Through her extensive experience as an Investigator on the Robert Pickton file, VPD Constable Linda Malcolm established meaningful and trusting relationships with dozens of women and support services on the Downtown Eastside in the early 2000s. The reputation she built for herself throughout the DTES would set her up for even more success in her new role as the VPD’s Sex Trade Liaison starting in 2008.
(Read Part 1 of Linda’s story here which explores the first half of her career with the VPD and how she was able to gain the trust of these vulnerable women.)
Linda went into this new role ready to step up and try to make a personal difference in the lives of these women. Not only did she care for their day-to-day safety and provide them with the information and tools necessary to stay safe on the job, she also made it her mission to help empower women with a personal and practical level of support.
Soon after Linda began at the VPD’s Sex Trade Liaison, she noticed that a vast majority of the women she worked with didn’t have Government issued ID and as such, they weren’t able to access services many of us take for granted. Not being able to get cable for their TV, they weren’t allowed on a bus to travel out of town for family visits or ceremonies, open a bank account and collect their common experience money issued to them by the Government. Without acceptable identification, their quality of life and need to survive led some of these women to commit petty crimes for food, shelter, and clothing.
“I wanted to help this vulnerable community to be able to help themselves and move forward,” explains Linda. “With the help of the Vancouver Police Foundation, I received a grant to cover the cost incurred in obtaining Government Issued identification such as BCID card, BC Services card, replacement letters for lost/stolen SIN cards, Status cards and in some cases passport and Landed Immigrant status documents. We also were able to obtain school records, marriage and death certificates and provide reference letters which included these accompanying documents.”
This ID initiative was called ID4ME and over the past 10 years, with the financial support from the VPF, Linda was able to obtain over 1,200 pieces of identification for this vulnerable population. Not only has ID4ME helped individuals move forward and build back their self-esteem, this program has also assisted the police in being able to positively confirm the identity of a person they may have an interest in.
Establishing and strengthening relationships with Detox, Recovery and Treatment Centres is important when working with women who are interested in getting out of the sex trade and for those who want to get clean. Linda made herself accessible to the community 24/7 by offering her cell phone number to those in the helping community, and the women, trans folks and men who wanted her assistance.
Linda was committed to answering her phone at all hours of the day, and even if she wasn’t able to rush to the location to help in the moment, she was able to send the appropriate responders whether it be patrol police, fire, ambulance, or a social agency in the neighbourhood.
She would connect with community members at Drop In’s and on the street, and together they would make a plan to get treatment – one they could achieve. When the individual was ready and showed a genuine interest in getting clean and healthy, Linda would start paperwork and start advocating for the next open bed at a treatment facility. With Linda’s established connections in the health care sector, the individuals she worked with were often brought into programs in a shorter period of time compared to most.
“The VPD supported my involvement in transporting these courageous individuals, as I was the one behind the wheel driving them within Vancouver and to the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island, including Victoria, Courtney, Port Alberni and Port Hardy. It was very important for these individuals to have my continuous support right up to the end of the admission stage.”
On a few occasions, Linda even accompanied women to court in Prince George, funerals on Vancouver Island, and several Indigenous ceremonies and celebrations in the Fraser Valley.
Linda would also write character reference letters for many of the women who just needed a bit of confidence from someone they’ve come to know. These letters often would support them in achieving their goals. Linda would document things like how they follow the rules of the Drop In, are respectful and kind to their environment and others, and that they get along with most staff and other participants.
Some of the more serious challenges these folks needed help with was navigating the Criminal Justice System, which included helping them through an arrest, interview and trial, and supporting the outcome should the individual be placed on Probation or given Community Service hours. Linda would engage with Downtown Community Court and try to identify meaningful projects that the neighbourhood needed assistance with and then recommend those activities for individuals mandated to community service.
“I would work with the individual and help them carry out their community hours by cleaning up graffiti, picking up garbage and sorting through donations made by civilian and VPD members. It was always a good day when the clothing was delivered to those in need by one of their own community members.”
These relationships grew to a point where as gently used donations came in that required laundering, Linda engaged women to help her wash and fold the clothing with the incentive of being able to select up to three items as a token for their meaningful efforts. “This was a great activity to do with the women because it enabled them to be part of something important and they got to play a role in giving something that was much-needed other women in need.”
Throughout her career, Linda has also helped numerous women flee domestic abuse. At times, she would work with Sex Crimes and the Domestic Violence/Criminal Harassment Unit and assist in the much-needed supports. Throughout this process it was always important for Linda to remind the woman that they have a voice, they have rights, they have community support, and of course, they have Linda’s help to empower them. Linda thanks the Vancouver Police Foundation for supporting travel costs to assist in relocating the individual to a safer place.
