A Vancouver Police Department patch is seen on an officer's uniform in Vancouver, on January 9, 2021. Police say a woman has serious burns after a man poured something on her and set the liquid on fire at about 1:30 a.m., Monday, in the Downtown Eastside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Vancouver police say woman deliberately burned Monday in attack

A “vulnerable” woman has serious burns after a man poured a flammable liquid on her and set her on fire, Vancouver police said Wednesday.

A statement from police said it happened at about 1:30 a.m. Monday.

The woman, who’s in her 50s, was sitting on a sidewalk in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood when a man in his 30s approached, poured the liquid on her head and lit it, it said.

Const. Tania Visintin said the man fled and the woman ran to a nearby business to get help.

“This was a shocking attack that targeted a vulnerable member of our community,” said Visintin. “We need witnesses and anyone with information to call police and help solve this crime.”

Police are also investigating a second incident at about the same time as the woman was attacked, where a man’s homemade sleeping structure was set ablaze.

A man reported he was sleeping in an alley in the city when someone set the structure on fire, but the man was able to put out the flames himself and was not hurt, police said.

Visintin said both cases are being investigated as arson, but police don’t believe there’s a link.

“However, it is still very early in the investigation, so we are not ruling anything out,” Visintin said in the statement.

Fiona York, a longtime volunteer and advocate who works with Vancouver’s homeless population, said she hadn’t heard about the attack on the woman, but called it “horrific.”

She said she’s also not surprised by such violence, because the unhoused have been “diminished” and “stigmatized” to the point where some people think they can get away with acts of violence toward them.

“Because it’s just so perpetuated that (these) people are disposable, or people are not cared for, that nobody will notice. And it’s OK if you have that level of rage or that level of anger (toward them),” York said.

She said the delay of two days by police in announcing the attack will set back the investigation because people may move on.

York said this has been a “really bad week” for homeless people, pointing to the alert by police that said “transient victims” were the target of a shooter in Langley on Monday, in addition to the arsons.

However, she said the stigma and violence toward homeless people has always been there.

“It just might be that it’s become visible this week. There’s these physical, or visible manifestations of it. But it’s like this all the time.”