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British Columbia Vancouver Police ordered to show more respect to transgender people

Angela Dawson directs traffic at Main and Hastings streets in Vancouver in March 2012.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has ruled Vancouver Police must find better ways to deal with transgender people after officers called a trans woman by male pronouns and failed to provide post-surgery care in jail.

A decision released Tuesday ordered the Vancouver Police Board to pay Angela Dawson $15,000 for injuries to her dignity, feelings and self-respect.

Tribunal member Catherine McCreary also said the force committed "systemic discrimination" over how it identified transgender people and must now adopt new policies within a year.

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"Ms. Dawson testified that, when the police refer to her as (her legal name) Jeffrey or use male gender pronouns, it makes her feel embarrassed and humiliated," wrote McCreary.

"She thinks that, when the police treat her as a male, it gives other people the right to treat her as a male, to pick on her, and to humiliate her."

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who is chair of the police board, said in a statement that he will be reviewing the decision with the department.

"The City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Police Department have the highest level of respect and appreciation for our city's remarkable diversity, and a firm commitment to protect the rights and freedoms of the LGBTTQ community and all Vancouver residents," he said.

Dawson filed the complaint after several run-ins with police in Vancouver, where she is known as "Rollergirl," as she likes to direct traffic while wearing Rollerblades.

While McCreary dismissed several of her complaints, she found that police engaged in discrimination twice in 2010.

In March 2010, Dawson spent a night in jail shortly after she had completed her sex reassignment surgery. Even though she told jail nurses she needed to do certain post-surgery procedures, she was not given the appropriate equipment or taken to hospital, wrote McCreary.

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The decision says Dawson was "very concerned" about undertaking these procedures, called dilations. The risks of not doing them include infections or irreversible damage to the vaginal canal.

In another incident in June 2010, an arrest report referred to Dawson as "he" and "him" and by her legal name, Jeffrey, even though she gave her name as Angela at the scene.

The arresting officer testified that he used her legal name on the form because that was how she was identified in a police database. However, on other citations, Dawson was referred to as Angela.

The police board argued it was Dawson's responsibility to legally change her name, but she testified she didn't think she could afford it.

McCreary found the board has no clear policy on how it identifies trans people and ordered it to create such a policy within a year.

Vancouver police Const. Brian Montague said the department will carefully review the decision to ensure the safety of anyone in custody remains a top priority. He said being sensitive to how transgender people identify is very important.

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"Our officers are hired and trained based on some fundamental core values," he said. "One of those core values is respect, and we expect our officers to be respectful of each and every one of the hundreds of people they encounter on a daily basis."

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