Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Don't Enforce Warrants on Sex Workers Reporting Abuse, Pickton Inquiry Hears: Inquiry Tackles How Police Treat Sex Workers

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Don't Enforce Warrants on Sex Workers Reporting Abuse, Pickton Inquiry Hears: Inquiry Tackles How Police Treat Sex Workers

Article excerpt

VANCOUVER - Sex workers must be able to come forward with allegations of abuse without worrying about whether police will arrest them on unrelated, outstanding warrants, the public inquiry into the Robert Pickton case has heard.

Several presenters at a series of policy forums examining how police should treat sex workers have raised concerns that officers are using minor, nuisance-related charges to ticket vulnerable women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

If those small tickets lead to warrants because women fail to appear in court to deal with them, they will be reluctant to come forward if they are victimized, the inquiry heard Thursday.

"It's extremely endangering for them to have warrants," said Ann Livingston of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users .

"Police should stop ticketing for minor offences such as street vending and institute a policy whereby police waive prosecution for outstanding warrants when victims or witnesses are reporting violent crime."

The Vancouver Police Department introduced a draft policy earlier this year that directs officers to look at prostitution-related charges as a last resort when dealing with sex workers.

The force has pointed to statistics that show only three women have been arrested and charged with communicating for the purpose of prostitution since 2007. Charges were stayed in two of those cases, and the third ended in a conditional discharge.

But the inquiry has heard officers are still issuing violation tickets to sex workers for offences such as jaywalking, street vending and spitting on the sidewalk.

Others find themselves facing charges related to drugs or breaching bail conditions that would also make them wary of approaching a police officer who might run their name through a criminal database, the inquiry has heard.

"A lot of times, the reason these girls are not reporting violent crimes is because they're afraid when they're in there, they're going to get arrested for spitting on the sidewalk or peeing in an alley they did a few months before," said Lori-Ann Ellis, whose sister-in-law Cara Ellis's remains were found on Pickton's farm.

"I think those need to be put aside," she told the inquiry. …

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