about a missing homeless person and told her to follow policy and “not be a bleeding heart.”

Dicks became emotional as she testified. “It was said many, many times by more than one sergeant. If they don’t live here, they’re just hookers, for all we know they’re in Toronto now.

“[Officers] didn’t care. The women were marginalized. Most were aboriginal.”

Dicks said “a majority” of her supervisors felt “these people are the scum of the earth. We’re not going to spend valuable time and money trying to find them.

“Aboriginal people were depicted as being always drunk,” said Dicks, her voice shaking. “They were mimicked. A sergeant would pretend to be a drunk aboriginal woman and make jokes about how they talked or spoke.”

While sex-offence detectives took assaults on sex workers seriously, she said, other officers said “hookers can’t get raped. They’re only reporting it because they didn’t get paid.”

The inquiry also heard from police missing persons unit civilian clerk Sandy Cameron, who spent 22 years in a unit so devalued by Vancouver police that it was seen as a spot for junior constables, the almost-retired or those on desk duty.

Cameron, viewed by many families of the missing women as “abusive” and “racist” or the reason their loved ones’ disappearance wasn’t taken seriously, denied she treated anyone with disrespect.

Cameron said she had no training for the job. She also said 70 per cent of people reported missing are found within 24 or 48 hours, but she handled many files of runaway youth or people who walked away from seniors’ homes or hospital psychiatric wards.

The commission announced Monday that it will hold six policy forums from May 1 to 10 but Commissioner Wally Oppal will hand in his final report by the end of June.

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