RCMP Safe Place Program: A Misstep of Privilege

Written on 02/28/2021
Wilbur Turner

Did you get that warm and fuzzy feeling when police first marched in a Pride parade? I remember those days and having a feeling of excitement that somehow we had made it. Could we have been faulted for thinking officers of the law who had been notorious for harassing, victimizing, and outing members of the community were finally moving into the current century to openly and proudly march lockstep with us? On the surface, that is what it seemed like.

Like me, if you had those feelings of excitement, maybe you did so rightly. One thing that most of us were blind to then was intersectionality issues within our community that were never addressed by law enforcement.

These victories ring hollow when viewed against the backdrop of how violence against our marginalized community members is handled by police units. Acceptance of the perceived victories at face value speaks to privilege.

An RCMP Safe Places program made headlines in Kelowna recently after a local business owner who is also a city councillor approached the RCMP to implement the program. A photo op was held for local media with police officers and the business owner. A rainbow-striped decal in the shape of a police badge with an RCMP logo and the words "RCMP in BC SAFE PLACE" was affixed to the business's front window. Below it was a larger safe space poster, also in the Pride colours.

While the sticker remains on the window, the poster has been removed. The local RCMP detachment has put a pause on the program after Kelowna Pride Society (KPS) released a statement advising that no one in the community had been consulted. The statement in part reads, "...RCMP in Kelowna recently launched their Safe Place Program. Now more than ever, the LGBT2Q+ and BIMPOC communities need to be a part of any dialogue regarding their own well-being."

In announcing the pause, an RCMP spokesperson described launching the program as a misstep and promised to consult with the community before proceeding.

In a KPS-hosted town hall on Facebook Live, some participants vocalized their concern of a designated safe place being associated with a police presence and noted there are still many who do not trust or feel safe with the police. While the program has been launched in other jurisdictions, the police could not provide any statistics on results.

Photo ops and rainbow decals may make some folks feel good; however, we all need to look beyond privilege and realize there are still many right steps to take to ensure this program engenders trust and safety for those who still experience being marginalized. Kudos to KPS for engaging with the community and RCMP to initiate a consultation process.

Wilbur Turner, pronouns he/him, is a Kelowna-based writer and long-time advocate of the LGBTQ community. He is a former president of Kelowna Pride and Fierté Canada Pride and was instrumental in founding Etcetera, Kelowna's peer support group for rainbow youth