The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and the BC Civil Liberties Association have filed a complaint over the Vancouver Police Department’s use of street checks, arguing the disproportionate stops of people who are Indigenous or black are discriminatory.
The groups released their four-page complaint letter Thursday, at a news conference that heard stories of unfair stops and unnecessary policing of public space.
In response, Vancouver’s police chief called street checks a valuable public safety tool and said they are not driven by ethnicity.
The Globe and Mail last week reported Vancouver police’s use of street checks disproportionately involved individuals who were Indigenous or black.
Data released by the force showed 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 said people who were black, about 1 per cent of Vancouver’s population, were also disproportionately stopped. About 5 per cent of street checks last year were of black individuals.
In their letter to B.C.’s Police Complaint Commissioner, the groups said the data suggests street checks are being conducted in a manner contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and B.C.’s Human Rights Code.
The letter said the term street checks – sometimes called carding – refers to the practice of stopping individuals without a clear occurrence or investigation, questioning them, obtaining their identifying information and recording their information in a police database.
Chief Robert Chamberlin, vice-president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, told the news conference “it is very clear to see that we have an issue here with how the police are conducting themselves with certain members of society.”
Josh Paterson, executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, said “it is difficult for us to imagine any conclusion other than street checks are being conducted in a discriminatory manner.”
Elaine Durocher, a board member at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre who is Métis, told reporters she has lived in the Vancouver neighbourhood for 11 years and Indigenous people are regularly stopped for no clear reason.
“It’s my right as a human being to be left alone, to walk in the streets. It’s my right to not have the police tapping me on the shoulder because of the colour of my skin,” she said.
Lama Mugabo, who is a community organizer at the Carnegie Community Action Project, told the news conference that “as a black man living in Vancouver, I feel that our presence in public spaces is always under scrutiny, particularly with the police.”
Adam Palmer, Vancouver Police’s chief constable, spoke with reporters outside a police board meeting and said officers attempt to stop crime before it happens by looking out for “suspicious circumstances.”
“I want my officers out there checking those people regardless of what their ethnic background is. It’s the actions that drive officers to do their checks, not their ethnicity,” he said.
Mr. Palmer also issued a written statement and said the majority of street checks last year involved people who were Caucasian. He said they accounted for 57 per cent of checks but 46 per cent of the population.
Mr. Paterson said people who were white were not overrepresented to anywhere near the degree of people who were Indigenous or black.
The commissioner in a 2016 report said he had recommended the Vancouver Police Department develop a street-check policy but the issue remained outstanding.
The department has said it expects the street-check policy to be implemented later this year or early next year.
Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety, in an interview said the data released by the force are a concern and addressing the matter through the Complaint Commissioner is appropriate. The Minister said he’s also asked the province’s director of police services to work with the commissioner on the issue.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who is also chair of the city’s police board, said it has been looking at street-check policies in other cities across Canada and has taken note the province of B.C. is developing new policing standards.