The B.C. government plans to finalize provincial standards around unbiased policing next year in response to recommendations from its 2012 missing-women inquiry and the director of police services expects the new standards to address the use of street checks.
The province said Wednesday it is working on the new standards after its public consultation process closed in mid-April. It said feedback from the consultation process will help inform new policing standards that promote equality.
The province’s announcement came the same week The Globe and Mail reported the Vancouver Police Department’s use of street checks disproportionately involved people who were Indigenous or black.
Street checks, also known as carding, involve stopping people to gather information without a reasonable suspicion of an offence. The issue drew attention in Ontario after complaints about privacy violations, and police were accused of disproportionately targeting minorities. Justice Michael Tulloch of the Court of Appeal for Ontario is reviewing the province’s laws on street checks, with recommendations expected next year.
Clayton Pecknold, who as director of police services is in charge of creating standards for B.C.’s police agencies, said in an interview he would expect the new provincial standards to mention street checks – the current standards do not.
But he said provincial standards are “fairly high-level” and he would expect police departments to also develop their own policies that go into finer detail.
“We don’t generally develop standards that go to that street level, we expect the police agencies to develop their own policies and procedures and the police boards ultimately have to sign off on those,” he said.
B.C.’s Police Complaint Commissioner in a 2016 report said he had recommended the Vancouver Police Department develop a street-check policy, but the issue remained outstanding.
A Vancouver police spokesperson this week said the policy is still under development and expected to be implemented either later this year or early next year.
“Using street checks effectively is important to the VPD and our officers receive training on how to do so, even without the official policy in place,” the spokesperson, Sergeant Jason Robillard, wrote in a statement.
The Globe has reported that data released by the Vancouver Police Department 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 people.
The force denied its street checks were driven by race and said its focus is on crime. Sgt. Robillard said street checks are a valuable public-safety tool and occur when an officer “encounters someone believed to be involved in criminal activity or a suspicious circumstance, and documents the interaction.”
He said individuals who were Caucasian were also overrepresented in the stops last year. He said they made up about half the population, but 57 per cent of those checked.
Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, in an interview said the data were alarming.
“I think this underlines the continuing need for a policy which clearly sets out for officers what the procedure is in these kinds of cases, and the same goes at the provincial level,” he said.
The civil liberties association, in its submission for the public consultation process, said it supported provincial guiding principles and standards that include the regulation of policing practices when it comes to street checks.
“In developing these standards, we support broad-based consultation with Indigenous Nations and groups, racialized and marginalized communities and justice stakeholders,” the submission read.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, in a written statement to The Globe, called street checks a “challenging” issue and said he’s looking forward to seeing the local department’s street-check policy.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth did not provide a response to a request for comment.