June 20-27, 1996. Vol. 30 No. 1487

Charlie Smith

Investigated Vice Gets New Boss

Vancouver police provided few details about the circumstances surrounding the appointment of a new head of the vice squad after the Georgia Straight raised the issue at the department's daily media briefing on June 17. Police media spokesperson Const. Anne Drennan revealed that Insp. Ken Doern will be in charge of vice intelligence, which investigates prostitution, bawdy houses, drugs, and gambling. Drennan said Doern took over from Staff Sgt. Bob Powder.

Drennan also confirmed, in response to a question from the Straight, that a police internal investigation is examining the vice squad, but she refused to provide any details. The following day, she said she couldn't tell when the investigation would be completed but expected that it wouldn't take long.

Doern, a highly regarded officer with a no-nonsense reputation, has been in the community-services department for the past three years. In a brief telephone interview, he said vice and drugs are involved in a reorganization that leaves him in charge of both sections.

"One if the major thrusts on the vice side is the partnership with the provincial government on the provincial prostitution unit, in which we will be focusing on ... early intervention of youth involved in sex trade," Doern said.

John Turvey, executive director of the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society, told the Straight that he was very pleased that Doern has been appointed the head of the vice squad.

"He's got a proven track record," Turvey said, citing instances where Doern has intervened in the past to help children involved in the sex trade. "I think it's a wise decision."

Drennan also said that Sgt. Bill Openshaw, the former acting head of vice, is being transferred to another section of the police department. Openshaw was unavailable for comment. Another member of the vice section, Sgt Gord Elias, told the Straight that he thinks Openshaw will join the patrol division.

Last March, Openshaw was present when Premier Glen Clark and Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh announced that a new provincial antiprostitution unit would be created. A government news release at the time said the unit would consist of "three full-time, dedicated police officers and a Crown counsel to provide training and advice to police, prosecutors and communities" and would "ensure provincewide coordination of strategies".

Shortly after the task force as announced, Openshaw appeared on a Rogers Cablevision program where he questioned the wisdom of arresting the customers of underage street kids, even though this is a cornerstone of the government's antiprostitution initiative. "I'm saying I don't want to put people out on the street to do things that I know won't work," Openshaw said on the program. He added that he would still send officers onto the street, though to show Justice Minister Allan Rock the ineffectiveness of Criminal Code prohibitions on buying sex from minors.

Last February, freelance journalist Kimberly Daum wrote a paper for Turvey's society that demonstrated the reluctance of the Vancouver police department and the attorney-general's ministry to charge people under Section 212(4) of the Criminal Code. Under this section, anyone convicted of obtaining or attempting to obtain sex from a person under 18 is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to up to five years in prison.

"In 6 years, only 6 men were charged in Vancouver for buying sex from a kid, but 354 juveniles were charged for selling it, Daum wrote. She pointed out that in Quebec, 71 people were charged under section 212(4) in 1993 alone and there were 29 convictions.

"Our dismal 7 charges and 2 convictions (AG's office) in 8 years is highly suspect in comparison," she wrote.

During the Rogers broadcast, however Openshaw claimed it was extremely difficult to get teenagers to testify against their customers, which is why the department has focused its efforts on pimps.

Turvey, who was also a guest in the program, responded that customers could be prosecuted if police persuaded teenagers to testify while they were "exiting" the sex trade. He pointed out that this is when kids often inform on their pimps and felt that police could also get kids to testify against their johns at the same time. Openshaw replied: "I'm telling you right now in front of whoever is watching here, it's not going to work."

Wendy Taylor, director of the youth-programs division in the attorney-general's ministry, told the Straight that one of the task force's biggest purposes will be to arrest the customers of teenage sex workers.

Daum's paper cited SFU criminologist John Lowman's 1995 study that estimated the risk of being murdered is 60 to 120 higher for a sex trade worker than for a woman in the general population. "As kids are arrested and see their clients run free," Daum wrote, "they get the message we send loud and clear: Society takes care of its own, and kids are not society's own."

Turvey said he would like the federal government to create a new crime under the sexual-assault category where it would be illegal to purchase sexual services from a minor. "If we're saying it's sexual abuse, let's make it known in the right place in the Criminal code," he said.

More on police misconduct... [Vancouver '96] [News by region] [News by topic]

Created: July 4, 1996
Last modified: July 2, 1997

CSIS Commercial Sex Information Service
Box 3075, Vancouver, BC V6B 3X6
Tel: +1 (604) 488-0710