Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Aug. 25, 2012)

The ‘Greenshirts’

By Bob Cooper


Throughout the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry much has been made of the failures of the police.  While there certainly were failures I waited, fool that I am, for someone to have the balls to stand up, bring some balance to bear, and say that there is only so much you can do to protect irresponsible people from themselves.  Better odds of seeing a unicorn sober (me, not the unicorn) but you live in hope. 

This is the link to the recommendations submitted by lawyer Jason Gratl, Independent (& publicly funded) Counsel representing the interests of the Downtown Eastside to the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry (Independent Counsel Report to Commissioner of Inquiry August 16, 2012) .  Long, convoluted, and full of lefty rhetoric, there is some truth in it, but much of the truth has been twisted, molded, and perverted until it fits nicely into Mr. Gratl’s arguments.  Using selective detail, it disparages two very close personal friends of mine, VPD Det. Scott Driemel and RCMP Cpl. Frank Henley.  Telling the full story on each would require a column apiece and will have to wait for another time. 

Sandy Cameron wasn't the only one who used the words 'whore' and 'hooker' back then, we all did.  The guys I worked with both on the beat and later in the Detective Office had no moral or religious issues about prostitution.  It wasn't about the women themselves but rather about the nuisance factor and all of the problems they bring with them wherever they set up shop.  There isn't a policeman I knew who would have stood by and let killings happen because the victims were prostitutes or investigated their murders with any less effort as evidenced by the fact that we solved a number of prostitute murders over the same time period.

Sandy could be short with people, rich as well as poor, on the phone but not once did I ever hear her say anything racist.  She would occasionally give unsolicited advice as to what she perceived as the underlying familial problem that resulted in husbands or kids running away and we had to remind her that she was there to take Missing Persons Reports, not to be the VPD’s Ann Landers.  Sandy was quite passionate about her work and this sometimes came out as a ‘high negative’ but her heart was generally in the right place. 

People like Mr. Gratl see all manner of discrimination round every corner and behind every mailbox.  He claims that the dangers faced by prostitutes were brought about by the police whereas the average person would think that standing on a skid road street corner and getting into strange cars with strange men night after night is an extremely dangerous activity in itself and there is precious little the police can do to protect people who do that.  Like Mayor Robertson with cyclists, they believe the world revolves around 'survival sex trade workers' and the whole of society should bend to their will and implement radical changes to accommodate a tiny percentage of the population who made bad, albeit tragic, lifestyle choices.  In their view, any who question this or refuse to agree become Pickton's accomplices. 

Here is a sample of Mr. Gratl’s recommendations and as you read, keep in mind that your tax dollars paid for them:

Implement a sex worker liaison unit operating seven days a week throughout the day and night


Eliminate enforcement of arrest warrants for persons wishing to report violent or sexual offences. It may be necessary to consult with Provincial Courts administration regarding the form of arrest warrants


Cease the harassment of sex workers with checks, searches, involuntary information collection


Guarantee immunity from prosecution for persons wishing to report crimes of violence or sexual violence.


Implement a police control car with a peer worker


Create a “greenshirts” patrol of ten or more pedestrian officers who would only take reports from persons within the Downtown Eastside.  Greenshirts would be directed not to arrest, detain or search any person. A three-month stint in the “greenshirts” could be a mandatory part of police training.


Recommend renaming the “Vice Squad” as the “Sexual Exploitation Squad”, targeting exploitative sexual relationships and abuses of positions of trust, power or authority, rather than consensual sexual transactions. It is not for the police constabulary to promote sexual virtue.

My personal favorite is the 'Greenshirts'.  What a beauty.  Right up there with lowering the speed limit on Hastings to 30 kmh to better enable the locals to J-walk and obstruct traffic.  Perhaps between taking reports the ‘Greenshirts’ could be tasked with passing out clean needles, lubes & condoms, and, of course, those coveted Sisterwatch lighters.  You know, since they won’t be allowed to do anything else.  BTW, Mr. Gratl may not be aware of this but the recommendation concerning the Vice Squad has already been implemented with the exception of the actual name change.  The recently adopted policy of vice enforcement says that, like Critical Mass, prostitutes are now essentially immune from arrest.  They get a Sex Trade Liaison Officer while families and businesses that are affected by their activities are on their own.   Most cops believe that, sensing what was coming, this was a marketing ploy designed and timed to showcase a new, improved, VPD that's way out ahead of the curve (See, we already did it.  Without being told).

A word on the much-maligned PCs Fell & Wolthers who have been described as ‘not team players’ and bulls in a china shop.   While their manners and language may have been rough they volunteered to work on that Task Force which means they cared about these women and no one has accused them of not working hard.  Whether you liked them or not, they were the only ones on the Task Force to make a single arrest and they took an extremely dangerous sexual predator off the street.  Having little investigative background they made some mistakes like getting tunnel vision and focusing on one suspect to the exclusion of all others.  Basically the same thing that others did but those who put their money on Pickton became heroes and got to point fingers while Fell & Wolthers became the Poster Boys of oppression. 

Finally, Mr. Gratl calls for an independent audit of police attitudes toward the people of the downtown east side.  First, they get the scrutiny of the new Independent Investigations Office, and now District 2 cops will have The Attitude Police to contend with as well.

Good luck guys.



Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver policeman.  He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.



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