Vancouver’s mayor says the city’s police department might not be required to change the way it conducts street checks until next year and maybe later.
Gregor Robertson in an interview said the city’s police board wants to learn more about the province’s new standards involving street checks before it determines its next move. But the new provincial standards won’t be finalized until 2019 and their implementation date remains unclear.
The Globe and Mail has reported that, last year, the Vancouver Police Department’s use of street checks disproportionately involved individuals who were Indigenous or black. The department has said street checks are a valuable public safety tool and not driven by ethnicity.
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the BC Civil Liberties Association last month filed a complaint over the street checks, arguing the disproportionate stops were discriminatory. B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner referred the matter to the Vancouver Police Board and said it is waiting to see what action the board takes.
But Mr. Robertson, who is the police board’s chair, in an interview said the board wants to see what the provincial government does first.
“We’ve been back and forth between the [police] department and the province on those next steps. The board needs to be briefed on the details of the province’s policy coming forward and what local policy will complement that going forward,” he said in an interview.
Data released by the force show 16 per cent of street checks last year involved people who were Indigenous. But Indigenous people make up about 2 per cent of Vancouver’s population. The data also showed people who were black, about 1 per cent of Vancouver’s population, made up about 5 per cent of street checks last year.
The numbers revealed in the Globe story prompted B.C. Premier John Horgan to ask his Public Safety Minister to examine the issue.
Clayton Pecknold, the B.C. government’s director of police services, last month said he would expect the new provincial standards to mention street checks – the current standards do not.
Mr. Robertson, when reminded that the province’s new standards would not be finalized until next year, said: “My sense is the board won’t be approving policy until we know what the provincial guidelines are.”
When asked if the board would investigate how the department has been using street checks, Mr. Robertson was non-committal.
“That decision remains in front of us,” he said. Mr. Robertson is not seeking re-election this fall.
Ian Campbell, who is the mayoral candidate for Mr. Robertson’s Vision Vancouver party, in an interview said he was pleased street checks were being discussed.
Mr. Campbell, who is a hereditary chief in the Squamish Nation, said that as an Indigenous person the issue particularly resonates with him, because of the RCMP’s history of removing children from families and forcing them into residential schools, as well as a historic lack of procedural fairness for First Nations people on land and resource matters.
“We’re not far removed from that society in Canada,” he said. “So for me, this really does beg a broader dialogue on how we can police better.”
Mr. Campbell said he would like to see more specific information on how street checks are being conducted and engage in further dialogue with the police and community groups.
Mr. Campbell is one of three frontrunners among the mayoral candidates, according to a Research Co. poll released last month. Kennedy Stewart, who is running as an independent, did not return messages seeking comment. A spokesperson for the Non-Partisan Association said its candidate, Ken Sim, was on vacation.
The Vancouver Police Department has said Chief Adam Palmer would issue a fulsome response to the street-checks complaint in the coming weeks. In a written statement last month, Mr. Palmer said the percentage of street checks by ethnicity is comparable to percentages by ethnicity for charges and recommended charges. He said the department does not control where crime falls along racial lines.
Mr. Campbell said he would have liked to have seen Mr. Palmer recognize the human and systemic factors at play.
“This is not just a numbers game,” he said.