I’m gay. I’m also a criminologist, the stepson of a retired Vancouver Police Department Detective (the gentlest guy on the planet with more integrity in his pinky finger than most have in their entire body), and a guy whose best bud is a current VPD member, along with several other close friends in policing.
As such, I’m a strong supporter of the law enforcement community. However, even more than that, I’m a firm believer in battling injustice.
My very first job — immediately upon graduating from high school in 1999 — was with the BC Youth Police Network (Ministry of the Attorney General). My role was to tour the province doing school presentations on topics like racism, bullying, and sexual exploitation. Since then, I have dedicated myself to various social justice initiatives; to this day, my consulting firm works almost exclusively with non-profit agencies and Aboriginal organizations.
Before I go any further, I need to acknowledge my white privilege. Despite 20-plus years of social justice advocacy, I can never fully relate to challenges faced by people of colour. What happened to George Floyd was inexcusable, and the police officer responsible and those who stood by should all be prosecuted.
As a member of the LGBTQ2 community, I am well aware of the history of the Pride movement, including the Stonewall Uprising and those who were brutalized at the hands of police; most notably black and transgender persons.
That said, I could not be more disappointed — angered, in fact — by the Vancouver Pride Society’s decision to exclude all law enforcement agencies from Pride 2020. I am all for standing in solidarity with those facing injustice, and our community has faced some dark times — but I am not okay with any form of discrimination; especially based on such broad brushstrokes as a person’s profession.
It's important to remember the catalyst for the recent demonstrations took place in the United States – not Canada. Comparing almost anything with the United States is the epitome of comparing apples to oranges. The systemic racism prevalent in many U.S. law enforcement agencies cannot be compared to the vast majority of Canadian law enforcement agencies.
Does racism exist within some agencies in Canada? Undoubtedly. Every profession has individuals who do it a huge disservice. This is just a reality; some people are simply not good people.
Most of us grew up being told the importance of not allowing a few bad apples to spoil the bunch. And yet, we have this tendency to paint entire professions with broad brushstrokes.
As a society we have evolved – including law enforcement. The institution of policing has always behaved consistently with the social norms and discriminatory laws of the time. I would further submit – specifically with respect to the Stonewall Uprising – that many of those police had previously served as soldiers, had very little training, and it’s safe to assume were battling with serious mental health issues during an era when men were told to “shut up, have a drink and suck it up.”
Yes, I understand that uniforms and sidearms can be disconcerting for some; but I believe banning police from Pride sends powerful - but dangerous - messages, like: police cannot be trusted; they all use too much force; they all lack the necessary training; they are all racist.
Those kinds of generalizations are just as offensive as those once made against the gay community, like: we have a mental health disorder; we are pedophiles; being gay is a choice, and more. Simply put, the Vancouver Pride Society has demonstrated a degree of hypocrisy here.
Think of the message this sends to an immigrant from a country where police are known to be corrupt. Or to kids we tell - rightly - that if they're ever in danger, they should ask a police officer for help.
Has the VPD had its issues in the past? Sure. Are there still instances where an officer is completely out of line? Of course. But the VPD is also perhaps one of the most forward-thinking law enforcement agencies in the country. They were among the first in Canada to march in a Pride parade (1997). They have an LGBTQ2 Liaison Officer; an Indigenous Liaison Officer; and a cadet program that teaches roughly 90 youth each school-year the importance of diversity, respect and inclusion (among numerous other important life lessons and values). They have ongoing training increments for all their officers; and, of course, all officers are graduates of the JIBC Police Academy.
Members of the VPD can often be seen volunteering. You may have seen K9 officers posing with their dogs for the annual fundraising calendar. Or participating in Cops for Cancer. Or the Odd Squad, who have been doing outreach in Vancouver's downtown east side.
Finally, the VPD is one of the most diverse law enforcement agencies in the country. They represent all faiths, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities, and more. Simply put, they are a strong reflection of the community they serve.
I’d like to end by stating three things:
First, policing is one of the toughest jobs there is. I have seen more heartache and more violence in a single ride-along than most will in a lifetime. To deal with those things on any kind of regular basis will inevitably take its toll. And yet, they do it, without complaint, so the rest of us don’t have to worry.
Second, the Vancouver Pride Society’s decision has hurt a lot of good men and women – in particular those police officers who are part of the LGBTQ2 community. These men and women have been working hard within their own systems to make positive changes and do so proudly wearing the uniform. This decision marginalizes them.
Lastly, to the Vancouver Pride Society Board of Directors, I believe it's time to build bridges. Please consider this an opportunity to live out your values of inclusivity; not demonize an entire profession the same way we were.
Look beyond the uniform and see the people behind the badge.
Justin P. Goodrich is the Managing Partner at Alliance Public Affairs Group. He holds a Master of Laws and is a lecturer in public policy.
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