“Over the years we have used buses, airplanes, trucks, and unmarked police vehicles to ensure their safe travel. When appropriate or requested, Indigenous connections were used, and Band Office supports including their Chief were consulted. At times, this brought the individual closer to their family connections and culture.”
Several of the women Linda worked with also have children, but not necessarily in their care at the time. The women still think about their kids, but most don’t have the funds to purchase a small gift for their special occasions. Funding from the VPF also enabled Linda to help the women purchase gifts for their children and also make arrangements for postage or delivery to the family or the children’s Guardian.
When the police enter into an investigation involving a sex worker, the worker may not always feel comfortable speaking with police. Having trusting relationships between the police and vulnerable individuals as well as those in the sex industry is extremely important. In an effort to assist, approximately 150 journals were made available to women in the community thanks to Linda. Many resources in the community use journaling as an outlet for someone to start processing trauma that has occurred. It also allows them to accurately share information with Counselors, professionals and the police.
“Just one example of a sex trade worker using her journal was a time when she had a ‘bad date’ and when she got back to her room, she journaled the entire incident. It wasn’t until two months later she reported the incident to police. The investigation led to an arrest and charge of sexual assault. Prior to the court date, she and I met with Investigators to help prepare her for her testimony. When I picked her up, she brought her journal as she had written everything down the evening of the assault and had not shown it to anyone before. This new information was a pure version statement from her and subsequently disclosed to Crown and Defense. Both Counsels met and a guilty plea was entered by the accused.”
Looking after yourself if you’re homeless, suffering from a mental illness, or being challenged with an alcohol or drug addiction, isn’t easy. For several years, Linda has turned to the Vancouver Police Foundation for assistance in covering off many of the basic needs these folks require. Hundreds of winter gloves, hats, scarves, socks, heating packs, ponchos, prepaid phone cards and many other items were generously donated by the Foundation during cold and wet winter months.
During her time as the Sex Trade Liaison, Linda also provided more than 1,000 flip flops to individuals at Drop in Centres, residences, and some of the Outreach Nurses primarily in the Downtown Eastside. Having flip flops helps minimize the likelihood of bacteria and viruses being contracted in the shared showers of many residences. Flashlights, breakaway lanyards (to safely keep their room key concealed), adhesive blackboards and chalk were also distributed to womens’ buildings.
“Thanks to the VPF I’ve been able to purchase so many essentials for these vulnerable women that helped them in their survival, self-worth and helped me build and strengthen my relationships within that community.”
With help from the Foundation, Linda also facilitated the delivery of 125 sleeping mats from the Union Gospel Mission Thrift Store to several residences and shelters. Linda purchased hundreds of long distance / local phone cards and distributed directly to women at risk and others wanting to remain in contact or connect with family. These calling cards were able to be used with any phone, including the hundreds of emergency cell phones she quietly provided to women who needed them most.
When the Winters Hotel succumbed to the devastating fire earlier this year, Linda was on the ground right away providing 80 sleeping bags, new socks and underwear, and food to the displaced and traumatized residents. Linda also forged a relationship with the BCSPCA to help community members with pet food, pet supplies and Veterinarian assistance for their companions.
In what appears to be a truly impressive and comprehensive list of personal and critical support, all these examples are still just a brief sample of what Linda has done for these women and this community. It is by no means a complete list – we don’t have enough space in this little blog to highlight 41 years of consistently going above and beyond to help thousands of women and marginalized people in Vancouver.
“This work was so meaningful to me and I learned so much from the women I worked with. Many have progressed into what I would call my peers – now working and volunteering to help other women that are still there.”
Having immersed herself in the culture of the DTES, Linda will always be known as a trustworthy, supportive, and caring police officer.
“My chosen career was in policing – which is public safety – which means I am totally committed to the safety of people in Vancouver. So, if I am invested in these individuals, then surely I’m committed to the agencies and other support services that help too. Police officers are a value-added aspect to any social support service out there.”
“For over almost 15 years, the Vancouver Police Foundation has provided me and other Officers with tremendous opportunities to make a difference in the community that we serve. It’s because of the Foundation that I’ve been able to make meaningful purchases and provide experiences for folks who might not otherwise have had such a positive encounter with the police. “Thank you to the Vancouver Police Foundation for giving me the opportunity to engage with this community in a less traditional, but equally effective, way of policing.”
This fall, Linda retired from law enforcement after an incredible 41-year career. And while it has been a challenge to separate herself from the instinct to help, she is at peace remembering the difference she was able to make for so many women over so many years.
The Vancouver Police Foundation supports programs and initiatives that fall under one of four pillars: Youth Programs, Mental Health & Addictions, Community Outreach & Engagement, and Technology & Special Equipment. You can help build a safer Vancouver by donating to the Vancouver Police Foundation.