COMPENDIUM OF PROMISING PRACTICES TO REDUCE VIOLENCE AND INCREASE SAFETY OF ABORIGINAL WOMEN IN CANADA – COMPENDIUM ANNEX: DETAILED PRACTICE DESCRIPTIONS
INTERACTIONS WITHIN COMMUNITIES
- Program name:
The Sister Watch Project
The Vancouver Police Department (with the Battered Women's Support Services, Aboriginal Front Door, February 14th Women's Memorial March Committee).
Vancouver, British Columbia
- Target Group:
Victimized women and girls of all ages and their families.
- Contact Name:
The program was created in 2010. There has been a greater awareness of the program as a result of activities designed to create awareness of the issue, releases through the media. The Vancouver Downtown East Side community made it clear that men cannot be protected by the justice system when they violate, murder and abuse women, whether in a street context or not, and that the Vancouver Police Department have now set the tone and taken a leadership role in change on dealing with violence against Aboriginal women in a way that does not allow perpetrators to evade detection and prosecution.
- Goals & Objectives:
To combat violence against women in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver and to make the neighbourhood safer for everyone who lives and works there.
- Traditional/Indigenous ways:
Women are the main focus of the program; which is led by Indigenous women. Meetings are opened with traditional prayers, and traditional medicines are used in ceremonies. There is recognition of Elders and the traditional territories of the Aboriginal people. Local indigenous leadership and Elders are sought for consultation. Women are central to the program, as they were in the pre-contact Aboriginal societies. An Aboriginal Elder moderates the town hall meetings. The talking circle is used during discussions, and speakers have the option to share with the use of an eagle feather.
- Components of program:
The program is a partnership between the Vancouver Police Department and women's groups that seeks to increase the safety of women, by providing an enhanced police and community response service. The program has been responsible for the installation of emergency phones at strategic locations that women who lack phones can use when they are in need of assistance. The program has also benefitted the relationship the VPD has with the community of the Downtown Vancouver East Side through influencing policy changes in how front line emergency responders communicate and treat victims and the general public. Meetings which include all committee members are held every six weeks. As well, members of the Speakers Bureau are available to attend functions to speak on the Sister Watch Project.
- Services/How they work:
The program is community based and seeks to increase awareness and improve community policing services
Sister Watch is unfunded; however the Vancouver Police Department or the Vancouver Police Board provides "in kind contributions" by way of human resources, office material, communications and electronic technology.
Relationships and Stakeholders
- Involvement of Target Groups:
Women on the committee, both from the community as well as from the Vancouver PD, are directly involved, and provide leadership and advocate against predators that are known on the street to harm and murder Aboriginal women and girls. Women on the committee help to create an investigative environment where marginalized women are prioritized, and discuss specific and contextual ways of increasing women's safety.
Battered Women's Support Services, Aboriginal Front Door and the February 14th Women's Memorial March Committee.
- Other relationships:
Details of Program Evaluation
No formal evaluation has taken place. However, the Vancouver Police Department monitors and evaluates activities of the project as well as investigations into complaints received, and has prepared and disseminated documentation and media releases outlining successes that can be attributed to the Sister Watch project.
- Highlights of Evaluation Findings:
- Measures of Success:
Committee members review and provide feedback on the number and nature of calls to the tip-line, the number of sexual predators that they work to keep in jail and off the streets, they pay attention to the number of victims who come forward to give evidence and monitor the community's concerns as they pertain to the police response to complaints of violence against women and girls. Well-attended regular community gatherings with Vancouver Police Department officers and Downtown East Side residents who share their concerns, allow police to keep residents informed about their progress in criminal investigations and improvements in community safety; these meetings are led by women on the Sister Watch committee and use Aboriginal Talking Circle principles in conducting the meetings.
Development and regular updates of Sister Watch website. The creation of the Sister Watch Project and the Sister Watch Speakers Bureau, where female VPD police officers speak to groups and organizations about personal safety, have been very beneficial. Release of position paper by Vancouver Police Department – "The Tragedy of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women in Canada: We Can Do Better". Police responses have incorporated recommendations from the Sister Watch committee with regard to improved community and individual safety.
The lack of trust by the Downtown East Side community members of the Vancouver Police Department officers, as a result of a perceived lack of action to complaints by women, has been a challenge. With the backdrop of Missing Women's Inquiry and the perceived investigative inactivity, a highly politicized environment had been created. From the VPD perspective, the most difficult challenge was to establish and build trust between the VPD members, the committee members as well as the Aboriginal female victims of crime (and their families) in the Downtown East Side.
Things to Know to Replicate
- Replication Advice:
The program is considered replicable. The passions and political context are there for the program to thrive in other areas in Canada that have a similar environment to Vancouver's Downtown East Side. There is a perception that law enforcement does not follow through adequately on the demands for service and queries on missing women, in particular the inquiries from or about marginalized women. In addition to the different cultures involved, the program allows effective policing that can mitigate the cross jurisdictional issues that arise from working and interacting with different police services, as well as provincial, federal, municipal and/or territorial departments.
Adequate training for social service agencies such as the police would need to be initiated. Public awareness initiatives illustrating social service commitment would also need to be established and regularly updated.
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